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James Reed: Getting the Job Done Right

December 5, 2011 | By | Add a Comment

Benjamin van Loon

Sometimes, if you can’t find any work, you have to make your own. Chicago independent filmmaker James Reed knows this because he lives it.

2010 saw the straight-to-iTunes release of Reed’s first feature-length film, ‘Get A Job.’ The film, written, produced and directed by Reed, is a lighthearted comedy which tells the story of Will (Corey Hendrix) and his best friend, Terry (comedian Lil Rel), as they set out to pound the pavement and find some work. However, rather than aiming low, Will and Terry set their sights high and decide to pursue their dream of opening a comedy club.

Still from "Get A Job"

Received positively by audiences and critics alike, the film also seems to be a not-so-thinly veiled version of Reed’s own life. Born and raised by a single mother in Chicago, Reed was a businessman first. His love for business, Reed says, “was groomed through being in a family of entrepreneurs.” Fueled by this practical sense, Reed pursued a degree in Finance, but the world of numbers, accounts and balances took a tax on Reed’s more innate creative sensibility. Inspired by this shift in perspective, and coupled with a profound transformation in his inner life, Reed decided to transfer to Columbia College and study Film. He graduated in 1994 with a degree in Television Production, and like many young artists, he spent his years after graduation working both in and out of the field.

Part of what held him back from getting into the field entirely, says Reed, was a false sense of confidence. “When I graduated, I thought someone was going to come up to me and ask me to direct their blockbuster film, and it never happened.” He spent the subsequent decade working odd jobs and living life, but always had his passion in mind. Eventually, inspired by another major life change – the birth of his son – Reed used the opportunity to “step out of his comfort zone” and devote himself entirely to his dreams.

Not only do independent filmmakers have to contend with a complex and highly politicized studio system – even on the low-budget level – but they have have to stay attuned to the changing demands of the entertainment marketplace. Films aren’t just for the theaters; they’re for living rooms, computers, and mobile devices, too. It takes a sharp mind to stay in tune, and when it comes to finding the right pitch, Reed was up to the task.

Putting his artistic sensibilities and his practical sense to good use, Reed decided that if he wanted anything done, he would have to do it himself. He picked himself up by his bootstraps and taught himself how to write a screenplay, and in 2009, ‘Get A Job’ was written, and another step closer to making the film a reality. After the film was written, the rest of the filmmaking process became a question of pragmatics; a phase which Reed’s business sense prepared him to handle.

Still from "Get A Job"

One of the biggest difficulties faced by low-budget, independent directors is the question of distribution. Getting a movie made is simply one part of the process, and thousands of films never make it beyond this point. Reed “wanted to stay indie and keep as much control as possible,” so he made the decision to forego the political rigmarole and go straight to iTunes. He noted the steadily declining drop in DVD sales, and realized that people are impulsive when it comes to their entertainment choices. They want things right away, and by using iTunes as his distribution platform for ‘Get A Job,’ Reed has been able get the movie to his viewers “at the point of their desire.”

As for casting, the choices were easily narrowed down. Reed says, “I [originally] wanted to work with comedians Rickey Smiley and Lavell Crawford, so I had to come up with a movie for the both […] After writing the film, my childhood friend convinced me to use local actors. He also introduced me to comedian Lil Rel.” After viewing Lil Rel’s reels from Comedy Central’s ‘Last Comic Standing’ and other TV spots, the decision to use him for Terry’s role was a given, and also serves to bring some seasoned comedic sense to a first-time script.

Still from "Get A Job"

Reed also made calculated technical decisions for the film, employing the use of a RED camera with Zeiss Super Speed lenses. Lighting was aided by the use of Joker HMI kits and Kino Flo 2ft 4bank systems, which adds a soft but pronounced texture to the film itself.

The budget for the film was minimal, but with a competent crew and sensible production guidance from Reed, ‘Get A Job’ has continued make an impact, and set a new precedent for independent film distribution. At $12.99 for an HD purchase, and $4.99 for rental, ‘Get A Job’ continues to score well on iTunes. Reed says that the response to the film has inspired ideas for a sequel and a sitcom spin-off.

Like his characters – Will and Terry – Reed couldn’t find a job that made him happy, so he made his own. Reed now owns his own production company, Grown Child Pictures, and is doing what he loves – making movies. As Reed’s own work illustrates, sometimes all you need to make a film is a divine push, a do-it-yourself work ethic, and a little bit of practical sense.

To purchase “Get A Job” on iTunes, click here.


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