Karl: Today is Tuesday, January 28th. I’m at Hugo’s with a local filmmaker and composer, Jarrod Wendler. Please tell us your age, you can approximate if you’d like.
Jarrod: I’m twenty years old.
Karl: Relationship status?
Jarrod: Single, but married to my job.
Karl: How long have you been making films and music?
Jarrod: I’ve been composing since I was sixteen. I’ve been doing film since I was nineteen.
Karl: What’s the craziest experience you’ve had as a filmmaker?
Jarrod: *pauses to think* We recently shot a film about pornography. It’s not a porn; it’s a feature film about pornography. There were four porn stars in the film and five other girls that had to get naked. Usually, whenever there’s nudity, they close the set to everyone but the key people. All the grips set up the lighting, production sets up the production stuff, and then everyone has to leave. Then they shoot whatever scenes they need, and then everybody comes back on. I assumed I’d have to go, so I just left. But I was sitting off in one of the other rooms and the producer came up to me and said, “Hey, can you shoot a promo for this with all the naked girls?” I was thinking, “No way!” So I got to have a bunch of girls all flash my camera at once.
Karl: That’s pretty awesome.
Karl: Where are you from?
Jarrod: I was born in LA. When I turned five, my family moved to a little town called Elizabeth. It’s about an hour south of Denver. When I turned eighteen I moved straight back to LA – I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
Karl: What was it like growing up outside of Denver?
Jarrod: I don’t want to knock on Denver… I’ve seen wildlife and things that a lot of people don’t get to see. I grew up seeing deer in my backyard every morning. Moose… elk… rivers… streams… there are some great things about Colorado. It’s beautiful. But for me, it wasn’t a happy time in my life. It’s really cold there and the people aren’t like West Hollywood people. They’re a little more close minded. There’s a lot of jazz music, which is awesome. But beyond that there’s no huge musical scene. There’s no filmmaking scene at all. It was toxic to my passions. I just got out of there as quick as I could.
But you can ski and snowboard. It is awesome for that.
Karl: You’ve been composing since you were sixteen… Did you know what you wanted to do from an early age?
Jarrod: Not really. Although I’ve been composing since I was sixteen, I’ve been a musician my whole life. In high school I really got into music theory, ear training, composition and classical music. It was an obsession of mine. I started writing, composing and arranging for my high school band. I was in a couple jazz bands and earned most of my money making music. I came out to LA and was studying music composition and recording because I wanted to do music for commercials, TV, and films. Then one of my teachers got me into sound design. Sound design is basically all of the sound effects in any scene in any movie. There are sounds all over the place and you have to add those in post-production. After he introduced me to that I got hooked on sounds and music for film. Then I thought, “Well, I might as well just do the film too.” So I went to film school. Film pays better than music so I just got sucked into that world and have been doing it ever since. I started as a production assistant getting people coffee and I’ve worked my way up to a director since then.
Karl: Did you know you would leave?
Jarrod: Not really. I thought that was life. When you’re fifteen and you get your learner’s permit to drive, it means you have to drive with your parents, and it really sucks. Your mom and dad are just like, “Turn here! Hit the brakes!” They’re on your ass the whole time. Since that was all I knew, I didn’t really like driving. But once I got my license, I was alone, and I thought, “God, this is amazing. I can turn the music up as loud as I want, I can go where ever I want.” Living in Denver, I couldn’t even conceive of what else there was until I lived it.
Karl: Where did you go to school?
Jarrod: Musician’s Institute in Hollywood. It was the most exciting thing ever for me because it’s just a school of musicians and filmmakers… all day. There’s nothing better than that to me.
Karl: It sounds expensive.
Jarrod: It was more than most schools but worth every penny. Everything I learned there was super valuable and I met one of my best friends whom I still work with today. It was an invaluable time in my life. I did not like school growing up, but this was the first time I enjoyed going to school. After a year of going to M.I., I remember waking up and thinking, “Dude, I get to go to school today!”
Karl: How did you make ends meet through school?
Jarrod: I used to work close to full time at Gelson’s. As more film work came in I started weaning off. Now I’m working about twelve to eighteen hours a week. It’s been an experience. I was fortunate to have parents who could help with school so I didn’t have to deal with student loans or anything. In film school, my producing and directing teacher said, “Always save up all your money for dry spells because dry spells are a bitch.” I am lucky enough to not have had a dry spell, I have more work than I can handle.
Karl: That must feel so rewarding in this job climate. What sorts of projects are on the horizon?
Jarrod: I just finished up a bunch of ads for Lexus. I have a short film in the works. But at the moment I’m doing a pitch ad for Nike. I’m shooting my newest stuff on cinema camera and it’s turning out pretty cool. I do most of this work myself with a small crew so I want to hire some producers and expand on my company.
Karl: Does the part-time job ever impede the film work? Do you ever have conflicts?
Jarrod: I’m only working a couple days a week and I’m only working six hour shifts so it’s out of the way at this point. There are times when I’ll get a call and someone’s like, “Hey, can you come shoot tomorrow? $500.” So I either have to switch with someone or call in sick. And I’ve already been talked to about calling in sick so much. The managers know it’s not my career. They know I’m doing film and music so they’re more than happy to help me out most of the time. I’m thankful for that.
Karl: Do you like working in West Hollywood?
Jarrod: I love it. I love the place. I love the people. Everyone is welcoming and open-minded. A lot of people are like you, they’re artists. They get it. It’s great to work in an artistic culture. It’s also just a really clean and nice place. It’s upscale and I enjoy that.
Karl: Is there anything you would like to see more of?
