Live from Los Angeles – 24 year old New Brunswick Filmmaker Jillian Acreman has just completed principal photography on her latest short film, “Man Who Sold the World”. This project would be a career highlight for filmmakers anywhere. She wrote the script and directed the legendary Steve Railsback (The Stunt Man, Helter Skelter), Barry Livingston (Mad Men, My Three Sons (played Ernie) and Jean Rasey (The Hindenburg, Nancy Drew TV Series (played George) for her film which is now in post-production mode. The film’s producer was Lalesha Railsback (actress, writer and the daughter of Steve Railsback).
Award winning filmmaker Jillian Acreman has produced two short films which have been screened at international festivals, and most recently on CBC. Acreman’s first short film “Broke” was accepted into the Festival de Cannes Short Film Corner (which is out of competition) in 2010 which she attended. Her second short film, “The Editor” was met with critical acclaim.
I recently sat down with an elated Acreman to discuss what it was like to shoot “Man Who Sold the World” and what her plans are for the film once it is in distribution. This talented and creative young lady has a deep appreciation for film history and is quite the classic film buff.
Jim: Before we delve into your exciting new film and the almost surreal experience you must have had doing it, give us the 101 on Jillian Acreman. Where are you from? How did this whole love for film get started? As a child, while others stood in front of the mirror acting out scenes were you the one directing their performance?
Jillian: I’m from Ottawa but I’ve been living in Fredericton for over 7 years now. My training in film comes from sitting and watching films for thousands of hours, something which I have my movie loving parents to thank for. I did not begin getting involved on the production side of film until I was 19 when I started volunteering on low/no-budget films friends of mine were producing. As a kid I thought becoming an actress would be glamorous and I would force my little brother to do shows with me for our parents, but as I became older and realized that there are hundreds of people BEHIND the scenes, that’s when I lost the acting bug and wanted to write. I joined the NB Film Co-operative and through the guidance of everyone there I began to learn and see how things can come together. Cat and Tony and the NBFC are an extension of my family.
Jim: How on earth do you direct Steve Railsback, Barry Livingston and Jean Rasey? I mean talk about taking a page out of film and television history (more like a book)What was it like, as a director, a writer to have this kind of talent and creativity right in front of you? Explain to me your creative process on this project?
Jillian: It goes without saying that when you work with any actor it is going to be a learning experience for both of you. When you happen to work with actors who have over 100 years experience combined it really opens the doors to what you can learn and understand and it makes you a better director and filmmaker. I think one of the biggest steps is just breaking the ice with your actors and being comfortable opening a dialogue with them. Steve is a really funny guy which helped the process immensely, and he is a very professional actor which taught us all a lot. I’ve grown very fond of him.
Jim: You assembled others for this shoot; people that you believed in and knew had the talent to make this a go. Producer Lalesha Railsback, Director of Photography Jesse Anthony, Assistant Camera Matthew Carr, Sound Recordist Mixer Connor Doyle and of course actress Jessica Holt to name a few. You had worked with these people before on different productions. Share your feelings on their contribution to “Man Who Sold the World” (MWSTW). It is also worth noting that all have ties and roots to the New Brunswick Film community.
Jillian: I had lunch with my good friend Lalesha last summer and we decided to partner on my third short film. Initially I wanted to shoot in Montreal but when she suggested her hometown of Los Angeles that’s when the ball really got rolling. We both knew immediately that we were only interested in doing it with our own people, our own way, and despite the fact that we did hire additional crew members in the US, the heart and soul of MWSTW was ours.
Jesse Anthony is one of my closest friends and a hell of a cinematographer. He shot my previous films “Broke” and “The Editor” and he really has such an amazing instinct for the visual look of a film. When you work with the same people consistently you really develop a short hand and understand what each person is looking for. Jesse generally already knows where I want things to go and how they’re supposed to look and feel and that really lets us just jump in quickly when we begin a project.
Conor Doyle, Jessica Holt and Matt Carr offered me peace of mind that I couldn’t have acquired without them. They’re all so talented and on-the-ball and enthusiastic. We all believe in each other and I think that, along with a great set etiquette and understanding of each other creates great energy on and off set. The film simply wouldn’t exist without them.
Jim: So here you are in post-production, it is edit time and there are choices to be made in the cutting room. I suspect there will be perhaps two versions (festival cut and director’s cut)? It must be both humbling and empowering to call the shots so to speak.
Jillian: Filmmakers never get to see their own work for the first time. I mean between writing, preproduction, shooting, dailies, editing, editing, editing… we do miss out on the opportunity to watch it as it was intended. I’ve learned the hard way that you have to really try and remove yourself from what you already know going into editing so you can faithfully create what you intend your audience to see. It’s nice to have control, but it can be hard to be impartial. A lot of filmmakers feel that what they create can either be understood or appreciated by audiences, or if they don’t get it, then they don’t get it. I’m not like that. I want people to watch and listen to my stories and connect with them, the first time and every time in some way.
Jim: Give me a synopsis of the film, without giving too much away. How you pulled it off, how in the world you managed to get this all to come together?
Jillian: The film is about a man who makes a simple business decision mid-way through his career and it comes back to haunt him.
My film partner Lalesha and I frequently found ourselves asking each other “Are we really here? Are we about to shoot? Did we just do this?” But, there’s no big secret. We just said we were going to do it, and do it our way, and we started the process. It’s been in the works since last July, though most of that time was used to raise and save the money needed for it. Logistically this was the biggest learning curve I’ve ever encountered between SAG (Screen Actors Guild) and insurance/ rentals I had a lot of paperwork to fill out! Having Steve on board was very helpful. He really helped us get certain things that we would otherwise have gone without. We were very lucky.
Jim: So when and where can we expect to see “Man Who Sold the World”? What is next for you in filmmaking and I have the feeling that a feature looms in the not too distant future?
Jillian: I of course would love to have a NB premier of MWSTW and then just ride the festival circuit, try and license it, and see it broadcast. I think it’s safe to say that most young filmmakers have features on their mind. I’m definitely not the exception. I’ll leave it at that though for now ;).
Check out Jillian’s new Facebook page for her film company Columbus Avenue Pictures: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Columbus-Avenue-Pictures/125966187481790
The second part of this exclusive continues tomorrow (Thursday April 28th) with feedback from Iconic actors Steve Railsback, Barry Livingston and Jean Rasey on how “Man Who Sold the World” went from their perspective.
Photographs by: Matthew Carr