Interview: Columbia College Chicago Alumnus Sean J.S. Jourdan to Helm Noir Pic ‘Teddy Boy’

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CHICAGO – There’s been a mix-up. Distraught couple Jakob and Helene were not expecting to host a kid for the local tennis tournament this year, and yet James has mistakenly shown up anyway. Mourning the loss of their son, the couple suddenly begins to relive their past as the tennis star engages in a charade that threatens to culminate in certain disaster.

Such is the set-up for “Teddy Boy,” an enticing Colorado noir that will mark the feature directorial debut of Sean J.S. Jourdan. After earning his MFA at Columbia College Chicago, Jourdan relocated to Denver, Colorado, where he now lives with his wife and nine-month-old daughter. With his project currently in preproduction, Jourdan has organized a funding campaign on Kickstarter.com. Hollywood Chicago spoke with Jourdan about his vision for the project, his experience with the Kickstarter site and the various obstacles facing modern independent filmmakers.

HollywoodChicago.com: You’ve said in the past that most filmgoers don’t need plot points spoon-fed to them, and that they are intelligent enough to “connect the dots.” Do you still feel that way?

Sean J.S. Jourdan: I definitely do. We have to be careful because ambiguity can quickly devolve into a morass of mud. But for me personally, my favorite films have open-ended questions that leave you to connect the dots. My favorite moviegoing experience is when my wife and I see a film, and as we’re leaving, I mention something I really liked and she mentions something she really liked and we’re like, “Where did that come from?” I’ll say I got it from this, and she’ll say she got it from that, and I’ll be like, “Are you sure?” It’s turns into a two-hour discussion. [laughs] And we’re both right.

HollywoodChicago.com: What recent film had that sort of impact on you?

Jourdan: The film I’ve seen most recently that did that is “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” I loved that there was a huge backstory to that movie. I’d be hard pressed to find a movie that used flashbacks as well as it did, but it would only use them to a point. It didn’t go back any farther, and there was another huge iceberg hidden under the water. You’re left thinking about it the whole time. And of course, the ending—oh my gosh. I got chills up my back at what was being left offscreen. The filmmaker did a fantastic job of putting you within the psychological state of the main character, which I think is extremely difficult to do. You find yourself questioning reality just as she is.

Sean J.S. Jourdan
Sean J.S. Jourdan
Photo credit: Sean J.S. Jourdan

HollywoodChicago.com: Your short film “The Beekeeper” was intended to become a feature. What’s the status on that project?

Jourdan: The history of “The Beekeeper” is directly linked to “Teddy Boy.” “The Beekeeper” has been somewhat difficult to get off the ground as a feature. I pitched it in LA and I’ve been very fortunate that the short film was picked up by Shorts International, which is the largest shorts distributor in the world. It’s on iTunes and on cable in Europe and on AT&T here. But when I talked to production companies about that particular film, they would ask me one of two things. In order to make an ensemble drama like that fly, you need to have name talent. Talent loves these kinds of projects because they don’t get to see many of them, but are they going to take a risk on a young first-time director? So they asked me, “Do you have a personal connection with them or do you have the money to bring them onboard?” My answer to both was, “no,” so I stepped back a second and looked at a lot of the first feature films that I admired.

I found that your first feature film should be somewhat genre-dependent, which is something I wish I had learned in film school. You don’t have money to bring on a big star or do something talent-driven like that. An example is Roman Polanski’s “Knife in the Water,” which has a direct influence on “Teddy Boy.” So I wrote a script that was more modest than “The Beekeeper.” It has three characters, about five locations, and takes place over roughly 36 hours. Though there are some very big challenges in the production of the movie, I think it’s something that can be done on a local level with a smaller budget. I can create a very evocative trailer—there’s tennis, mountain lions, people in bathing suits, a broken bottle fight. All these things make the movie sellable.

HollywoodChicago.com: What impact has fatherhood had on your life and career?

Jourdan: When you have a child, you think about what kind of parent you’re going to be and who you want your child to look up to. Another filmmaker told me that he and his wife were thinking of having a kid and were asking, “Should we, shouldn’t we? What do you think?” And I said, “You have to live life.” Having kids isn’t for everybody, but if you think it might be part of your experience, please do. At the same time, I don’t want to have to tell my daughter that I could’ve been a film director but we had you and I have no regrets. That’s bulls—t. I want my daughter to say, “I have a really good dad. He worked his tail off and he made movies that said something.”

HollywoodChicago.com: You’ve mentioned in interviews that the premise for “Teddy Boy” was partly inspired by a story recounted to you by a mother who lost her son to suicide. Her son was gay, and his sexual orientation was never accepted by his father.

Jourdan: That woman’s story affected me on a personal level. As a parent, I need to be accepting. It’s not necessarily about who I am and what I believe in, but about trying to support the child in whatever they do, whether it’s their vocation or their sexual orientation. It’s about loving them for who they are. That will be my greatest challenge as a parent. Like most parents, I naturally have an aspiration for my daughter—maybe she’s good in mathematics, or something like that. But my wife reminds me that “it’s not about you. It’s about her.” We have to keep ourselves open to what she brings into our life and let that enrich our lives.

