Check out our interview with this former rockstar and now fast rising director whose debut film will be hitting theaters August 18th.
This year, I got a chance to meet a number of amazing new directors at the New Directors Film Festival. Since then, a few have jumped on courses that have propelled them to great success, acclaim, and fame. One of these brilliant new directors is Geremy Jasper. He wrote and directed Patti Cake$ with a very small budget. I reviewed the film earlier this year, and it was great, especially considering it’s Jasper’s debut film. From my first watch of the film, I could tell Jasper poured his heart and soul into it, but after getting a chance to talk with him for a while, I got to see just how much of himself he committed to this film. For starters, he masterminded every aspect of this Patti Cake$, writing not only the dialogue but also all of the songs and raps featured in the film. In addition, he took the time to teach the lead actress, Danielle Macdonald, how to rap. Talking with new directors is always an interesting experience. Check out my interview with him below, learn about his rockstar past, the difficulties of filming, and what it was like getting turned down by a personal idol of his.
Ethan: This is your first full-length feature film. What attracted you to films in the first place? How long did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?
Geremy: Well, you know growing up, movies and films were essential to my family. It was the one thread that we kind of had in common. My dad raised us on Bill Murray movies and my mom would expose us to musicals— it was just something that we did as family. In the 80s, when I was a little kid, we were one of the first families to get a VCR through one of my dad’s friends, and he used to get us bootleg copies of VHSs and so I had Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back and Return of The Jedi and Indiana Jones and Ghostbusters, and I watched them thousands and thousands of times. Star Wars was kind of my gateway drug, and really music was my first love as soon as I began, but I always loved film, Movies, I always called them “movies.” I didn’t get into films until much later, in my 20’s, and I didn’t think I wanted to be a director until I was about 25. It just seemed like an impossible thing to do. It seemed so complicated and so intimidating that I didn’t know it would be a possibility. Then, I started making music and I was in a band. I was like, “This has been my life long dream, but this is not doing it for me.” It’s not enough because I’m a visual person. At 25 I was like, “I’m going to spend 10 years figuring out how I’m going to make films, learning what that means, watching everything that I can,” and that’s when it started. It’s really when I first discovered Fellini films. It just blew my head away completely that you actually could do that on film. I didn’t realize that was a possibility. The films of Fellini and David Lynch really opened things up for me.
Ethan: Wow, that’s incredible. I remember you mentioned when I first met you that you were a musician, but I didn’t know you were in a band. Could you elaborate more on that?
Geremy: I had been making music since I was a little kid. I played in all different types of bands. In rock groups and funk groups and hip-hop groups, and then in my early 20’s, I put a band together with some guys from Jersey and a few guys from New York, and we were called The Fever. We were in that kind of New York rock resurgence era, and we got by, and I got to quit my day job because we went on to make some records and went on tour. I would say we were the perennial opening band. We could never quite graduate, but we opened for a lot of great bands.
Ethan: That’s still pretty awesome.
Geremy: You know, it was good, but then five years later, you’re like, “Is this really? I don’t think this is going to work. I don’t think I can keep up with this lifestyle,” just being in a van with a bunch of guys you’ve known since you were 14. It ran out of gas.
Ethan: That’s really interesting. Would you say you relate to the character Killer P? She kind of has a similar story to you, with a life long grind and pursuit of music.
Geremy: I mean, I was in the same spot as Patti was. Living in my parents’ basement, taking care of my grandfather’s broken hip and working shitty jobs, working as a bartender, working as a caterer, just looking for any person that was making music. If I told people that that is what I wanted to do, they would have thought I was crazy. It wasn’t even an option. I had nothing to show for myself, it wasn’t like I was a master of some sort of instrument. Just like Patti, I just had notebook to notebook full of songs no one would ever hear, so for me the core of the film and the vibe and the itch is all taken from that film and that particular time in my life.
Ethan: Well that’s crazy—that sounds very related to Killer P. Did you write the film after you were a musician, or after that period when you were 25?
Geremy: After. I played music, and then I stopped, and then I was directing music videos and commercials and stuff like that, and I hadn’t made music in awhile, so doing the film was almost like an excuse for me to. She was almost like an alter ego for me to write songs for, to write good songs for.
Ethan: I know it took you a few years to fully develop the film. How long did it take you to write the film and songs and all that?
Geremy: The songs I had, like, two months to write and record. The script took me three and a half years. So I wasn’t just writing all the time. When you have a day job, you kind of work, and then you come home at night, and you kind of work on it at night or work on it over the weekend, take a week off and just write. So it was on and off for around three years.
Ethan: I heard the film just got distribution, so congratulations for that. Was the road to making this film a long process?
Geremy: Yeah, the idea came at the end of 2012 and we didn’t shoot until 2015, so its funny that the build to it took years and years and years, and I worked with Danielle, who played Patti for like two years developing the character, you know, like teaching her how to rap and all that stuff, but then we shot it, and I was editing last summer and now it’s coming out this summer. So that’s crazy, like the buildup was really long but once we shot it, we edited it fast, it went to Sundance in January, so we turned around and edited it in like 5 or 6 months. That’s insane.
