King Of Herrings Part 1: Preparing The Herring
Once again I have lucked out. If any of you have read my previous articles you’ll know how unbelievably generous artists/broadcasters/film makers have been with me. Not only with their time for the piece in question, but also after the fact. I’m the first to admit that in the world of writing I am a nobody, and I’m okay with that. You have to earn your stripes, and more importantly – trust.
But I hope what I’ve managed to do is show that I care about whatever it is I’m writing for. I wouldn’t do it if not. I can’t imagine investing time and energy (not to mention taking some of their time away) into something you don’t deeply care about. Every interview I take on is a work of love, passion and intent.
I apologise for the long-winded and slightly convoluted intro here, but I’m getting to the crux. And the crux is thus; My piece on Paul Osborne’s FAVOR was the catalyst for this. He is very good friends with a ridiculously talented actor/writer/director named Eddie Jemison. Eddie is a complete sweetheart and, along with his equally talented family/cast/crew, has made one of the best independent films in years with KING OF HERRINGS.
You probably know Eddie best from the Soderbergh OCEAN’S film where he played Livingston alongside the Hollywood royalty of George/Julia/Matt/Brad. I love those films, and thought he was terrific in them, but I didn’t want to talk to him about that too much as the rest of his filmography is just as, if not more, interesting and exciting.
However, as if to prove once more what a generous and giving person he is, he invited me to call him at his home for a pre-interview chat. I spent about an hour talking with him and his incredibly talented and wonderfully sweet wife and partner, Laura Lamson. She is also in KING OF HERRINGS with a truly knockout performance, which of course I will discuss further in her interview. I cannot thank them both enough for the opportunity to do this, and we basically just shot the shit about everything from life to films, and how they balance out. Hell, Eddie was even good enough to talk about the OCEAN’S movies, a subject he must be sick to death of talking about, but I won’t be writing about that. It was a ‘get to know you’ kinda chat, and I’m here to talk about his film.
This is part one of two. A short intro into the artists behind KING OF HERRINGS. Part two will be longer and more in-depth and film specific, which I’ll be posting nearer the VOD/iTunes release date. So, let me introduce you to some folks…
EDDIE JEMISON (Actor – “Ditch”/Writer/Co-Director/Producer)
Eddie Jemison is an actor you could best describe as a chameleon. You know him, you’re just not sure where you know him from. And I mean that as the highest compliment possible. He disappears and invests into every performance so completely you’re only ever watching the character. You’ll know him from OCEAN’S, THE INFORMANT, WAITRESS, VERONICA MARS, and JUSTIFIED.
He’s also a very sweet, generous, and lovely man. Very few people working in Hollywood would invite you to call his home and spend an hour with his wife talking to you – and I’m lucky I’ve met a few. I won’t be necessarily be transcribing that phone conversation, as it was more about feeling out the vibe for this article and getting acquainted, but I did get a few questions to him on email before we get down to the nitty-gritty of the film in part two…
IAN: Eddie, you’re an absolute gent for agreeing to do this piece. Before we get to your outstanding film KING OF HERRINGS I’d like to go through a few pieces of your filmography, because you just happen to have been in some of my favourite things.
EDDIE JEMISON: Thank you, Ian. You’re an absolute gent for writing this.
The first film I acted in was an indie, SCHIZOPOLIS, directed by Steven Soderbergh. In scale the film was small but the experience had a powerful effect on me. I think the crew was maybe five people and it was shot by Steven himself with friends at friends’ houses in Baton Rouge, LA. The whole thing seemed very down and dirty and catch-as-catch-can, and it made movies seem like such a fun, free medium to me at the time. The only constraints were Steven Soderbergh’s script which was absolutely brilliant, and different from anything before or since, and his vision which seemed to be improvisatory and whimsical and so clear that he could make something unique out of any circumstance that came up – any location, any logistical problem.
It made such an impression on me that years later when Sean and I did KING OF HERRINGS we tried to achieve that same feeling with a tiny crew of four who did everything (including act) and a cast of very talented friends. Working with friends was the trick. Fun was the goal. But, you know, artistic fun, not goofing around. The fun of satisfying your creative inclinations. I started out acting in an indie film and now I’ve acted in a new string of indie films, films like KING OF HERRINGS, COFFEE, KILL BOSS, JUNE and THE SUMMERLAND PROJECT and it’s really very satisfying. I makes me like acting again.
IAN: I’m not going to ask you about the OCEAN’S films much, as you must be sick to death of being asked about them. I loved them, and thought you were brilliant as Livingston, but I’m guessing all you get asked about in regards to those movies is the “Brad/George/Julia/Matt” thing, and as lovely as I’m sure they are it must get boring. You have so many more things that you’ve done that, as a geek, I’m far more interested in talking about. Is that cool?
