Jesse Cowell is a writer/director/producer. He is the creative force behind the Jeskid. Jesse is a Webby and ITVFest award-winning producer. His creative work as been featured on Jimmy Kimmel LIVE, Good Morning America, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, MSNBC, The Hollywood Reporter, Fox Business and many others. Jesse was one of a handful of filmmakers creating online content before YouTube opened its doors.
What drew you to tell stories in the first place?
My mother is a writer and my father was a photographer. It must have been in the genes! It's hard to pinpoint the exact moment, but for me it was early. In an article on my (at the time) Opera singing mother, I was quoted (age 5) as saying I wanted to be a filmmaker when I grew up. As the years passed, I borrowed camera's, acted in plays and never stopped trying to find unique ways to say things. I studied the masters and tried to find my own voice through it all.
What is Jeskid? How did that project develop and what made you want to share your adventures?
Jeskid is the heightened version of me. He says whatever is on his mind (and often yours). He is the best parts of me and sometimes the worst! Jeskid TV was a vlog I started in 2004 (ish) that was popular before YouTube opened its doors. It is a character that I inhabit whenever the overly structured world of short and feature films gets too cagy. I filmed myself because I felt invisible to the industry and wanted to share a piece of myself directly with an audience. I wanted to inspire through people watching my unwavering journey of trying to make it against impossible odds and have just enough crazy to keep it fun.
You recently shot a pilot for a Jeskid television show, what inspired your decision to do that? Walk us through the development of the pilot.
The character culminated recently with The Jeskid TV Show, a 30-min version of the vlog (with some of the originals mixed in), but with cinematic flare and even crazier stakes. It allowed me to take both of my loves, my need to tell bigger stories with arcs and the shorter attention span learned through years of working on the web. It is a true hybrid project with a mix of social commentary. The develop process is always for me - decide something must be done and just stick to the decision even if it kills me. Once I know I am doing it, I start infusing others with my passion for the project. Once they get excited, we get more people and so on. Those people help with all kinds of things. It stops being my project and quickly becomes our project. The one that will turn people's heads when done.
What lessons from your Jeskid TV vlog were you able to use on the pilot/what lessons did you learn from shooting the pilot?
The biggest lesson from the original vlog was, there are no rules especially in editing. I can cut to anything I want as long as it contextually correct. I can shoot things out of order as long as there is an overall tone and vision keeping them intact. My only real job is to be inclusive in the energy with the cast and crew and I really think we achieved that.
This was the first TV pilot I shot, so I learned a ton about what can be done in the structure. I learned I love the format and it can be bent in so many interesting ways. I also learned the same lesson I learn on all my films, be good to people and they will be good to you.
You shot much of the pilot in Danbury, CT, what was that experience like?
Alicia and Renato Ghio, owners of RMedia, an awesome production studio in Danbury opened the whole world to me. Thanks to them, the city rallied around what we were doing and gave us access to locations that would be impossible to shoot in NYC (where I live). We had an experienced cast and crew, but working on a smaller budget never occurred to us as Danbury treated us like rockstars. It only enhanced our ability to produce something really fun knowing that we were welcome guests. I would shoot there again in a heartbeat.
What has the response been to the pilot?
The response has been tremendous. We had one private screening at three public ones at ITVFest (where we won Best Editing). I've made a lot of projects over the years and you know it works when people come up to you wide-eyed right after. It's a very meaningful project for us, I'm just thrilled that the struggle to get attention is a theme that works and people really enjoy it. We were also able to make some high level network contacts from the show which is a real positive going forward.
You engage with fans via a number of social platforms, what is your favorite/least favorite and why?
There really isn't a favorite. Just which platform has the most reach for the least amount of capital. I have had a lot of success with Facebook, but it costs to reach those that opt in. YouTube is great, but you can disappear. Twitch is something I am currently fascinated with, but each has it's trade-offs. Basically, you go where you stick, can afford and shift with whatever shifts those companies make. Unless you are already pre-established on a platform from years of building, you have to be flexible.
How important is engaging with your community to your success?
It depends on what that success is to you. If you are trying to build one to one relationships with industry, a bit less so, if you are trying to win over hearts and minds directly than very. I think you do what you can with the time you have and try to find peace with your choices. It is not easy to convince people you have value in any platform (one to one or one to many). But with a consistent message and heart behind it, you give yourself a strong chance to reach people. Engagement is key, but across whatever your laser focused goal currently needs.
What advice do you have for anyone just entering the production industry?
Work hard. Learn. Share what you do. Be nice! Stay visible. Find balance. Be passionate.