Best Editing – Jacob Thompson, “Smoke” (USA)

Title: Smoke
Runtime: 7 min
Country: USA
Director: Jacob Thompson
Placement: Award of Excellence, Best Editing
Competition: December, 2019

Synopsis: While out for an evening cigarette, a young man recalls a traumatic event involving a burglary.

Filmmaker Q&A: Jacob Thompson – Director, Co-Producer, Writer, Editor, Cinematographer

OR: What was the inspiration for your film?

JT: A couple years before I made Smoke, I made a half hour short called, Not for Me, which wasn’t very well-received to put it mildly. The few critics I sent the film to didn’t view it in a very favorable light and I can’t say audience reaction was much better. I’d also be lying if I said I look back on that short fondly. I realized that that film’s biggest issue was that it was way too ambitious for its own good. I tried to do too much with so little. The ideas were definitely there, but I lacked both the budget and the foresight to really see them through. So, I knew that my next short had to be simpler and a bit more down-to-earth. It could be ambitious, sure, and even done in a similar style, but I knew that it needed to be something that wasn’t too big for its britches. That was the mindset behind Smoke. It’s a much MUCH simpler story than Not for Me, but I think it’s more effective because of that. 

OR: When did you conceive the idea for your film and how long did it take before it was realized?

JT: I came up with the idea a while ago. In mid-to-late 2018, Christian Hutchins (Smoke’s lead actor and co-producer) and I went out to go get some random shots at a park that we could use in our demo reels. Coincidentally, it was the same park we ended up shooting the actual film at. Christian had brought cigarettes because they look aesthetically pleasing on camera and we ended up getting some shots of him smoking. After I got home and looked over the footage we got, I was drawn to those shots of him smoking. It looked like he contemplating something or flashing back to an earlier event in his life. I felt like that visual alone told a story. Then I overanalyzed that image some more and I had ideas rattling around in my head and eventually I had the story for Smoke.

OR: What was the most challenging aspect of working in a short film format?

JT: Working in the short film format wasn’t super difficult for this particular project I’d say. The plot for Smoke doesn’t really lend itself to a longer film. It works for a five minute story and only a five minute story.

OR: What was the most challenging aspect of your production?

JT: Easily the lighting. I have a better lighting set-up now, but at the time of filming, the only source of light I had was a cheap portable LED light that I had gotten on Amazon for like forty dollars. As you can probably guess, that complicated things. Filming with that thing in the outdoor scenes wasn’t too terrible because the only thing that I really needed to do was illuminate Christian’s face, but the scenes during the burglary were definitely a challenge because I wanted to keep both characters’ faces obscure in those sequences. The fact that I was a One Man Crew didn’t exactly help matters. A lot of the shoot at the house was mostly just me stumbling around like a drunk old man experimenting with where I could and couldn’t put the light. It was difficult, but I got it done. 

OR: Do you have any advice for first-time filmmakers?

JT: As generic as it may sound, just go out and make something. Don’t worry too much about how well it’ll turn out. If it ends up sucking, that’s fine. Use the mistakes you made or the things you don’t like about your film as an incentive to improve yourself as a filmmaker and any other projects that you do in the future. The only way you’re gonna truly hone your craft is if you make some garbage first.