Jordan Smith – Young Filmmaker and Author

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Jordan Smith

First, introduce yourself and tell us a little about yourself.

Hi! My name is Jordan Smith. I’m a homeschool graduate, independent filmmaker, and author. Most people know me as either the producer/director of the “Month of the Novel” web series, or as the logline guy.

How did you get interested in filmmaking?

I can’t remember not being interested in filmmaking. My dad had a broken camcorder when I was very small, and I used to beg him to fix it so we could make a movie. I even went so far as to write a “screenplay” by hand that I wanted to film.

As the camcorder lingered in a state of disrepair, I took matters into my own hands, grabbed the family digital still camera, and began making stop-motion videos. Once my interest was established, my family bought a new camcorder, which I quickly commandeered for my first live-action short, a classic I called “Ant on the Loose”.

A few years and a few solo films later, my best friends and I got together and made a very ambitious fantasy film before we were smart enough to know what we couldn’t do. That was the beginning and we’ve been making films together ever since.

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Director Jordan Smith and cinematographer Kendra Ness scout a location.

What is your favorite filmmaking role – producer, director, writer, or other?

If you’d asked me this question a couple years ago, I would have said that I enjoyed directing or editing the most. Nowadays, I lean toward producing, though I still very much enjoy directing and editing. Writing is fun, but it’s like pulling teeth for me, so I tend to hand it off to more talented people.

Tell us a little about your web series, “Month of the Novel”.

“Month of the Novel” is a comedy web series based on National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which is a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. Many participants end up resorting to tricks to boost their word-count numbers. The series explores what happens inside a novel when such tricks are employed. For example, one episode shows how the characters react to a series of plot prompts, such as “reveal a character’s secret wishes,” “start an argument,” “deliver tragic news,” and so on.

Where did you get the idea for “Month of the Novel”?

As I mentioned above, NaNoWriMo is a pretty fun idea to play with. Part of the inspiration came from reading various NaNoWriMo jokes that were circulating on the Internet and realizing that many would make great concepts for short films. Also, I had just finished reading a book on writing TV shows, so I was eager to put my newfound knowledge to the test on a serial project.

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Actress Laura Rozar reviews her lines before the next scene.

Why a web series instead of a one feature film?

The idea was to make something easy to pass around and watch quickly. Novelists working on NaNoWriMo don’t have a lot of time when they are trying desperately to hit their word count goals, but they can always use a five minute break. A weekly web series was a perfect fit.

What has been the biggest challenge with shooting a web series?

Meeting deadlines, for one thing. It’s a really big undertaking to say that you’re going to have an episode online every week. For Season 1, we had a very aggressive schedule. We wrote the series in September, shot it in October, then frantically edited each episode leading up to its release every week in November.

Season 2 is much more comfortable for the production crew. We had a few months to really hone the episodes in the writing stage, then we shot it over eleven days in March. We’ll have until November 1st to get it all set to go live. I’m breathing easier as the producer just thinking about all that extra time.

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Kendra Ness works on a hair test for Sarah Shafer’s character.

What has been the response to the series?

We have a dedicated group of fans who think the show is brilliant and aren’t afraid to let us know, which is really exciting. It’s not an overnight viral video sensation, nor does it have a gigantic view count on YouTube compared to other popular videos, but our intended audience has enjoyed it and the series does have the highest view count of anything I’ve produced.

Plus, the NaNoWriMo organizers have seen the series and they enjoyed it. To me, that’s one of the highlights of the entire thing.

Tell us a little about the idea for the screenwriter workshop based off the web series.

I help a number of screenwriters with their work on a regular basis. As I was planning the first season of “Month of the Novel”, I realized that many of my screenwriter friends had never had their work produced. I also knew of some novelists that I thought would be good at screenwriting, but needed a little help getting their footing in a new medium.

With all that in mind, I assembled a story team consisting of myself, story supervisor Aubrey Hansen, and my co-producer and editor Ruth Shafer. The three of us came up with set of how-to documents for our writers, which walked them through the basics of screenwriting and some guidelines for writing an episode in a series.

Each writer tackled one episode. We helped them take the scripts through multiple drafts, and at the end of the first season, each writer had a completed, produced script. We were also able to get the series listed on IMDb, so everyone ended up with an official IMDb credit.

I’m pleased to say that all but one of those writers returned for Season 2, and several have gone on to write and/or produce other film projects of their own. That’s a resounding success of the original workshop.

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Production designer Rebekah Shafer crafts some details into the spaceship set.

How does your faith impact your films?

My Christian faith is very much a part of who I am, how I live, and what I do. However, my creative film projects are rarely overtly faith-based. My faith is always there for anyone who wants to look for it, and I always come at my projects from a Christian background, but I tend to write my faith into undertones rather than overtones.

It really comes down to the difference between a film and a conversation. I do better relating to people on a one-on-one level, getting to know them, loving them like Jesus did, and allowing my faith to shine through the relationship. When I make a film, I come at it the same way. Hopefully, when I talk to people who have seen my work, I can explain where some of my choices were made because of my faith.

(Not sure how to pose this as a question. Can you pose it as a question, then answer it? – process of working independently)

What’s the process of working independently like?

I find it freeing. Being allowed to work on the projects I want to is fantastic, and the full creative control is something I relish.

But it’s not exactly a picnic. Everything I know about filmmaking is something I’ve learned through practice, and the number of lessons I’ve learned the hard way is sometimes a little sobering. Each project brings a new mistake, a new process, a new challenge. The key for me is to treat it as a journey where I’m always seeking to improve my craft and make each film better than the last.

The other thing with independent filmmaking that I think is important is that even though the name includes “independent,” I’m not working solo. It took some time for me to realize that I was making better films when I was delegating responsibilities to other people who have more talent than I do in some areas. That’s something I try to tell other independent filmmakers: Find and work with talented people. Remember that you’re not an island.

Tell us about your book, “Finding the Core of Your Story”.

Finding the Core of Your Story is a book designed to help any storyteller answer the question, “What’s your story about?” I take the concept of a logline, which has been around in Hollywood for forever, and make it accessible to anyone with a story to tell, whether they are a screenwriter, novelist, or whatever else you can think of.

What inspired you to write the book?

On a couple of Internet forums, I participate in workshop threads for loglines. One day, I wrote a pretty long post in one of the threads, then realized it would make a good article for my blog. I copied and pasted it, edited it a bit, and posted it. Several people told me it was helpful, and I had ideas for several more posts, so I started a blog series and somewhere along the line I realized it could be a book.

What are your filmmaking plans for the future?

At the moment, I’m up to my ears in “Month of the Novel” Season 2, plus I’m editing the short film “Colordeath”. In between those, I’m contemplating what would be possible as a feature film. I have a list of several potential feature screenplays that I could pursue. It’s just a matter of figuring out which one I am most able to produce right now.

Anything else you’d like to talk about?

I’d like to encourage any young filmmakers who might be reading this. I’m still pretty early in my career at 22 years old, yet I’ve had many filmmakers look up to me, ask me for advice, and marvel at my work. I’m not saying I’m anything special, but I will say that the best way to make movies is to simply start. Get out there, be creative, and enjoy the ride!

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Preparing to shoot a scene from Month of the Novel Season 1.

You can learn about Jordan’s Month of the Novel series at http://monthofthenovel.com .

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