EDDIE JEMISON: That’s totally cool, although I don’t mind talking about the OCEAN’S movies at all. Besides hanging out with that cast of stars, all interesting, very intelligent, very funny people (and artists too), I got to see much of Europe and how big studio films are made. Although the OCEAN’S movies aren’t quite representative of how many studio films are made because Steven Soderbergh still directs even big movies with incredible economy with a premium on focused, fun work. But, they were a blast and all those stars you mentioned changed my mind about what I thought of Hollywood. They were all such thoughtful, generous people and as I say, artists with their own ideas and a passion to express them. Hard working, kind, engaged. Not one of those people was in any way a phony or a stereotypical “Hollywood Movie Star”.
IAN: I thought THE INFORMANT was a truly brilliant piece of film making. True, in many ways it’s a tense thriller, and I think that’s how the studio was trying to sell it, but I actually saw it more as a comedy.
EDDIE JEMISON: Laura and I first heard about Mark Whitacre and him blowing the whistle on ADM’s price fixing on the radio from an amazing This American Life episode. The story was so full of surprises and tension all based on Whitacre’s competing needs to lie and tell the truth, be liked and do the right thing, to put himself in incredible danger and also grab as much money for himself that he could. It was fascinating. We just sat in the car for an hour.
I thought THE INFORMANT definitely got things right by making Matt Damon maybe one of the least trustworthy narrators in film. And I completely agree with you that it was designed as a comedy, but I think I was disappointed by that because I was so locked into This American Life’s take on it. But, it’s a complex story and the film has a complex approach to it, which is great.
IAN: I’ve written about a couple of films now that started with a Kickstarter campaign, both of which I’d happily take over 90% of summer CGI box office fare. And you were in certainly, to this date, the daddy of them all – VERONICA MARS. I was a big fan of the show, and to see a cancelled TV series come back in a film thanks mainly to the fans was just lovely. When I talked to Paul Osborne about FAVOR and how Kickstarter works it became clear that fans or film makers no longer needed studios if they knew what they wanted to make and for how much. How was your experience on VERONICA MARS, and did it inspire you to go the same route with KING OF HERRINGS?
EDDIE JEMISON: KING OF HERRINGS made about half its original shooting budget from Kickstarter so it did exactly what it was supposed to do which was to kick-start our film, but I can’t honestly say we were inspired by VERONICA MARS – I think we were done shooting by the time that phenomenon took shape. But VERONICA MARS was a blast to work on – such sweet, smart, funny people. I think it’s great that VERONICA MARS was able to fund their movie by the fans, but I also think it’s silly that they were forced to do that. Are studios so risk averse now that they won’t fund any film that doesn’t involve superheros, explosions or beautiful people doing things with guns?
IAN: One of my favourite films of the last decade, and one that criminally not enough people saw, was WAITRESS. An awe-inspiring cast and such beautiful writing from Adrienne. What was that experience like, especially considering the bitter-sweet way it won festival awards?
EDDIE JEMISON: WAITRESS is one of my favourite films and performances. The characters are so singular, so unique. The world of that film too is so… complete. It feels more like the real world for all its quaint, slightly off-kilter style. There’s self-conscious quirky and there’s real quirky, born out of how odd and funny the world is – especially little worlds: little towns, little cafes, places with orbits all their own.
WAITRESS captured this perfectly, people and their odd sweetness. Adrienne Shelly should’ve gone on to make more films. She was a special kind of task master, her direction was so specific and while she asked you to do difficult things onscreen she also let you know that you absolutely could do them – so she kind of willed a performance and a filmic reality out of her desire to see it. She was lovely. She should be here.
SEAN RICHARDSON (Co-Director/Producer/Cinematographer/Editor)
The golden rule of super low-budget films is very simple; everyone pitches in. If a role in the production needs filling, be it behind or in front of the camera, you do it. It’s regardless of whether you’ve ever done that role before, or even have the slightest clue how to do it – you pitch in.
Luckily for KING OF HERRINGS, Sean Richardson knows how to do pretty much everything on a set, and knows how to do them incredibly well. So if being Co-Director, Producer, Cinematographer and Editor of a film, with little to no money to work with seems daunting to you, I promise you that after watching this movie you’ll hardly ever see one person make it look so easy.
IAN: Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about the wonderful KING OF HERRINGS. Before we get to that I wanted to ask you guys a few pre-piece questions. C0-directors are a rarity in the business, but when they work they really work. How did you get into directing and then evolve into co-directing partnerships, a process you seem to enjoy and clearly works for you.
