I’ve been acquainted with escape artist / street performer / magician / jack of all trades and all around nice guy Jason Escape for a while now thanks to Twitter. He impressed me right away as a man concerned not just with making a living at his trades-of-choice but also with social justice and being a good person and a positive light in this world. I’m not the only one who thought so, as you’ll see in this interview with Ted Fisher. Ted, with his wife Karen, is the director of a 15-minute documentary about Jason called “Hanging Downtown,” and is now running a Kickstarter to film a full length documentary about Jason’s life both on stage (on the streets of Boston) and off. When I found out about the project (a little belatedly) I jumped at the chance to talk to Ted about the Kickstarter and his documentary-filming experience.
ANTHONY: How did you become familiar with Jason Escape?
TED: I met Jason on Twitter. I was hoping to make a 5-minute documentary, and in my search I discovered what he does and thought it would be very interesting. Quickly, however, I realized that there are many interesting aspects to his life. So my wife and I traveled to Boston, and the result was … eventually … a 15-minute documentary called “Hanging Downtown.”
ANTHONY: Why make a documentary about Jason?
TED: In the 15-minute documentary, one theme that emerged was the idea of struggling to overcome a challenge. It addressed his struggle to be recognized as a performer, his struggle to engage an audience, and his struggle to complete a challenging escape. Since then, however, he’s gotten married, had a child, and faced the challenge of making a living as a performer. Ropes, chains, handcuffs? Easy. Father, Husband, Businessman? Now that’s a challenge.
So the new feature-length film provides an opportunity to learn more about him, and to explore this wild challenge of being an escape artist and family man.
ANTHONY: Documentaries come in all shapes and sizes. What’s the feel of your film going to be?
TED: I love the classic observational documentaries. At the same time, both my wife and I are really from a background in the fine arts, and we love the complex, multilayered approach you find in the best contemporary art. So, you might say we’re using strategies from art to shape a traditional observational documentary.
ANTHONY: What’s your plan for filming, and what equipment will you be using?
TED: My camera bag looks a lot more like a photojournalist’s than you’d expect. I’m a proponent of HDSLR video — using the video capabilities of still cameras or hybrid cameras — so I use small cameras like the Panasonic GH1 and GH2. Everything is chosen to be extremely mobile and lightweight. I value audio highly, so items like a quality lavalier microphone and a good shotgun microphone on a boom pole are essentials — but everything packs up in a very small case. Small LED lights are used to augment available light when needed, but again the emphasis is on working in a way that matches the street performer aesthetic.
ANTHONY: Is this your first documentary/film? What other films or directors have influenced your plan for this documentary?
TED: I’ve made several short documentaries, and with my wife the 15-minute “Hanging Downtown” documentary, but this is our first feature.
ANTHONY: What do you hope people get out of seeing Jason’s story?
TED: I think the theme of facing a challenge is probably going to be key to the new film. But I think the balance between his career, his ambition, his performance and the other elements of life is going to be something that everyone can relate to.
ANTHONY: What else would you like people to know about Jason and/or the film?
TED: Jason is amazing as a documentary subject because of what he does — it’s something that’s incredibly visual, has an element of danger, and is fascinating on screen — but to us the more important aspect is that he’s chosen to really reveal himself, and to let the audience in to experience his life.
ANTHONY: The Kickstarter still has nine days left. You’ve met the initial fundraising goal of $1,000. What will the money be used for, and what is the plan for funds raised over the intial goal?
TED: Realistically, our initial $1,000 goal was set when we weren’t sure if people were going to love the idea of the film as much as we did. But when people backed the Kickstarter, often specifically commenting how much they loved it and wanted to see it succeed, we realized there was an audience for the film. We celebrated loudly when we saw the funding hit our goal — but quickly realized that our real costs in just getting to Boston and staying there might be double that initial $1,000. So we’re thrilled to meet all of our backers, and to see the Kickstarter be considered a success, but we know we need to raise much more and stay with it just to see the filming begin. Our production approach is just my wife and I and sometimes a very small crew. We work with a very low-budget, minimal approach. So … we’re pretty streamlined. But airplane tickets and hotel rooms are the first hurdle to the initial filming.
ANTHONY: What sorts of perks are you offering backers?
TED: Well, we’re very excited to present a download of the initial 15-minute documentary “Hanging Downtown.” It’s still screening at festivals, but very soon we’re going to put it into the hands of our backers so they can discover Jason in that film and become part of our team for the feature-length doc. As well, we’re really focused on the importance of music in the film, so we’re offering a download of the soundtrack. Then, of course, people are going to want to see the new feature when it is done — and that’s another reward. Beyond that, we’re are offering a chance to meet Jason at special coffee and lunch events in Boston and San Diego right between performances.
There’s one other very innovative reward offered as well. We are creating a small team of Associate Producers. These are people who will see the film as it develops — in online preview screenings — and provide feedback and commentary for scenes of the film straight from the editing computer. We want to take advantage of the new possibilities for sharing with our audience early, no matter where they are. So we are building a group of people who can be very involved in the film, and who can help us understand how it is working as we refine it over time. We think it’s a new and exciting direction to go.
ANTHONY: And my usual closing question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to someone who has never read it to convince them that they should?
TED: As a documentarian, it makes sense that I love very personal nonfiction — like the diaries of Anais Nin, for example. My wife is an art historian finishing her Ph.D. in the history of photography, so right now she has a stack of huge academic photo histories in front of her. I think the reason to read any book is similar to the reason to watch a film — it allows us to “try on” someone’s experience of life, and to better understand our own as a result.
You can find out more about the project on the Kickstarter page. You can also learn more about the original documentary by visiting Ted’s website. You can follow Jason himself on Twitter @JasonEscape and get a better sense of what Jason is all about by talking to the man himself.