Heard of Yale Productions? Well you're about to! If you haven't heard of them yet then you've been living under a rock. They're slowly taking over the industry with the soon to be indie classics such as Jack Goes Home and King Cobra; they're the ones to look out for this year! I was lucky enough to get the chance to talk to CEO of Yale Productions and producer himself Jordan Yale Levine. Check out what he had to say.
What made you decide to start Yale productions?
JL: I started raising money/Executive Producing films for established producers/production companies when I was 19 for five or so years. It was terrific building up my credits and helping films get off the ground, find distribution etc., but I was always passionate about being creatively involved (in addition to the financing side), and acting as a Producer on these projects. As a 19 year old kid, I knew I had to build up my resume before raising money for my own projects. After doing so for years, I opened up Yale Productions and starting producing films whereby I was involved in the entire process, and have been doing so ever since.
What does it stand for? What kind of movies do you want to be remembered for?
JL: Yale is my middle name, named after the college my father went to. I took the complete opposite path in my life, skipped college (not saying the right or wrong way!), and starting working in the business right after high school. I want to be remembered for just good films. I know that sounds bland, but what I mean is I don't just want to create and produce films in one certain genre. First and foremost I am movie lover, and I enjoy films that range in genre from drama to horror, and everything in between. It just comes down to what I'm in the mood for. In 2015, I produced a psychological thriller, a murder story based on real life events, and an uplifting film about cancer. The common theme about all of these films is that they are all good (in my opinion!). It would be amazing for people to look back at my work and take away different emotions and inspirations. Similar to how I can walk out of a film like Creed or Straight Outta Compton and feel so inspired, or after watching films such as Boyhood or Avatar and just try to fathom the creativity and innovative nature behind such projects.
You have some really exciting things coming up, tell us a out them? What should we keep an eye out for?
JL: In 2016, my films Jack Goes Home, King Cobra, and Welcome to Willits should all be released. Jack Goes Home is a unique psychological thriller/elevated genre piece that is unlike any movie I have produced or seen before. Thomas Dekker directed the film based upon his screenplay, and was brilliant, as was the acting by Rory Culkin, Lin Shaye, Britt Robertson, Nikki Reed, Louis Hunter, Daveigh Chase and Natasha Lyonne. The performances are special to say the least. King Cobra is the second feature by director Justin Kelly, which tells the true story of a murder in the adult entertainment industry in the early 2000s. James Franco, Christian Slater, Alicia Silverstone, Garrett Clayton, Keegan Allen, and Molly Ringwald star in this film. In addition, King Cobra will have its world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival in April. Welcome to Willits is an exciting sci-fi/horror film based on a short with the same title that premiered at SXSW in 2015. This film stars Bill Sage, Sabina Gadecki, Dolph Lundren, Chris Zylka, and more!
You recently went to south by south west, how was that?
JL: Yes, we had the world premiere of Jack Goes Home at SXSW. It was an amazing experience. People seemed to really dig the film, and it was wonderful being there with my producing partners, Scott Levenson, and Thomas Dekker. The three of us really put so much time, energy, and love into producing this film, so the premiere and activities surrounding the film at SXSW was very rewarding.
The film industry is a tough one to crack, what makes it special?
JL: It is special, and even though it is a tough one to crack, I enjoy every moment of what I do, and can honestly say I wake up everyday and love what I do. Seeing a project go from a script to being filmed, then being released is a feeling that is very hard to explain, but "special" does the trick!
What advice would you give to anyone trying to break through?
JL: Work, work, work! I think to be successful at anything in life, you need to have a strong drive and work ethic. Besides that, surround yourself with the right people that you can trust, and that you can build and grow with together. Producing films with my childhood friend Scott Levenson has been such a great experience/partnership. We already have that built in trust, so it's very easy to rely on each other. Jon Keeyes, who is also part of our team, is the best line producer I have ever worked with. After working together for the first time, I knew I never wanted anyone else to line produce our films. Most recently, we have grown our team even further with the addition of Michael Clofine and his Digital Ignition Entertainment company. We are thrilled with this new partnership and are lining up many projects together.
