Interview: Director Trevor White from "Jamesy Boy"

Movie Description(Click Here To Hide)
A young gang member turns his life around in prison, thanks to the friendship he forms with a convicted murderer who becomes his mentor.
Photo Credit: Phase 4 Films
December 24th, 2013

As writer and director of the new film “Jamesy Boy”, Trevor White is excited to bring you the true story about a 14 year old troublemaker named James Burns.  The film weaves between James’s past hustling on the streets, and his present situation behind bars at age 18.  The film stars Spencer Lofranco as both James in the past and James in the present.  It also stars fantastic veterans James Woods, Mary-Louise Parker, and Ving Rhames.  The film will be available on VOD on January 3rd and in theaters on the 17th.  Trevor sat down with Movie Room Reviews and told us about making this film.

Nick Leyland from Movie Room Reviews: Thanks for talking with me today and congratulations on your new film “Jamesy Boy”.

Trevor White: Thank you.

MRR: Let's get talking about it. You wrote and directed this new film, “Jamesy Boy”, and did you change the name from James Boy to Jamesy Boy, or has it always been “Jamesy Boy”?

Trevor White: Always “Jamesy Boy”. We flirted with the possible title change, but this was always it from the conception of the film.

MRR: Well it was based on the true story of James Burns. It's available on VOD January 3rd and in theaters on the 17th, right?

Trevor White: That's right.

MRR: Can you break down the film for our audience?

Trevor White: Sure. The film, as you mentioned, it's based on a true story. It's about James Burns, who at 14 years old had after being institutionalized for a lot of his childhood, in and out of trouble from a very early age, is essentially rejected from the school boards early on at 14 years old, and with nowhere to go he turns to the streets and gets caught up in a street gang. At first, little drug running jobs and ultimately into higher level deals, and that leads him to prison, where from 15 to 18 he spends his time in prison and in adult penitentiary. So the movie goes back and forth between his life on the streets at 14 and his life in prison at 18, and the film has got a lot of broader themes. On a broader sense, it's kind of about how difficult it is for kids after they have messed up, to find themselves ultimately making good. They become a category, and they become hopeless, and they're labeled as a troublemaker. So in a broader sense it is a film about labels, and we just try to tell this story as a coming of age story, just through the lens of a very bleak world.

MRR: Now what would you call this kind of film in terms of the way that you shot it? Because you're right, obviously, it goes between his past and his present throughout the entire film. Is that what, is that a parallel story? Is that what it's called?

Trevor White: Yeah, exactly. We didn't call it flashbacks, we call it a parallel story.

MRR: I've never seen a film done that way, I've seen it done to where you go back into the characters past, but never to where it kind of balances between his past and present throughout the whole film.

Trevor White: Right. Well, the two story lines as well. So when James is at 14 on the streets and 18 in prison, the two stories kind of have a reverse arc and they overlap over each other. But they end in the same place, and they end with with him going into prison, when he's come out of prison and ultimately finding hope. That's kind of where we end the film.

MRR: Unfortunately there are probably millions of stories like James Burns out there. How did you get involved with this particular one?

Trevor White: James' family has been a part of my family for a long time in our life, and I remember when James had been just recently out of prison, maybe a year or so out of prison, and had come out to visit California. And at that point, I was working on another script and hadn't really thought much about what I was gonna try to make my first film. And James came out and it had been a long time since we'd spoken, and he just opened up to me about his past and his world and I found it inspiring, and it kind of left a mark with me and my brother who was the producer in the film. We talked for a long time and kind of realized maybe this is something worth pursuing. And so from there we got to talking to James and we figured it out.

MRR: When making a film like this about someone's life, you knew the person so this may have been a little easier for you, how often do you need to change or even make up certain events so the story blends together?

Trevor White: A lot of the times the order of events get moved around and the way events unfold have to change, but what you try to do is be truthful to the characters. So when we did have to change something for story purposes to kind of keep it in line with the engine of the film, we tried to keep it as something that would have happened or could have, or happened in some capacity, maybe in a different moment in James' life. So that those scenes still remain truthful to the film.

MRR: Well let's talk for a little bit here about the cast. Now you used actor Spencer Lofranco as both James in the past and future. How did you make him look younger and older? It almost looked like it was someone that looked like him, I couldn't even tell the difference at first.

Trevor White: Yeah. We had a really fantastic hair and makeup and tattoo team, and so we had a different hairstyle for him when he was older, for when he was younger.

Our make-up department did a great job shading his face when he is older to give him a little look of as if he had stubble or something, and tattoos for when he was older versus no tattoos when he was younger and just the clothing as well. So, there was a whole kind of process to make sure that we could pull this off, and it was tricky because at times we were going back and forth several times a day which was very challenging.

MRR: So you filmed it all almost sequentially, you didn't film all when he was young and then all when he was old, then edit it together?

Trevor White: Well, we tried to as much as possible, but there were certain days for example, Mary-Louise Parker when she comes to visit James in the prison, we shot almost all of her stuff in the beginning when we were still doing all the street stuff. We had to jump to the future, and put Spencer as older. So, sometimes it was back and forth on the same day.

MRR: You had some big actors in this film, you had, like you said, Mary-Louise Parker, James Woods, who I love, Ving Rhames and Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas. How much fun did you have directing these guys and what did you learn in the process?

Trevor White: I can't even tell you what I learned. It was such an enormous amount of new and exciting experiences for me, and I learned from every single one of them. I think from each actor I learned something different and 'cause they are all so different from each other. There was a process of getting to know them and getting to understand what makes them work at their best. So, it was incredibly exciting, and I feel so fortunate and lucky to have been able to spend my first film with actors of their caliber. All of them were just terrific.

MRR: Is Ving Rhames as intimidating in real life as he is on the screen?

[chuckle]

Trevor White: No. Ving is such a great guy, such a great guy and Ving is the ultimate professional. He cares so much about getting the work done and doing it well, but he's so good at what he does.

MRR: Yeah. My last question for you, Trevor, is there's been this explosion of prison-themed shows and reality TV shows and movies over the past 10 years or so. What separates Jamesy Boy from all of them?

Trevor White: All those shows are mostly about prison as a character, and so as a result, a lot of that show is about the politics of prison which you could make forever and ever and ever. A lot of “Jamesy Boy” film takes place in prison but it really is not a prison film.  It’s a setting for the larger coming of age story that unfolds.

MRR: Thank you so much for talking with us today Trevor and good luck with “Jamesy Boy”.

Trevor White: Thank you Nick.

Tags: Jamesy Boy