INTERVIEW: Jay Holben
– By Bryan Stumpf
Attending the 14th Annual Shriekfest Film Festival & Screenplay Competition on behalf of The Slaughtered Bird, my first interview in the Press Room of the Opening Night Party was with multi-hyphenate filmmaker Jay Holben. Jay has held many jobs in the film industry, including being a contributing writer for American Cinematographer magazine, and has been making short films, covering writer, cinematographer, producer, and director responsibilities, since his 2002 short Hunger. This was not Jay’s first time attending Shriekfest – in 2005, his short film Descent was a finalist, and that film’s lead actress April Adamson won the Best Actress award for that year.
In this year’s Shriekfest, Jay’s short film Alone was a finalist. Alone – directed by Holben, written by Holben and Dave Shepherd, and starring Becka Adams – is about a young woman spending her first night home alone in many years, and even though she’s locked safely inside, she starts hearing sounds within the house that convince her she’s not alone.
Jay told me about growing up in Chicago and being drawn to filmmaking with his first viewing of Star Wars. Immediately after watching George Lucas’s magnum opus, he turned to his mother, and said, “I want to be a director.” Jay told me he wanted to be a filmmaker because he was fascinated by the ability to move an audience through storytelling and making an deep emotional connection with an audience. He considers his biggest influences Steven Spielberg and Australian filmmaker Peter Weir. When I mentioned I wrote for the U.K.-based horror web-site The Slaughtered Bird, he mentioned also being highly influenced by the British filmmakers Alfred Hitchcock and Danny Boyle.
When I asked about getting into the film industry, Jay told me about one of his earliest efforts, his short film Paranoid. “I was one of Stephen King’s first Dollar Deals.” Jay was referring, of course, to King’s famously generous offer to aspiring filmmakers: the horror author would grant permission to any filmmaker to adapt any one of his short stories, in exchange for $1. “Back in 2000, for one dollar, I bought the rights to the adaptation of King’s Paranoid: A Chant. It’s actually a 100-line poem, and I made a 7-minute movie from that poem.”
Noticing most of Jay’s short films have been in the horror genre, I asked if there was anything in his life that inspired his work, if there was anything that drew him to the horror genre. He responded, “There’s a quote by the writer Ira Levin, ‘They say that committing murder on paper siphons off the hostile impulses.’ I see horror as an opportunity to exorcise one’s darker impulses. We all have a bit of a dark side, and horror allows an outlet for that.”
Asking Jay to list some reasons why people should keep an eye on him, as a writer/director, he jokingly replied, “Well, because I’m a genius!” Then he said, “But seriously, I think I have an ability to make that strong emotional connection with the audience. All filmmakers should aspire to make a deep emotional connection the audience through their work, and I feel over the years I’ve maybe developed a knack for that.”