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Meet the 2015 Tribeca Filmmakers #4 : The Justice System is Broken in Andrew Jenks’ ‘dream/killer’

Meet the 2015 Tribeca Filmmakers #4 : The Justice System is Broken in Andrew Jenks' 'dream/killer'

READ MORE: Meet the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival Filmmakers

In the fall of 2005, 21-year-old Ryan Ferguson received a 40-year prison sentence for a murder that he did not commit. Over the next ten years, his father Bill engages in a tireless crusade to prove Ryan’s innocence. Interspersed with footage from the Ferguson family archive, Andrew Jenks’ film looks at the personal consequences of a wrongful conviction.

Inspired by documentaries like “The Thin Blue Line,” director Andrew Jenks set out to free wrongfully convicted Ryan Ferguson. And even though Ferguson was given back his freedom, Jenks wants you to know this story does not have a happy ending. 

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

After his son is convicted of murder based on a dream, Bill Ferguson takes on a formidable opponent: the American judicial system.

Now what’s it REALLY about?

If you and a friend did some research, found out about an unsolved murder, and then told the government or police that you knew who did it, that person can be – with ease – convicted and put in maximum security prison for the rest of their life and/or face the death penalty. This film proves it can happen to anybody, of any ethnicity or socioeconomic background.

Tell us briefly about yourself.

I am a New Yorker. I work all the time. I don’t sleep. I am single and looking for the right woman.
I am lucky because for all the movies and TV seasons and scripts I have written, I have had talented and humble people around me. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

Biggest challenge in completing this film?

We were hoping to make a film that would help Ryan get out of prison. Just as we were about done filming, he was released. So we knew that this was going to be a different film. And although the right thing had been done – Ryan being released – I wanted to make sure that people knew this was not going to be a happy ending. Because it isn’t.
Also, I think that if any film is longer than 90 minutes, every minute from there on out better blow me away. This is the first movie I did that is over 91 minutes (it’s nearly 2 hours). Making sure what was necessary, and what was not, for a film with so much detail, was difficult.

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

1.) The justice system is broken. I had no idea it was as broken as it is. It’s embarrassing. Prosecutors have absolute immunity. I don’t know of any other jobs in which that’s the case. It scares me.
2.) From a filmmaking standpoint, I hope that audiences can see what an editor can do for a film. In this case, it was our editor Sam Lee. One of my favorite New Yorkers, Philip Seymour Hoffman said ‘The film is made in the editing room… It’s like going to get all the ingredients together… And then you take those ingredients and can make a good cake – or not’. This film could have been made many different ways and I think Sam shaped it brilliantly.

Any films inspire you?

In the days leading up to our first day of filming, I had our small crew of 3 watch “Capote,” “The Thin Blue Line,” and listen to the soundtrack of “The Assassination of Jesse James.”
I wanted that “Jesse James” soundtrack playing in our minds while shooting. I wanted the visuals of “Capote” in our minds when filming. And I wanted us to have the ambition to do what “The Thin Blue Line” did, which was make a film that gets a man out of prison, and exposes a flawed system.

What’s next?

Movie script, 2 TV scripts in development, few docs, and open to any and all ideas. We also have a short film in the festival called ‘All-American Family’ –- which is about one of California’s best high school football teams, and a family that for 4 generations have always had a star athlete/student on the team…And everyone is deaf: the team, the school, the family, much of the community.

What cameras did you shoot on?

Canon EOS 5D Mark III. And that was our DP, Mike Edmund’s, decision (with the budget that we had). Mike is the one who made this ‘a film’. By that I mean, we were lucky to have so much old home video tapes, but then also footage from the interrogation room, the court hearings, archival/found footage that related to the case, access to Ryan in prison, etc. Mike was able to soak in this pre-existing footage and use his vision to create his own character, which is Colombia, Missouri. He created this. He’d stay up all night, find places in town that only locals would know about, and lifted the documentary in a special way.

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

We went back and forth on this. It was hard to think of using a crowdfund platform for the film when, if we were to be raising money for anything, it felt like it should be for Ryan, his release, or to help others wrongly incarcerated. But that is why Chip Rosenbloom is the best producer one could have. He put Ryan, his life, and in turn, the integrity of the film above all else.

Did you go to film school? If so, which one? 

N.Y.U. for one year, and then I moved into a nursing home and never really went back. There was an article somebody published with a headline that said ‘Jenks tells us why Tisch sucks’ or something like that, but it wasn’t fair…it just wasn’t for me. I prefer senior citizens.

Indiewire invited Tribeca 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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