Brendan Weinhold and Terri J. Freedman in Jes and Lora.
Louisville-born Filmmaker Shows New Work at the Louisville International Festival of Film
Interview by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2015 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
UPDATE: On October 3, Jes and Lora was awarded “Best Short Film” at the Louisville Festival of International Film.
Patrick Duncan’s journey from Louisville to independent filmmaker in Los Angeles by way of New York is a case study in patience and care in cultivating professional opportunities. An actor by training who began his theatre studies with Walden Theatre; Duncan has always nursed an ambition to be a filmmaker, and has been working as a director, executive producer, writer, and editor in LA for 15 years. With his new short, Jes and Lora, he is landing at several film festivals around the U.S. including the Louisville International Festival of Film in early October. He has written, produced, directed and/or edited several shorts including So, What’s in Jericho?, Hollywood The Hard Way, The Shabbos Bigfoot, and A Mock Time: A ‘Star Trek’ Wedding. His feature film credits as an editor include the award winning films Assisting Venus and Assistant Editor on the documentary Carbon Nation.
Jes and Lora is a film about two adults whose lives are imprisoned by personal tragedies and trauma from the past. Recently we talked with Duncan on the eve of his return to Louisville for the October 2 screening of his film.
Keith Waits: You’ve been an actor since you were a student at Walden Theatre in the 1970’s, and you studied acting at SMU. When did you first think about being a filmmaker?
Pat Duncan: As an actor in New York, I had appeared on Guiding Light and Law and Order and done small non-speaking roles in many feature films but I found it difficult to jump out from the crowd (difficult anywhere, but NYC even more so). My training was all in stage acting so I took a class there called “On Camera Acting” with Patrick Tucker, a British director I had worked with at Southern Methodist University. He said, “Actors should not be victims,” and encouraged us to learn about all filmmaking disciplines. From there I wrote a feature screenplay at the encouragement of fellow Walden Theatre colleague Peter Byck and used the New York branch of IFP (now Film Independent) to make a short excerpt, So, What’s In Jericho? As an interesting note, on August 14th of this year, Jes and Lora screened in the United Kingdom at the Isle of Wight Film Festival along with a short documentary by none other than Peter Byck, Soil Carbon Cowboys.
KW: Was your move to Burbank, California an important step?
PD: Very, I wanted a more suburban life for my family and I enjoyed making film so I figured this was a great place to do both. I have made, so far, five short films from my own scripts, worked as an editor on two feature films and many shorts, appeared as an actor on Parks and Recreation and a hush, hush major network daytime drama I am not allowed to talk about until it airs on NBC 12/11/15. Most importantly, in 2012 I joined the Hollywood film collective “We Make Movies” working on literally dozens of projects with them as an actor, writer, editor, producer and a now, with Jes and Lora, a director.
KW: How important was working as a film editor to your development as a director?
PD: Crucial. It let me know what mistakes to avoid. How to direct the actors toward the cuts that I wanted to make and how important production sound is to a finished product. Also, when working as quickly as possible I knew what I needed to “get out of there fast.” I also was able to be a one-man postproduction and finishing facility saving me thousands of dollars.
KW: What is the origin of Jes and Lora?
PD: It is an excerpt from From Here On, the same feature script as So, What’s In Jericho? It was based on a story told to me by Blake Brocksmith. Blake wanted me to write the screenplay since he admired what he had seen of my writing, but the story lay dormant for a few years after initially hashing out an outline. When Peter Byck mentioned at a Lincoln Center screening of his film Garbage that he, “loved road pictures,” I decided to write the feature. It was a “road picture” that was episodic and lent itself to having scenes extracted that could be stand-alone. When I did a workshop reading of the feature From Here On with Brendan Weinhold and Terri J. Freedman at “We Make Movies” I was very taken with their performances. A fellow writer/director commented that he liked their scenes so much he wanted to see them uninterrupted and that gave me the idea that it would make a good stand alone piece.
KW: The film is very enigmatic, and leaves the viewer wanting more. Since it is an excerpt from From Here On, will we see more of this story in future?
PD: Yes, Jes and Lora producer Brynna Yentz and I are hard at work as we speak planning and raising money to do the entire feature. Taking Jes and Lora to festivals is part of the promotion for that. So far, not many have complained that they don’t understand what is happening in the story. But most of all they love the characters and want to see what leads up to and then follows the moment encapsulated in Jes and Lora. I hope this trend continues.
KW: What do you consider your greatest strength as a director?
PD: Right now, casting the right people and “getting out of the way of their work.” I can say that for crew as well. I think I have a good collaborative spirit. Almost everyone on the project came to me with an idea that had not occurred to me and I said, “Great, let’s try it and see.” It usually worked out better than my expectations.
KW: Talk a little about casting. Jes and Lora seems very much an actor’s piece.
PD: I like to write for actors being an actor myself and voices are very important inspiration. I wrote thinking of myself for Jes, but in the move to CA the script had once again lay dormant and I had since aged out of the role. Jes is someone I think of as 30ish and Lora early 20s. Lora was written for Erin Hill, yet another Louisvillian and Walden Theatre alumni, and she performed Lora in several workshop versions of the feature From Here On in NYC.
When joining “We Make Movies” I became acquainted with the work of and friends with Brendan Weinhold and Terri J. Freedman. Although the role of Jes is dramatic, I always felt it required comic timing, Brendan is a stage trained actor with improv skills and I felt certain he could do it. I knew Terri J. Freedman was an actress of depth, sensitivity and intelligence who could play the complexity of the Lora role. I also felt she could do that most elusive thing and inspire an audience to, not only feel sympathy for her, but also want to “save her.” The only thing left to do was to see if I was right and watch them read together. My instincts were spot on, and they had the chemistry.
KW: You’ve had great success placing Jes and Lora at various festivals, but is it especially satisfying bringing it “home” as it were?
PD: More than I can express. In yet another Walden/Brown School Louisville connection we were lucky enough to acquire the festival license for two classic songs by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (performing name of Will Oldham) “Three Questions” and “The Way” from his album “Master and Everyone.” Will and I were students together at Walden Theatre and he was still there when I returned as a teacher after college. In listening to his music I heard the common influences that we learned about together under the tutelage of Nancy Niles Sexton. It felt to me that his music fit the story like a glove and he graciously agreed to a license after viewing a rough cut.
For the location we selected the area of Sunland, CA on a hiking trail to shoot the film. The trail was a wooded area with no visible palm trees and we thought it might pass for an area on the KY/WV border where the story is set, Hatfield and McCoy territory. I asked our Director of Photography to look at the John Sayles film Matewan for inspiration. Matewan was not only another Appalachian film, but one that starred Will Oldham.
In short, the spirit of Kentucky is deep in this story and in my life and work. It’s good to be coming home.
See Jes and Lora at
Louisville’s International Festival of Film
Friday, October 2, 2015; 12:00 Noon
140 N 4th Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.