Film Courage: Where did you grow up?
Jim Rothman: I grew in Burien, WA which was a suburb of Seattle. We lived twenty miles south of the city. I had a prototypical family: mother, daughter, father, son. My parents divorced when I was seven, and in the middle of a heated argument I was sent to live with my father when I was thirteen. It was kinda interesting in a way. I had both my parents under the same roof for the first seven years, just my mother and sister for the next six, and just my father for the final six, before I moved to Hollywood when I was nineteen. We grew up lower middle class. My parents made certain my sister and I got a great private school education, but there was little money left over for anything else. It was a bold sacrifice for my parents. My mom was a stay at home mom, until the divorce, then of course she was a single mom, working. My father owned and operated his own stamp business. When I went to live with him, he ran the store, owner/sole-operator style, leaving me to my devices nearly exclusively. In a way I’ve been on my own since I was thirteen, so learning self reliance was necessary early on. I was provided for of course, just left alone a lot.
Film Courage: What were your plans after high school? How supportive was your family of those plans?
Jim: For the many years growing up I longed to become a police officer. Studied, learned, trained, ate, slept, nearly everything having to do with being a cop. COPS was one of my favorite TV shows, along with the 80/90’s classics, Alf, Dukes of Hazzard, Quantum Leap. It wasn’t till I got closer to high school graduation that I realized, I didn’t want to be a cop: I wanted to PLAY being a cop. My high school didn’t have an acting program. The security guard of the school had a BA from his college in Texas, so for fun he put together a mixed match group of high school kids and asked us to put together a piece of material just to assess our ability and see if we could put on a play worth watching. Being a young writer, I wrote my own piece for the audition. When we performed out pieces, when he came to me, all he said was: I got a script for you. For the next several years I came to him during my high school breaks and learned acting from him. And he got me ready for my audition for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Pasadena, CA and I was accepted. My mother, being my mother, did not want me to go. Instead, she wanted me to go get a four year degree of some kind and do acting on the side. My father said as long as I could support myself I could do whatever I wanted.
Film Courage: Did you go to film school?
Jim: I never attended film school, no. Watching films was my film school.
“That I had what it took to make it in Hollywood…so long as I didn’t quit. For me, when you quit, you don’t get to find out what’s next. You don’t get to find out, if you had gone a little further, what might have happened. When you quit you have the answer. And I always wanted to know what might happen if I kept going. So I never quit…”
Jim Rothman, Writer/Director/Actor of SCYTHE Movie
Film Courage: A quote or lasting advice which you received from a teacher or fellow student while attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts?
Jim: As I was leaving AADA, the dean of the school at the time called everyone individually into the office to assess their progress during their time spent there and to suggest whether or not they should come back to their third year program, which was exclusive and by invite only. He told me he specifically was not going to ask me to come back, because I didn’t need it. I would be able to get by on my own. That I had what it took to make it in Hollywood…so long as I didn’t quit. For me, when you quit, you don’t get to find out what’s next. You don’t get to find out, if you had gone a little further, what might have happened. When you quit you have the answer. And I always wanted to know what might happen if I kept going. So I never quit.
Film Courage: Where do you produce your best writing?
Jim: Great question. I write at home, at night, alone, when the day has passed by already. Some people write during the day time before the day gets started and they get involved with it. My mind is racing when I wake up about the day’s activities so I have to complete them first in order for me to get to writing. Then, in the quiet of night, after people are asleep I can focus on whatever story I want to tell.
Film Courage: Are you an introvert or extrovert? How do you use either quality to your advantage?
Jim: I am both an introvert and an extrovert. Get me talking about film, I’m on fire, I’m a lightbulb you wish you hadn’t turned on. I can be quite the chatterbox, outgoing, love to say hello to you and see what you are all about. Met my great friend Mike in college that way. Walked right up to him and simply started talking to him. Been close friends every since. But if I’m around a situation or scene or party where I don’t really know anyone, I can be quite quiet, too. I think it just comes back to being comfortable. Being an extrovert as an actor also lends itself to being that salesman I have to be as a producer in order to obtain the tools and things I need.
Film Courage: When did you arrive in Los Angeles? Which cliches seem true about LA?
Jim: I got to Pasadena first in 1999. It wasn’t until 2000 after college that I moved out to LA. But LA was LA. It’s been built up quite a bit more now than then, but the attitude of the city still seems to be the same. Very quick, very congested, the people all there to be rich and famous, the glamour of it all in West Hollywood, Beverly Hills. For a small town guy like myself, it was a much different experience.
Film Courage: What do you miss about Seattle? Will you ever go back?
Jim: I miss my Seattle Seahawks, my fish and chips, and downtown Seattle. It’s a much friendlier city. But probably the place I miss the most is on Lopez Island. A place I’ve not been to since I was 15. Still remember it though.