As a producer you have to make sure that everything is perfect from the director to the actors. What makes a good director? How does that come about?
JL: Before a film goes into production, there is much time spent putting all of the elements together. A big part of this process is working with the director. I spend many hours talking/meeting with directors, and I really have to feel comfortable with their vision and leadership before fully committing myself as a producer. I never want to step on a director's toes creatively, so after really getting to know each director and their respective vision, and ultimately believing in them, I can then trust in their decisions on set in that position. A director has to command respect from the actors and the crew. If there is no respect or trust, the whole film gets thrown off. This respect comes from knowledge of the material and knowing exactly what you want out of every actor in every scene, and the look and feel of each and every moment.
What makes a script stick out to you?
JL: Scripts that stick out to me are the ones that make me feel that the project can have the potential to be something different than what I have seen before. Also, scripts that stay with me for days after reading them, whether feeling inspired or disturbed.
The film industry is talking about the gender gap right now and diversity, do you think it's important to keep the discussion going?
I do. There are so many talented people in our industry and everyone should have an equal playing field. All I can do is continue to judge material to produce based on the best overall project, and whether the lead is a female or male, white or black, it does not matter to me.
What's your favourite thing about being a producer?
JL: After giving your life to a project for sometimes years, and then seeing the end result being people feeling touched, moved, or any other strong emotion is wild. It's an unbelievable feeling that I am so lucky to enjoy time after time. Producing films gives me the opportunity to tell stories, and also the platform to get important messages out to the world. Producing a film about MDS (a certain kind of cancer), gave me the ability to teach many people about this sickness (which I did not know about prior to the script), and there were so many appreciative people. It was a wonderful experience.
What's the weirdest thing that has happened to you on set?
JL: I won't call this weird, more amazing, but something I have never seen before. While filming Jack Goes Home, there was a super intense scene at the dinner table between Rory Culkin and Lin Shaye. Their performances and Thomas Dekker's directing were so strong and captivating that every single crew member was standing still watching the monitor. You could hear a pin drop, that is how quiet it was. I have never seen that kind of intensity nor focus from the entire crew on any particular scene. I knew at that moment that we had something special.
Is there a film you wish you could have produced? Or been there on set?
JL: I would say The Departed. Martin Scorsese is of course brilliant, and the cast was a dream team of actors.
What are the three things we should look out for in 2016 from Yale productions?
JL: The first would be the releases of the Jack Goes Home, King Cobra, and Welcome to Willits. Second is the new film I am producing soon, As The Freak Takes You, which will be directed by Ka'ramuu Kush, and Executive Produced by John Singleton. Ka is John's protege, and has such raw talent. The film is about an omni-sexual woman endeavors to understand the intersection of sexuality and spirituality in her life. This is a topic that has not been explored, and I have been so impressed with Ka as a writer and his vision as a director, that I know this film will be excellent. Lastly, writer/director Christine Crokos and I are teaming up with Carmelo and Lala Anthony on a basketball drama taking place in Harlem. I would say this film will be something like The Wire meets Crash. The script has so much heart, and we are all thrilled to be bringing it to life.
What is your favorite film out right now?
JL: My favorite film right now I have to say would be Creed. I love the Rocky franchise, and think it is unbelievable how they have kept the films going and entertaining for over 40 years now. Sylvestor Stallone has successfully passed the torch to Michael B. Jordan, and I can't wait to see how the story develops even further from Creed. As a film in particular, Creed is motivating and inspiring, and the characters and plot is a fresh take on a beloved franchise.
With so much to look forward to I can't wait to see what Yale Productions does next! It's really great to see an indie company taking on the big studios and are not rushing the finished product.
What are you most looking forward to seeing from Yale Productions this year? Let me know in the comments.
Don't forget to follow him on Instagram @jylevine for all the latest updates.