Lake Granby, a Colorado location for Sean J.S. Jourdan’s Teddy Boy.
Lake Granby, a Colorado location for Sean J.S. Jourdan’s Teddy Boy.
Photo credit: Sean J.S. Jourdan

HollywoodChicago.com: Would you consider ‘the lingering presence of the dead in the lives of the living’ a recurring theme in your work?

Jourdan: A little bit. My most popular short film, “An Open Door,” deals with similar subject matter. “The Beekeeper” doesn’t deal with a deceased son, but there is a principle son character that becomes a pawn between the beekeeper and the beekeeper’s wife. So yeah, it’s funny that you mentioned that, but I do think that there’s a through-line here. Indirectly, I was probably influenced by one of my favorite Hitchcock films, “Rebecca,” with its nonexistent title character. I have a soft spot in my heart for family dramas, and I think that sometimes the simplest things can create the biggest drama.

“Teddy Boy” is about two people who are very lost from one another, much like in the source story. The marriage is dysfunctional and they barely even talk to each other on a daily basis. They’re given the chance to relive the past by way of this surrogate, and they actually fail again for a second time. But it’s in the second failure that they’re able to confront their son’s death for the very first time and acknowledge their responsibility in their son’s passing. It’s that acknowledgment that brings them together at the end.

HollywoodChicago.com: What outdoor locations are you planning to utilize?

Jourdan: In terms of the exteriors, we’re shooting in Lake Granby, near Rocky Mountain National Forest. It’s one of the most beautiful mountain lakes I’ve ever seen. In many ways, I’m making kind of a European psychological thriller. This kind of a location could be in the alps, French or Swiss. There’s a craggy rocky shoreline and when I saw it, I immediately thought of Ingmar Bergman’s use of topography. As the characters go through the forest, I want there to be arresting tableaux images. There’s beautiful stuff in Colorado, but there are also pine forests that have been wiped out by beetle infestations. I’m just thinking to myself, ‘how fantastic would it be to have these people trudge through this dead pine forest that obviously has a psychological reflection?’ Whether we’ll find it and whether it’s safe enough to shoot around all those dead trees, that’s another question. [laughs]

HollywoodChicago.com: How long have you and your cinematographer Kuba Zelazek been collaborators?

Jourdan: Kuba’s from Chicago and we’ve known each other since film school. He filmed “The Beekeeper” as well as a few of my other pictures. He’s coming down to start preproduction next week. I’m going to take him to see some locations I have in mind and we’ll start fleshing it out. The way Kuba and I typically work is he’ll shot list a scene and I’ll shot list a scene and then we’ll meet. I’ll essentially just act out what the blocking will be and we’ll argue about who has the better way to underscore the beats within the scene. The cinematography has to underscore the dramatic quality within the scene, not vice versa. So we’ll negotiate over each scene, and it’s a true collaboration. We’re both aware of the craftsmanship that goes into making a movie and take into account such things as transitions. Then I’ll rehearse with the actors and Kuba will come in toward the end of the process and photograph the rehearsals. Those will be our true storyboards.

Festival programmer Joel Hoglund and Sean J.S. Jourdan, director of the Silver Hugo winner The Forerunners, at the 2010 Chicago International Film Festival Awards Ceremony.
Festival programmer Joel Hoglund and Sean J.S. Jourdan, director of the Silver Hugo winner The Forerunners, at the 2010 Chicago International Film Festival Awards Ceremony.
Photo credit: Sean J.S. Jourdan

HollywoodChicago.com: How important have your Chicago contacts been during this process?

Jourdan: Incredibly important. Because I’m a relative newcomer to Colorado, I don’t have nearly as many contacts here as I do in Chicago. My first assistant director Laura Klein is going to be coming out here from Chicago, and Laura is not only a fantastic first AD and producer, she’s also a fantastic filmmaker herself. So I’m excited to have her onboard. Joey Bicicchi, who plays the son in “The Beekeeper,” is also going to be coming out from Chicago to play the son role. The film is going to be a reflection of the best I can bring from Chicago and the best that Colorado has to offer. It’s going to be an enriching experience for both parties.

HollywoodChicago.com: You’re aiming to raise $33,333 on Kickstarter before April 16th. Would you recommend the site to other filmmakers?

Jourdan: I’ve talked to some other filmmakers who liked my campaign and talked about possibly modeling their campaign after mine. I told them to just be careful because it’s extremely stressful. [laughs] You get out of it exactly what you put into it. We chose Kickstarter because of the deadline. If you make the goal, you get the money and if you don’t, you don’t get anything. I still feel that the pressure is a good thing because it forces you to reach out to people. But the interesting thing is that people have been very generous from all aspects of my life, from people I grew up with and went to school with to friends of the family. It’s been a “This Is Your Life” type of experience, and I’ve been very impressed by the number of fellow filmmakers that have stepped forward and supported me. These are people who have their own projects that are going on and their own financial commitments. … Gary King is an indie filmmaker who’s had his films on Kickstarter, and when I saw how many films he’s supported, I thought to myself, “Now there’s a role model.” He’s benefited from the generosity of people and has been just as generous in a non-hesitant manner. I hope to emulate him, to be honest.

For more information on ‘Teddy Boy’ and Jourdan’s Kickstarter campaign, visit http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2141350807/teddy-boy-feature-film?re….

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Matt Fagerholm

By MATT FAGERHOLM
Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
matt@hollywoodchicago.com

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