Jared Callahan’s “Janey Makes a Play” was a big hit at the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival when it made its world premiere. The documentary begins a theatrical run on Friday, June 17th at the Plaza Theatre. I interviewed Jared Callahan about his wonderful, touching documentary.
Hi, Jared. Tell us about “Janey Makes a Play.”
Jared: It’s a feature documentary that follows ninety-year-old Janey Callahan as she writes and produces her 18th original musical melodrama. Her theatrical troupe is called “No Small Thing Productions” and they are a community theatre troupe in a town of a couple of thousand people. The town is tucked by a riverbed, kind of lost by time. The movie follows them as they audition, rehearse, and then perform her play. The depth of the film comes from getting to know the people in the town and realizing that the play that Janey has written is timely and relevant to what the town is going through, as the recent recession has hit them very hard, making it tough to live in small town America. So, all storylines collide as they battle through “hell week” and attempt to perform this play this play for their friends and neighbors, telling their own story on stage.
So how did you find out about Janey and her play?
Jared: Janey is my grandmother. Janey has over twenty grandchildren. I know my grandmother about as well as you can when one of twenty. We were just impressed when she knew all our names and birthdays and could remember to send us cards on those birthdays. I knew they were performing these plays because they started doing them right before I left for college but I had never seen one live until we decided to make the movie. In 2011 I was home and before Christmas dinner, Janey and I were sitting around talking. She started telling me about the play they had just put on, and I asked if she had any ideas for the next play. She lit up and told me the story of a small town struggling with the depression and the big foot businessman who comes into town and finagles the bank into buying up all the land in the town and drives everyone away. I realized that what she was doing with the story was incorporate it with the current recession and how it was affecting the town and its people. I wrote a note at that time on my phone “Janey Makes a Play.” Some ideas get louder, and some ideas fade away, but this idea kept getting louder and louder. I knew I had to ask her and her troupe if it would be ok for me to film them. I knew at the end of the first day of shooting that we had a featured film! We filmed all throughout the fall of 2012 and then edited the movie for the last three years to get the film ready to be distributed starting this week.
You have been traveling all over the country with the film, playing at film festivals. How was that experience been?
Jared: It’s a fun film to travel with because the movie is so likable. At the end of the movie, people come up to me and say can we just hug Janey? They are so inspired by the motor that she has and her unending positivity that keeps her going in the face of people moving away, quitting the play, lack of money or even people not knowing their lines. She is somehow always positive. We had our world premiere at the Atlanta Film Festival, and then we had our west coast premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival. We have played at over 15 film festivals around the country, and audiences have just loved the film.
You did a Kickstarter to help finish the film and get it distributed. How was that experience?
Jared: For creative people, it’s seen as a magic button that you can push to print money, but I have found it not to be that way. What Kickstarter allows you to do is lean on a very generous community that puts their money into a film not knowing if or when they will get to see the finished product. I’ve learned that the Kickstarter community is an incredible trusting group of people that will support a film at all costs. We were looking for around 12,000 dollars, and we almost doubled it. It sustained the life of the film and without the Kickstarter backers, the film would never have been completed. I excited to have the film out, done and to be able to distribute all the rewards to the backers because they were so faithful to helping the project get finished.
This year at the Atlanta Film Festival you were announced as one of the Atlanta Film Society’s Filmmaker in Residence. Congrats on getting that honor!
Jared: Yes, thank you. The Atlanta Film Society is an incredible group of people who believe in empowering independent film in Atlanta and connecting all levels of people who are trying to make films so that we can make each other better. Being a part of the Filmmakers in Residence program means a validation of my work. I have three short films and three other movies in production, and it puts a stamp of validation on your upcoming work. It allows also making your films better because you can show your work to other filmmakers in the society and get feedback, making my work better. Getting other filmmakers in residence feedback makes it a collaborative effort and a filmmaking family. It allows your work to get out there and be scene because now, it’s easy to make content but getting that content scene is the biggest hurdle. You can spend years making a film but in the end, if people don’t know about it, and it doesn’t get seen, then you lose that ability to make independent films.
So, speaking of seeing your work, you can see your film “Janey Makes a Play” starting Friday, June 17th at the Plaza theatre here in Atlanta.
Jared: Yes it’s playing at the Plaza Theatre, which is a great venue in Atlanta for independent film. It starts Friday night and plays through Wednesday. I will be doing a Q&A after the movie on Sunday through Wednesday. I would love to meet everyone after the film and would love for you to see my film about my grandmother Janey.
And your film is playing in a few other cities around the country?
Jared: Yes, we open in Los Angeles this weekend as well and after the Atlanta and L.A. runs, it will play in San Diego. Then the film gets a digital release on Tuesday, June 28th. The film is already listed on iTunes for pre-order if you can’t make it to the theatre this weekend.
Thanks, Jared and much success to your wonderful film “Janey Makes a Play.”
Jared: Thanks so much.
“Janey Makes a Play” opens at the Plaza Theatre on Friday, June 17th. For more information, go to www.plazaatlanta.com.
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