We had a chance to talk to Winchester-based On the Lot contestant Jason Epperson this morning. It was sort of a rare chance to talk to a competitor in the midst of a reality show, since networks usually keep the participants somewhat quarantined during a show. Jason, in fact, has not seen any On the Lot episodes, chat rooms or anything of that sort. But he certainly has experienced several rounds of competition now, and an extremely up-and-down week of viewer voting. The judges gave his first film, Getta Rhoom, a scathing review, saying it appeared to get laughs at the expense of a mentally challenged man. Jason said the character was just supposed to be a socially awkward nerd. Voters sided with Jason, giving him two thumbs up, and putting him in the Top 3 for the first week.
In a 20-minute conversation, Jason talked about the controversy, applying to be on the show, taking his craft into a larger market, and how much he misses his family in Winchester. The following is a lightly edited transcript of the interview:
Rich: Jason, how’s it going?
Jason: Great man, what’s going on.
Rich: Not much. How crazy is this that now I have to go through a publicist to talk to you?
Jason: Oh, my gosh. This is real.
Rich: To start with, let’s the get the thing about Getta Rhoom out of the way and how things went down with that. Tell me about coming back home and making that film.
Jason: It was incredible. I have my own business anyway in Kentucky, and my main focus is music videos, and I do a lot of corporate stuff and local commercials.
So, to be able to devote my entire time to doing total creative short films and making movies, that’s my ultimate dream, to direct big motion pictures and big films. I have not done a lot of short films before entering this competition. I only had three or four I’d be proud to show somewhere.
Getta Rhoom, dude, that was just awesome. I came up with idea with the guy who played the nerd (Tom Burkhart). He’s a good, good friend of mine who's out here in L.A. It was his concept. He told me about it, and I worked up a script around the basic concept that a nerd was looking to get acceptance, and maybe he hears these guys yell out the catch phrase, “Get a room” . . .
The way Carrie Fisher and the judges caused a stir by being offended, I think all that has even just helped more.
Rich: It definitely seemed to be the most talked about movie from that first night. Everything seemed to ramp up so well, the audience was laughing along with the film, and then Carrie had that reaction. Did you have any inkling, had anyone said anything to you along the way like, “I don’t know about the portrayal of this guy,” or was that a complete surprise to you?
Jason: That was a total shock, for sure. I’m a Christian, Tom Burkhart, the main actor, he’s a Christian. Why in the world would we try to make a film that’s going to try to offend America?
Tom does improv comedy with a traveling Christian
group. He has a good grasp on what’s funny. And I feel like I have a
good grasp on what’s funny and what America thinks is funny, at least I
thought I did, until the judges ripped me apart.
In a way I was almost offended that they would think I would do something like that. I was pretty heartbroken over their criticism, but I respect the judges, and I know everyone has their opinion, but it felt like I was the only contestant that the crowd booed the judges for their opinion. I hear everybody laugh, and I was pretty confident I was going to get America’s vote. I honestly wasn’t too worried coming up to that first show, because I had so much support. I didn’t know what America was thinking, but I just hoped and I prayed that they understood my comedy and didn’t take it the way the judges took it. Luckily, that’s the way it came out. I feel redeemed by that.
Rich: In retrospect, can you see how people might have taken the character as mentally challenged, and are there any lessons you take away from the experience?
Jason: Here’s the thing that happened: After the comments were made by the judges, I found out that one of the contestants, Phil, actually had a little brother that was mentally disabled, and a few other people made the comment, ‘I never thought about that until they said it.’ I don’t know if the judges were looking for something to say about it or criticize . . . I just want to be funny, and positive and fun. I want to make a lot of different genres, and I don’t want to have to tippy toe around and worry about each little thing that I do, that it’s going to offend someone. I’m going to make some films people aren’t going to like. It’s just part of the business. I understand you can’t please everyone. But if you can please the majority, that’s the best you can hope for.
I have my own style and I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing and not worry too much about people who don’t like your stuff. That’s just going to happen.
Rich: Tell us about the process of getting on the show in the first place.
Jason: It all started back at the very first of the year. My mother-in-law told me about this competition. I did the search for it and found some information about it.
The crazy thing is, like I told you before, the main thing I do is music videos down in Nashville for some pretty good-sized artists. That’s where I was making the money and feeding my family and paying for bills and all this stuff. I didn’t have a lot of time to do these short films.
So when I first heard about the competition, I took a chance and just put a music video in the competition. There was a music category. But I knew it was not specifically devoted to music video.
