July 29, 2009

LAFF ’09 – Thompson’s Dynamic Filmmaking Duo

Published: June 26, 2009

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One of the highlights of the final block of Short Films (Program 5), which will be screening again on the next-to-last-day of the LA Film Festival (Saturday, June 27th at 4:30pm at the Majestic Crest), is the award-winning film THOMPSON – a short, scrappy piece of documentary-verite (made for a price in the low five figures) about two young working-class bucks at the end of high school, Matt Thompson and Ryan Andres, who have nothing in common but their fierce friendship. But the film transcends the “good kid” vs. “bad kid” cliches, showing that neither fit either category that easily, and instead focuses on what qualities draw people together (or push them apart), amidst the life-altering loves, hates, and dramas of beginning life in the real world. A testament to the film’s willingness to shatter stereotypes and dig deeper is that just before heading to Hollywood, the movie won a Jury Prize at South by Southwest. Fitting for a coming-of-age story, the movie was also the cinematic “bildungsroman” for its young first-time filmmakers, Jason Tippet and Elizabeth Mims, who aren’t all that much older than their teenage subjects. While completing their studies at CAL-Arts’ prestigious film and TV program, the two were casting about for their first cinematic calling-card – when it literally fell right into their lap. “Ryan and Matt crashed a party that my sister threw at my parents’ house,” laughed Jason. “They started hanging out, and just from talking to them, I knew we were on to something.” While the more strait-laced Matt (who can get down when he wants to) is on a career track, Ryan is “incredibly talented – just not with things that will [neccessarily] make him any money. But extreme sports, offroad biking, razor scooters – he’s an expert. In different ways, they’re each just trying to find their way.”

It’s no surprise that the filmmakers identified with their conflicted and energetic young subjects. Jason remembered, “I went to college not really knowing what I wanted to do. It was really more about fulfilling my parents’ expectations at that point.” But after seeing Chris Smith’s groundbreaking American Movie, that inner filmmaker he kept trying to suppress finally busted out of the mental closet. After a childhood of making Super 8’s growing up outside the Simi Valley, Tippet took the plunge, applying – and getting into – CAL Arts’ exclusive filmmaker’s program. And it wasn’t just his professional life that changed. There he met his sweetly sophisticated girlfriend and cinematic collaborator, Elizabeth Mims, who co-directed Thompson.

“We both got into Cal Arts at the same time. I took an immediate ‘like’ to Liz, though she was dating a guy up in San Francisco. It was so frustrating for me!” he laughed. “I had the biggest ‘jones’ for Elizabeth.” But, he added, what better way to convince a girl that you’re the guy of her dreams that to be (forced to) start out as “best friends, first.”

While Jason is the quintessential lower-middle-class suburban boy, having grown up in the same Valley location where Thompson was shot, Elizabeth was a “show biz” kid from cradle to college. Mims literally grew up within the close-knit film community of Austin, Texas. “My dad is a filmmaker there, so I was exposed behind-the-scenes to movies and TV from the very beginning. The scene is definitely smaller and more homegrown [there than it is here] – you see the same people on each shoot. I know it’s cliche, but it really is like a family.”

Austin’s scene is nowhere close to the media-industrial complexes of Hollywood, New York, Toronto, and London, but Elizabeth says she finds herself that much more inspired by its determination. Directors like Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, and Robert Rodriguez have converted unused airplane hangars and warehouses into studios for interior shoots, and film out in the field enough to warm the heart of any location manager.

The duo is already finishing post-production on a companion short, Latchkey Kids, focusing on a 14-yr old girl named Ashley Rae, following her day-to-day life while her parents work long hours in Los Angeles, and the kind of trouble she gets into while her parents are gone – including sex, drugs, and pregnancy. And Mims and Tippet are attracting their share of attention. “We’ve been taking meetings from Rhino Films and Kodak for our next project, and are talking with CAA for representation.” The two also look forward to seeing their films premiere on Europe’s festival circuit, and perhaps a final landing on PBS or cable here in America.

The couple also sees their emerging careers as being as much of a partnership as their romantic life, keeping only enough “competition” in their relationship to spur one another on. “When one of us gets an opportunity, we don’t get jealous,” Elizabeth agreed, as Jason added, “Everything is good for the team.” “We’ll have had two films we co-directed together,” Elizabeth adds, “and hopefully more to come!”

Column Archive: Profiles


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