Sunday, May 1, 2011

Juneau's JUMP Society (Q&A)

Stop watching, start creating

Ok, these guys are fun.

I've yet to meet them in person, but after perusing their work on-line, and having a two-minute "name spell-check" phone call morph into a one-hour discussion on Alaska filmmaking history, I'm looking forward to it.

They remind me of the more light-hearted approach to filmmaking that I (and probably some of you) had before walking away from my own films to work in the larger, and often grumpier, film "industry."

Who are "they?"

Pat Race, Aaron Suring, and Lou Logan (A fourth musketeer, Sarah Asper-Smith, is away working on a Master's degree). Together, they are an integral part of Juneau's film community...

  • Alive and kicking since the summer of 2002, The JUMP (Juneau Underground Motion Picture) Society showcases and promotes works of local filmmakers via two film festivals (winter and summer). They also provide workshops and guest lectures, which have included: Stewart Stern (screenwriter, "Rebel Without A Cause"), Chris Appelhans (storyboard artist & illustrator on "Coraline" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox"), Bill Plympton (Academy Award nominated animator), Warren Etheredge (Scholar, filmmaker), and Georgina Hayns (supervising puppet-maker for "Coraline").

  • Where do Pat, Aaron, and Lou turn for more personal creative projects, such as comics and short films? ... Alaska Robotics. As Pat says, "This is the most important part of what I do, and I don't get to spend nearly enough time on these projects."

  • And, yes, they all have a real job, but even that sounds fun - Lucid Reverie. Co-owners Pat and Aaron brought their cohort, Lou, on board, and Lucid Reverie is where the three of them engage in website development and video production.

All three organized film festivals in Fairbanks while attending college there. In addition to The JUMP Society they had the television show "The Alaska Short Forum," which featured Alaska-made short films and was broadcast statewide on KTOO.

The Q&A

(A flexible schedule and thin wallet are great for posture...)

Matt Shields: "Stop Watching, Start Creating" is posted in the header of the JUMP website. I love it. Many of us watch sports rather than play them, and grow fat, lazy and unhealthy... but with creating viewing content, now that everyone can shoot films on their cell-phone and post it various places, how do you compete for viewers?

Pat Race: "Stop Watching, Start Creating" is our battle cry. I think creative expression is important to communication... As a filmmaker, yeah, I feel lost in the crowd, but I also realize it's incredibly selfish and egotistical to flash a bunch of lights on a screen and expect other people to care about what I'm doing.

Lou Logan: We are still fat, lazy, and unhealthy. Also, JUMP is very local and people like to see their movies on a big screen with a bunch of their friends.

Aaron Suring: With the JUMP Society we found a local audience, but when we take the show on the road sometimes it's a complete flop. You're more interested in what your neighbor is doing if you know who your neighbor is, and Juneau's a good size for that.

Pat: I believe the really important work gets seen. The competition for eyeballs is an easy trap to fall into, but the number of times something has been seen doesn't equate to quality, or substance, or anything else that matters. It's a hollow achievement.

MS: You mention an earlier venture, the Alaska Short Forum, never really got off the ground because you had difficulty finding enough content to keep it going. Was it lack of interest in making films, or more lack of a certain quality with the films you were finding?

Pat: We were broadcasting on television so we had some strict limitations on content, both because of copyright issues and rating restrictions. Also, a lot of the better filmmakers expect to get paid for their work if you're going to broadcast it and we were doing it all for free. I think maybe we got $200 for five episodes, but at least we kept the rights to the show... We needed to get paid in love or money and we got neither. The JUMP Society exists because the community loves it, and The Short Forum failed because no one really cared about it.

Lou: I think ASF took more time and work to put together than we expected. I suck at remembering lines for the introductions, so those took about 140 takes... It's not easy to get enough submissions from around the state and adhere to the content restrictions of the station.

Aaron: Not enough people knew about it; it never really built a buzz in the filmmaker community of Alaska. That's largely our fault for not working harder to get it out there and in front of people, but, well, hard work takes hard work.

Pat: Secretly, I think television is dead and the show wasn't the right format for the web. There's a new show, AK Shorts, I haven't seen it yet, but it sounds similar to what we were trying to do. I really hope it works out because then we'll have a place to submit our films without the headache of organizing.

