As we near our premiere next week at the Little Rock Film Festival, I figured it may be a good time to talk a bit about the beginnings of The Grace of Jake. Where did the script come from? What inspired the story? When did I start writing it? What was that process like? How did it all come to be?
I have been fascinated with crop dusters for about as long as I have been fascinated with movies. One of my dad’s best buds Donnie Guthrie was a crop duster pilot and I used to bug him all the time with questions about his profession. At one point, after my first move back from LA (I lived in LA ’97-98, then moved back to FC to catch my breath) I had decided that I may pursue a career as a crop duster pilot. Much to my family’s dismay I started investigating, looking into the path to become a pilot. It was Donnie who talked me out of it. We all know it is a dangerous sport, but to hear it from a man who lived in a crop plane, well let’s just say he was very convincing. So I think right there and then I told myself that if I was not going to become a crop duster then maybe I could make a movie about the industry. Or in the very least write a character into a movie who is a crop duster pilot.
Bright yellow planes zooming just a few feet above wavering crops- that is the image that inspired the initial rumblings of this story. I knew 2 things early on, one I wanted to make a movie in and around the place I grew up, and two- there had to be crop dusters involved in the story!
Cut to LA, I moved back, started working my way from production assistant to director (a long and winding path with many dead ends, surprises, happy accidents, rejections, blessings, you name it), at some point in my journey, I think it was around 2000, I started writing an action script about a crop duster pilot caught up in a drug smuggling scheme. No where near the movie The Grace of Jake came to be, this script was awful. It was my way of getting out the junk before getting to the good stuff. After a year or so I decided to focus on other things and set the script aside, by the way it was called Fast to Nowhere. Good title, shit script.
Then a couple years later I met Jake La Botz at a bar one Wedneday night. My good buddy Scoot McNairy and I with others went out to hear some live music. I walked into the bar, one of our regular spots, and the first thing I heard was Jake’s voice as he sang. I was blown away. It was a rootys blues sound that took me back home. I could not see Jake I could only hear him, and as I rounded the corner and caught my first glimpse of Jake- well I was blown away. He did not look at all like he sounded. He was white, with a boyish face and a hint of silver in his smile. I could have sworn he was black and at least twice his age given the powerful and authentic sounds that came out of him. I sat glued to his set and as soon as he finished I went up to him and nervously told him that he and were going to do big things together. I had no idea at the time what those things were, nor did he. But that right then and there was the moment I knew I had to dig back into my crop duster idea and create a story that took Jake’s music as its guide. Thank you Amber Engebretson for inviting us out that night and introducing us to Jake! And also for contributing to our Kickstarter campaign!!!
I went home that night with my new Jake La Botz cd and listened and wrote. Again more bad writing as I was learning my voice at the time, but I wrote and I thought and I dreamed. Jake and I became friends, Scoot and I even started following him around with cameras in an attempt to document Jake’s story. More on that in another post. One Sunday morning we went with Jake to south central Los Angeles to a gospel church. Jake was singing that day and it was life changing experience for me. Jake played and sang the Dixie Nightengales “It’s Gonna Rain” to a packed house. (the song which is now the centerpiece piece of music of The Grace of Jake!)
It was hands down one of the most spiritual and emotional experiences I had had to date. It was for me what church is meant to be. I was overwhelmed, I think I may have even teared up a little. I was excited, I knew that not only would Jake’s music be a part of my crop duster music, Jake himself was going to play the lead role! Honest to God that is the day the real beginning of The Grace of Jake happened. I can narrow it down to a time and place. I can narrow it down to a moment.
I went home and immediately started in on what was to become The Grace of Jake. Little did I know then that I was launching what would become a decade long journey. A venture that would take me through relationships and the loss of loved ones; through my marriage and the birth of my boys through many career ups and downs; through 10 plus years of life. And “The Grace of Jake” was something I thought of at least once everyday since that day in church. I now had my lead actor/character, I now had my music, I now had my desire- I just had no idea what the story was yet. 2003 that was the year I wrote the first of what would become the script we had as cameras rolled in October of 2013. That was when the seeds broke through the soil and started their upward journey towards the sun!
More on the script in the next post. Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend, I am going to take my boys dirt bike riding. Cheers!