We talk with actor, writer and filmmaker Jason Tobias on his latest film, the action-thriller F.E.A.R.– released by New Era Entertainment on June 15. Here’s what he had to say.
Is this the type of film you enjoyed growing up? was that part of the appeal in doing it?
I enjoyed thrillers and horror, but I gravitated mostly to action adventure and science fiction. The appeal (for us) was the contained element and the budget we were willing to put towards making the film for. Also, the story was one that the team enjoyed as well. It was something we could all get behind and say: “Yeah, let’s do this.”.
Where did the idea come from for it?
It was an amalgamation of a couple things. First, my love for video games. I played the Resident Evil games since I was a kid and always loved the survival/horror element to them. Limited resources. Familiar settings. People being the ‘real monsters’. Then, I would see games like Last of Us, Left for Dead, and saw how the relationships in these games influenced the story line heavily. I liked that. It had depth. It wasn’t just about the zombies, or creatures, or even the insurmountable odds they were facing – a lot boiled down to the human beings in the event itself and how they navigated the challenges. Next, were films that inspired me, like; Maggie, Hours, and 28 Days Later. All of them were again, dealing with ‘extreme situations’, but the core element in them were the relationships between the characters.
There’s some great moments in this – did you find it physically or emotionally grueling?
Thank you very much. Everyone brought their ‘A’ game and we couldn’t have been happier with all their combined effort(s). Personally, I didn’t find the shoot grueling at all. I love this. I want this. This is what I’ve worked and prepared for, so for me shooting and performing, is the fun part. Everything leading up to it (pre-production) and afterwards (post-production) that’s the grueling part. You’re literally starting and stopping a small business.
Do thrills happen organically, on the set, or are they generally written into the script?
‘Happy Accidents’ happen all the time. Some are planned. Some are completely in the moment. Both can be successful. Geoff Reisner (Co-Director) and I, were very loose on not micro-managing the cast we had. These folks are professionals. They’re going to bring what got them the job to the table and we loved that. If we needed to see something different, then we’d address it with them.
Sound, I’m guessing, is quite important to a film like this?
ONE HUNDRED PERCENT! The first thing people will notice about your film is the sound. That includes the sound mix, design, and music. We had fantastic people in the sound and music department on this. Our Sound Supervisor, Matt Parra and the company he worked with out of Canada, really helped bring out everything you hear on screen. The film feels ‘alive’ once you add in the wind, the crunch of feet, the crinkle of fabrics and the intricacies that otherwise, go unnoticed. Wrapping up the chilling score was our Compsoer, Alex Kovacs. Alex did an amazing job crafting his music around the beats tin the film that Geoff and I, created. He created a score that rode the tempo not only emotionally, but visually as well. We were very fortunate to have these amazing artists on board.
Did you always intend on starring in the movie?
Yes. When I wrote the script, I had myself in mind to play ‘ETHAN’, the entire time. I even saw Marci Miller as ‘JOE’ in my head as well. As actors, we’re always looking for opportunities. With this story, I saw an opportunity to play a character that I would otherwise, not be cast as usually. I loved the levels and layers that Ethan has. His strength and weaknesses, are on display throughout the film. Funny enough, when friends read the script and I would ask them feedback afterwards, none could see me in the role just from how they knew me and my previous work … that’s when I knew I created something that would challenge and stretch my acting skills.
Where did you find the rest of the cast?
Marci Miller is a friend I’ve worked with multiple times over the years. Simply put, she’s amazing. Truthful. Present. Commits. Truly an amazing addition to this film. I reached out to her once we knew we were going to move forward in making the film in the hopes she’d like the ‘JOE’ character. Fortunately for us, she did and that was that. She was in. The other pieces came together more traditionally. We hired a casting company to put out a breakdown for characters in the script and started getting tape(s) back. The first I saw that blew me away was Cece Kelly. She was effortless and commanded the screen beautifully. She was located in Georgia, so her and her mother came out to audition. She killed it. Next, was Danny Ruiz. Danny had a great read and he carried a fun, playfulness and an innocence, that ‘JOSH’ needed to have. He was going to go through a drastic change in the film, so we needed an actor to inherently have that. Next, is Susan Harmon. She blew us away with her read for ‘DESIREE’. From the first line of dialogue, I knew she’d be great. We met at a Starbucks in Hollywood to discuss the role some more and within a few minutes I knew she’d crush the part … and her work in the film shows as much. She gave us chills in her performances. Justin Dray was a late addition to the project, but what he was able to do with ‘LINCOLN’ had Geoff and I, shaking our heads. This guy comes on in the 25th hour and completely owns the character. He and Susan had a great chemistry and we couldn’t have been happier. Ivana Rojas was another actress that once she was on tape, you knew she had ‘it’. Effortless and calm, she totally controlled the scene. Her portrayal of ‘MARY’ in the scenes with Marci are great. We were so fortunate to have these amazing artists be a part of the film.
