Twenty-four-year old Jason Potash used to put on “movie nights” at his parents’ house in West Bloomfield and is now helping make movies and TV shows happen. This West Bloomfield High School graduate is a partner for What a World Productions in Los Angeles and has served as a production assistant for blockbuster movies including “The Dark Knight” and “Wanted,” as well as hit TV shows including “Californication” and “Prison Break.” But his biggest achievement was recently producing a short film called “Some Boys Don’t Leave,” which stars Jessie Eisenberg, who was just nominated for Best Actor at this year’s Academy Awards for his role in “The Social Network.” The short film that is set entirely in a hallway and tells the story of a breakup a man refuses to accept won the Student Visionary Award at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival and Potash plans on helping produce a longer version of the film this spring in Michigan.
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SCN: Tell us about your short film, “Some Boys Don’t Leave” and what your responsibilities were as the producer of the film? What did it mean to you to see the film win an award at the Tribeca Film Festival? How does it feel to see that Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”), the featured actor in your film, is now a Best Actor nominee at the Oscars?
JP: “Some Boys Don’t Leave” is a short film about a breakup without the break and we produced it a year ago and spent the last year traveling to festivals across the country. Currently, the film is at festivals internationally and soon the film will be on iTunes and DVD compilations. Hopefully in the next month you’ll be able to see it on the mass market.
My responsibilities as producer were to basically take the script, which I read in April 2009, and to put together a team and a cast and crew that can come together and create this product, take it from scripts and put it on the screen. Then once we’ve completed the process of making the film, we go out to festivals to help promote the film with the director and the rest of the team and get it out there so people can see it, the story and us and they fall in love with our characters and what we were able to put together.
The whole film takes place in a hallway, so it’s two characters. The boy is always on the ground, living in this girl’s hallway in their once-shared apartment after they’ve broken up and he doesn’t want to leave. He wants to stay there because he’s afraid if he leaves, then the relationship is really over. So he lives in her hallway on her floor and she lives life around him and tries to move on with her life, but he can’t seem to do that.
And our biggest challenge was, how do we tell a 14-minute story in a confined location, keep it visually interesting and make sure the audience doesn’t feel confined or claustrophobic in this small environment?
When I read that, I was like, “I don’t know how we’re going to do this.” The hallway is a character in itself and it’s so important to find the right location for it, so it immediately threw a lot of challenges, but it also had a lot of heart and the characters are really great. What I didn’t realize until later on was that the story is so relatable to so many different people because people have gone through this. I’ve heard stories where people come up and say, “That was me! I slept on this girl’s couch for three weeks after we broke up,” and I think that’s when we really knew we had something special.
To be accepted to the Tribeca Film Festival was an amazing accomplishment for us. Thirty films get selected to go to the festival in five or six programs and to be one of those films meant that they believed we had something and assured that what we spent the last five, six months putting together is something that we’ll be able to share with people and people are interested in seeing.
And then to win an award there was amazing. It completely took us all by surprise. We thought we were just going to celebrate the films and filmmakers, but they got into an awards ceremony and when they described and then called our film up, it was an amazing accomplishment in my career and the career of the director and everyone involved with the film. A lot of people put a lot of hard work with no money into the film and it really did prove that we could all do something great.
(Eisenberg’s Oscar nomination) was a great thing to wake up to. We make the joke that Jessie booked “The Social Network” because of our short film, so it’s probably not true at all. Jessie is an amazing person and actor and he was able to prove that in “The Social Network,” mostly because of its wide appeal and because so many people got a chance to see it, the character he was able to play. Jessie is fantastic and we look forward to working with Jessie on more projects in the future and it’s a really great accomplishment for him and we’re very happy for him.
SCN: Tell us what inspired you to pursue a career in film and television and how you did nurture that dream while living and attending school in West Bloomfield? After graduating from West Bloomfield High School, what was the next step in getting your career off the ground?
JP: Ever since I was a kid, I was 5 years old, I picked up a video camera and I’ve been out shooting. I used to host movie nights at my house and charge my family a nickel to watch a movie on their own TV and I knew then I was going to be an entrepreneur and I always wanted to do film. I always wanted to get into the entertainment business since I can remember.
