Interview: Jesse D. Ikeman Talks Directing, ‘A Perfect Plan’May 2, 2020
Recently we had the chance to talk with Jesse D. Ikeman about the entertainment industry, the challenges of directing, and his new movie A Perfect Plan.
Did you always want to be a filmmaker or did that interest develop over time?
Jesse: It’s a funny story, because I got into this business twenty years ago, with a company called Lions Atlantis, on the business side, and I was just trying to figure out my way into the business. I was doing a lot of coordinating, moving a lot of documents around to help products get made, and one day my boss comes over and says yeah, I need you to do this thing with this budget, lots of numbers, so I look at the budget and there’s a thing called a gaffer, something called a best boy, I had no idea what these were because I was just coming out of business school and I had never set foot on a set. It wasn’t until I made my first short film that these things started to gel in my head what these things were, and that was back in 2001. I spent many years producing so I’ve always loved the creative and this was just an opportunity where I finally said to myself you know, I really want to try, because this was the first time I directed. I knew my way around a film set fairly well but it was quite a challenge but it helped me appreciate what directors go through, that’s for sure.
You’ve done producing, writing, and now directing. Do you have a favorite, one you want to stick with, or will you continue to go back and forth?
Jesse: I think I will continue to go back and forth. I really enjoy the different aspects and to me it’s filmmaking, I just love being on set, I love the collaboration, I love working with great people and our producers, Christopher Giroux and Bill Marks, and our whole team that helped to make this film. Everybody from our editor Alex Freitas, who is literally just down the hall from us now editing the second film I’m directing, a Christmas film, to just everybody on our crew, making filmmaking fun.
Let’s talk about A Perfect Plan. Where did the idea come from for this film?
Jesse: The original idea wasn’t a thriller, the original idea I give full credit to Geoff Hart, who was my co-writer on this. The initial concept was to just put five people into a room and have them debate who’s going to have to die overnight, the other four of them would live but they would have to make that decision amongst themselves, that was the original seed of the idea. Geoff came on board and he has a great action background and he said, well this is a really good jumping-off point but let’s make it a thriller, so he came up the idea of the thriller, the heist film and once the initial structure was laid out, it was just a creative process structurally, figuring out the characters, the arcs, and that took a year.
The movie has a great cast as well. How did you manage to bring all these people together for this film?
Jesse: Honestly, I got very lucky. (laughs) William Forsythe is just a force of an actor, I was very privileged to be able to work with him. He comes to set and that guy is ready to work, and he’s made so many amazing movies and brings so much to the table…his experience alone, he knows more about making movies than anyone on the set combined. We had a past relationship with the agency that represented him so we reached out and he read the script and thankfully he liked it. The rest of the actors, Kathleen Munroe, Carlo Rota, and Yannick…Michael, who is new to the business but we wanted to find somebody who’s actually native Irish for that role, and Gia, they all resulted in great quality casting from our casting director Stephanie Gorin. Also, my producer Bill Marks, he reached out personally to Carlo’s agent and to Yannick and they read the script and liked it, so they came on board.
So as the director, what were your biggest challenges in making this film?
Jesse: I think changing from having a producer’s mentality to having a director’s mentality. I think the biggest difference is the specificity once you get on set. There’s a lot of things when you’re producing that you can delegate, I mean, you can hire a great person and they can do a great job. When you’re the director you have to supervise all of these great people so they know what your vision is, what you want to achieve. To me it’s about specifics, where the thing has to be placed on the table, we had weapons, locks to pick and you don’t always pay attention to all of these things your first time around. The more time you spend on the set you realize how those earlier choices are going to impact the rest of the film, so that was definitely a learning process and something that just comes with experience, and hopefully at the end of the day people like the choices that I made.
There is a lot of great dialogue between the characters, during different scenes throughout the film. Did you give them free rein to improvise or did they stick to the script for the most part?
