With the title, and the poster, you think this would either have to do with a little boy who just died, or a little boy who made friends with a ghost, kind of like some other film I heard about except with a phone. Alright, I’m getting off-topic. Let’s get to this film, Chimera’s Ghost. It’s all about a 12-year old boy named Tyler (Azriel Dalman) who has issues with figuring out his identity and how to come out as queer, while dealing with a religious mother, Ms. Fores (Jordan Claire Robbins). Sounds pretty disturbing. A lot of people have had real-life experiences dealing with coming out in certain households, but at the same time it also has a fantasy element.
With very little budget of $5000 grant along with sponsorships, and a lot of other factors as it was hard to find a crew, especially those who were hungry for paid work. One production designer got a rare paid gig and had to leave. I experienced similar 2 years ago when I worked with one producer Ty Javos on the set of another film riddled with all kinds of interesting issues, but it will be released soon. But back to this one, Jessey has already made plenty of cool content with his production company, given his experience in horror stories, which also helped give an interesting perspective to the concept that would resonate well with the queer community. He got even more help with the assistance of all the producers, Ty Javos, Christina Adams, Marie Picard, and Salvador Lara.
This film wasn’t any ordinary project either. It was part of an Infocus Film School grant project, which won the opportunity to shoot with mentors from Infocus, $5000 and some other great perks and benefits. All 4 films that got made will be screened at a special gala coming this month.
Naturally, I wanted to learn more about this film and what went into it. So I spoke to Jessey Nelson and Kai Watts about the film, so I could figure out more. After all, I enjoy talking to the locals and promoting the arts and culture scene out here however I can. We all met up on Zoom and had a thorough chat. I think I got them prepared for more questions that’ll be happening at the Gala they’re being featured at.
HNMAG: It’s a combination of Horror and finding one’s identity. How did you come up with such an elaborate concept?
Jessey Nelson: Basically this film is a spiritual sequel to a film I made for my Crazy8’s Film Challenge. We were exploring the world of children and their imaginary monsters. I originally told a story that was close to home, inspired by my Dad’s childhood. It was “What if I could go back and save him with an imaginary monster? What would that look like?” While we were on set, a lot of talk allowed us to discuss what that would look like in other walks of life, children’s aspects in different types of hardships, and so when I teamed up with Kai, him being a proud member of the Queer Community, we thought how cool would it be to tell a story with a similar concept, but shed light on a child growing up struggling with his queer identity. We came together, explored some ideas, came up with an outline, and I wrote the script.
HNMAG: Did you ever find yourself dealing with the concept of religious parents in real life?
Jessey Nelson: I personally haven’t, I think Kai can touch a little bit more with friendships that experienced things like that.
Kai Watts: Yeah, I think the discussion around religion and being queer kind of go hand in hand. In my personal experience, my family was religious, it wasn’t a negative thing growing up for me though, but unfortunately I think a lot of my friends who are queer and people I know who have been brought up in religious households have unfortunately faced oppression and just not acceptance from their family. So I drew those experiences from around me and tried to portray them in this film.
HNMAG: And it won the InFocus Film School’s Grant Project. How did you become part of that?
Kai Watts: I went to Infocus Film School for their screenwriting program this past year. For the Film Heist program, you needed an InFocus alumni to be part of the project. They hosted a networking event where I met Jessey. He presented himself to me.
HNMAG: And how did you get such a dedicated production team?
Jessey Nelson: I think that’s just years of experience creating with like-minded individuals, and collaborating with different talents in Vancouver. I’ve been doing this for about 5 years now, so there’s certain people who I have been working my way up with, side-by-side creating projects along the way. Then there’s people that I’ve looked out to doing another indie film contest and just doing an exceptional job. One person I could point out is our special effects Makeup Artist, Andy Le. I had seen his work in Zip, and once I saw that film, I was like “I gotta work with this guy, he’s fantastic.”
Jessey continued on to explain as he and Kai were coming up with the story, they also starting thinking about some really gruesome visuals that the characters would go through, and what the characters would look like. When they pitched the concept to Andy, he instantly came on board. Plus it was a very bittersweet situation given the fact that it was made during that one strike that was going on. But a lot of people saw the script and eagerly agreed to join.