SEAN RICHARDSON: My first love is directing. I started off doing stand-up comedy. I did that for about a year and after writing new material every week I built up a pretty big writing sample. So I started turning them into short screenplays. So when I started in filmmaking the only people I knew were actors. No one wanted to be behind the camera. It was out of necessity that I taught myself editing, lighting, camera angles and composition. But I began to love it. I was addicted to it. Everyday I wrote for a bit, then would read anything I could get my hands on about filmmaking. I watch films religiously. But I don’t just watch them, I study them. I will watch a movie over and over again looking at the light, and the editing. I would ask myself, “how they got that reaction out of me?”, and start to break down the film. It kind of sucks. I can’t just sit and enjoy a movie. I have to break it down.
Working with Eddie was my first time co-directing something. It was new to both of us. To be honest we kind of got thrown together and it was a pretty amazing marriage. At first I was only supposed to be cinematographer for the film. Then one day Eddie called me and asked me if I wanted to direct it with him as well. And I think I said I would edit the damn thing.
IAN: Do you find it easier to collaborate with like-minded film makers, rather than shoulder the burden yourself?
SEAN RICHARDSON: For me that’s a tough one. I love working with Eddie. In fact the next film we are co-directing as well. But because of how I got into filmmaking I belive that it has made me a very selfish filmmaker. I started thinking “Crap, I have to producer, write, shoot, direct and edit this thing”. So I have to producer, write, shoot, direct and edit my films. I had it in my head that the film was going to succeed or fail based on my vision. But working with Eddie kind of released me from that thinking. I still think that I will direct and maybe shoot most of my films, but I will for sure be handing off the editing to someone else, just to take the pressure off. After making KING OF HERRINGS I had to take some time away from the editing room.
IAN: Was it daunting going from success with short films, such as MONDAY and WEDNESDAY, to undertaking a feature?
SEAN RICHARDSON: Not really, I believe it was the Duplass Brothers in an interview that I heard them talking about going from shorts to features. They said “A feature is just a bunch of short films.” That really stuck You just have to break the script down and work with it like a short. That’s how I did KOH. We broke it sown to about 8 sections and just knocked it out. For me, shooting is the easy part. When we film I shoot to edit.
Since I usually edit the films I know what I’m going to do in post. I usually don’t work with a shot list. We didn’t use one for any of my shorts or for KOH. I think that frreaks out a lot of AD’s, but usually I will go over what we’re going to do at the beginning of the day so they have an idea. I know that sounds crazy, but I started my career in the commercial industry. Working with micro-sized crews made me adopt a quick-paced style of filming, and that has carried over to my features. And I feel that forces the crew to be on their A-game. Either get on or get out of the way.
LAURA LAMSON (Actor – “Mary”)
Laura Lamson is an actor that can, with a single look, or tiniest change in facial expression, break your heart, make you want to look after her, or be shit scared in one instant. Her towering performance as Mary in KING OF HERRINGS, Ditch’s long-suffering wife, is nothing short of a marvel. When you also consider that she and Eddie Jemison, who plays her onscreen husband, are a very charming, happily married couple in real life, it brings even more gravitas to their scenes.
As if I needed to reiterate what a bunch of sweethearts the HERRINGS bunch are, let me paint you a picture: It’s late in the evening (here in the UK, at least), and writer/director Eddie Jemison has very graciously allowed me to call him at his family home. After a few seconds his wife Laura walks through the door, probably barely even having time to take her coat off or put her keys down, and they then both proceeded to spend an hour talking with this stranger of a writer in the most relaxed, welcoming, and generous manner. The warmth of their relationship was tangible and infectious, even over a phone line distance of a few thousand miles.
IAN: This must be a project close to your heart, as you’ve lived with it for so long. Was it a joy to have it in your life as a passion project, or were there moments (as independent film is never an easy road) where you wanted it to finish?
LAURA LAMSON: Being Eddie’s wife and seeing how the whole project evolved from scenes he wrote for our acting class to a full length script and movie, I felt invested in following its completion from the very beginning to the bittersweet end. As an actor, I loved delving into the world of Mary and found it very fulfilling to explore the emotional depths of her character. I know I am biased but I think that Eddie has a gift for creating truly unique characters and dialogue that you so often don’t get the chance to play as a struggling actor auditioning for bit-parts in TV shows, etc – it was nice to have something substantive acting wise that you could really sink your teeth into.