Jarrod: I think it’s nice how it is. I’m not against any improvements, but I don’t have any super major complaints.
Karl: How about less of?
Jarrod: I’m not a fan of the homeless, and working at Gelson’s, there are always homeless people coming up and begging for money. It degrades the scene and degrades the store.
Karl: What do they tell you to say to those people when they hang out in the front or come in?
Jarrod: Nothing. We don’t say anything. Unless they’re creating problems we just let them sit there. The manager might go out and say, “Hey man, you can’t stand here and beg for money.” They still come back and do it all the time anyway. One thing that I was excited about… this is going to sound really stupid but people used to be able to bring their recyclables into Gelson’s and get money for them. So all the homeless and drug addicts would dumpster dive all day and then bring in trash.
Karl: I don’t remember that. Was there a booth or something?
Jarrod: No, they would just bring all their trash up to the front desk, and then I would have to handle it. It was the worst. I was counting trash all day. And then they would lie about how much trash they brought in. I would go into the back room, count the trash, then come out and the homeless guy would get in my face and be like, “I had 57 plastic bottles!” And I’d have to be like, “Dude, you had 30 plastic bottles. I’m not 27 off.” Finally they said, “No more recyclables!”
Karl: Have you worked Halloween?
Jarrod: I can say that I lived through it. It was an amazing experience but I don’t want to do it again. The bathroom line is out the door and around the corner.
Karl: So you were sober, at work, and had to deal with half-a-million people coming past your store.
Jarrod: It was not fun to be honest. I worked 6:00 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Karl: What will West Hollywood look like a decade from now?
Jarrod: I think it will stay pretty similar to the way it is. At least I hope so. It will probably get more crowded. It has potential to become more like Hollywood, and maybe Beverly Hills will become the new West Hollywood. But I don’t think the people of West Hollywood would let it get bad. There’s a standard here and it will maintain.
Karl: What are your goals here? Are you staying put?
Jarrod: My goals are to keep making films and music and to keep taking things to the next level. Every project I do gets better than the last one. I keep pushing it, bringing new people on, getting bigger budgets… My goal all along is just to give people something cool to watch. I make films so people can check out of reality, whether it be for ten minutes or two hours. I think as long as I’ve taken someone on somewhat of a journey, then I’ve done my job. But yes, LA is my home. I may move around and not stay in Hollywood or West Hollywood. I may move to different parts of LA, but LA is my home. This is ground zero.
Karl: Do you hope to have a family here some day?
Jarrod: Maybe. I was kind of a problem child, so I don’t really want to deal with me. But maybe. If I find a woman whom I can trust with my child, then sure. I would like to experience that. I could put that in my catalogue of experiences. I imagine if I have kids someday I might consider moving outside of the city.
Karl: Do you go out at all? Do you have time to?
Jarrod: Not really, no. If I do have time, I’ll go see a mainstream film or go to some sketchy theater and see some indy film. There are some interesting things you can learn from really-out-there kind of guys. I saw Gravity a couple months ago and the sound design blew me away. It woke me up and I thought, “Dude, you gotta get back into high production sound!” So I really took sound to heart on this last Nike project. I’m not opposed to dating. I love to date girls, I love to have fun… but there is a deep sense of satisfaction from seeing a great film. Movies have changed my life. I was in the room for the casting of a short film and the director and I were talking as an actor was coming in… He said he moved to California from New York because he saw Garden State. I always feel like the drive to the theater is exciting, but the drive home is sort of like a post-sex state. You’re thinking about the film and you’re in this state of complete liquid while processing all these emotions.
Karl: I haven’t seen a grown-up film in years, but watching Cars for the forty seventh time always leaves me in some state of emotion. On that note, what’s it like to be twenty and in LA at the start of your career?
Jarrod: Awesome. I feel super blessed and appreciative. Not everyone my age gets to do this kind of stuff, travel to places I get to travel to, and do the things I get to do. It’s like living a fantasy. When you grow up somewhere that’s out of the way, the film industry is this sort of dreamland that you’ll never be a part of. And now I’m in it, doing it, making content, making movies that are seen on a mainstream scale. I’m part of that now. And being young is exciting, but I find that people never take you seriously. You have to prove yourself constantly to everyone. Sometimes you blow people’s minds and sometimes you don’t blow their minds at all. I’ve been fortunate to know and meet people who are a lot older than me. All of the guys I work with have so much more experience, so everyone’s been a mentor and showed me what to do and not to do. I learn from their successes and failures as well as my own.
Karl: Remember that when you’re a Hollywood hotshot pushing forty and help out the struggling twenty-something when you meet him.
Jarrod: For sure. People I went to film school with work for me now. I get them work. I was the editor on a cosmetic commercial and I was in the room with the DP and the director. I was a good editor at the time, but I was really slow in the computer program. I remember both of them giving me shit, saying, “Dude, you gotta get faster at this, man.” I went home, read an entire manual and learned all my key strokes. I came back for the next session and was whizzing through it, but that was a failure that I learned from. Then I hired a buddy of mine out of film school who’s a very talented guy, but he was like me. He had the talent but was just really slow on the computer. I didn’t bust his balls but I was like, “Dude, trust me, you gotta get faster. I did this, I got effed over once, just be faster.” So I taught him a bunch of tips and tricks that I knew, and now he’s using tricks that I’ve taught him.
Karl: So what advice do you have for other aspiring filmmakers like your buddy?
Jarrod: Love what you do. I don’t have all the answers, but even if you have no money and have the worst job, if you love what you do, the money and success will follow.