Emon HassanInterview

Interview: Jesse Vile, Director of "Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet"

Emon HassanInterview
Interview: Jesse Vile, Director of "Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet"

Image of Jason Becker above from the film

About the Film (via Jason Becker Movie):

When doctors diagnosed 19-year-old rock star Jason Becker with Lou Gehrig's Disease, they said he would never make music again and that he wouldn’t live to see his 25th birthday. 22 years later, without the ability to move or to speak, Jason is alive and making music with his eyes.

"Jason Becker : Not Dead Yet" is a feature-length documentary film that tells the incredible story of a guitar legend who refuses to give up on his dream of being a musician despite the most incredible odds. It is a story of dreams, love, and the strength of the human spirit.

The film has been made with the full co-operation of Jason and the Becker family, who have given their consent for this to be the first feature-length documentary film about his life. They have provided their entire family archive of never-before-seen photos and footage.

Jason Becker will be a #GuitarChat guest on Twitter tonight at 9pm (ET)Guitarkadia: Tell me a little about your background. Do you play guitar yourself and what was it like growing up in your house? What were you listening to, watching, and reading?

Jesse Vile
Jesse Vile

Jesse Vile:  I've played guitar since I was 12 years old and just fell in love with it. It was a great source of expression and identity for me as a kid growing up in he 90s. My favorite bands growing up at the time were mainly Metal and Heavy Rock. I watched a ton of movies but didn't really get into reading until college.

G: When did you decide to get into filmmaking? Why documentary? Who are some of the filmmakers who've influenced you? Why?

JV: As a kid, I wrote a lot of short stories and really loved films. Towards the end of high school I just decided that movies is what I wanted to do. It just felt natural and normal to pursue it. I didn't decide to focus on documentaries at all.  Filmmaking is about finding the best way to tell a story, whatever genre or format and Jason's story works best as a documentary I think. It's also usually much cheaper to make a documentary so given our budget constraints it just made sense. My favorite filmmaker of all time is Stanley Kubrick. He was my first introduction to making films on an entirely new level and his energy and approach to filmmaking struck a huge chord with me.

G:  How familiar were you with Jason's story & music before you decided to tell his story? Why and what story did you want to tell? 

JV:  I've been a fan of Jason's since I was 15 years old. A guitar teacher of mine introduced me to his music and I just fell in love with it and also his personality and energy. His story is so incredible and it just stayed with me through adulthood. As a storyteller, you naturally look for incredible stories to tell and when I thought I was ready to tell Jason's, I decided to go for it.

G:  What was the process like in between making that first call or contact and expressing your interest to actually going into production? What did you expect yourself to get into in terms of filming and what didn't you expect? 

JV:  There are so many steps involved that it's too much to list here. Everything from convincing Jason and his family to let me tell the story, to putting together the crew, and raising enough money to go on our first production trip. There are so many roadblock along the way both in practical and creative terms. You have to constantly be dodging obstacles and finding solutions to problems.

G:  What moment did you shoot first that appears in the film? As the days went by and as you'd gotten closer to the Becker family, were you discovering new aspects of their story that you made note of which ended up in the film? 

JV:  When you meet Jason for the first time, whosever with him at that moment will usually go through the process of how he communicates. The first thing we filmed was his father Gary explaining how Jason's communication system (Vocal Eyes) works. It appears 2/3 of the way into the film.

G:  What do you remember most from spending time with Jason that did not end up in the film? 

JV:  Just hanging out and having fun. We did have a lot of fun on the shoot but you can't fit everything into 1 movie.

G:  The family films/photographs as well as other archival material play a big part in your film. I laughed out loud when Mike Varney's photo in the magazine dissolved into present day Mike Varney, only because I grew up seeing that image and it's been etched in my brain that way all those years. How much were you aware of the Becker family's film and photograph collection?

JV:  The archival material is my favorite part of the film. It's so rich and captures such a pure time in their lives. I really wasn't aware just how much of it there was. I wanted more!

G:  How long was the editing process? How difficult was it to narrow down your footage and material and tell a story not assuming viewers would have any idea who Jason Becker is? Did you and editor, Gideon Gold, make discoveries in the edit that shaped the structure of the film? Can you give one specific example?

JV:  The editing process took about 4 months in total, spread out over the course of 8 months or so. The basic structure of the film was laid out in the beginning and then it was about forming and shaping and extracting what the film would ultimately become. I found it to be the most rewarding part of the process as you start to see your film and vision take shape. It was great working with Gideon because he brought so much to the film and really helped to get what I was trying to say out onto the screen. Sometimes I would explain how I wanted something to feel and he would capture that feeling but present it in a more satisfying way. One example is the ending, which still chokes me up every time.

G:  Being so close to Jason, the Becker family, friends and everyone else during filming, was it difficult for you to cut out parts that didn't fit the story  or stay objective? 

JV:  Directors are notorious for holding onto things too closely and that's why editors have to put up with a lot. It was difficult at first for me to let go of some things but ultimately, you need to what is best for the film and make those tough decisions. However, it also works the other way around where the director needs to convince the editor about keeping things or cutting them.

G:  How did making the film effect you personally and as a filmmaker?

JV:  Making a film about Jason has always been one of my dreams so to have that realized is a huge thing for me personally. Also to have Jason and his family as lifelong friends now is a major bonus.

G:  What's next for "Not Dead Yet"? What are you working on next? 

JV: We've had distribution in the US, Canada, the UK and Taiwan but we are still looking for distribution in many other countries. So getting 'Not Dead Yet' out to all the other fans is the priority at the moment.