Ethan: Wow, that’s crazy, and you didn’t have much of a real budget to work with either.
Geremy: It was pretty small. It was a pretty ambitious film—a lot of locations, a lot of characters—so we at least stretched it as far as we could.
Ethan: That’s incredible. How was working with untrained actors? Because I know Danielle was an untrained actor, and so was Sid right?
Geremy: She took classes, she studied, I mean really studied twice a week. She took classes for years and years and years, but she was an untrained musician. Sid was the opposite. He was a natural musician, but never acted before. It was a kind of yin-yang thing going on between the two of them, which I thought was really sweet. They kind of connected there with chemistry because they were both looking out for each other. Both had some insecurities—”Well I can do this part, but I can’t do this”—and vice versa. They made the big time flick together in a nice way.
Ethan: Nice, given the fact that the film had a small budget, if you had unlimited budget amount, is there any way you would have shot the film differently?
Geremy: Yeah, I think I would, if unlimited budget just means that you can get a little more time. I mean I don’t really have any requests. The film has a rough and tumble quality the way that we shot it, and the inherent nature of it really does match the environment and characters. You could do that dolly move again and have some more toys to play with and some things to not be so frantic. It was really frantic. It was really fun but it was really just a frantic and chaotic shoot because we were pushing so hard. I mean I can’t believe how much Danielle was able to do. We would do a scene a day, in like a cemetery and then like, she would have to do a comedic scene and then cry, then like, then twist nana around, then like it was just every emotion she would have to do before lunch because we just had to bang out these scenes. If we had bigger budget, it would’ve been nice to be able to take our time a little bit but it all worked out. I don’t have any regrets.
Ethan: Nice! Was there any point in your career where you came across—I forgot the name of the famous rapper that Pattie encounters while catering.
Geremy: Oh, OZ.
Ethan: Yes, OZ that’s it. Did you ever have a moment like that in your career? Kind of shot down?
Geremy: (laughter) Yeah, I’ve gotten shut down as a director. I’m not going to say any artists but yeah, I did a hip-hop video, and it did not go well. I got put in my place, and then when I was Patti’s age, I started making music. I made this crazy song, and through a friend of a friend’s dad, I got into some record executive’s office. And just like Patti, I had my CD and VCR. And I played it for this guy who didn’t know me. I had no idea what I was doing there. He completely crushed me. He was not feeling the song. He told me no. So yeah, if you’re around making stuff long enough, you get beat up quite bit.
Ethan: I appreciate that; I love that angle of the film. What was your favorite scene to shoot?
Geremy: I think the most cathartic was the finale. Because I was so nervous, we shot that near the end of the film. You know, it was a big concert. I didn’t know whether it was going to work or not. And if it didn’t work, the film wasn’t going to work. And there was a lot of anxiety. We were running out of time. The performance was just explosive, and our Ukrainian assistant director, Inna Braude, just starts crying. It was just this really cathartic, emotional moment that I will always remember. That was really special, special day. That’s when I felt like there’s something here. Just an ounce of this in the film and I think we’ll be okay. The finale. I was so nervous and we shot that towards the end of the film.
Ethan: Was there anything else special or memorable during the shoot?
Geremy: Oh yeah sure, I mean I got to shoot this scene with this actor Artie Lange. It unfortunately got cut out of the film but it was amazing to work with him. Working with empty light as you know, she’s someone that I grew up with, watching her videos, it was really cool. Every day it was like some sort of cool or super eccentric characters that were on set, with all these different people, so every day someone new comes along. Just working so closely with Cathy Moriarty, the legend, brought so much to the film. I mean she’s been doing this for like how long now? 35-36 years? Her attitude was just so chill. Very maternal. Everyday, there was some sort of fiasco. Some form of comfort celebration. It’s so intense. And you kind of say to yourself, wait, why am I doing this again? This is taking years off my life.
Ethan: I have one question about the plot. Without giving away too much, Patty developed a love interest during the film. Was that always a part of the script?
Geremy: No, that grew. I can’t remember early parts of what was happening in her love life. It kept growing and changing in the characters. The characters were always there from the beginning. The relationship sort of developed and grew. It wasn’t always a thing. We changed while we were shooting because Mamoudou is such a special actor and brought so much to the character. I ended up changing things and we actually went back and had one day of reshoots. Well, it wasn’t really reshoots but I added to the character. So that was one of those instances where, you know, you feel like you have something in the script, and then you meet the actor, and then you’re on set and see what the actor can bring to the character, and then it sort of takes on a life of its own, then you kind of adjust. Well luckily, the producers were able to snatch a few bucks, so we were able to run out and re-shoot this scene.
Ethan: Awesome, also, are you planning any films in the future?
Geremy: Yeah, I’m finishing a soundtrack with Patti, which I have recorded and written. I have a bunch of new songs, which are songs that are not even in the film. Then, we’re shooting a music video tomorrow for Patti Cake$, which is kind of crazy because I get to do this little venture, and once that’s done and the film comes out August 18th, I start writing the next film. (laughter)