It was actually used in Free Willy 2. It’s a rock reef where the ocean water crashes up against it. There’s a nice spot to sit near the edge where you can sit and see on for miles. The gentle wind blowing, the breeze, the calm of it all was something beautiful. There is actually a plot of practically neon bright green grass on that rock formation near the bottom by the water edge. I was thought perhaps that might be a nice place to buried, to be close to the rock. I plan to have a vacation house there one day for the fall football seasons and to get away when I need to, if I am ever able to be so fortunate to have dual homes. LA is my home now. But I’ll always be Seattle.
Film Courage: Any bad audition story you care to share and how you turned the situation around? Any good audition story?
Jim: My first audition out of college was the worst. I literally felt like I forgot everything I was taught and just came up with whatever I could in order to get cast. It was a play in a theater in Torrance for the lead role and the director was trying to work with me to give me some part, ANY part, because she couldn’t get enough people to act in her play. But as bad as I was, I sure as hell wasn’t going to be the lead. But like an idiot I insisted on only taking the lead because I was “a star.” Naturally I went home without being cast. The next play, again in Torrance, different director, I got the supporting lead and coveted role, because I went back through what I was taught and applied it to the next audition. I guess you could say I turned it around because I took a step back, regrouped and pressed forward.
Film Courage: Can you share which acting scene from any film or TV show (any genre) turned on a light and made you want to act professionally?
Jim: That is tough. The films that stick out in my mind aren’t even my favorite films, but I just remember how they made me feel. A Few Good Men when Tom Cruise told Jack Nicholson he was under arrest gave me such a fulfilling charge inside me, because I had an issue with bullies growing up and I loved that the hero got to stick it to the bully in the film. Cadence, because it was the first time I ever cried at a film, because again, Charlie Sheen’s character had been welcomed back into the group of friends he had been shunned by, and it gave me an emotional experience and finally City of Angels, when Andre Brauer’s character laughed for the first time watching Nic Cage begin to experience joy as a human and how that made him feel. It was simply the idea that movies could make you feel something and have an emotional impact, when telling a story or a life lesson. That’s when I realized I wanted to do that for a living.
Film Courage: In 2014 you took to Kickstarter, successfully crowdfunding for MINUTES. What details can you share with readers on what worked, do’s and don’ts you learned along the way, and any other tips on raising over $5,600 dollars?
Jim: That campaign was exactly what you should NOT to. The four of us sat in front of a camera and spoke. No footage of our short, no trailer, no fancy camera work, no pictures, nothing. It should not have worked, but it did, because what we were trying to raise was so small in comparison to SCYTHE. No one wants to sit through 5 minutes of people talking to a camera. I didn’t know any better.. At the same time, we did find one man, Richard, who gave us $2,500 of the $5,600 we raised, because he was taken by the subject matter, had seen I’m Not Matt Damon, and just wanted to know what we could do with it. The rest, save for a few small contributions, came exclusively through family and friends. We were, in a word, lucky.
Film Courage: You made the comedic short I’M NOT MATT DAMON in 2008/2009. What truths about the entertainment industry lie within its humor?
Jim: The entertainment industry is very cutthroat and very unforgiving all the time. You must have rhinoskin in order to survive it. You can’t get lost or hung up on any one audition. For me, or anyone who already looks like an already famous star, obviously the daily comparison can be quite debilitating. In the end, it is a business. If you take it personally, which is an ironic statement, because as actors, it is our job to convey human emotions, which is often done personally, then you won’t have a fun time here.
“When I’m Not Matt Damon was complete, and the overwhelming positive response it was getting, I assumed my acting career would finally take off. But instead of people asking what I was acting in next or offering me a job, people kept asking what I was writing and directing next. But further still, my producer and good friend on the project Anse sat me down and explained to me that I wasn’t an actor. I just could act. I was really a writer/director. Having never gone to film school, clearly he was mistaken. Or so I believed. Writing was something that came naturally to me…”
Jim Rothman, Writer/Director/Actor of SCYTHE Movie
Film Courage: Did you begin to see your LA journey in a different light after making I’M NOT MATT DAMON?
Jim: Absolutely. And not by choice. When I’m Not Matt Damon was complete, and the overwhelming positive response it was getting, I assumed my acting career would finally take off. But instead of people asking what I was acting in next or offering me a job, people kept asking what I was writing and directing next. But further still, my producer and good friend on the project Anse sat me down and explained to me that I wasn’t an actor. I just could act. I was really a writer/director. Having never gone to film school, clearly he was mistaken. Or so I believed. Writing was something that came naturally to me. Creative writing was my great love in elementary school. Directing was something that I had to learn. I believed somewhere on my journey here that writing and directing was something I would partake in at some point, but never did I dream that it would be the thing that would begin my career. I’m Not Matt Damon was my test to myself. After years of being here and failing to be get any traction as an actor, I questioned if I had what it took to be here. So with INMD, the test was to see not where my talent lied, but to see if I had talent at all. Almost as if elements were plugged into some sort of matrix and it assessed which direction I should be going in or going home. It’s fair to say I didn’t like the answer to begin with because I didn’t know what kind of director I could be. But after 4 projects and my first upcoming feature film, I’m proud to say for an actor, I’m one hell of a writer/director. 🙂
Film Courage: Can you share tips on how you got I’m NOT MATT DAMON on Amazon for other filmmakers who would like to get their short film?
