AJ RESH: FROM STUDYING MOVIES TO MAKING FILMS
AJ Resh is a director, producer and writer. He is known for his suspense/drama feature film, Utøpless, of which he directed, co-wrote and executive produced. He is also known for the films Torn, Hunt and Bridges.
In November AJ will be going to the American Film Market. Along with pitches he’ll be making to investors at the event, he has three private meetings with potential investors already lined up. He’s also been hired as a producer and AD for a project which has a few big names in it. Based on contractual agreements, further information can’t be disclosed, as of yet.
We had an opportunity to interview AJ and we discussed a spectrum of film related topics. Including how he got started as a filmmaker, the short horror film Hunt, of which he executive produced, his feature film Utopless and more.
ONE ON ONE WITH AJ RESH
What led to you becoming a filmmaker. A writer, director and producer?
It was two things. One was the movie “From Dusk till Dawn” directed by Robert Rodriguez and written by Quentin Tarantino. Watching that film at around age 15, it inspired me because it was the first time I truly understood that in cinema you can truly say and do whatever you want as long as you make it work. Mind you, the film isn’t on my top 50 or anything despite how much I love the movie. But at the time I was the right age, Dusk was the right movie, and I was inspired to finally start dreaming about this goal.
The second thing was that film became my only true escape from events in my childhood. I became an addict for film and before I knew it, I had pretty much seen everything. I watched every film and seen every show. I began to have a strong understanding about story structure and the beats a good film needs as well as what didn’t work in bad ones. So remember, kids, the best film school is to watch and study film.
Speaking of studying film, you studied filmmaking in New York. What training did you receive?
I briefly did a stint at the New York Film Academy, NYFA. At that time the school had a recent graduate doing great things with his film at Sundance. The film was “The Puffy Chair” and that filmmaker was Mark Duplass. The major thing I learned there was the little things first time filmmakers don’t think about. Simple stuff like the importance of organizing a shoot, how crucial time code is, cadences and all the other things a director needs to know about running a set that isn’t story related.. However, I didn’t stay there long due to financial issues and opportunities outside of the school that had me working on productions. Despite how great the NYFA is, I found that on set training was just a better fit for how I like to learn. But if you want to go to film school, I highly recommend NYFA’s two year film program.
You studied in New York, you ventured to Los Angeles but then you returned home to Richmond, Virginia, where you’ve completed and continue to work on various film projects. Why Richmond?
Richmond was a decision based out of forced necessity. Just as I began to finally get a good foot hold in L.A. I received some disheartening news about my family that forced me to come back Richmond. When I first arrived back I considered quitting the industry all together. In fact, I sort of thought that God had just up and made that decision for me.
However, looking back on it, it’s right when my world was being turned upside down that Richmond was actually about to blow up as a great film community. A few months in and the next thing I know I was producing my first film. And I must say, others around me sort of pushed me back into film. Once we got going, we set out to make in the last four years eight different films, two of them features, the rest shorts or pilots, and I was forced to learn how to be a producer.
So even though I had been in two major markets (L.A. & NYC), it was Richmond that ended up teaching me the most. I guess God did make that decision for me. Thankfully it wasn’t the one I originally thought.
You have executive produced various projects from your award winning drama feature film, Utopless, to the shocking horror short film, Hunt, directed by Christopher Elston, among others. What in particular draws you into a film production as an executive producer?
Passion. Always passion. Passion is the most inspiring emotion in the film industry. When I see that fire in the eyes of a director, writer, actor, DP, crew, whatever… it inspires me and motivates me to bring my A game. Sure, I have to believe in the content we’re working on as well. But even if I’m not a fan of the medium or genre, if the content creator is fired up and truly believes in their story, then that gets me excited to make it happen for them. I also enjoy teaching and growing with people and love to see good people get across the finish line. I actually have a love/hate relationship with my producer’s hat, internally. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I find the job just as rewarding as writing or directing.
Tell us a little about your feature film Utøpless and the origin and meaning of the title…we couldn’t find it in the dictionary.
Utøpless was a quick word throw up in a production meeting about what to call the film. Originally it was called “Promised Land” but Matt Damon beat us to the punch, great movie by the way. I was trying to come up with a way to mix the words “Utopia” and “Hopeless” and spit that out. Everyone in the room loved it, except me. I wanted to at least settle for spelling it “Utopiless” but they didn’t even like that. So ever since then I’ve had to field questions on why I named my drama film “U Topless.”
Utøpless is a drama about the homeless community/crisis in Richmond, VA. The homeless situation is a big problem arising not just in that city but many others around the U.S. and it’s a problem nobody seems to want to try to truly fix. In a lot of ways we wanted to set out to make it to where anyone who watched our film would leave the theater having a true understanding of the issues at hand and maybe feel some personal responsibility for it. Cinematically, Utopless is actually sort of my love letter to New York Cinema and greats like Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee. Not sure if the casual audience will pick up on it but keen eyes will spot that there’s a little of “Taxi Driver”, “Mean Streets”, “25th Hour”, and “Clockers” in there. In many ways it’s my hybrid. A New York City film shot in Richmond Virginia. A homage to both my homes and because of that I’ll always have love the film.
You premiered Utøpless at the Richmond International Film Festival. How was that experience?
It was a personal and career milestone that I never knew I really had until it happened. I had fun going to the other festivals we were accepted to but there was just something special about premiering my film in the place I grew up. There are two film festivals that feel like home for me, Tribeca and Richmond International Film Festival, RIFF. I got to scratch Richmond off the list. So Tribeca, here I come. RIFF is special film festival though because of its collaboration with not just film but several forms of art like music, drawings/painting, etc. It’s kind of becoming the East Coast’s SXSW. The staff is young but efficient and the organizers and community support rivals many of the top festivals. As big as they currently are, I have a feeling R.I.F.F. will soon become one of the best film festivals on the circuit. Mark my words.
Your film production company is A Fresh Perspective Films. Can you tell us about it?
When we came up with the title we believed the film industry as a whole needed a shot in the arm of originality, a fresh perspective. Sure, today we now have companies like Blumhouse, War Party, and A24 kicking butt and paving the way for strong, original content. However at the time of our company’s resurrection (2015) we weren’t seeing a lot of that aside from other Indie guys like Zandir Santos.
A Fresh Perspective’s mission statement is to bring back the types of films that made all of us fall in love film in the first place but also update these stories and themes to modern time. Anyone who wants to be a part of A Fresh Perspective needs only that, a fresh perspective on storytelling. We hope to one day be putting out the type of quality content that those other companies I just mentioned are.
It’s a really exciting and fortunate time for me right now. I’ve got six films as a director under my belt, three different features I’m about to pitch to various investors, and two pilots being sent to separate investors. As you know in this business, nothing is guaranteed, but let’s just say my clip is fully loaded and I’m ready to go war. I look forward to what lies ahead. Both for me personally as a writer/director and as a producer for other filmmakers ready to join the Fresh Perspective banner and make amazing content. Not to mention looking forward to hopefully submitting more films to MarilynFilms.com in the very near future.
And personally as much as I believe in all the stories we’ve got, there’s a show I wrote about filmmaking that I hope is the one that hits first. It’s a dream project of mine.
VIEW HUNT ON MARILYNFILMS.COM
Below is a button link to view Hunt here on MarilynFilms.com. We encourage you to support independent filmmaking by viewing the film and we’d love to hear your take on it. You can simply comment below or send us your comments via our CONTACT page. Check out AJ’s IMDB page.
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