Jesse: A lot of the dialogue I’m going to give to Al Kratina, who came in to do a punch up on the script while we’re going into production, he came in for a dialogue punch up and he did a fantastic job. He has many awards and accolades from other things he’s done so we were lucky to have him come in to help with that. The actors, William especially, he had a really clear idea of his character, so he brought a lot to the table, even in terms of how his character would speak. He came to town several days early, we worked through the script and he had some amazing input which I was thankful that he brought to the table.
William Forsythe brought a lot of presence with him when he entered a scene. Did you feel that when you were directing him during the shoot?
Jesse: Oh yeah, definitely. When William walks on set there’s just a lot of respect for what he brings to the table. There’s a seriousness to the craft and a collaborative aspect that he has with all the other actors, we had five actors, most of the time four of them were on set, and it was amazing to see how the cast worked together. I would stand back and watch them work things out, then come in and tweak a few things here or there, but you can definitely feel what he brings. He makes you be at your very best, you have to have your A-game when he is on set, it’s great. For my first time directing something, I was lucky to have William and all of these actors, a real privilege to work with that group of people.
The film looked and sounded great as well. Was there a lot of time spent on the lighting and sound for the film?
Jesse: Thank you, and yes there was. (Laughs) For the look of the film I tip my hat to my director of photography Pasha Patriki and Mila Patriki who did the coloring on it, they were instrumental in the look that you see. It was colored at Red Square Motion, they did an amazing job putting together the look and feel. The sound of the film, which I’m particularly proud of, was done by Steph Copeland, she did an absolutely fantastic job with the score on this.
There is so much content in the indie film market right now. How will you approach that competitive market, with a small theater release, film festivals, or possibly both?
Jesse: I’ll talk about the film first, then the market itself. I’m very happy the film is going to be at the Canadian Film Fest, they do a fantastic job of putting people in the seats, so we want this film to have as much of a life as it can. Beyond that, we want to get this film in front of as many people as we can, and right now, for me, it’s less about a theatrical release and more about just getting it in front of people. For filmmakers, in general, there’s a lot of, ego might not be the right word but it’s not a bad word in this case because there’s a lot of ego wrapped around wanting to get a film in a film festival. Film festivals are fantastic for networking, for filmmakers, for the community, all that stuff…it doesn’t necessarily bring you in front of the widest audience these days, and that’s changed drastically over the last three years. Now, my personal perspective on the matter is, especially when you’re making indie films, it’s about getting in front of the widest possible audience. There is so much out there right now but if you get it on one of the larger platforms it will be seen, and as a filmmaker that’s what you want. You don’t want your film to get swallowed up because right now, it’s a content landslide, it very easy to get swallowed up, in every genre right now, it’s tough.
When this film was finally finished, were you able to step back, look at it and be happy with the end result, or were there things you would have liked to have done differently?
Jesse: I’m very proud to say I’m exceptionally happy with the end result, in fact, it’s better than I thought it would be. We put a lot of work into it, not just me, everybody across the board, really gave their heart and soul to it, it was a project of passion so I’m super excited about the end quality of the film. In terms of what you take away from it as a learning experience, oh god, yeah. (laughs) It is a very long list of things you want to do differently and the great thing about that is, it’s like a perfect golf swing. You may get one but you spend the rest of your time trying to get another, so there were many things to learn as a filmmaker. I have great respect for anyone who wants to get behind the lens and direct because it’s very challenging and there’s just so much to learn. I was lucky to film a second film recently and took a lot of this experience to that film and there’s still a long list. I think the great thing is it’s fun when you’re with great people, it makes it worthwhile and you want to do it again.
Can you tell me a bit about the second film you finished and what else you have planned going forward?
Jesse: I just finished doing a Christmas film called Inn for Christmas, it’s a television movie of the week, it stars Jonna Walsh and Jesse Hutch, and that was just a really fun project to dive into after this. This will be done in June and after that, I don’t know, there’s lots of stuff percolating right now.
I want to thank Jesse for taking the time to talk with us.
Because of the quarantine, the Canadian Film Fest will now be a virtual film festival. You can catch A Perfect Plan on Super Channel Fuse May 23rd at 9 pm.
Get all the details here: https://www.canfilmfest.ca/