MS: Is the film/writing/art community tight in Juneau? What is the film community's current state of existence in Southeast Alaska in general?

Pat: I'd say there are pockets of like-minded individuals, small tribes. The JUMP Society works great as a focal point in Juneau, but there isn't much of a Southeast filmmaking community... I know a few filmmakers, but haven't worked with many outside Juneau. I guess there's some potential, but I feel like there's no focal point.

The Panhandle Picture Show in Haines [Film festival, currently defunct] seemed promising, but it didn't last long enough for me to get involved.

Aaron: Pat knows more people than I do. I only know Juneau filmmakers.

MS: Is there anything you really wish you had access to in Juneau that would make your creative world perfect?

Pat: People. Juneau has loads of talented, inspiring, amazing people. I want more.

Lou: We don't have equipment to rent in a pinch. Sometimes the rain is a bitch.

MS: When I lived in Ketchikan I realized no one in Anchorage really thought about us much, yet we were keenly aware of everything going on up there. Do you have a similar experience these days? Have you seen it improve?

Pat: I feel like I have better connections to the Seattle and Portland filmmaking community than I do to Anchorage. I've also spent more time in those places making an effort to connect with people... I don't think Anchorage is ignoring us, they just don't know anything about us.

Lou: Military folk don't take kindly to our kind.

Aaron: I don't really think of Anchorage often. Perhaps an event or two get my attention from time to time, but with all the statewide happenings that occur here as the capital, that seems enough. If anything I look south more than north.

MS: Why Juneau? Why not Anchorage, LA, New York, or Rome even?

Pat: I like Juneau. It's home and my family is here.

Lou: Porkey, Pennsylvania smells bad and I don't like big cities.

MS: JUMP Society screenings sound like a great local success. Have you traveled much with them to other parts of AK?

Pat: The local shows have been amazing. We see about five hundred people at each festival, and that's been pretty consistent for the nine years we've been doing it. We'd love to take the show to other parts of Alaska, but it's always hard to coordinate without someone on the other end taking an active role in organizing. I guess we're waiting for an invite (ahem).

Aaron: JUMP Society has had a few "tours," but not a major statewide run. When we've traveled in the past it's always been difficult to build a local buzz for our stuff. Whether that's just a lack of people on the ground - we generally haven't been there much before the event - or a lack of interest in another place's local fair, I'm not sure, but I do think we have some stuff that would be of interest.

MS: I watched the clip for "Journey On The Wild Coast" and was really drawn in. Was that one of the bigger projects you've featured at JUMP? Or is that par for the course?

Pat: "Journey On The Wild Coast" was something we helped to promote, but we didn't feature it at the JUMP festival. The JUMP festival limits entries to ten minutes, so we only ever screened a pre-release teaser at the film festival.

As far as scope, I'd say yes, it was a bigger film. We don't see a lot of features coming out of Juneau, although some of the shorts are really well made and have won awards, or been featured in other festivals.

MS: What is Alaska Robotics and why are you guys going to Norway for a beard and mustache competition? That's awesome, but seriously, how do you choose your subject matter?

Pat: We have a business, Lucid Reverie, it's what I would describe as a Swiss Army Knife media firm - we do everything. We had been making films for a while and eventually decided we should make a distinction between our personal work and our work for hire, so we started Alaska Robotics as a home to our short films and comics.

We actually tried to fire all of our clients and just make our living off Alaska Robotics for a while, but we lacked discipline and direction, so we weren't able to quit cold turkey. I still want to move in that direction, but I realize there are some steps in between...

How do we choose subject matter? I feel like it chooses us sometimes. Norway. I don't know how that all happened. We grew some beards, we saved some money, we're going to Norway. It's an adventure.

Lou: We have a lot of work and we stay busy, but we also make sure to do something fun once in a while. Being able to prioritize fun things over work allows us to have a flexible schedule and a thin wallet, which, coincidentally, is great for posture.

Aaron: Because Norway is awesome, and so are beards. Does that really need explanation?

(photos courtesy JUMP Society)


Anonymous said...

Super fun! I want to meet them.

Matt Shields said...

I don't think they're shy. Look 'em up if you make it to Juneau.