Jason James: Exile

Exile is a compelling dramatic thriller that was filmed and set in British Columbia. 

We had a chance to sit down with director and producer Jason James.

HNMAG: Where are you now?

Jason James: I’m in Kelowna BC, prepping a movie. It’s a sexy thriller. We start shooting next week


HNMAG: What’s it called?

Jason James: It’s called Plural Problems. It’s a Lifetime thriller.


HNMAG: Are you originally from BC?

Jason James: Yeah, I grew up in North Vancouver. I went to film school at Simon Fraser University. I lived in LA for a time and came back and I’ve made twelve feature films and I shot them in various parts of British Columbia. 


HNMAG: When did you move to Los Angeles?

Jason James: I was there off and on about ten years ago. I was mostly in Venice. 


HNMAG: Did you move back for more work opportunities?

Jason James: I have a young daughter and she was just about to start school, I didn’t want to do that in the United States of America. I grew up here and I wanted her to have the forests for her backyard as I did in North Vancouver. 


HNMAG: How did you get work after film school?

Jason James: At SFU I was given a director’s apprenticeship to the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television. They give it to one or two directors in all of Western Canada. I basically shadowed feature filmmakers for a year. I learned the ins and outs and tried to be as valuable as I could. I was also writing and creating my own projects. I made a bunch of short films and music videos. Then with my classmate Nicolos Citton, we made the TV show This Space for Rent which was picked up by the CBC. 


HNMAG: What was that about?

Jason James: It was a half-hour comedy about a bunch of twenty-somethings trying to figure out life in Vancouver. It was like Slackers meets Seinfeld. It was single camera shot on film all around the Downtown Eastside. There was no laugh track or canned laughs. We used the pig on the Save On Meats sign as an imaginary character that talks to one of the leads. You see a different side of DTES (Downtown East Side.)


HNMAG: After that TV show, you made more feature film comedies.

Jason James: Yeah, I produced a bunch of features with Vancouver director Carl Bessai and I was developing my own material and wanting to direct more. The first feature I directed was That Burning Feeling starring John Cho and Paulo Constanzo and a bunch of other name actors. That was a character-driven comedy. My second feature was Entanglement starring Thomas Middleditch and Jess Weixler. It was a romantic comedy. 


HNMAG: Were you a big fan of Silicone Valley before you made Entanglement?

Jason James: For sure. Thomas Middleditch was always on my radar. He’s such a lovely, interesting, funny, sensitive dude. It was perfect for that role. I was watching an interview with him at Sundance and someone asked him about his favourite song. He started talking about Neutral Milk Hotel’s the King of Careflower and he started crying because he loved the song so much. I knew right then that he was perfect for this broken, sensitive character.  


HNMAG: How did you develop That Burning Feeling? 

Jason James: It was an idea that I had, can you make a romantic comedy about the least romantic thing in the world? It’s about a guy that gets misdiagnosed with a sexual disease and he has to tell all these women in his life the bad news. He was kind of a womanizer and became a better person through that journey. It was written by Nick, whom I already had a collaboration with through our TV series. We got development money through Telefilm and the project got into the Just for Laughs comedy program. It steamrolled from there. We were able to attach talent and that attached money and that’s kind of how I put all movies together. I spend a lot of time developing the story and the script and from there it’s attaching meaningful talent and going to the financiers is the last piece. 


HNMAG: You had a lot of success with comedy. Exile is a suspenseful drama. How did that come about?

Jason James: Exile came to me through my management team. I wanted to do something character-driven and psychological, beautiful and heartbreaking. I found the script in my inbox and it really spoke to me. I have been developing Exile for a very long time. It went to the backburner for a while. I had an eight-million-dollar movie that fell apart just before production. I was bummed and then Covid happened and another producer approached me and we wanted to do a smaller production that went back to the roots of filmmaking. Exile is a two-hander in a cabin in the woods, going up to a small town and shooting something that is beautiful. 


HNMAG: Garry Chalk has forty years of comedy improv experience and Thomas Middleditch is one of the best improvisers in the world. Does a lot of ad-libbing happen on your set?

Jason James: For sure, I want actors to feel comfortable and confident in the words they’re saying. The best ideas always win. We push and play with the material. Exile was shot in just fifteen days. There wasn’t a lot of time to play but I’m certainly up for that. I’ve made movies that are one hundred percent improvised. It’s fun to see what else you can get out of the script once you have it up on its feet. 


HNMAG: Exile was mostly shot and set in Powell River. Was that out of convenience or was that in the original script? 

Jason James: Weirdly I was born in Powell River but I didn’t grow up there. I left before I was two years old and I had rarely been back since. I was there for a talk and looked at it with the movie in mind. It’s very difficult to find an old, remote location on a fiord that is financially viable to shoot right now. An internet search paid off in this case. Powell River came into the picture and we re-wrote the script with the same heart and intention that was already set. 


HNMAG: What are you most proud of with Exile?

Jason James: The special effect of this movie is the cast. Adam Beach and Camille Sullivan are such amazing humans and performers. Adam brought so many personal connections to this story and Camille is such and strong and powerful performer that made us all better. 


Exile is the type of movie that we definitely need more of. It’s not dependent on CGI, car chases, big explosions, it deals with psychology, love and fear. It’s not a Hollywood Blockbuster with a-list celebrities. It’s beautifully shot with outstanding performances and not just from the two leads. The supporting actors are also terrific, specifically Garry Chalk. On top of that, it’s a great movie shot and set in BC. The world needs to see more of that. 

Jason James is a wonderful filmmaker who could have gone Hollywood but instead he focused on the positive elements of growing up in the Lower Mainland and tells Canadian stories. We also need more writers and directors like Jason James. 

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