When I was 15, I started a company in West Bloomfield, which is how I nurtured the business, and the company was called JP Productions. We filmed bar mitzvahs and weddings and corporate events. We had corporate clients, we did promotional videos and commercials and over the years in high school and even in college. I still continued the business and was very happy to be able to create a business in Michigan in the field that I wanted to be in.
But, now that Michigan has really grown as a movie town and productions are coming to Michigan, it’s even more exciting for me that I can take what I’m doing out of here (in Los Angeles) or what I did in Chicago and I can come back home and make a film in my hometown, my home state, and that’s the most exciting thing that’s happening right now.
Michigan has taken the right steps to bring the business to their town and now it’s important that they keep the business in the state. I think Michigan can be a great place, it is a great place to make films. There are amazing landscapes, there’s amazing crews, there’s amazing people.
And the thing about Michigan is that, besides that as Midwesterners we have this great mentality of just about being people and working hard, I think people are hungry for something different, especially in a town and city that’s driven by the car companies.
We’re developing and changing and it’s nice to see progression and the entertainment industry is a very great business to be in. I see it staying around Michigan for a very long time. In what capacity, I don’t know.
But, Michigan has spent the last two years proving that it can be a place for film productions and I think people are very confident to come there. I know a lot of productions that are coming there and I have a film that is coming there, so we hope to keep it up, as long as we can at least.
I was lucky. When I was in Chicago, I got a chance to work on a lot of film and television productions and that’s how I transitioned into Hollywood and the business itself and I met a lot of great people working on a lot of productions.
While I was in Chicago over the four years of college, I worked on maybe 15 or so movies and television shows and from working on those, I met a lot of great people. So when I moved to California, it was reconnecting with them and while working in Chicago, they saw how I work and my love and my dedication for what I was doing and I got a job working for a television show out here (Showtime’s “Californication”) and that’s how I started my career out in L.A.
SCN: Tell us about some of the struggles you had to endure and obstacles you’ve had to overcome while working your way up in show business, be it past or present.
JP: I’m always working my way up in show business. It’s all an upward battle; there’s always struggles.
The great thing about doing what we do is that every project has its own struggles. In “Some Boys Don’t Leave,” our struggle was finding this hallway and finding a location. In the project I’m doing now, it’s finding the right chemistry between two actors, but that’s what makes it fun and exciting and different. It’s all project-based and currently our struggle is getting out there.
I’m more in the indie business right now where we’re working with independent films and in the past week, Sundance has really shown that independent films are back, are strong, are selling. Now our struggle is to get our independent films made, get them out there and continue to work in the independent world for now and provide great content. I think that’s the struggle — finding great content and then getting all the pieces to align. A lot of it is luck and it’s kind of making that luck work for you. So we’ll see what the next problem’s going to be, but I’m sure I’ll get a call today about another one.
SCN: Your resume lists you as a stunt assistant for the movie “The Dark Knight.” What was it like to work on the set on one of the most popular movies ever?
JP: That call was one of the most exciting, exhilarating calls I’ve ever had and even to this day, it’s amazing to me that I was very able and lucky to work on such a incredible show.
The thing about “The Dark Knight” was our job to basically be on set and in rehearsals 24 hours because a lot of what we were doing in Chicago was stunt-based and we knew we were making something special.
You knew being on set, it was just a great feeling that you were part of something that was going to be huge and something amazing. I don’t think any of us would have ever predicted it would have been, now I think it’s the second-highest grossing film of all time, but it was amazing and still to this day it’s one of my career highs and I’m very excited for the next (Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises”) which starts production in a couple months.
The duties for that show, there were about 50 or so stunt players. They were stunt actors. They come from all over the world and they are constantly changing out. We’re flying them in from everywhere. So it’s coordinating all these people, all of the stunts and then to helping to manage what they’re doing. While you might be rigging the one set, they may be rehearsing with the Bat Pod at our fake city sets, which was outside of Chicago that was hidden.
Or they might be the Batmobile doing a stunt, so it’s constantly coordinating the department and working with the coordinators and the assistant coordinators to make sure that everyone has what they need and that everyone knows what’s going as you’re managing a 24-hour department because most of the shoot in Chicago was at nighttime. So we’re doing rehearsals during the day and at night, we’re making sure that everything’s happening for stunts on set as we’re shooting.
