In the newest addition of our Filmmaker Focus series, we sat down with Terrence Jones, a Chicagoan who found his calling as a kid when he would borrow his uncle’s VHS camcorder to run around filming in his neighborhood. After finding success in Chicago directing shorts, he’s now looking to take his filmmaking career to the next level in Los Angeles.
Our interview took place in the grunge-chic front porch of Bar 9 in Culver City over iced-teas and coffee on a balmy dog day of summer.
Nice to meet you, Terrence! Do you have any influences that got you into filmmaking?
I really enjoy the technical skills and storytelling of Christopher Nolan. I’m also a big horror fan so I really like Guillermo Del Toro’s gothic and creepy style. Also Quentin Tarantino’s auteurism, his writing and his directing. Any time you watch any of his movies, it’s a hundred percent him. These are the main people I draw my inspiration from.
What would be your dream film to make if money wasn’t an object?
To be honest, money isn’t the biggest issue for me. People have asked me if I ever wanted to do a Star Wars or Marvel-type movie, but I would rather make something more personal. Horror is one of my favorite genres and even if horror can be somewhat out there, I’d rather make it into a personal story like Get Out. I can’t just say “give me a hundred million dollars and I’ll make that,” because I’d rather make something personal, which isn’t quite about money.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I have some ideas for a couple of short films. I really want to start transitioning into doing features. I have ideas for sci-fi type shorts, or something in the style of Pan’s Labyrinth, which is about a child trying to find his father. So kind of like a horror-ish type short film. I would like to knock these out and see where it goes from here.
What is your most important project to date?
I would not have been able to make my biggest project to date without doing spec commercials. I’ve done a few spec commercials that got picked up and that gave me the money to make a fifteen-minute short called Black Majick, which was shot in the swamps of New Orleans. It’s the biggest project I’ve done so far. I took my Director of Photography from Los Angeles to New Orleans, where the rest of the crew and equipment was.
What is Black Majick about?
It’s about a family of runaway slaves in New Orleans who are on the path to freedom and suddenly decide to take an alternate path. Along the way, they encounter a voodoo witch who tries to stop them from leaving the swamp. As they try to escape from the swamp, crazy stuff starts happening. I love New Orleans and I’ve been trying to go back there, so that’s how the project happened.
Do you have any particular motto or philosophy that you live by?
Being in Los Angeles during these past six years, I have seen how fast the industry is changing as far as trying to break in. Netflix, for example, wasn’t a thing like it is today as far as how much content and shows they produce. Today, if you really want to make it out there and advance, you just got to do it yourself and not give up because no one will wait for you.
Filmmaking aside, what does your ideal day off look like?
I would say it’s fifty-fifty for relaxing and being lazy, and the other fifty percent seeing friends and getting good food. I want to say the beach, ,but that’s always crowded, so I guess just somewhere fun where I can relax, have a nice drink and chill with friends.
That sounds like a perfect day off. As far as finding locations, what’s your worst horror story?
When I was getting ready to film Black Majick, I didn’t have a producer at the time, so I was doing everything on my own. I was calling different places from Los Angeles to try to find a location in Louisiana or East Texas to get this swamp look. I found a place in East Texas which looked like a forest preserve, so I booked a ticket and flew out there.
Once I got there, I realized it was a three-hour drive from the airport. It turns out that this place was way too small, and right next to a freeway, which wouldn’t work at all, as the movie was supposed to take place in the 1800’s. It was extremely disappointing, especially since I came all the way from Los Angeles. Thankfully, it all ended well, as someone from New Orleans reached out to me and found me a location. He ended up producing it for me.
What’s your process when location scouting?
I mostly do my own stuff, but I wish I had a producer to help me. One of the perks of working at a record label is that I’m on set most the time, so I keep those locations in mind. For more expensive stuff, it’s great to have websites like Wrapal to help me find places that I wouldn’t otherwise know about, especially because location scouts are quite expensive. It usually comes down to a balance of looking through people I know and websites like Wrapal.
How has your experience with Wrapal been?
It’s been pretty good so far. I’ve actually been with you guys for a while. When I’m writing my script or thinking about locations, I’ll just hop on Wrapal. For example, if I need a basement location, I look it up, and seeing all the different photos gives me inspiration. I’ve been using your site to do that for a while, but I only recently started booking. The most recent location was a backyard with a treehouse with nice lighting. It helped me a lot. It made everything easier as I didn’t have to go through a location scout, which can be a complicated process.
Is there anything you’ve watched recently that really left an impression on you?
The TV show Atlanta has been very inspiring to me. Not to get too deep with it, but I can really relate to Ernest’s experiences. I remember the first episode where he had to deal with the white guy who felt comfortable saying the N-word to him, but then around Ern’s gang of big black people, he didn’t want to say it at all. I’ve had that exact experience and from that moment on, I knew fit was going to be a good show. I realized I could really relate it as far as seeing my story being told on screen, and that’s the route I want to go as far as telling my stories.
I want to make these crazy weird moments but also have personal moments you can relate to in my films. Not everyone realizes things like that happen to black people, so every time I watch Atlanta I think, “this is why I want to make films”. I want to inject those moments of my life into these stories.
If you had to have an infinite supply of something worth less than five dollars, what would it be?
I wish I could say something serious, but I guess I’ll just pick breakfast sandwiches. I don’t eat breakfast and therefore I’m always tired in the morning, so breakfast sandwiches would change everything.
Do you have a secret talent?
I moved to the Arts District in North Hollywood, and around the corner from my place there’s a place doing trivia nights. I recently found out I’m really good at remembering nineties and early 2000;s cartoons. When I’m in a hostage situation and they say they’ll let me go if I can think of the Tiny Toons theme song, I’m good. The drinking rounds are mostly about theme songs, so I buy my team rounds of drinks thanks to that. All these hours in front of the TV when I was a kid came in handy.
Last but not least, do you have any advice for up-and-coming filmmakers?
When I started out in filmmaking, I did a five-week program at a studio, and they often had guest speakers come in. They would always give very generic advice like, “oh you just have to work hard and meet the right people”, but it’s really not that easy. So, I’d say do your own thing. Find a way to make content, especially now, as there is so much of it and everyone is constantly posting on social media.
When you shake hands with people, make sure not to say anything generic like “let’s have lunch”, because I’ve done that so many times and experience has taught me it’s better to always have something in your back pocket like a script because that can be a potential reason to make contact again. In general, 90% of people won’t want to have anything to do with you because that’s the unfortunate reality of it. So, keep working and always have something ready that you can show. That way, they’ll be more likely to remember you.
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