Tim Jackson is a local Producer and Filmmaker in Little Rock, who has been a part of the LRFF in some way since the beginning. His film Looking For Lurch won the audience award at last years festival. Tim recently helped LA based filmmaker Harry Thomason shoot and produce The Last Ride, in Arkansas. That film opens this years LRFF. I spoke with Tim about bringing productions to Arkansas, and the role of a producer like himself in those films.
How did you become involved in The Last Ride?
Josh Miller and I started Category One back in 2004. Our first stop on our first trip to L A after starting the company was to see Harry Thomason. Harry has been a great friend and mentor to us ever since. We’d all been looking for a project to do together and sometime in 2007 Category One took a big stake in a small project that Harry was doing. That project didn’t pan out and Harry, Josh and I decided to pull out of it. We told Harry we’d still like to do something with him so he kept an eye out for us. Sometime in 2008 he sent us the script for THE LAST RIDE and we said “we’re in”. At that time we took a small position in the project but over the years as the profile of the project and the players changed we stayed in and took on more and more responsibility. These films take a long time — here we are in the middle of 2011 and we’re still putting the finishing touches on a film that will be released late this year and early next. It’s been quite an adventure and I’m glad we stayed in.
What is the role of a Producer like yourself, who in the case of this movie is local, working with a production company from out of town?
“Producer” is the hardest job to define. Everyone knows basically that a writer writes, a director directs and an actor acts. But what does a producer do? Anything and everything that has to be done to put the project together, keep it together, get it done and get it seen. Even on a small film like THE LAST RIDE it can take a team of producers — and we have a great team. Notably Benjy Gaither is the Producer on this project who brought the script to Harry and lived with it every day after. He’s still working hard on it. When we first started talking about THE LAST RIDE with Harry we’d always planned on shooting some second unit stuff here in Arkansas. Then it became second unit and all the exteriors. Then the whole production was moved here. Every scene in the film was shot in and around Central Arkansas. Over 80 people worked on the film and more than 50 of them were Arkansans. Because Harry is an Arkansan through and through as are several other key players even though they live in L A — everything felt homegrown and local on this project. That made it easier for each of us to do whatever needed to be done even if it didn’t necessarily fall into a specific job description.
What were the biggest challenges and successes you faced on the set?
I went to bed every night of production amazed that we got through the day. I’ve had a hand in producing six films. This one by far had the most day to day challenges in terms of weather, mechanical difficulties and frankly money and scheduling. But that can make for a better film. If we’d failed to get it done I’d have another story! But we did get it done. It really says something about our cast and crew that we got through THE LAST RIDE and that the film is so good. It really is a good film and I’m so proud of everyone that worked on it. To have a distribution deal and to know that it’s going to be seen is a great testimony to everyone’s effort and a reward for the work.
It seems like half the time I talk to you, you are on the road somewhere, how much of your work is local and how much is elsewhere?
Category One has projects in development around the country. The feature that I’m producing now is being developed in L A but we haven’t settled on where it will be shot. Hot Springs is where I’d like to shoot it but we’ll have to see how that works out. We’ve got a great TV project that I’m excited about — if it goes it will be shot completely in L A. I’ve travelled a lot more in the last couple of years than I’d planned but part of that is because we’ve had three different feature films screening at festivals. We’ve sold ETIENNE! and LOOKING FOR LURCH is close to having a deal so I don’t have to travel for those anymore. We also have another company, Fried Green Media, that does commercial and corporate production. I work on a number of those projects. Most of Fried Green Media’s work is local but it does require some travel as well. I like working from home though. We produced a short last fall with Sean Bridgers and Joey Lauren Adams that was written by the LeMaster brothers. It’s called THE BIRTHDAY PRESENT and we shot the whole thing here in Little Rock.
What changes have you seen in the local film community in the five years since the LRFF was launched?
First of all there’s there’s a better infrastructure now. We’ve got a deeper bench in terms of crew. I think the emergence of Steve Taylor’s program at SAU Tech has been big in helping make our crew base more robust. But also we’ve got pros that are moving back to the state because there’s more work. Arkansas’ film incentives program is a new and welcome development in the last few years. There’s a lot of good and interesting work going on. I’m going through a stack of DVDs on my desk right now from writers, directors and DPs with Arkansas ties and there’s some great stuff here. On the other hand I’m always a little wary of what happens when technology and other factors make it easier for anyone to call themselves filmmakers. Just because you “can” doesn’t mean you’re “ready”. So I think it’s important for people to recognize there’s a learning and growth process to become not just proficient with the technology but really skillful with storytelling. Overall we’re much stronger now. I think LRFF has been a big part of showcasing the work and bringing people together from inside and outside of Arkansas to work together and encourage one another.