It harkened back to our days of doing theatre and through rehearsal/performances, diving into the emotional journey of your character in the story and how she changes along the way. On the flip side of this, as his wife, it has been difficult living with the financial strain and emotional struggle of producing your own movie – the endless and costly festival submission process, the promotional marketing aspects, etc. Because it is not a particularly commercial film and more of an arty film (and black and white) with some strong language (writer’s note: SOME strong language??), it has been difficult to sell and a frustrating process promotionally. However, the times that we have screened it in front of an audience in a movie theatre, the audiences seem to really engage and go on the ride of the movie.
IAN: Being in a relationship with one of the lead artists is always a strain, but especially as Eddie was playing someone so different from his normal self. Did you notice a change?
LAURA LAMSON: As we discussed on the phone, Eddie was wearing so many hats as co-director, producer, writer and actor, that was probably the most stressful aspect versus his role as Ditch. Once it came time to act with him, there was an ease and unspoken emotional history from being married, that we were able to rely on our instincts as actors and as husband and wife. Even though they were emotionally trying scenes, they were tremendously fulfilling and thrilling to perform with each other.
IAN: I’m assuming (and hoping) that a family holiday was the order of business once the film was completed. Was it nice to leave the characters behind, or was the project so dear to you guys that you almost missed them when they were gone?
LAURA LAMSON: Because we are producing the movie ourselves and are still in the promotional marketing phase up until its digital release, the film does not yet feel completed so it’s still been with us in a lot of ways. Unfortunately, the fun part of acting in it is over, and I do miss that because it was one of the most fulfilling, relaxed, and fun experiences as an actor because we were with each other and acting with our friends.
JOHN MESE (Actor – “Augie”/Producer/Assistant Director)
John Mese has one of those job titles on a film set that I both admire and pity him for, as it’s one I’ve done myself. His role is basically to jump on any job that needs doing at any given moment. And that role can change day-to-day, and even several times during that day. Need someone to handle producing responsibilities? How about help with directing? Maybe there’s an acting part that needs filling and you know they can handle it? That’s John Mese. Hell, even Eddie Jemison himself calls John “The man who does everything”. But when you see the film you’ll see for yourself how true this is; that this is one damn good actor, and clearly knows what he’s doing behind the scenes too.
IAN: Before we get to the incredible KING OF HERRINGS on the next interview, I’d like to ask about a couple of other things on your filmography first. The first being Showtime’s WEEDS. I absolutely adored that show, and I’m not just saying that. How did you get in on that, and what was the experience like? It seemed from the vibe that Jenji ran a loose and fun set.
JOHN MESE: I got WEEDS pretty much the way I get (most) everything. I auditioned. I really loved the scene… and it was awesome to get to work with Julie Bowen, who got in and out of that bed several times buck naked 🙂 I kind of knew the director, Craig Zisk, and I’m sure that didn’t hurt (I knew him from one of the first shows I ever worked on as a recurring regular – REASONABLE DOUBTS with Marlee Matlin and Mark Harmon). Unfortunately I never met Jenji on the set. It’s possible she was there at the audition, but I honestly don’t remember.
IAN: And then there was CASTLE. As a huge geek and FIREFLY fan it was a joy to see not just Nathan Fillion, but a whole cast get a show that was good quality, eased into its skin, and actually ran. I hear that pranks are rife on set which, like WEEDS, looks pretty easy-going.
JOHN MESE: CASTLE, pretty much the same thing. Auditioned, and shot it in a day. I actually never even met Nathan. But I left him a copy of KING OF HERRINGS for him along with my children’s book series, and a note telling him “Hey from Eddie”, who worked with him on WAITRESS. I was happy to have the gig, but it was a kind of simple in-and-out operation when I was there. But hey, I just got a nice residual check in the mail TODAY for the third time it re-played… so far! But WEEDS was cool to me, because my wife and I had watched it since it first started airing.
CHRIS WALDEN (Composer)
Making an independent film with a miniscule budget is stupidly hard, especially when you’re trying to get it noticed with the Big-Budget Boys, but one thing you definitely have in your corner is atmosphere and character. I realise that’s technically two things, but they go hand-in-hand. When you don’t have the money to make all things go “boom” or create an alien/robot/dinosaur army (delete as applicable) then you rely on the basics; story, characters and atmosphere. Chris Walden is a composer with just an insane career back catalogue.
Grammy nominations, feature films, stupidly popular TV shows… this man can do it all.
IAN: You’ve worked with some greats in the music world: Barbara Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Michael Bolton, Christina Aguilera… the list goes on. With such success in that field what is it that makes you keep wanting to come back to visual composing?
CHRIS WALDEN: I actually like to go back and forth between the two media. After doing a few records I enjoy writing music to picture for a change, where I can draw inspiration from the film I’m writing the music to. And after doing that for a while I enjoy writing for an album where I don’t have to write music in sync to picture.
