The new crime drama Stray Bullets (out Feb. 10) was written, directed, and edited by Jack Fessenden, who also stars in the film, composed its soundtrack, and is among the movie’s credited chefs. That’s an impressive array of contributions to this tale of two teenagers in upstate New York whose lives intersect with a trio of gun-toting hoodlums. But the amount of hats Fessenden sported on Stray Bullets is doubly noteworthy given he is only 17 years old and was just 15 when he directed the film.
“I’d been making little movies my entire childhood [but] I started taking movie-making more seriously when I was maybe 12 or 13,” says Fessenden. “When I was 13, I made my first real short film, called Riding Shotgun. We showed it at the Woodstock Film Festival and, ever since I’ve known that I wanted to make a movie like Stray Bullets. I always referred to it in my mind as ‘my epic.’ It wasn’t necessarily going to be a feature. It was just something that would incorporate a story [in] my comfort zone — of kids upstate — as I’d done before, and then also the story of these crooks. In the summer before I started high school, I started to write the story and realized that it was very dense for a short film. My mom, one day, said, ‘Well, why don’t you just make a feature?’”
It could be said that Fessenden was born to make films — certainly, he has been involved in their creation virtually since birth. His mother, Beck Underwood, is an animator and production designer while his father, Larry Fessenden, is the director of such influential indie-horror movies as Habit and Wendigo. Fessenden Sr. has also nurtured a long list of filmmakers through his Glass Eye Pix company, including Ti West (House of the Devil), Jim Mickle (Stake Land), Mickey Keating (Darling), and now his son, whose film was overseen by the production outfit in conjunction with Jack’s own Fessypix. Jack himself appeared in Wendigo when he was just a few months old and, down the years, helped out on a number of other GEP movies, including 2008’s Dominic Monaghan-starring I Sell the Dead. “I helped age some old boxes,” he laughs. “I got paid $50. That’s a pretty big payday for a 7-year-old.”
Larry Fessenden recalls that it was the time he spent goofing around with Jack and his friends which really inspired his son to become a director. “Instead of going out and playing with a ball, we’d go out with a video camera,” he says. “Jack would have three friends over, and we’d say, ‘Let’s pretend you’re running from something terrible!’ And I’d have the fun of designing the shots. I used to edit them, put the music in and so on, and [say], ‘Look, that fun thing we did this afternoon, this is the result.’ Eventually, Jack would take the camera and I’d see him off telling the kids what to do, and I think that’s how he became a filmmaker.”
Jack and his friend Asa Spurlock play the lead teenagers in Stray Bullets while the movie’s three criminals are portrayed by John Speredakos (Wendigo, The Mind’s Eye), James Le Gros (Living in Oblivion, Girls), and Larry, who also shot the film and produced it with Jack. Indeed, with Underwood overseeing the movie’s production design, Stray Bullets is very much a family affair, although Jack insists his father was careful not to offer too much input during the shoot. “He was always there to help, whenever I needed it,” he says. “But I mostly think he wanted to give me some space, so that I could feel that it was my project — and he did that very well.”
Stray Bullets premiered last September at Germany’s Oldenberg Film Festival and won a rave review from The Hollywood Reporter which described it as “an enjoyably bloodsoaked thriller with unexpectedly lyrical interludes.” Jack says he has plans to make another film, but has to first deal with some matters which aren’t usually an issue for first-time filmmakers. “I’m in junior year in high school, so I have to crack down a little bit more than I have been,” he says. “I have to keep my grades up!”
Stray Bullets is released Feb. 10.
8:26 AM PDT 11/4/2016 by
The indie distributor will do a multi-platform release for the crime drama in the U.S. as well as handling international sales.
Screen Media has picked up worldwide rights for Stray Bullets, a low-budget crime drama from 16-year-old Jack Fessenden, son of indie film vet Larry Fessenden.
The younger Fessenden stars alongside Asa Spurlock in Stray Bullets as a pair of teenage boys tasked with cleaning out their father’s old mobile home on an abandoned property, only to find that three cons on the run (James Le Gros, John Speredakos, Larry Fessenden) are using the trailer for a hideout.
The movie, produced through the Fessenden’s New York shingle Glass Eye Pix, premiered at the Oldenburg Film Festival in Germany earlier this year.
Screen Media is planning a multi-platform release for Stray Bullets in the U.S. in February next year. The company has also taken on international rights and will be selling the title to foreign buyers at AFM.
“We have a great track record working with Screen Media, and we’re delighted they’ve shown such enthusiasm for Jack’s movie,” said Larry Fessenden. “We look forward to building on that to make an impact with this humble but resonant film.”
The deal for Stray Bullets was negotiated by Needle for Screen Media with Larry Fessenden and Jenn Wexler at Glass Eye Pix on behalf of the filmmakers.
Screen Media’s recent releases include Michel Gondry’s Microbe & Gasoline and South American horror thriller Colonia starring Emma Watson and Daniel Bruhl.
