The Daily Quarterly: What made you want to be in show business?
Jay Weisman: I come from a long line of storytellers. My dad is quite the raconteur and so was my grandfather – who acted in Yiddish theater when he came to this country – so on one hand, it was a natural interest. On the other, I was always into space travel and technology – so those passions kinda merged into wanting to be a filmmaker, I guess. Specifically being a science-fiction filmmaker because I figured if I couldn’t have NASA send me to the moon, I could do the next best thing and just get a set together and put myself there!
TDQ: Who was your favorite director growing up?
JW: I guess it depends at what point in my life you asked me! I had a really great film education growing up, so I went through my Lucas and Spielberg phase, then Coppola and Kubrick and then I started learning about some of the great directors of the 30s and 40s like Michael Curtiz and Howard Hawks.
Then there were directors like James Cameron, David Lean and Ridley Scott who also had a huge influence on me. I’d have the equivalent of director mix tapes where I’d binge-watch seminal movies from their body of work and try and see how their style developed, what where their recurring themes and how they grew in ability.TDQ: What was your favorite movie growing up?
JW: “Star Wars” – the original. Hands down! That movie had such an impact because it kind of encapsulated all of my interests and kinda blew my young mind. There were so many ground-breaking things in that movie – but it also was the first time I could look at something that I might be able to do someday. It’s like a first love.
TDQ: What was your favorite TV show growing up?
JW: Classic “Star Trek” and “Twilight Zone.” It’s interesting – the older I got, the more I realized that these shows had a real depth to them. So when I was younger, I’d tune into all the space battles and Captain Kirk derring-do of “Star Trek,” and twist endings of the “Twilight Zone” – but as I got older, it would start occurring to me that these stories were actually about so much more than seemingly what was presented on the screen. That, to me, is really the power of science fiction.
And if you see “Shockwave Darkside,” you can definitely see those influences in the film. I think those shows managed to become really great cautionary tales about our flirtation and adolescence with technology – and through that they could comment on things like religion, politics, civil rights and science in a way that was pretty innovative.
My dad was a also a huge fan of both of these shows, so I that was really our thing as I was growing up. Some fathers and sons have baseball, and we had Rod Serling and Gene Roddenberry.
TDQ: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
JW: My grandfather was a Holocaust survivor – and one day we went out for coffee and he asked me how I was doing. I complained for about a half an hour – just bitching about general life frustrations – my job, my rent, blah blah blah. He sipped his tea and listened to me and smiled.
Then he asked me how old I was. I told him that I was 30.
He kinda nodded and smiled again. He put down his tea, leaned in and said to me:
“You know when I was 30, I was running from the Nazis.”
That, obviously, put MANY things in perspective.
TDQ: What is the worst advice you’ve ever received?
JW: ‘This will go on your permanent record’ – life is always in flux, so I wish my younger self realized that was all hooey…TDQ: Who are your influences?
JW: Two films were kind of touchstones for us while we were making “Shockwave, Darkside” – ‘2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Saving Private Ryan,” so two direct influences of course were Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg. But also people like I said above, David Lean, Howard Hawks, George Lucas, James Cameron and Ridley Scott had – and still have – a tremendous impact on me.
Also, new guys like Neill Blomkamp and Joss Whedon are always sources of inspiration. In fact Neil Blomkamp’s short film “Alive in Joburg” was one of the sparks behind “Shockwave.”
TDQ: You wrote and directed the movie “Shockwave Darkside” and directed some episodes of “1000 Ways to Die” on TV. What’s a more challenging experience, directing films or directing TV shows?
JW: TV requires a different set of muscles because you’re essentially facilitating someone else’s vision. You have to jump in, decode the DNA of the show and then execute within those parameters. With “Shockwave Darkside,” I was the originator of the concept, so the challenges there were more about refining the tone, whereas being a director-for-hire on television that and the visual language is already set.
TDQ: Do you find it easier or more difficult directing something that you wrote yourself?
JW: For me, I’d say it is easier because I have at least thought through the intent of the scene. That way, if something doesn’t feel right I can at least talk through all the considerations that I went through to get to that point.
There were a few instances while making “Shockwave” where an actor would come up and say “This doesn’t make sense to me” so we could then troubleshoot and work through a solution because I had all this experience and backstory in my mind.
In fact, when we were shooting the movie the ‘Director Jay’ had Gollum-like fights with ‘Writer Jay’ because we had to be very nimble and change things on the fly to keep everything moving. It’s kind of an ‘inside out’ versus an’outside in’ approach and I’m someone who likes to have as much information as possible going in.
TDQ: Where do you see yourself in five years?
JW: I’d love to have another movie or two under my belt!