The multi-talented A.J. Wedding talks to INFLUX Magazine
I recently spoke with A.J. Wedding, director of The Jokesters, and he shared some insight into the film’s opening pranks, upcoming work, and his motivations as a writer and director.
by Bethany Rose
Bethany Rose: The film takes a number of directions, some funny, some scary, some mysterious. Were you trying to emphasize any particular style over another? Which one most appeals to you?
A.J. Wedding: The best horror films in my opinion are still the ones from the late 70s and early 80s when the filmmakers took their time to get into the characters and their relationships before the horror ensued. When I first read the script by Nathan Reid, it reminded me of those. With the story of The Jokesters, it’s much more important to show those relationships and how long they have been friends before the killing begins. Otherwise, who cares about the victims? It’s true that The Jokesters feels like a mix of genres, given the comedy inherent in the main characters’ sophomoric relationships, devolving into horror as the plot comes to a head.
As a director I’m drawn to the mysterious side of a script before anything else. Given the ‘found footage’ nature of this film, my goal was to always have a motivation for the camera to be on, and to only allow a peek into the relationships, which adds to the mystery. Every time the camera comes back on, time has passed, and the audience needs to catch up with the action. It seemed to be the best way to handle the genre, especially when we shot it in such a way that the camera was found, and the footage was unedited.
BR: The found footage genre sometimes gets a bad rap. What were your thoughts on approaching a film in this genre?
A.J.: When I was brought on, I was adamant that I didn’t want this to be a low quality film. I can’t stand intensely-shaky camera work, poor lighting, and bad framing being excused as a ‘genre.’ I wanted to use a true cinematic camera, find the most interesting frames and great lighting. We took a Red Epic to a company that outfits cameras for helicopter use, and had them build a custom rig that was as small and lightweight as possible. My DP, Leo Jaramillo, wore a harness that could take the weight of the camera and allow for quick spins for those ‘selfie’ moments. On his back was a reference monitor, where our 1st ACs Nick Kramer and Josh Miller pulled focus, aperture, and iris. Hollywood Rentals outfitted us with state-of-the-art lighting and grip that allowed us to hide everything in tight spaces. Because of the great deals on gear and the ingenuity of the crew, we were able to make a high-quality film while staying within a genre that can tend to be lazy.
BR: The film opens with a series of excerpts from the online prank series. Were all of the pranks scripted? Thought up by one person? Or were they group efforts with some improvisation mixed in?
A.J.: Certain pranks in the opening were to give certain character information to set up moments later in the film, and those ones were completely scripted. The writer/producer/star of The Jokesters, Nathan Reid, is the ultimate prankster. He was the mastermind behind all of the pranks, including those you can only see on the DVD. There wasn’t a day that passed where he didn’t prank someone. In fact, he even flipped a prank that someone pulled on him, and turned it on the entire crew. Everyone on set had to keep their head on a swivel!
BR: The cast really seemed to mesh well. Did this camaraderie translate to any behind-the-scenes antics?
A.J.: When I was brought on, most of the cast was already in place. This was nerve-wracking. But during the auditions for the remaining characters, I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw just how good they all were. With the way we shot the film, the actors had to stay motivated in long takes while also avoiding crew and equipment as the camera crew spun around the room. In one scene, Nathan Reid was having an important conversation while mimicking our camera movements with a prop camera in a bathroom mirror, ducking when the boom mic adjusts and crawling out of the room to get ahead of the action. Lesser actors couldn’t have accomplished this technical blocking while maintaining fluid conversation and truly living in the moment.
Combining a talented cast with an amazing crew, there certainly was time for off-screen antics. The first thing that comes to mind is the naked ice cream treat left in Gabe Tigerman’s trailer. I’d rather not elaborate on that one, but you can certainly check it out on the DVD.
BR: Are you a born practical joker, or was this new territory for you?
A.J.: I have certainly been involved in practical jokes, but not to this level. One of the great things about The Jokesters is that you can see how a group of pranksters that have done it all could certainly cross the line, especially when pranking each other. They always push the limits, trying to get the ultimate reaction. The script did a good job of showing the escalation, and hinting at the triggers which, when pulled all at once, make the Jokester snap.
BR: Were there any films, shows, or filmmakers you drew inspiration from?
A.J.: Though it seems like a simple movie, the camera moves were very complex. The first thing I spoke to my DP Leo Jaramillo about was Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men. Though it’s not nearly the same genre, the technical dance between the crew and the actors was something we really needed to mimic on our own level.
BR: You’ve done both writing and directing, and have worked on a few projects where you were both writer and director. Is it more challenging directing material you haven’t written?
A.J.: There are pros and cons to both. When you direct something you have written, it’s fully your vision. But sometimes it can be difficult to be objective. When you direct someone else’s script it’s easier to be objective, but you are combining your vision with that of the writer. In that sense it’s more challenging because you have to be able to explain your vision so that the writer and producers understand where you’re taking the film. In this case the producers Nathan Reid and Jodie Bentley trusted my vision for the film, and I think our collaboration is evident in the final product.
BR: Do you have any upcoming projects?
A.J.: I am writing and directing a sci-fi adventure film for the whole family called Zoey and the Aegis this fall. It’s a fun movie with a young female lead. I have a 3-year-old who loves superheroes as much as she loves dolls, and I want to make a hero she can look up to that isn’t just a cookie-cutter princess.
BR: Thank you, A.J. Wedding, for taking the time to talk with Influx!