Teenage multi-hyphenate Jack Fessenden delivers a low-budget US indie thriller, world-premiering at the edgy German fest.
In most instances a filmmaker’s age is irrelevant when discussing the merits of their work, but it’s impossible to view Jack Fessenden’s Stray Bullets with detached objectivity when aware he was 15 during the shooting and 16 when the film bowed to ticket-buyers. An enjoyably blood-soaked thriller with unexpectedly lyrical interludes — made very much in the shadow of classic genre forebears and on what was clearly a constrained budget — this is a strikingly impressive calling-card.
It’s a mark of Fessenden’s freakish precocity that the picture would doubtless secure numerous midnight-slot festival bookings and additional small-screen exposure even if programmers and buyers knew nothing of his extreme youth. As it is, the film has a unique marketing hook which will doubtless be exploited to the max by Fessenden’s dad Larry, a very shrewd operator with decades of indie-biz experience under his belt. North American premiere is scheduled for the Woodstock Film Festival next month in upstate New York, close to where most of the shooting took place.
Guinness World Records lists Nepalese 7-year-old Saugat Bista as the globe’s youngest feature-director, but Fessenden Jr appears to be unchallenged in terms of the English-speaking world. Starting early is clearly in the genes: Fessenden Sr. was also 16 when he made his first film, four-minute Super 8 road-movie The Eliminator (1979). Barely seen until released on a compilation DVD decades later, this was a shaky first step on a busily prolific career that has included acting jobs for Martin Scorsese, Kelly Reichardt, Joe Swanberg and many others, plus numerous outings as director and/or producer.
He plays an eyecatching supporting role and serves as DoP here, with his wife Beck Underwood overseeing production-design and costumes. Their offspring, however, receives sole credit for directing, writing, editing and for composing and arranging the atmospheric score (performing keyboards, guitar and percussion) and is even listed among the production’s five chefs. Yes, he cooks too.
Fessenden Jr, who has been honing his craft on shorts for several years and appeared in his dad’s Wendigo (2001) and The Last Winter (2006) as a tot, is clearly more than capable on all creative fronts — even if his acting chops currently fall a little short of his behind-the-camera talents. But that isn’t much distraction, as his connections have landed him a slew of hugely experienced character-actors including top-billed James Le Gros and the more fleetingly-glimpsed Kevin Corrigan.
Among the fresher faces, Asa Spurlock — who bears a striking resemblance to Ezra Miller — is the standout as Ash, a soft-spoken and sensitive sort who spends most of his free time with his brasher best pal Connor (Jack Fessenden). After larking around in the woods near their home in an unspecified corner of rural New York State, the duo stumble into the clutches of three desperate gangsters. The criminals (Le Gros, Larry Fessenden and John Speredakos) have fled the City in the messy wake of a shootout, with an implacable hitman (Corrigan) close on their heels.
Fessenden switches smoothly back and forth between Ash and Connor’s bucolic escapades with a stolen paintball gun and the gangsters’ profanity-laced exchanges in their speeding car as Fessenden Sr.’s Charlie bleeds out on the back seat. Innocence and experience duly collide in the second half, but the screenplay delivers a few nicely unexpected developments — including one seriously shattering leftfield jolt — in a film which foregrounds character and dialog ahead of slam-bang pyrotechnics. When push comes to shove in the final reel, however, Fessenden stages the inevitable gunplay with persuasive brio — aided by special makeup effects by seasoned maestro Brian Spears.
Leaping far beyond the occasional rough edges of his opening scenes, the director really hits his stride in these latter stages, deploying slow-motion in a mature, sparing fashion, and making particularly effective use of his own haunting, guitar-heavy score. Indeed, on this evidence Fessenden could probably pursue a career in music if the challenge of film-making palls. Anyone invested in the art-form’s future, however, will firmly hope he can go on to emulate the likes of Don Coscarelli and Xavier Dolan, for whom teenage kicks augured accurately for achievements to come.
The Hollywood Reporter
3:57 PM PDT 9/19/2016 by
Production company: Fessypix
Cast: Asa Spurlock, Jack Fessenden, John Speredakos, Larry Fessenden, James Le Gros, Kevin Corrigan, Robert Burke Warren
Director / Screenwriter / Editor / Composer: Jack Fessenden
Producers: Jack Fessenden, Larry Fessenden, Beck Underwood
Cinematographer: Larry Fessenden
Production designer / Costume designer: Beck Underwood
Venue: Oldenburg Film Festival (Independent Competition)
Sales: Glass Eye Pix, New York (firstname.lastname@example.org)
“Zombie “SHOTGUN” short is a Fessenden family affair
A new generation of horror filmmaker debuts with RIDING SHOTGUN, a short film directed by Jack Fessenden, son of New York genre mogul Larry….The half-hour RIDING SHOTGUN was written by Jack and Alex Hoffman, who also star as a couple of teenaged friends driving through upstate New York in the wake of a zombie outbreak. Jack edited and scored the movie, while Larry (who also co-stars) served as director of photography, and the two produced the movie with Beck Underwood.”