Jim: Gaining distribution was something or a lark and an added bonus to the entire process. There are festivals, short festivals, that I attended, especially the Palm Springs Intl Short Film Festival, where they have a library full of shorts for people to view, where distributors go to find product they’d be able to sell. You won’t make much money on it, but of course, the point of a short is for showcase purposes, not profit. Still, like any film, having licensed or owned music and being free of any financial obligations with the film, it makes it easier to get distributors and aggregators interested. At the Palm Springs FF, they approached me, and I went with it.
Film Courage: How did you originally come up with the idea for SCYTHE?
Jim: The classic HALLOWEEN was the biggest influence for me. The original slasher thriller if you don’t count PSYCHO. These days found footage has a great sense of reality to it and supernatural are the biggest horror film draws, but for me the suspense, the fear, the intensity of a slasher film is what is gripping to me. Putting an audience in that situation and forcing them to follow along with the story is what got me about HALLOWEEN. You just never knew when the kill was going to happen or when Michael was going strike. Which is what draws you in to the story and forces the audience to be an active participant. SAW was another influence for its twists and detective aspects of it. The whodunnit of the story inside a horror thriller. And of course Hitchcock, for everything you didn’t see, that let your mind create the horror and madness when he didn’t show it to you. Your mind invented it on its own. What detracts from a great slasher film is the eye rolling cliches, bad acting, predictable situations and overall feeling of can’t waiting for someone to get killed, rather than sympathizing with them. They lack fully fleshed out characters that we can identify with and get behind. As slasher films have been dormant for some time, I thought to try and create a realistic take on the genre, where fear, suspense, intensity ruled the day, not so much gore. Essentially SCYTHE will be a drama, that also happen to be a slasher film.
Film Courage: How many people did you share the script with during the writing process?
Jim: During the first formation of the script, none. For me the first draft someone sees is generally my 3rd or 4th draft. I take it as far as I can and then get notes on it, from confidants whose opinions I trust, in order to get notes on clarity and the quality of the script. Otherwise, no one sees what I’m writing until the script is actually complete.
Film Courage: Can you share how you originally shot the first 15 minutes to show investors?
Jim: The 15 minute presentation was a scene from the actual script. Sort of a sample to show investors and other the look and the tonality of the film. Originally I wanted to shoot in such a way as if it were a clip or excerpt of a film you might see on a nightly entertainment news show, but my producer insisted I put a beginning to the scene. Which, when we completed it, it had a beginning, middle, and end, giving us another short film to tour the film festival circuit with, and to test out how successful we could be with the final film. The budget was a mere $3,000. It allowed everything and everyone, including actors, to be paid.
Film Courage: How did you meet those potential investors? What was their impression of the 15 minutes?
Jim: Investors you meet by either meeting people through family, friends, life experiences, and travel. I advocate going to film festivals for the simple sake of networking and meeting people. I went to a festival with INMD in Temecula seven years ago, not knowing what to expect. It was there I met a man, Marc, who would become my first investor. Imagine that though. A random person in an out of the way festival from seven years ago. It goes to show you, you just never know. The rest came from friends I’ve met through day jobs, work, life, etc. I met my producer at a friend’s luau and that friend is also investing in the film. They thought the 15 minute presentation was exceedingly professional, clever, well lit and acted, and impressive on the meager budget we had to work with.
Film Courage: For feature film version of SCYTHE which you are now crowdfunding for, how did you come up with the budget?
Jim: My producer works for a studio. It is his job to do budgeting and contracts there so it’s safe to say he was a great get. Even so, breaking down the script, you learn/decide what you need, create a department or heading in the budget for it, assess how much each person is generally paid for that task, or for the items you need, then you have a general idea how much you need in order to be able to shoot. The number become more concrete as you ascertain the true value cost of each person/place/thing.
Film Courage: What does the title SCYTHE mean?
Jim: The masked killer in the film imitates the look of the Grim Reaper. The Grim Reaper’s weapon is a scythe.
Film Courage: If you love horror films, what bugs you about horror? What are typical clichés in slasher films?
Jim: The overly predictable nature of horror, the bad acting in horror, the top 50 hour film cliché that find their way into horror so much that there is actually DIFFERENT lists of the top 50 clichés.
