Paul Booth talks to filmmaker Jason Victor Everett about the making of Skinhead Requiem

Paul Booth: What is Skinhead Requiem about?

Jason Victor Everett: Skinhead Requiem is an 8-minute short film depicting the final harrowing prison visitation between a volatile skinhead convict on death row and a not-so-typical priest.

PB: How long have you been making movies? How many have you made?

JVE: I’d say around 7 years or so. Counting student films, I’ve made around 4 or 5 shorts at this point, I think. The two films that I’ve submitted for festival runs thus far are The Sitdown and Skinhead Requiem.

PB: Did you go to film school, start out independently or did you do industry jobs and work towards your own films?

JVE: I did go to film school, but I didn’t take the typical route. I graduated from law school in the late 1990s and started a legal career at that point, but was entirely unhappy in that world. I hated law school; it was something I did entirely by default. While working at a law firm, I attended film classes during weeknights and weekends at places like Los Angeles City College, Los Angeles Valley College, and L.A. Film School. After completing my film education over the course of four years or so, I started up a production company (Sound&Fury Pictures) and self-financed film projects under that banner.

PB: How can readers see Skinhead Requiem?

JVE: Now that it’s essentially finishing up its festival run, it will soon be available online for everyone to see for free. People can go directly to its Vimeo link or visit the film’s website. I also have a company site which people can visit too.

PB: Where has it shown? Where will it show?

JVE: Skinhead Requiem premiered at the Arizona International Film Festival in April 2013 and has been fortunate to have had a solid festival run since then, screening at such festivals as the Dances With Films Festival in Hollywood during the summer and the Academy-Award Qualifying Los Angeles Shorts Fest in September 2013. It is next slated to screen at the Miami Short Film Festival in November 2013.

PB: Do you want to continue doing shorts or with the new digital age, are you interested in any other film jobs? Acting, crew, etc.?

JVE: I have a few short projects on the slate, but most of my creative energy these days is going towards my first feature film, which focuses upon depression and suicide from a different perspective. It’s a very autobiographical film called slice/of/life, and we have shot approximately one-third of it so far. I’m the type of guy that takes on way too much in terms of tasks, but hopefully I’ll learn to delegate better as time goes by. In the meantime I’m still juggling things like producing, writing, directing, and acting mostly for the sake of convenience and cost.

PB: How has working with a title incorporating the word “skinhead?” Do you believe it has helped or hurt your attendance at festivals? Any awards or nominations you can tell us about?

JVE: Good question. I think that it has honestly hurt the film in some ways. A lot of conservative film festivals reject the film seemingly out of a fear that it is somehow supportive of, or sympathetic to, white supremacy. The movie poster and promotional materials feature probably the most extreme skinhead character of all time – a guy with his eyeballs tattooed blood-red (a practice more fact than fiction in some of today’s prison population) donning a giant black swastika tattoo across his face. I think that a lot of conservative festivals are afraid to put up posters like that, or are afraid to put those controversial images on their websites. It annoys, disappoints, and angers me because this exclusion prevents moviegoers from seeing Tom Noonan’s great performance and deciding for themselves what the film means. Having said that, I respect those upper-tier festivals like Dances With Films and LA Shorts Fest for including it in their rosters. I’m also thankful for festivals like Pasadena’s Action On Film Festival, which nominated Skinhead Requiem for four awards, and awarded the film second place accolades in the categories of Best Actor and Best Sound Design.

PB: What was your inspiration for this idea? How long did it take (the whole process, writing through editing)

JVE: I’m bipolar (manic-depressive). Late one night in early 2012 I was alone in my dark apartment in a very depressed/suicidal frame of mind. I wrote it very quickly that night. The words spoken in the film were said by my father long ago at the dinner table. We were always scared at dinners because he was always drunk and you never knew what bad stuff was going to happen. I wrote the priest character for Tom Noonan (Heat, Manhunter, Robocop 2, Last Action Hero, The Pledge, Damages, Hell on Wheels) specifically, as I had corresponded a few times with him prior to that. To my surprise, he emailed me back the next morning and said “yes.” He was shooting the AMC series Hell on Wheels at the time up in Canada, so we had to wait for a break in his schedule. He flew down from Calgary sometime in the early part of the summer for a weekend so we could shoot his lines against a greenscreen (he was essentially talking to no one). We shot the skinhead portion of the conversation and the underground tunnel footage in the months that followed and had a final edit done in around November 2012 or so. The entire process took six months or so, but only because editing took so long.

PB: What was a great lesson you took from Skinhead Requiem?

JVE: The most important thing is whether you get your original vision up on the screen. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters. Stay truthful, no matter how many people it might offend.

PB: What was it like playing the skinhead character yourself?

JVE: Well, as we got Tom Noonan’s (the priest) lines separately against a greenscreen, so we had about 2-3 months to shoot the other side of the conversation. It’s simply not that easy to cast someone with the physical attributes we needed for the part of the skinhead, and one who would be willing to undergo the extensive tattoos, etc. I figured I’d be willing to put myself through all of the stuff needed to make the transformation, and if I failed miserably we could always still try to hire someone after that. So I sat for nine hours in a tattoo shop in Venice Beach to get all the white supremacist tattoos applied, and the next morning, the artist came over to my place to put the final giant swastika tattoo on my face. Since I work a white-collar job I was unable to shave my head, so I wore a professionally-applied bald cap instead. To mimic the tattooed eyeballs, I wore special custom-designed contact lenses which looked like giant red bowls and covered half of my eyeballs. I went off my depression medication for about four days prior to the shoot so that I might be able to cry more easily. Last but not least, I took anabolic steroids and lifted a ton of weights so that I could gain approximately 27 pounds of size for the role over the span of one month. The only unexpected side-effect of the steroids was extremely swollen feet, which persisted for an entire month after I came off of the cycle. I ended up going to the hospital and two different doctors to find a solution to this problem (diuretic pills). Scary.

Interview by Paul Booth

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