We recently sat down for an interview with the highly talented, successful, inspirational filmmaker and art director Jake Wilkens about his goals for the future and some of the biggest achievements of his career. Here is what he had to say:
When did you first get into Art directing and what do you remember most about your first experience?
I first got into art directing when I met a woman named Rachel Darrow. She’s a very talented, seasoned production designer. She was doing an independent horror film set in Siberia and I became a part of her construction team at first. As indie films tend to go, you take on more and more responsibility as it arises and I eventually, was the assistant art director. Some days, I would be overseeing most of the operations of the art department. What I remember about that first experience most is the realization that there is much more that goes into every shot than meets the eye. All of a sudden, I was paying attention to the finest, smallest details in the back of every shot. Now, when I watch movies, i appreciate every frame, every set, so much more.
Who, or what, inspired you as an artist while growing up?
Growing up I was much more into sports than into art. I always loved movies, loved the entertainment value, but I never appreciated it as an art form until my late teens. I started really looking at film as an art form after I saw Good Will Hunting. I realized how intricate dialog could be in a film. It could have layers upon layers of meaning and intonation and reveal so much about the character and in a way, yourself. That film inspired me to write films, which has in turn inspired me to art direct, camera operate, and do all things in film possible.
What do you feel is one of the biggest achievements so far in your career?
In my career so far, I’d have to say that my biggest achievement is getting a film of my own made. Making a film is a super difficult process. I wrote a short film and my good friend, Mark O’Brien, loved it and told me he wanted to do it. He would direct it with me, star in it etc. I was all for it, but I remember it being over a year ago now that I had these deep doubts. I was like “who are we going to get to agree to do this?”.You need so many people to get a good, professional product. We kickstarted it, we assembled a crew of willing people. The whole process, pre production, production and post, took the better part of the year. We finished it and have so far got it in 4 pretty big Canadian festivals. It’s been a great success so far and for sure is what I’m most proud of up until now.
What has been one of your favorite projects to work on and why?
One of my favorite experiences has been working with TXL productions on their commercial and music video shoots for ABC Mouse, an online learning program. When I was first asked to come aboard, I was thinking it was going to be super boring. I figured it would be like an infomercial or something. However, TXL is made up of all these hyper creative producers, writers and technicians. Taron Lexton, the director, is like this young, enthusiastic genius who can run a crew of 5 to 100, and get a product worthy of the best filmmakers in the world. They shot a music video with 100 of the best young dancers in the world, ages varied from 8-14. They were all professional, well known and incredible artists. Watching this crew of around 50 people work together, with this cast of over 100 to get the product that they got, was one of the best learning experiences I could ever hope to get. I did some camera operation on that shoot, as well as some lighting and grip work and it was amazing. I was just honored to be a part of it.
If you had a choice of what type of project or collaboration you would like to work on, who or what would it be and why?
Anything with Christopher Nolan. He is by far my favorite filmmaker. I would die to be a part of his team, as an art director, member of the camera team, lighting team, anything. As a writer, my dream is to just have him read something of mine and like it. I can barely fathom the idea of him wanting to make something of mine, but since this is a dream scenario….
What have you learned most about being in this business?
The thing I have really learned is that you have to really be true to yourself as an artist. You have to trust your instincts and what you think is going to get the best product and stick with it. Everyone in this industry has an opinion and would happily share it with you. But when you start getting too many people telling you how something should sound or look or be, you lose sight of your own artistic endeavors and that’s the worst thing that can happen.
What projects do you have coming up?
I have a few things in the works right now. I am developing a TV pilot with a friend in Canada, sort of an HBO comedy type idea. Also, I am developing a script I wrote based off the short film I co-directed with Mark O’Brien. We are going to be meeting with some producers to get it off the ground! Also, I’m going to be camera operating on a few commercials in the summer. It’s going to be a busy year! Also, I will be in the UK working on a short film set in 7th Century England during the Pagan/Christian wars as a set designer.
What would be your best advice to aspiring artists?
My best advice to aspiring artists is to just keep on learning and keep on practicing. Whether you write or direct or operate cameras or art direct, you can always learn more and get better and better. Watch films, read books, study all forms of art. It all combines into a massive amount of creation and potential that can be harvested for any project you are going to be working on.