How alike is your character to you?
I would say I’m ‘kinda’ like ‘ETHAN’. He wasn’t a huge stretch for me in certain aspects, but in the vulnerable moments, you need to discover how this character compares to your own life. He has kids. I do not. He’s married. I am not. So, his decisions are heavily weighted not on his own self-preservation, but that of his family. The closest attribute we both share I would say; is protection. The protection of others and those we care about.
Being a genre film – a thriller – did you find it an easy sell? Easy to nab distribution?
No. Each project comes with its own set of challenges. Blair Pennington (Executive Producer) and I, had been going to the film markets and seeing how things worked prior to shooting and afterwards. From TIFF, to Cannes, to AFM, they all have their markets and territories they cater to. Simply being a ‘genre’ film comes with being in a sea of genre films. Is there a market for them? Yes. Is the market over saturated? Yes. You still need a hook. You still need something to ‘grab a distributors attention’, to ‘stand out’ and we were fortunate that after going to Cannes, and peddling the trailer we had on an oversized iPad around from booth to booth (Yes, we did this) we found multiple companies were interested. Then, the hard part begins on ‘who to choose’. Because again, you’re not only getting into business with this company, but you’re giving them your project as well. It’s a big commitment and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Have you found more and more distributors are looking for content this year, considering there weren’t as many films in production last year?
That’s a tricky question. In one part, yes – and another, no… distributors are always looking for content. But, there’s also a back-log of content they could pull from to weather the storm, too. Some things are shelved for years and don’t see the light of day until the market reflects certain trends, or a cast member ‘pops’. There’s a plethora of reasons why projects are delayed on coming out. And, aside from larger productions that could afford the covid mandates, restrictions, and policies, who was shooting…? Who could afford to? Not many on the independent level, I can tell you that. Then, you’ll read in the trades: “Need more content-“, “This company is buying more content-“, “This streaming service spends ‘X’ on new content-“, “So much new content is being bought and put into production-“, when the reality is, it’s still an up-hill battle to get something made. Rarely do people want to take a risk on an unproven commodity. The popular angle now is to have a pre-existing fanbase, or popular IP. And of course you can enhance your chances with getting star names attached, or doing a reboot/re-make, of a pre-existing film that people enjoyed, or a big director, or showrunner attached to something and the list goes on… mitigating risk is a major part of the game in getting anything made. Especially when you’re talking about spending millions upon millions, of dollars. So, yes – there is a call for more content… and depending on if you’re in the right circles, have the right reps, the decision makers are actually seeing your stuff, or you have the right project, sure there’s opportunities. I’m just not sure how much of the content we’ll be seeing wasn’t already in the pipeline, or is coming from pre-existing relationships in the industry, from established professionals, etc. Wow, I got really long winded on that answer… ha!
Do you suggest they attend markets and so on, to network?
Absolutely. If you can, definitely attend AFM in Southern California. If you can get to TIFF, in Toronto, it’s another great market to hit and on the international side, Cannes. These are where the sales agents, the distributors, and other major decision makers are going. I know these are not ‘down the street’ in any way. There are costs that you will incur to even attend, but if you can – try to get to them and network, Network, NETWORK! Make the most of your time at these markets. It’s where you can make great connections and start some amazing conversations.
Have you another film in the works yet?
We’re looking at some options to shoot something else in the fall/winter this year. We have some great scripts in house, but there are some hurdles to overcome before we can humor shooting them. There are still a lot of challenges with the COVID restrictions and the cost that is incurred with it. Smaller, independent films have a harder time weathering that storm. But, hopefully we can get back to camera soon and crafting the stories we all want to tell.