Jason Connelly speaks at ACE Comic Con Seattle

Jason Connelly speaks at ACE Comic Con Seattle

Community, not Competition, Drives This Washington Storyteller

Actor-producer-director Jason Connelly is bringing feature film mentality to the Pacific Northwest indie film scene.

It’s easier than ever to make a movie these days. On paper, all you need is an idea, an iPhone, and a group of people committed to a common goal. More and more, people around the country are taking up that challenge and trying to tell their own stories, with just a shoestring budget and some help from their friends.

On the national stage, the oncoming glut of streaming options and indie filmmaking is framed as fierce competition, a barrage of cutthroat tactics painted in the same way as all the best Hollywood soap operas. For Washington-based movie-maker Jason Connelly, however, the nation’s appetite for content is the next great golden opportunity for indie filmmaking.

All you have to do is get up and do it.

An Actor First (at Least Chronologically)

Throughout the eighties and nineties, Jason Connelly put most of his energy into auditioning for high-profile projects like the cult classic TV mini-series adaptation of It. These days, however, the SAG-accredited actor is more focused on developing the indie scene in the Pacific Northwest. Refocusing his efforts, however, has done little to stifle his enthusiasm for storytelling. 

“Acting is my thing,” Connelly explained to The Model American. “But there’s not much Screen Actor’s Guild work up here. And I’m not one to sit around. I just said screw it, I’m going to go do my own stuff.”

Tapping Into the Community

Connelly’s first step outside the system was participation in the Washington chapter of the 48-Hour Film Project, a semi-annual film competition that embodies the impact technology has had on the modern film industry. Held in cities throughout the United States, the competition pits teams against one another over two hectic days of writing, shooting, and editing a short film. It’s a task not possible until recent years.

“It’s like making a movie backward,” says Connelly. “You have the cast and the crew — everything but the script.”

Though he began participating to fill up his days, Connelly explains that he quickly became drawn to the purity of the event. A deal with the professional guilds of Hollywood ensures no one can profit from the films created, so the 48-Hour Film Project isn’t susceptible to the same kind of interference as other film festivals. It’s about filmmaking and filmmaking alone.

A peculiar set of rules is put in place to prevent pre-planning. Teams pick a genre from a hat, and the resulting movie must include a particular prop and line of dialogue. Okay, here’s an example: a short called Badminton to the Bone in which Connelly and the rest of his team drew the genre “time travel.” 

The rules also compelled them to include the line “You should get that looked at,” as well as a close up of a hairbrush. Here’s what happened.

Exercises like this helped lend new insight into the entirety of filmmaking that Connelly had yet to explore.

It’s a Whole Lot of Work

Amid the panic and hustle of a “48-Hour” film, everyone becomes a little bit of a filmmaker. Though he entered the competition as an actor, necessity forced Connelly to branch out and try new things as the sheer scope of film production came into view.

“Pre-production, designing, getting your equipment set up, crewing up, auditions, casting, writing the script, re-writing the script, location scouting, set dressing, writing the script another time, props, costumes,” explains Connelly in his high-impact, fast-moving manner. “Knowing all the activity that happens before I get to set foot on stage or on set helps me understand that I’m part of a team. I know I need to bring my A-game at 24 frames per second. I’m one of many that are contributing, that are leaning in to make this film story the best that it can be.”

The intensity of that trial by fire not only helped Connelly improve as a performer, it also put him in proximity to other professionals in search of a serious project. Local artists impressed with Connelly’s talent on the screen began to reach out to collaborate.

Terrordactyl, the Name Says it All

“I was in a film called Terrordactyl. Isn’t that a great title? I love it.” 

In an attempt to drum up interest for a feature-length version of her ode to camp monster flicks, writer-director EK Scarfone started with a teaser trailer. After catching Connelly’s performance in a 48-Hour film, Scarfone asked Connelly to appear in her project.

The trailer became an instant festival favorite, appearing across the world. Speaking of his role in the project, Connelly can barely contain his gratitude and pride at having been included. “That son of a gun was shown in Moscow and Athens, it was shown at the Grauman’s Chinese, and that’s all thanks to the new avenues we have at our disposal. It’s so great having something out there. In different parts of the world, people have seen Terrordactyl.”

Moving Into Features

It wasn’t long before repeated appearances at the 48-Hour Film Project saw Connelly teaming up with some fellow filmmakers for a daunting undertaking: making a feature film. The culmination of that effort is the upcoming horror-adventure mashup, They Reach, which Connelly produced alongside writer-producer Bry Troyer and writer-director Sylas Dall, both 48-Hour veterans. The production has taken three years and relied heavily on community involvement. 

At this level of filmmaking, Connelly’s primary source of funding comes from the community to which he’s pledged himself. Donations from friends and IndieGoGo campaigns are a given on the indie circuit, but Connelly’s startup career also draws talented artists onto projects for the opportunity to flex their skill and work alongside similarly passionate people. Connelly calls it “friend-sourcing.”

“You kind of find your film family,” he says. “There’s a camaraderie and collective creativity that comes out of the indie film process that I love so much.”

That gratitude extends beyond those people working on set. “There’s a lot of generosity out there. Buckley, Enumclaw, Tacoma, Bonney Lake, those are great areas to film in. We’d go talk to the police, and say, hey, here’s who we are and here’s what we’re about, and they were just really super-duper.”

Jason Connelly on the set of his next film, ‘Maysville,’ a period piece that he will co-direct.

Back to Basics

Once They Reach has had its day, Connelly will begin work behind the camera, co-directing a feature film called Maysville. Once again, Connelly will rely on the help of the talent he’s met and friends he’s made on the 48-Hour Film Project.

“Technology is becoming less of a hurdle, but it really comes back to the story, to the artistry involved. That’s why finding talents is still so important.”

Filmmaking may be more accessible than ever, and there may be more competition than ever, but in Connelly’s view, a great story is still the thing to get you noticed. “When the water rises, all the boats rise, right? And there’s enough room, and enough talent to shine a light on the Pacific Northwest. There’s an energy and excitement in the indie community here, you just have to get out and do it.”

Now a regular sponsor of the competition that helped him dip his toe into the Pacific Northwest, Connelly was asked to share some words at a 48-Hour Film Project awards ceremony. He stuck with the message he’s most passionate about conveying: 

“Talking about it isn’t the same thing as doing it, and those guys did it,” he said. “The fact that they put something on the calendar, this massive undertaking, and they did it, that’s to be celebrated. Now, the quality of films ranges greatly, of course. You only have 48 hours. It’s so great that they did it, though. Didn’t talk about it, just did it. It takes action, organization, and structure, and follow-through to do it. That’s something to be proud of. That’s the reason we love what we do.”