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Jay Holben’s small steps

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Up close and personal with LA based producer and director Jay Holben. Writer for American Cine. Author of “A Shot in the Dark” and “Behind the Lens”.


Jay Holben

Jay Holben

CW: For those who are not familiar with you and your work- tell me a little about yourself? what do you produce”direct? What inspired you to do what you do?

Jay Holben: “Star Wars” was my inspiration. I saw the film in the theater when I was five years old and I walked out and told my parents that I wanted to be a film director. The next 39 years of my life have been spent following that goal. I started working as an actor in Arizona and then behind-the-scenes in theater before making the move to Los Angeles.

Currently, I am an independent producer and director working for the last 21 years in Los Angeles. For a decade of my career I was a cinematographer working in features, commercials, music videos, documentaries, television and short films. Although I, officially, “retired” as a cinematographer, I continue to teach about the art of photographing movies for the Global Cinematography Institute and I’m the author of two books on cinematography. As a producer I specialize in micro-budget independent films such as “2 Million Stupid Women” and “Bar Fighter.

I was a consultant on Showtime’s “Dexter”, and produced, directed and photographed the opening title sequence to HBO’s “Femme Fatales”. I was the developing producer for DirecTV’s “Project MyWorld” and produced the reality series “My Hollywood”. Currently I am working with Joe Mantegna (“The Godfather”, “Criminal Minds”) to produce actor Jason Gedrick’s (“Backdraft”, “Bosch”) first feature film “Tiz it the Season”. I’m also working with “Hostel” executive producer Scott Spiegel on a new psychological thriller from “2 Million Stupid Women” director Jamie Neese.

CW: What where some challenges you faced and how did you get through them?

Jay Holben: There are many challenges in Hollywood. Many people perceive the biggest challenge to be “rejection,” but the reality is that there is very little actual rejection in Hollywood. Generally speaking people are afraid to outright reject anyone as the person they reject today might be in a position to be their boss tomorrow. Most of what you get in Hollywood is what I call “hollow acceptance.” It’s people who APPEAR to support you and want to help and then quietly disappear. It’s the “oh, this is an amazing project and we would love to work with you on this. We’ll get back to you…” and then weeks and months pass with nothing.

Vastly over 99% of independent film projects never reach the production stage and a significant percentage of those that do are never completed. There are many reasons for this, but money is a key reason. The change that digital technology and the Internet has brought to the film business is much like what it did to the music business a decade ago. Revenues are low, outlets pay less, recouping money for independent films is substantially harder.

Therefore it’s harder to get money in the first place. There are big sweeping ebbs and flows to freelance work in the film industry. One month I may have more work than I can handle and the next I have nothing. It can be very hard to emotionally keep up with those ebbs and flows.

Patience. Persistence

CW: How do you get through these things?

Jay Holben: Patience. Persistence. Tackling one task at a time, but trying your best to diversify. If 99% of projects fail before production – then it makes sense to have as many chances as possible. At any given time I am, generally, involved in at least 5 projects, if not more.

I do tell anyone who seeks advice – if this business is not your every dream, your every hope, your every desire… If you can imagine yourself doing ANYTHING else – go do that first. Hollywood is a very tough town. It’s a lottery game and a game of attrition. The system is designed to keep most people out and you have to fight hard to break through the barriers and find your place in this industry. Perseverance.

CW: Can you remember when you got your first break? How did it feel?

Jay Holben: I think it’s happening tomorrow. Maybe next week…

No. There are very few actual “big breaks.” Mostly they’re small victories, small steps toward a larger goal. I’ve been very fortunate to make my living for over two decades in the business that I love. I’ve had my share of notoriety and accolades, but the real reward is just to keep working in the business that I love every day.

I still have big plans and aspirations for my career, however, so it never feels like I’ve “made it.” Having those goals and aspirations is part of what keeps you going – keeps you striving for more.

I do remember small milestones. My very first job in Hollywood was my second day in town working as an electrician on a short film called “The Bicyclist”. My first big job was also working as an electrician on a film called “Sharon’s Secret”. Working with Steven Spielberg on “Minority Report” was a significant milestone for me. I keep striving for more.


CW: What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Jay Holben: First off – make sure this is what you want to do. There can be no question. Be prepared for, at the very least, a decade of struggling before you get close to where you want to be. Have a voice. Have something to say. Find the best people you can to help you get that voice out there.

In today’s day and age there’s no excuse for not just getting out there and making something. Building a reel and a body of work is ridiculously easy. Shoot projects on an iPhone if you have to – just create.

CW: What does success mean to you?

Jay Holben: The ability to continue to work everyday in the business that I love. Helping others to also achieve that goal.

CW: Do you have a daily mantra”or philosophy that you practise?

Jay Holben: Surround yourself with good people, with talented people, with good energy and promote the same among others.

CW: Many Thanks Jay once again.

Categories Good People

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