It’s as if human intelligence and reality just check out of these films and we are left with predictable behavior so dreadful, you think you are watching a bad comedy.
Film Courage: How did you come up with the pitch video for SCYTHE? Any resources that inspired it?
Jim: Lots of research and consulting. I consulted with a lady named Leah Cevoli to advise me on the process. She is an expert in KS campaigns. She advised me on the length, the points of interest, what to include, what not to include. I also watched several educational videos from the founder of Seed and Spark, I also asked friends and acquaintances who had both successful and unsuccessful campaigns. As we had shot a short already, we had ample footage to include to show people our intention with the film. Also, I knew that the mind doesn’t like to focus on one thing for so long so we kept the action hoping around. We have a pretty high play through percentage compared to the average so I am pleased how it turned out.
Film Courage: How long have you been planning the SCYTHE? What went into the pre-planning?
Jim: Writing it started 4 years ago. All of 2015 was spent getting our feature film packet together which includes storyboards, conceptual renderings, one sheet art, my previous short films, the 15 minute presentation of SCYTHE, budget, spreadsheet, bios, synopsis, etc. It was about a 75 page booklet. And we are actually using that as a prize in the campaign. Then at the end of the year, we started looking for our investors. We did explore doing things on a much larger budget, but ultimately because control would not be mine, I opted to go the indie route. Which I love anyway.
Film Courage: Are you also acting in the film?
Jim: I will be taking the lead role in the film. We are going to be talking to a star in the indie world to take on a supporting role in the film depending on our budget. However, the way the script is written, my part would be one of three central lead roles. So my camera time is only a portion of the film, leaving me free to direct the rest. As this is the 5th time directing myself on camera, I’m very excited.
Film Courage: How did you cast the other actors? Had you worked with them previously?
Jim: In my experience, sending out a casting notice for a female 18-25 renders about 600-1000 submissions and days worth of leafing through digital headshots and videos. Instead, this time around, I asked all of my producer, director and actor friends to send me their referrals of people who could play the part well. I got 12 names. I sent each of the actresses the sides a week ahead of time. It was an involved scene and part and I wanted each of them to be able to do their best. All of them were exceptional, but Andrea Muller blew me away. Nailed it on her first read. Zailee was equally good but a better fit to play the best friend. So I offered her that part instead and she accepted it.
Film Courage: How did you develop the Kickstarter rewards for SCYTHE? Did you study other campaigns?
Jim: Absolutely. And I researched what was popular to give away and what wasn’t. Shirts seem to be passe, so I swapped that out for movie posters, but the double-sided, lite-box kind, where the printing was on both sides of the paper, rather than just a white backing. Blu-Rays are also a popular choice. As are hats, autographed scripts, anything autographed and producing credits.
Jim: Instead of pitching it as a slasher film, I pitched it to them as a serious drama about someone who is coming to kill you. The film is going to emphasize the reality aspect, and eliminate the cliche aspect of it. So treat it as it were a drama, not a horror film.
Film Courage: Where did you shoot the film/secure the locations for the 15 minute investor version?
Jim: We shot the majority of the scene at a house in Altadena. The neighborhood had the AnyTown USA look I was going for. How we found the house was as simple as it gets: We dropped flyers at 25 houses that fit the script and told them to call us if they were interested and we could pay. $500. I got three calls. One said no thanks. The second I almost made a deal with, but they wouldn’t board their dog at a hostel for the night so that fell through. The third had seen filming on his block every week and thought it would be fun to get in the film business. So we made a deal with him. The opening scene with the girls in the bedroom was shot in my own apartment in my bedroom. We dressed the area to look like a girl’s bedroom.
Jim: We shot on the Canon C100 with a Ninja Recorder and Zeiss Lenses. The C100 is a very cinematic camera and captures low level light immensely well. Much of the short for the investors was not lit. We used natural lights from the candles and the camera picked it up unbelievably well. We will use for the feature the Arri Alexa for the stationary and static close-ups shots and for more movement we will utilize the less cumbersome, more flexible C100.
Film Courage: Once you finish the feature film version, what are your plans for it?
Jim: We will sell it to a distributor and use the proceeds to finance our next film.
Film Courage: What’s next for you creatively?
Jim: I would like to create my next feature film around my experiences being bullied in youth and the effects it can have on an adult’s life.
Jim Rothman was born and raised in Seattle, WA. Through high school, his heart and mind were always in the movies & in 1999, at 19, he moved down to CA to take a shot as his dreams.
Starting off as an actor, he branched into filmmaking & wrote & directed his short film in 2008 called I’m Not Matt Damon. lat year, he followed that up with a hilarious short film called Going Down There. His interests include reading, writing, Seahawks football, swimming.
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