See Jason Epperson's Blood Born at the bottom of this post.
It’s been a year since Jason Epperson stepped into the spotlight, and it still seems surreal.
“I still don’t know if it’s hit me,” the Winchester native says, “that I was on a reality show and I went through what I went through.”
The reality show was On the Lot, which bowed last Memorial Day weekend. It was a co-production of reality TV guru Mark Burnett and filmmaking deity Steven Spielberg. The aim was to find the next great film director, and Epperson wound up in the running up until the moment Texan Will Bigham was named the winner.
Though the show turned out to be a critical and ratings flop, Epperson’s runner-up status opened doors for him in Hollywood, where he, wife Cindi and son Isaiah moved after the show wrapped in August.
During a late-afternoon chat Tuesday, Epperson, 32, gave the move mixed reviews but said it was essential to getting his career in gear.
“I’ve made so many relationships in the business,” Epperson says. “Patience is the most important thing to have. You have to keep fighting. You have to keep going.”
Epperson says it was particularly frustrating for him and even Bigham to be trying to get their careers in gear during the writers strike last winter, which brought all production to a halt.
Now, Epperson is close to solidifying plans for his first feature film, a project that is bringing him home. He is planning to shoot The Phoenix, a film about Harold Dennis, a survivor of the 1988 Carroll County bus crash, which claimed 27 lives.
Despite all that, and no experience playing football at the high-school level, Dennis was a walk-on with the University of Kentucky football team and eventually became a scholarship player.
The film would be shot from a script by UK history professor Daniel B. Smith, who has had numerous dramatic and documentary scripts produced by PBS, Showtime and other outlets.
“Epp is a terrific talent, and a wonderful match for The Phoenix,” Smith said Thursday from Los Angeles, where he was in meetings about that and other projects.
“It’s been in progress for three or four years,” Smith says of the Dennis film. “You go down a lot of pathways in this town, but this time, it seems to be coming together.”
Epperson’s championing the story has been a big part of that, Smith says, as well as other movers such as Montel Williams, who had Dennis on his talk show in late April. Recently, Epperson ran the script by one of his big champions from On the Lot, producer and director Garry Marshall, who Epperson hopes will sign on as producer.
Smith first came across Epperson when he entered some projects at UK’s short-lived Split Screen Film Festival. He was impressed, but became a fan of the director watching On the Lot.
Epperson says The Phoenix is “perfect for me. It’s a Kentucky story about a Kentucky guy. I appreciate the opportunity to tell this story and tell it right.”
Smith and Epperson say that depending on how financing and other things come together, they hope to start shooting in September. They don’t know if they’ll be able to shoot entirely in Kentucky, but Smith says, “I can’t imagine the campus and football scenes being shot anywhere but UK.”
The Phoenix has also given Epperson a chance to move back to Central Kentucky, something he is doing this week.
Epperson has some other projects in the works, including some music videos, which he was working on before he did On the Lot. Since the show, he has shot a video for bluegrass musician Doyle Lawson and has a video in the works with country music star and Nicholasville resident John Michael Montgomery. There is also a possibility one of Epperson’s shorts from the show, Blood Born (video below), might be developed into a series. In the short film, a young man discovers his blood had miraculous healing powers for people who received transfusions.
“I got to step through that door and have that chance,” he says. “Now, it’s time to see the results.”