Jacob Cooney on His Passion for Filmmaking: ‘It’s Kind of in my Blood’
Jacob Cooney is a filmmaker whose latest film Blood Circus is now in release. We caught up with him to talk about the film and much more. Here’s what he had to say.
Hello and thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Let’s start with you. Who is Jacob Cooney?
Well, first off, thanks for taking the time to do an interview! I definitely appreciate the interest in wanting to spread the word about “Blood Circus” and everything else in between!
As for me, I’m a writer/director based out of Greenwich, CT and New York City. Before I moved out east with my wife a few years ago, I was in Los Angeles for 10 years working in TV and film production while at the same time writing and trying to get projects off the ground. I grew up in Northern California in the small town of Ferndale. It’s quaint little town known as the “Victorian Village”. My family has had a dairy in the area for over 100 years, so I spent a good amount of my youth not only living on the dairy, but also working on it. Because of that, I think my experiences growing up have helped instill a solid work ethic in me as an adult working in the entertainment industry. Filmmaking wise, I just love making movies, so having the opportunity to do that and to make my childhood dreams come true has been a great experience.
You are a prolific guy, having been in the industry for a while wearing a lot of different hats. You’re a writer, director, producer and have served in other technical capacities as well. So I gotta ask, is there one you’re more drawn to?
Filmmaking, directing specifically, is something that I’ve always wanted to do. Even as a child. There’s a story my mom tells people from when I was in kindergarten. My art teacher invited me and another student to lunch and as our food came out he asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. I don’t remember saying this, but my mom says I told him I wanted to direct movies. So I guess it’s kind of in my blood.
As a kid I would always make short films with my friends using my parents’ VHS camera. They were all horrible, but I had such a blast putting them together. As I got older, I kept making shorts films, got involved in creating my high schools video yearbook and then ultimately went to film school at Cal State Monterey Bay. While there, I spent my time working on other student’s short films, worked on numerous commercials as a production assistant and interned every summer for different production companies in Los Angeles. My first job on a huge film was actually in my hometown on the film “The Majestic” directed by one of my favorite filmmakers Frank Darabont. Now that was a trip being able to see him work first hand, in my hometown. I knew they were going to be shooting the film in Ferndale, and their first week just happened to coincide with spring break my freshman year in college. I drove home from Monterey and as soon as I woke up the next morning I was on set poking around, talking to production assistants and the AD staff. By the end of the day I was hired as a production assistant and spent the next few weeks working on the film. It was an amazing experience, and one that definitely opened my eyes to true movie making. Doing all of these things, and kind of immersing myself in the world of film and TV production, really solidified my love for filmmaking. I just found it fun.
After graduating, I immediately moved down to LA and began working. I started as a production assistant and from there worked my way up the ladder in TV and film taking jobs from dolly grip to production coordinator to writers assistant and everything in between. All these experiences are invaluable because I’ve been able to see and learn from everyone in every position that I’ve worked with. Understanding what each department does, how much time they spend on their craft, etc… it not only makes for a better work environment, but it also helps when your talking with others when preparing for a project.
I love filmmaking in general. Every aspect interests me, but I love directing. Working with the actors, the crew and telling a good story. That’s what I truly love.
Your latest film is called Blood Circus. Could you give us a rundown of the story?
Sure. “Blood Circus” follows the story of an ex-MMA champion who finds himself in a fight for survival after getting involved with an underground fight syndicate. After his son is kidnapped, and those he loves the most are threatened, Sean Dillon must fight for both his future and his family’s safety. On the surface, “Blood Circus” is a gritty fight movie, but at its core the film is about family, love, loss and redemption.
The cast is really great. It includes Tom Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down), Jamie Nocher (Exit 14), Christy Carlson Romano (Even Stevens, Kim Impossible), Robert LaSardo (Nip/Tuck, Anarchy Parlor), Kevin Nash (John Wick, The Punisher) and Vincent Pastore (The Sopranos). The film was produced by Charles Lago, David Gere and Christopher Johnson.
I have to say, having seen and reviewed the film, I was immediately impressed with not what you put in the movie but what you left out, which I know sounds funny. I’m referring to the fight scenes, of which there are not many and while brutal avoid the trend to get gruesome simply for gruesome’s sake. You kept this about the characters and the consequences rather than the violence, even as it had impact. Comments?
Yeah, although violence for violence sake has its place in cinema, with “Blood Circus” the heart of the film isn’t within the fight ring. What drew me to the film the most were the relationships of the characters and the family aspect of the piece. At its core, the film is about hope for the future and a yearning to regain what you’ve lost and as long as the personal elements are working, the addition of over the top violence or gore isn’t really needed. Taking that into account, and also knowing what the budget and schedule was like on the film, it was a conscious choice to make the fights as impactful as possible while at the same time not relying on gratuitous blood and violence to sell it.
We shot the film in 18 days, with the fight sequences coming at the end of the shoot, so schedule was a big thing when trying to execute them. We only had so many hours in those days, and between rehearsals, set-up, etc. the days ended up being pretty short and hectic. Although more blood effects where part of the plan, in order to make our days the FX plans had to be minimized so we could easily maneuver the day without many, if any, make-up resets. What we did get in the film though, I think works really well.
The story centers on an intriguing premise, one that feels like an inevitability, that death for entertainment is a coming certainty. It’s been tackled in film before and is never easy to consider. You obviously portray it as a bad thing, but just for fun and on a personal level, is this something that feels like it’s going to happen?
