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Meet the 2015 SXSW Filmmakers #4: J. Davis Takes Two Brothers On a ‘Manson Family Vacation’

Meet the 2015 SXSW Filmmakers #4: J. Davis Takes Two Brothers On a 'Manson Family Vacation'

Nick Morgan (Jay Duplass) has it all: a loving family, a beautiful home and a successful law practice in Los Angeles. His estranged brother Conrad (Linas Phillips) has nothing but a backpack. When Conrad shows up for a surprise visit, all he wants to do in town is go to the infamous Manson Family murder sites. Reluctantly, Nick joins him and ends up on a road trip that leads the brothers into the modern-day world of Charles Manson. [Synopsis courtesy SXSW]

What’s your film about in 140 characters or less?

It’s about a guy who has a pretty settled life here in Los Angeles. Then, one day, his estranged brother shows up at his door and wants to take him around town visiting Manson Family murder sites. These are the locations where The Manson Family went on their killing spree. So, the brothers do this bizarre sightseeing tour that eventually leads them out to the desert where they encounter the modern-day world of Charles Manson.

Now what’s it REALLY about?

Well, if you sweep away all the Manson stuff, it’s really about the bond between these two brothers and the importance of family.

Tell us briefly about yourself.

By day, I work in post-production making corporate videos. But on nights and weekends, I’ve always taken on passion projects, usually as an editor, but in this case, it was a lot more.

Biggest challenge in completing this film?

Well, there were challenges every step of the way. And it was all new to me as a first-time director. So, what I did was try to surround myself with as many directors as possible. The main actors, Jay Duplass and Linas Phillips, are both directors. My editors are both directors. Even our poster artist is a director. So, whenever I wanted advice, it was very easy to get.

What do you want the SXSW audience to take away from your film?

I want the audience to connect with these disconnected brothers and go on an emotional journey with them.

Any films inspire you?

When Sean McElwee the DP and I sat down to watch movies that would influence the style of this, it was really hard because I didn’t have any particular movies in mind while I was writing this. But one movie that definitely influenced the spirit of this project was Jonathan Demme’s “Something Wild”. Because it’s funny. It’s dark. And it’s unpredictable.

What’s next?

I’m currently finishing up another story about family dysfunction. But this one’s more of a psychological thriller. I’m hoping to shoot in the fall.

What cameras did you shoot on?

We shot mainly with the C500 and we shot with two cameras most of the time. We really wanted to improv and explore these characters and situations. So, having a two-camera set-up was crucial for us.

Did you crowdfund?
If so, via what platform. If not, why?

Our project got started with a Kickstarter campaign and that’s what got the ball rolling for us. We were able to move forward, set our production dates and raise more funds because of that successful campaign.

Indiewire invited SXSW Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2015 festival. For profiles go HERE.

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