SCN: You’ve also worked as a production assistant on movies such as “Wanted” and “Fred Claus” as well as TV shows such as “Prison Break” and “Californication.” Tell us about some of your main duties while on set?
JP: Right now, I’m planning on being in Michigan and making the feature length film of the short “Some Boys Don’t Leave.” If we stay on track, that’s what I’ll be doing for my summer.
When I started in the business, I started as an intern and then luckily that summer, the assistant directors hired me to go and work on a television show as a production assistant and that was my first experience getting paid to work in a Hollywood setting. That was a great start for my career and I was very happy to do that and I continue to work as a production assistant.
You’re basically in the middle of an entire crew, an entire set, and you’re doing whatever needs to be done to help production flow, to help make the day happen. So you’re constantly working. You have to work with different departments to get things in order, to make sure that you have your extras in a certain location or that your actors know where to be for the next set or you’re prepping the next sets. A production assistant is basically that guy that is running around and working the hardest. They’re the first ones there and the last ones to leave with the assistant directors to make sure that everything is there and everything that is needed is ready to go on a day-to-day basis. It’s a very difficult job, but it is a great job to do to really get a feel for how sets are run and how production is put together.
Some of the actors I work with are amazing. Some of them were not so amazing — no names to be mentioned — but it’s really great because the film community is so small and because the set is so small, everyone really gets to know each other when you work on a show for that long or even a big show like “Transformers 3,” which was last summer in Chicago.
There’s this camaraderie that film and television gives you and working with actors, sometimes they’re great people, but sometimes their job is more difficult than you can imagine in the fact their minds are in different places and they’re being pulled for different things and while they may be shooting your show that you’re working on right now, at night they might be doing publicity for a movie they shot three months ago that’s going into a theater, or they might have to do phone interviews. They’re constantly running around, but some actors I really enjoyed being around, some I still stay in touch with to this day.
SCN: You’re also a producer and partner for What A World Productions. Tell us how this company came to be and what your ultimate hopes are for it? What other projects is the company working on?
JP: What a World is a production company that the director of the short and I started in L.A. We created the company for the short and then for the other projects that we’ve been developing over the last two years that we have begun to look at setting other companies, producing ourselves and producing with other people. We’ve gotten interest from a lot of people in Michigan and we’re hoping to bring a lot of these projects back to Michigan.
What a World has television, web series and films in development and pre-production. It’s basically character-driven, independent filmmaking and our next project is a film called “Light Years,” which is an expansion of “Some Boys Don’t Leave” that we’re looking to shoot in Michigan at the end of spring and it’s set in New York but we’re shooting in Michigan. We’re actually casting it right now and getting that ready to hopefully the first week of May.
We have other features. We have television shows that we’re looking at setting up at different places and a web series that may shoot in New York in the summer. We’re broadening the spectrum to all medias.
SCN: What is your biggest aspiration that you want to achieve in the film and TV industry? What advice would you give to someone looking to get their foot in the industry?
JP: My biggest aspiration is to create great content that we put on screens, whether the television screens or the big screens throughout the world and that I’m producing.
I’m producing content that I like, that I think my family and friends would like and that’s my biggest aspiration is to create a production company that does that, that continually puts out content like that. Big content, like huge blockbuster films, or small content like our next film, so that’s my aspiration and of course I want to do it by the time I’m 30, so we’ll see how that goes.
I did an interview with one of my favorite teachers, who really helped push me along to do film production at West Bloomfield High School and we did an interview there for the students and that’s was the exact same question they asked. What I told them what I truly believed was just to go out and shoot — shoot anything because with YouTube, with all these web-based companies, you can put your film up and show it to people and with home-editing software and cameras that are on your phone, you can go and shoot things.
And if you have a great story, and you can find great actors and make something, you should do it as many times as you can because that’s how this business is moving and that’s how people are continually finding fresh, new and exciting content.
The other day, a couple weeks ago, a short film got sold and it’s now going to be a big Mark Wahlberg movie. It was shot for a couple hundred bucks and was put up on the web and that’s how the studio found it and that’s it’s now becoming a big Mark Wahlberg film. So go out and shoot. It’s so funny, I came back to the high school a couple months ago and one of the kids came up to me and said that’s all I’m doing is I’m just going out shooting and it helps to identify yourself as a filmmaker, editor or whatever you want to do and it’s great practice and it also can get you out there.