HNMAG: So I understand there were some budget restraints, and the problem with the strike occurring. What other challenges did you have to face?
Kai Watts: I think timing was a big one for sure. I mean, 3 days is a short amount of time to kind of get everything we wanted to film.
Jessey Nelson: Totally. Speaking for myself as an Indie filmmaker who is kind of putting himself into a lot of the contests around Vancouver. Whether it be Crazy8’s, RNG, Shits N Giggles, they’re all very time-restrainty. You’re constantly trying to make things good as possible, but also efficiently. Personally that’s a skill that I’ve inherited while doing those contests. I think one thing that Film Heist has learned from these other contests is that even if they’re only going to give us three days to shoot the project, they’ve given us a little more than a month in post-production. Some people work better on those deadlines, but we found we were able to spend a lot more time telling the story and working out a lot of those details so our film will be strong because of that. I think that some of the biggest challenges were finding people who were willing to work for next to nothing during a time when they were struggling to put food on their plate and pay for rent. The actors that we got on board is a pretty solid cast, and I think we wouldn’t have gotten that chance with those people if it wasn’t for the strike. The strike created a lot of obstacles, but it gave us a lot of opportunity that we might not have gotten.
HNMAG: Really. What were some of the advantages you got in the process?
Jessey Nelson: Like I said, our cast is a huge one. As Reel Dahlman who plays Tyler as the main role. It’s funny because he just got cast as young Percy Jackson in this huge Disney show, and he wasn’t available at the time. He was first on our list as we’ve worked with him before and we have a great connection with his mother who’s a casting director. We were looking for the perfect Tyler, we had some great people auditioning for us, but there were some challenges that he would be playing, and performing was super important. Then because of the strike, something he was doing had moved and he was available. The other three actors were offer only, so we just had to reach out and hope they’d say yes. They all did, so that was the biggest plus. Also some of the creatives that we got to work with, in some of the key roles. One production designer who didn’t work out lead us to another production designer named Katie Holmes. She was fantastic and we would’ve never come across her. Then our DP, Rob was fantastic. Some of our producers, Ty Javos, Christina Adams, Marie Picard, and Salvador Lara were all available because they didn’t have current work and they all did an amazing job to help us get this film made. We had the dream team involved and wouldn’t have had much success if it weren’t for people’s lives being put on pause.
HNMAG: Tell me more about the premiere of Chimera’s Ghost. Where will it be happening?
Jessey Nelson: I believe that it’s playing at an SFU campus theatre downtown, I don’t know what to expect, to be honest because this is the first year they put on the festival/contest, so I imagine they’re going to be screening our films, they had asked to do some interviews, and then there’s going to be a bit of a network gathering at InFocus Film School. It’ll be a great opportunity to show our work and talk to people. I’ll be honest, I did Crazy8’s during the pandemic and never got a gala. One of the things I’m really looking forward to is this Gala and the experience is the important part of it.
HNMAG: Do you hope to get lots of good feedback on the short film?
Jessey Nelson: Yes, you get to come up with a team and meet a lot of people and talk about the film and hear how everyone felt, how they were impacted by this story we’re telling. I hope that it creates some more great connections.
HNMAG: And how long did it take to come up with the whole idea at first?
Kai Watts: I feel like it was pretty lengthy, Jessey and I met in August, maybe end of July. For the first month, it was going back and forth with ideas, concepts, and characters. We were just kind of throwing things out there, I don’t think we fully landed on a clear outline until the end of August or beginning of September. Then we had a couple weeks to write multiple drafts of the script, like 5 drafts before we had to be greenlit by Hole Bank Studios.