I hope not, but with reality TV tackling every subject under the sun and with the current state of the world where violence is becoming all too normal, I’m sad to say it’s a possibility. You watch films like “Running Man” that are set in some not so distant future and it’s all fun and games and entertaining, but if you think about it we’re really not that far off from going back to the coliseum to watch the gladiators fight each other. I hope we don’t go back to that, but I guess we’ll just have to see.
You once again cast Tom Sizemore, him having also starred in your earlier Blue Line. Can you offer some insight into your collaboration and any stories about working with him?
Tom is great. On “Blue Line” the producers hired him and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but once we met we got along really well. On “Blood Circus”, I actually replaced the original director two weeks before production began and Tom was already hired. We were both really excited to work together again and because of our time on “Blue Line”, we were able to hop right back into it no problem, which was fantastic. I’ve always been a fan of Tom’s work, so being able to direct him in these two films was kind of a bucket list item for me.
For me, I was really drawn to the character of Sherry (Christy Carlson Romano), the ex-wife of the film’s main character. I understand the limitations of the process, but would have liked to have seen a lot more of her story. My question is about balance. In having to tell a story and populate it with compelling characters, what are the challenges you face when you have such well-written and performed characters yet only so much time and budget to work with?
Christy was great. I’d work with her again in a heartbeat. We’re pretty much the same age, so since I was a kid I was unknowingly following her career. From “Even Stevens” to “Kim Possible”, and everything else in between, I’ve always been a fan. With “Blood Circus”, her character of Sherry was one of the most interesting. Since she’s the lynch pin for every character in the film and the catalyst for why Sean does what he does, Sherry needed to be both strong and vulnerable at the same time. Christy really brought a realism to the role that I think helps ground the film overall and I thank her for coming to set everyday ready to kill it in order to make Sherry as memorable as she is. I would have loved to have created more material for Christy and the character of Sherry, but for me the challenge was to realize that her character was there to serve Sean’s story in this instance and to push him to fight for what he truly wants.
A Sherry-centric spin-off about the drama of her life however… being married to an MMA champion fighter and watching his fall from grace… could be something really interesting to think about though. I just might have to bring that up to the writer. Eric… you down?
So I have to bring up the sharks. You’re the writer of both 3-Headed Shark Attack and 5 Headed Shark Attack. I don’t really have a question per se, just curious where these stories came from and … can we expect a 7 Headed Shark Attack?
Ha! Oh man. Yeah… the multiple headed shark series for The Asylum and the SyFy Channel. Thanks for bringing that up. I was a co-writer on “3-Headed Shark Attack” and just came up with the story for “5-Headed Shark Attack”. These were interesting movies to get involved in. I had written a few films for The Asylum before and had watched their film “2-Headed Shark Attack” on the SyFy Channel (I’m a sucker for B-movie camp). While writing these early movies, I had always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to write a SyFy Channel Original. I never voiced it, but it was always there. Fastforward to last year… I had just finished up a time travel film for Asylum when they called and asked if I’d be open to pitching some ideas for “3-Headed”. Knowing that it would ultimately be a SyFy Original, I said yes and my co-writer, Bill Hanstock, and I jumped right into it. After a little back and forth with the production company, we landed on a premise and got to work on the script. A few months later the film was shot and then released during SyFy’s Sharknado Week last year. “5-Headed” came about pretty much the same way and was released on SyFy during this year’s Sharknado Week. I haven’t heard anything about a “7-Headed Shark Attack” film yet, but I wouldn’t put it passed the folks over at The Asylum to make it happen. If it does, guess we’ll just have to keep upping the anty!
What’s next for you?
Now this is a question that still needs a definitive answer. I currently have a number of projects in different stages both as a director and a writer, so right now it’s all about which one locks in first. I recently signed on to direct a horror/thriller project titled “The Grief Counselor” from Nicholl Award Winning writer Albert Letizia and One Entertainment. I’m also looking to direct another horror project that I co-wrote titled “Grime”, which is being produced by Gerard DiNardi, one of the producers of “Get Out”.
Along with those, I just finished co-writing a new horror film about a haunted airliner, which begins production next month, and am in development on a project I co-wrote and am executive producing with producers Andrew Sugerman, Amanda Raymond and Ram Silbey, and director Simon Wells, titled “The Book of Alan”. Lots going on, but I’m definitely ready to get back behind the camera as soon as possible.
We often write about great moments in movies, discussing scenes that have influence or impact on cinema. What is your favorite non-spoiler moment in Blood Circus, or are there any movie moments that have had influence on you?
Hmm… good question. I think for me, the bathroom scene in “Blood Circus” is pretty impactful. Although very simple, the undertones of regret and sadness pouring from our lead are pretty undeniable. Jamie Nocher did a great job bringing Sean to life, and that moment in particular says a lot even without dialogue. Coincidentally, that scene was the very last thing we shot on the film and only took a few minutes to shoot.
Other cinematic moments that influenced me… my top would be the birds-eye shot in “The Shawshank Redemption” right after Andy breaks out of prison and is sitting knee deep in water, the rain pouring down on him, lightning and thunder clacking in the sky as he realizes he’s about to be a free man. To me, that’s a great moment in cinema. Another moment is the final reveal at the end of Neil Marshall’s “The Descent”. That film is an education in how to create atmospheric tension and the starkness of the ending and the realization that there is no escape for these characters just hits you to the core. There are so many others, but I think those two are close to the top, if not the top, for me.
Thanks again for talking with us. It’s been a pleasure and I hope we do it again soon. Any last thoughts before we go?
Thanks for having me! I really appreciate you guys taking the time to chat. Look forward to doing it again!
Blood Circus is now available on DVD, BluRay, VOD and Digital