Monday 4 November 2019

Interview with Jason Loftus - Producer of #NoJoke

In #NoJoke, singer Andrew Cole sets out to convince his musical idols to help him make a song for victims of bullying. He’s joined by Jeff Goldblum, Slash, Patrick Stewart, Lemmy, Chad Smith, Jane Lynch and more, who share their talents and their sometimes painful experiences. Andrew’s journey to understand bullying leads him to experts and to the ghosts of his own past—going beyond the tropes of today’s anti-bullying campaigns to the heart of the issue.

From writer/director Manfred Becker,  #NoJoke chronicles a musician's journey to create a song with some of the biggest stars in the industry. Along the way, he faces up to his painful past, while giving viewers a deep personal insight into the issue of bullying.

Ozzy Osbourne, Meat Loaf, Charlie Sheen, Michael Biehn, Diego Boneta, Julian Lennon and Steve Vai also feature in #NoJoke, available October 22 On Demand and Digital from Indiecan Entertainment. 

Now, for the unversed, what does a producer do?

The producer has the final responsibility for both the business and creative decisions on a film. What that actually means will vary depending on the size of your team and the nature and scale of the project, but on a very small team it can seem like everything. I’m fortunate to have had other producers working with me on this project, who’ve carried big parts of the load.

Generally, though, a producer can be responsible right from the outset with securing the rights needed to make a film, financing the project, hiring and then overseeing the production team, overseeing post-production, and then dealing with distribution and marketing, either directly or by contracting and engaging with third parties. 

And you’ve been an executive producer on some of the films – how does being an EP differ from being a producer?

In film, an EP may be less involved in terms of day-to-day supervision. They may also play valuable but more limited roles in terms of financing the project or providing creative direction or input. When I’ve played this role, it’s sometimes because the film belongs to another filmmaker and I have simply assisted that filmmaker secure some financing and helped in limited areas with the creative. In other cases, I have owned the project but had a producer handling most of the day-to-day work and decisions. In television, the executive producer credit is a bit different and can imply that person has played some of the roles that the main producer would with a film, such as securing the rights to make the project, financing it, and supervising its development.

In terms of your main responsibilities on #NoJoke, what were you in charge of?

My primary responsibilities involved funding the project, building the right team, and then working with that team to make sure we could deliver our film.

My producing partner, Adam Leipzig, and I hopped onto what was already a moving train with this project. Andrew Cole was a relatively unknown singer-songwriter, but he had begun convincing some big Hollywood names to join him in making this song about bullying.

It was an interesting underdog story, and Adam and I believed there was a movie here. Fortunately, we were able to find support for it and find an excellent team to make it.

And did that include finding and securing talent to interview?

As the film portrays, this was really all Andrew. And as you see in the film, he had some pretty creative ideas to try to get the access he needed to do his pitch. It was definitely tough going at first until he started to get some yeses. As with anything, the first one is the hardest. So landing Jeff Goldblum was a huge boost.

Anyone that you personally roped into doing the movie?

In my role, I think the biggest fish I landed was the director of our film, Manfred Becker.

Even though the story is about this guy who seeks to build an army of celebrities to help stop bullying, we know the issue of abuse is complex and not something we can solve simply with artists banding together. I didn’t want a film that trivialized or ignored this reality, and nor did Adam. So we wanted a director who would do justice to the subject matter.

If you’ve seen Manfred Becker’s previous work, he’s not into puff pieces. We believed he could balance the celebrity aspect of this project and still bring gravity and nuance to a difficult issue. This included delving into Andrew’s own past, as well as the various experts Andrew meets that help shape the ideas in the film.

Once filming began and Manfred and his team were following Andrew’s journey, it was really about giving Manfred the time and resources to find the story as it emerged. That’s often the most gruelling and time-consuming part of making a documentary.

The film is entertaining but it’s also a wonderful education tool. I imagine your motivation for doing the film isn’t so much commercial or financial, then..?

Thank you! Yes, in general documentaries are seldom big money makers, and here we’re contributing to the work of the charity Abuse Hurts with this project. But docs have a unique ability to shed light on subjects and perspectives that sometimes don’t get the attention they deserve. I think it’s great when you can contribute something valuable to a dialogue that impacts people. I’m proud of what Manfred and his team were able to bring out in this film.

Why should people seek out #NoJoke?

I think many will come to it because they’re interested in hearing their idols open up about their bullying experiences, or because of the underdog story of Andrew Cole convincing big celebrities to join him to do a We Are the World for bullying. But the film is more than that.

I have a lot of respect for people like Patrick Stewart, Jane Lynch, Chad Smith and Michael Biehn, who shared some difficult things from their pasts. I hope it helps people to see that celebrities can go through the same difficult things we do, and in some cases they make bad decisions just like the rest of us.

At the same time, #NoJoke doesn’t pretend that bringing artists together will solve bullying and abuse, which are not new problems. It brings forward some really interesting perspectives that I hope will contribute to the broader conversation on bullying and how we approach it.