Truth-telling filmmakers are a rare breed. Some achieve commercial success (Stanley Kubrick, Gus Van Zant), while others are content to bring their vision to screen for the sake of letting the truth be known, rather than any veneration from their industry or peers.
Director-Writer-Producer and actor Jason Victor Everett falls into that category. He likes to tell the truth by painting stark realities with gritty images and tough situations; situations that are never wrapped up in easy solutions or happy endings. His most recent release is a short film called Skinhead Requiem, which chronicles a priest with a past visiting a death row inmate in an attempt to make a final absolution. But the absolution is not what the audience expects. Skinhead Requiem is getting a great deal of buzz and recognition in the festival and independent community. It’s been reviewed by such indie publications as the London Film Review; The Independent Critic; Film Threat; and Rogue Cinema, and has premiered at major film festivals like the L.A. Shorts Fest; the Dances with Films Festival; Pasadena's Action on Film Festival; the Canadian Zero Film Festival; and the Arizona International Film Festival.
If Jason Victor Everett keeps up this track record, the commercial success may not be far behind.
I interviewed the handsome and intense, yet soft-spoken artist on the last night of the L.A. Shorts Fest about the impact of Skinhead Requiem and his other film projects. Jason has bipolar disorder, and like many creative individuals, he uses the struggle like a muse to help fuel his creations.
"[Skinhead Requiem] was written in a really dark moment, late at night in my apartment," Jason said. "I had corresponded a few times with Tom Noonan, but I really didn't know him that well. But I wrote it for him, because I knew I could get it to him. I wrote it that night and emailed it to him at like 1:00 in the morning. I was in my office early in the morning the next day—he [Noonan] emailed me back, and he said Yes. Which was really surprising to me, and I was really excited about it, but I couldn't tell anybody!"
Tom Noonan (Manhunter, The X-Files, Heat, Hell on Wheels) was a fabulous coup for Jason, and he is a major part of what makes the film so compelling and precise. Noonan was actually on location in Calgary for the AMC series Hell on Wheels and arranged to fly into Los Angeles for a weekend to shoot the scenes for Skinhead Requiem. "Both sides of the conversation were shot three months apart," Jason said." We shot him against a green screen, and I was shot three months later. I just hoped Tom was okay with it. That was the most important thing to me. When he wrote me back and said he was happy with it, then I was happy. No matter how many times the film gets rejected, or whatever, as long as Tom Noonan was happy with it, it didn't matter."
Jason also co-starred in Skinhead Requiem as the death row inmate. His transformation from clean-cut director to tattooed skinhead is the stuff of movie lore, and he chronicled it on his website. Jason gained 27 pounds by taking steroids, donned a bald cap, had fake tattoos applied over his entire body, and put red contacts in his eyes to mimic sclera tattoos. Probably the most radical move was going off his medications for four days in order to elicit the proper emotional response during the scenes.
"I don't consider myself an actor, so I'm basically trying to emulate stuff. To get there I probably have to go through more methods and stuff than others," Jason surmised.
The reaction to the film varies with each audience. Some see capital punishment as the focus, others see it as a tale of forgiveness. Everett had a different vision in mind when writing and producing the film.
"For me its less about racism, and less about capital punishment, although it's about those things. It's more about fathers and sons. The issue of one generation mindlessly following the actions of the generation preceding it without questioning why."
The Bible talks about the sins of the father and its effect on future generations. Their children can either escape those effects or live under them and repeat them, with dire consequences. Skinhead Requiem puts the spotlight on the dire consequences of death in its many permutations.
"The line that Tom Noonan says about not knowing where his father is, my dad said that. He hated his father, and his father hated his father. So you can see this pattern and cycle to some extent. For me, he was basically playing my father. No matter what, the imprint is always there on me."
For Jason, that imprint was not positive. "He was a very abusive guy, alcoholic, very intimidating guy. Dinner table discussion, it was scary, because he was always drunk. So I remember that. The impact he left on us, the children, it's there forever. And the damage is done, obviously, I'm a product."
Yet, Jason is not. He is a successful lawyer by day who uses that money to produce and direct the films he makes. Most would say he has moved away from a clearly abusive childhood. However, it still haunts him. "I haven't talked to my dad since I was 21—I don't even know where he is, but I still dream about him often, and I can't get it out of my head."
This is why creatives often work out their pain on the page, the stage, and the screen—to get the demons out in the open, and face them head on—sometimes with a captive audience along for the ride.
Jason's next project will be a full-length feature called slice / of / life. "I'm acting in it, a lot of it is autobiographical. We just shot some scenes two weeks ago, and I went off my meds for eight days, and we got some good material.
slice / of / life holds up a mirror. The main character (played by Jason) is also a lawyer who seems to have everything going for him, but his inner turmoil quickly translates to his outer life. "What happens after you've been on medication for a while is that it wears off. Your body adjusts to it. You don't realize it, you're still taking your meds, but it loses its affect on you. So, you may be taking your meds and not realizing that it is no longer effective. So that's kind of what happens, and so you descend really quickly, you break down into that depression, but you don't even realize it."
Jason allowed me the privilege of seeing a scene of the film's raw footage. The emotional struggle and breakdown depicted on the screen is equally pronounced and powerful.
"I went there, and it's pretty raw. In terms of suicide, you always see supporting characters, or a lot of movies with happy endings, but the truth of the matter is most of the time there's not a happy ending."
This feature looks promising, and Jason has more films in the works, including one about Jim Jones and the Jonestown massacre. Such relevant, honest, and undiluted talent should have the happy ending of recognition, critical acclaim, and all the joy that life entails. We'll keep watch on Jason Victor Everett, and hope that the years see that happy ending come about.