Jessey Nelson: I was in Mexico at the end of August and heard the news that we got onto the first round. I was in the airport ready to come back home and I was meeting with Kai, working out more details and stuff like that. I honestly felt like it was pretty seamless when we figured out what we were doing with it. We definitely had limited time and there’s lots of things that we could’ve done differently, but sometimes you just have to be okay with the process of creation and time or else you’ll drive yourself nuts trying to get consistently better. You have to be willing to kill a lot of your babies or just work out with what you have, and be happy with it. I’m very happy with this project, when it’s completed, you look back, learn and grow from it.
Kai said that this was his first short film in general and Jessey said he’s really proud of Kai’s work. Of course, it was a bigger challenge for Jessey being a script he didn’t quite write completely. But he enjoyed the challenge, and with Chimera’s Ghost being a queer story, he felt it was important for Kai’s message to be heard.
HNMAG: Could you ever see it being made as a feature?
Jessey Nelson: Yeah, well here’s the thing. Part of my journey as a filmmaker is consistently trying to think about big world aspects. In my Crazy8’s film, I was so hung-ho about telling stories, like trauma stories, personal stories about people going through hardships and creating them into imaginary monsters. This is kind of where I want to take my projects. After Crumbs, we developed it into a comic book. We have the first issue out, and essentially this film is a spiritual sequel that lives in the same universe.
HNMAG: So you’re thinking of making it a series?
Jessey Nelson: The idea would be each episode would be told from a different walk of life. Creating an opportunity for a different writer each time to tell their story who belong to that demographic. Then that way, we can unload different trauma stories, all into one universe. It helps people to relate, no matter where we come from, we all come from something and we’ve all had our struggles. We’re all just trying to work on our mental health and just find ways to go. I think TV series, there’s a lot of places we can go with that. After putting a pitch deck together, I created 13 episodes. I think there’s a big world aspect. I do plan on making Crumbs into a feature film, that’s kind of my baby based on my life with my father. Because the comic book is going to be its own series, I think that as these characters come across each other, they kind of experience their monsters and try to help each other or villainize each other. There’s a lot of conflict in that universe but essentially I think that’s where it falls best.
HNMAG: And is Chimera’s Ghost set for any other festivals in the future?
Jessey Nelson: We are doing the premiere for the Film Heist Challenge. Unfortunately, we were a little constraint. They wanted a very specific timeframe, for this film which was 12 minutes. When we were making the cut, we realized this film needed a whole scene cut out. We had a director’s cut that will be about 13-14 minutes long, and that’s the version we want to put out into the film festival circuit. We haven’t submitted to anything yet because we’d like to do that as a team and make sure everyone’s on the same page. I’m a person that feels like if we submit to a film festival, we should plan on going as well because we can create connections. But honestly I strongly believe in this film. I think it has a lot of good things going for it, and I would love to see it hit some top tier festivals in the film world. If the first year doesn’t go according to plan, we’ll be a little bit less choosey but perhaps if I feel like you hit those big festivals, there’s a bit of a trickle down effect and some of the other festivals pick it up.
HNMAG: What other films will you be looking to make in the future?
Kai Watts: For myself, I’m mainly looking to go into TV writing, and I think what I’ll take away from Chimera’s Ghost is always implementing something personal, something queer into my stories regardless of genre. I think I’m passionate about all genres and Jessey has taught me a lot about horror writing, which I didn’t think I could do before. So I’ll definitely think about bringing it to whatever I work on.
Jessey Nelson: This will be my 4th short film that I released in the last 4 years. I’m kind of feeling ready for a feature to be honest. I think there’s a lot of proof in the pudding of what I can do as a producer and director. I’m feeling like after writing this with Kai and coming up with the story, there were so many elements we wanted to put in when we were ready. We didn’t realize how much you have to leave out when you could confuse the audience with such a small scale. That showed me I’m ready to tell stories on a bigger scale. I’m going to spend this year developing a few feature films. I have a couple that are all ready to go.
That’s not all Jessey has to offer, he told me he was going to be attending a meeting with some producers regarding the anthology series. This is sure to be a good year for Jessey to meet more people, and create connections to help him make financial changes in a group so he can make higher production content. Who knows what we’ll see?
Let’s all go to the official festival gala and watch his film along with the other winners, January 26th at the SFU Goldcorp Centre.