IAN: You’re a 5-time Grammy nominee. What is it about film work that keeps drawing you back?
CHRIS WALDEN: I like being part of the story telling process. That is something music can only do in film and not so much on records. Music together with pictures can tell great stories.
IAN: Your TV work includes SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, and REN & STIMPY. That’s no mean feat for a composer clearly in demand. Is TV a direction you’d like to keep your toe in?
CHRIS WALDEN: The credits you mentioned are just shows that licensed pre-existing music of mine, I didn’t write specifically for them.
But TV shows that I actually wrote music for are THE OSCARS, AMERICAN IDOL, THE EMMYS, and lots of other award shows. And I scored TV Movies for the SyFy Channel, Hallmark, ABC, CBS, and lots more. Plus I scored a few indie movies, but so far I’ve done more TV than film, but I’d like to do more film in the future because there I have more creative freedom.
LIANA COCKFIELD (PA)
I was really pleased to get an interview with this lady. Everyone kind of knows what a PA is, but not many could tell you what a PA does, especially on a low-budget, micro-crew indie film. So I thought it’d be a fascinating insight into a crew member you don’t often get to hear from.
LIANA COCKFIELD: I would be happy to answer your questions. I’m actually still in film school (I just turned 21 and I’m graduating in May), so I wouldn’t necessarily say I’ve broken into the industry, but I guess that’s subjective. KING OF HERRINGS was the first film I ever worked on actually, I was 17 and just starting film school. It was by pure luck that I got to work on KOH, honestly. I’ve worked on many student films and a couple of independent films since.
In high school, I was in a couple of film classes they offered and I just really loved the feeling of a camera in my hand, and collaborating on projects with fellow students. It was my favourite part of the day every single day, and so I decided to come to the University of New Orleans and study film.
IAN: Were films a big influence growing up? For me, it was always the movies my folks showed me that led me to seek out others, and thusly become obsessed with the magic of the screen.
LIANA COCKFIELD: I love goofy movies. Films that feature comedy and adventure (and are often over-the-top in both respects) hold a special place in my heart. Examples of these would be: CLUE (1985), CHARADE (1963), GHOSTBUSTERS (1986), FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986), ACE VENTURA: WHEN NATURE CALLS (1995), and most films that feature Jim Carrey, Bill Murray and Gene Wilder. I grew up watching these, and they are still my favourites to date.
Also, the freaky and thrilling were a huge influence on me when I was a teen. Alfred Hitchcock, The Twilight Zone, Twin Peaks, etc.
IAN: How was it breaking into the scene, so to speak?
LIANA COCKFIELD: I wouldn’t say I’ve already broken in, but I’ve got a foot in the door. And the process thus far has been interesting, exciting, and a stupendous amount of fun. Let me elaborate… (prepare yourself for a rant)…
New Orleans (where I live, go to college, and “break in” to the film scene) is an insane hodgepodge of new and exciting movies and other film-related projects. New Orleans’ film scene is currently making more money than Los Angeles’. We’re becoming what people are calling the “Hollywood South” (sorry if some of this is all just review for you). The stupendously fun part about all this can be attributed to three things: all the beautiful talented people I’ve had the pleasure of working with, the projects I’ve made with these people, and the fact that with all this advancing technology, I believe that the film scene/Hollywood/cinematic art or whatever you want to call it, is taking a shift and becoming another animal altogether. Independent films are becoming more and more popular, digital distribution is a priority, and Netflix is taking over the world.
Just look at KING OF HERRINGS, a feature film made with just a few friends and a very small budget, makes the festival circuit, wins a couple of awards, and lands a sweet distribution deal. That’s hella cool. Another example is TWIN PEAKS. A TV show that only had two seasons in 1990-91, a younger generation discovers it on Netflix 20 years later, and is now finishing its series on Showtime in 2016…?! That’s insane. And really really really exciting.
To me, cinema is still a very new art form, and it’s going to keep growing and twisting and turning and transforming in ways we hadn’t previously thought of. Maybe I’m just a zany film nerd, but to me, I think this is incredible. And New Orleans is right in the heart of all the change taking place in the film scene right now.
So, in short, my answer is enthralling. Breaking in thus far has been enthralling.
My thanks once again to everyone who took part in this article, and will be taking part in the next article when we really get down to brass tacks about the production, the themes, and the journey of making this incredible film. Look for it soon!
KING OF HERRINGS is officially released on JANUARY 20TH and can be pre-ordered on iTunes here, with releases also on Amazon, Google Play, YouTube and Vimeo.