I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t want to say “What if?” down the road. So I put it in, because it actually best showcased my work, my talents.
Rich: Which video did you put in?
Jason: The band is called War Within, it’s my brother’s heavy metal band down in Nashville. The song was called Bombs Away.
You see music videos that have a story to them anyway? The beginning of the video is a classroom full of kids, and one kid’s a rebel and the whole classroom starts loving this kid and ripping the classroom apart. It was a fun video. I always heard the hardest thing to direct is kids and animals, and so I thought maybe this would be my best chance to get in, to show I could direct a big room of kids.
I got a phone call after that, to go through an interview process. I had to go down to Atlanta, did an interview, and then I had an assignment to come back home and do another short film in a week. And they pretty much told us that depending on who did the best on this project would get the chance to come out here and be part of the Top 50.
So I did this three-minute short film in a week, submitted it, and two weeks later, they gave me the phone call and said, “Do you want to come to L.A.?”
I was obviously stoked about it, and made my way to the Final 18.
Even when we got to the Top 50, I was just happy to be there. I just submitted my video on a chance, because my business has had the best year of my life. I’ve had my business three years, and each year has been better, better and better. So, to me, my business was a success, I was going in the right direction, this was just icing on the cake.
I think that’s what helped me when I made the Top 50. I wasn’t real stressed out, because I was like, "I’ve made the Top 50. Steven Spielberg has watched my film and thought enough of it that I could be put in the Top 50 upcoming filmmakers in the world." I just feel humbled and blessed to be here.
In Kentucky, there aren’t a lot of great filmmakers. I mean, I have some friends and we do fun and good stuff, and I think it’s great. But I don’t know how I can compete with the L.A. guys. I don’t know if what they’re doing is on the same level as what I’m doing. There’s just no way to compare.
So, to know I was in the Top 50 was real humbling. It’s a great opportunity to prove to the world that you don’t have to be in L.A. If you’re passionate about it and you dream and you follow that dream . . . I’ve always known I was talented, but I didn’t know to what level.
Rich: What have you guys been working on this week?
Jason: Well, what they’ve done is, there are 15 of us left, and they’re breaking it down into five films a week the next three weeks, and the other 10 just sit back and wait for their weeks.
These are three minute films, so there’s not a lot of time to focus on the other 10.
I can’t tell you what week I’m going to be on, but the film you’ll see from me is called Blood Born, and . . . it’s kind of a drama, sci-fi type flick. If you like Heroes, you’d like this, though it’s not like Heroes. It’s more like the film Unbreakable (2000, directed by M. Night Shyamalan), where a troubled kid finds out he has a miraculous gift.
Rich: How is it making films in this environment, with the resources they give you on the show, compared to working here?
Jason: I haven’t got into doing anything big yet, because the films they’ve showcased so far are things I’ve done back in Kentucky.
So, I have worked with some editors and stuff like that. It’s obviously going to be different. The big-boy toys are out here. I’m excited about the opportunity to work with some of these big guys. But when it comes down to it, I’m the director, I make the final decisions, no matter if you’ve got the big toys or the small stuff. My Getta Rhoom made the top box office, and I had the least ammount of facilities to use, because a lot of these guys from L.A. and New York are used to working with big stuff, big equipment, big cameras.
I’m shooting stuff with, you know . . . again, I have good stuff. I’m not trying to down my equipment, but I don’t have what they have. So getting out here and being able to play with these big toys is a big thrill.
I have friends out here who have been begging me to move to L.A. for the last three or four years. But I like home, I like Kentucky. It’s been working out for me here. I just take a little drive to Nashville and knock out a few of these music videos, and it’s a good time.
But I’ve always had this thing in the back of my head that I want to direct movies, and I want to take the chance. This competition has given me the chance to live out this dream, and we’ll just see how far I can ride it.
Rich: Tell us what it's like being away from home.
Jason: It sucks. I have a 19-month old little boy (Isaiah), who’s just now learning to talk. It’s a time in that life where you really want to be there to see him do all of these new things and experience all of these new things. I just miss him really bad.
I know that I’m doing it for my family and they know this is a one-in-a-million chance opportunity for me. My wife (Cindi) is a huge supporter of what I do. Before we even found out if I would get in the contest or not, she kept saying over and over, “You’re going to make it, you’re going to make it, they’re going to love you.”
If I can get a point where I can let her quit her job and we can pop out a few more kids, she’s going to be thrilled. So, I’m excited, and that’s going to push me to get as far as I can in this competition.
Rich: Thank you so much for the time Jason, and best of luck to you, out there.