I’m Not Jim Rothman: An Interview With the Award-Winning
Director of I'm Not Matt Damon
Filmmaker Jim Rothman knows all too well that a close resemblance to a famous actor will get you nowhere in a Hollywood audition. Jim’s acute likeness to Matt Damon resulted in rejection after rejection. That is when he decided to take the rejections and make a short film out of them.
“The idea for I’M NOT MATT DAMON came out of frustration and inspiration. On the heels of Good Will Hunting being released, I moved to Los Angeles to attend acting school at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. All through college and for years after, people would ask me, ‘Has anyone ever told you that you look like Matt Damon?’” says Jim.
Casting directors either told him he looked too much or not enough like Matt Damon to be cast. It was when a talent manager asked why he was trying to look like Matt Damon that the frustration set in. “I love Matt's work and think he's a gifted and talented actor, but being an actor who hopes to work and achieve success in this business, my similarity to him has made the journey difficult,” said Jim. One day, over a conversation with good friend and mentor Frank Crim, the suggestion was raised to write about these experiences and make a film.
Initially, his production budget was $15,000. “When the opportunity to use the RED
ONE camera, the Bullitt car, and other high end equipment presented itself, I went back and found more money, via credit cards, and reset it to $25,000,” said Jim. With a tight budget, Jim knew that he had to take stock of what was available for free and what would have to be paid.
“All of the locations were obtained for free. Craft Service and lunch were obtained economically. Thanks to the Camera House and Ben Maccabee, I got the RED ONE and the Bullitt car at a price I could afford and I was able to pay the crew. The actors worked for copy and credit. ”
In order to capture a beat-the-clock street race (which was shot in the crowded streets of Los Angeles) for the film, Jim, cinematographer Scott Uhlfelder, and editor Tim Novotney constructed some creative camera work and editing techniques. In the film, the car speeds towards a stop light and without stopping, is sent into a drift, goes through the light, and speeds off down the road. “Our stunt driver Ben Maccabee started from a standstill. At the green light he pulled forward, slammed the accelerator, causing the car to fishtail and then he sped off down the road. All the closeups that preceded that were assembled from footage shot earlier. So, when cut together, it looked as if the car never stopped and the action was continuous.”
Because of the constraints of the budget, Jim found it difficult to get smooth shots on the car and in the interior. “Due to the equipment being expensive and unavailable through low cost channels, I felt that the shots of the interior and shooting through the window of the car were choppy.
Ordinarily [in Hollywood films], the camera would be fixed, but the car was real, not a prop car, so the camera couldn't be mounted. A second unit team shot the road scenes with a hand held RED, and I used what parts of it I could that didn't feel as if the camera was bouncing too much.”
Casting for the production came from many sources. “One of my producers, Anselm Clinard, brought the Action Messenger characters from his comedy troupe. Katrina Nelson (receptionist) and Amy Raasch (Abby Fischer) came from both set audition times and an open casting call. For the Abby Fischer role, I couldn't find the right woman who could embody a balance of being friendly and have that feel of a powerful producer. Everyone I brought in prior to Amy overplayed the character. Finally, with one day left, I opened up the casting to whoever would come and audition. Thankfully, Amy did and nailed the character in the audition. John Gilbert, who played Richard Goldberg, was a referral from Frank Crim. Wes, the kid with the
Mustang Bullitt, was one of my former roommates. He just was Wes doing his thing.”
“Since this was my first project, I wanted to surround myself with people who had more experience than I did. Natalie Sakai, the first producer to sign on, had produced a number of shorts and feature films already and had access to a lot of personnel. She brought on Scott Uhlfelder and he brought on a number of friends he'd worked with prior as the crew. Natalie also brought on Anselm and the post production team. Thank God for Natalie, Ans and Scott! Their professionalism and experience made the film turned out as well as it did. The driving sequence was cut together by a very gifted editor,Tim Novotney, who I will work with again. We had a great color technician, Nik Blumish, who color corrected and beautified it.”
Often, short films come under time constraints to adhere to festival programming rules and online platforms, but Jim was more concerned with telling his story. “I always said the length of the film would be whatever it needed to be, in order to tell the story. 10, 15, 25 minutes, I didn't care. I know film festivals prefer to have shorter films so they can program as many as possible. In the future, there will be specific time criteria that I'll have to follow, but for this film, my first film, I decided the length would be whatever it came out to be. The driving sequence was a solid 3 minutes and the rest of the movie had enough time in each scene to allow the comedy and the moments to happen. I wasn't going to cut it down to meet a time criteria. That is what usually ruins a short and why they have a bad reputation.”
The short is now making the rounds on the festival circuit and winning awards. So far, it has received a Special Jury Prize at the Las Vegas International Film Festival and a Best Independent Filmmaker Award at the Los Angeles International Shorts Festival. “I would like to mention Shawna Brakefield of the Brakefield Company who has been instrumental in helping me add to my film festival experience. I got on the panels at Las Vegas because of her. She really believes in championing indie filmmakers and she is a strong ally for us.” In the short term, Jim hopes to accomplish exposure for himself as a filmmaker and to distribute the short on iTunes. “I'm finding the film festival circuit to be an invaluable resource to getting exposure and getting my film seen. I never know who I'll meet or who will see the film and that is both encouraging and exciting. The film is a showcase piece and/or a calling card for me, to show what I can achieve as a writer, director, and actor, on a budget. It is also a spec piece that can be made into a feature if someone is interested. Personally, I feel I only scratched the surface of what could be made into a 90 minute feature. As for distribution, I always saw this film as an iTunes download. I have been asked by a number of people wanting to know where they could see it and I know iTunes could be a perfect outlet. Once the film has garnered enough attention through the film festival circuit, I will try to distribute that way so it will be available to be viewed by everyone.” I’M NOT MATT DAMON will be screening at the Miami Short Film Festival in November.
Sheri Candler is an inbound marketing strategist who helps independent filmmakers build identities for themselves and their films through the use of online tools. She has promoted short films, narratives and documentaries including The High Level Bridge (Toronto, Sundance, SXSW); Undertow [Contracorriente](Sundance, Frameline), Ride the Divide(Documentary Channel) and consulted with countless independent filmmakers on their content marketing and social networking strategies. Sheri is co-authoring a book , "Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul Presented by PreScreen-Case Studies in Hybrid, DIY and P2P Independent Distribution," due for release digitally in September 2011. Follow her at SheriCandler.com.