In the entertainment business, perhaps more than any other, seeing an independent project through to fruition is a daunting task. Vision becomes secondary to production costs and rarely does one person with a dream get the job done. Alison Parker is the rare exception to this rule.
Parker produced and directed the film Jake and Jasper: A Ferret Tale from a script written by David B. Beleznay. It is the story of how a ferret helps a young boy through a tragic time in his life. For Jake and Jasper, Parker enlisted the aid of two other producers, 30 actors, and 31 crew members, all of whom volunteered their time. The filming equipment was donated for free or at deep discounts. To complete her quest to begin filming, Parker launched a successful world-wide funding campaign.
The film is currently in post-production.
The principal actors were impressed with Parker's drive, enthusiasm, and energy. Connor Stanhope, who plays Jake and will be familiar to audiences as young Lex Luthor on Smallville, enthuses, “I think that Alison did an amazing job of getting the film off the ground. She worked really hard for weeks to get everything that she wanted in the film by fundraising to pay for the animals and animal wrangler. Having them on set made a huge difference to the story and it is really going to look amazing!”
Stanhope describes Jake as “a lonely boy who has lost his Mom. He has withdrawn into a world of his own and because of that he gets bullied at school. When his older sister Jesse moves out of the house she gives him a ferret. Having the ferret helps Jake to come out of his shell and deal with his grief.”
The young actor was particularly thrilled to play opposite Falcor the ferret. “Working with a ferret was really a dream role for me. I love animals and getting to spend a lot of time in front of a camera with my little buddy Falcor was amazing. He is such a fun little guy and always doing things to make everyone laugh. He and I are like best friends now. I can't wait for everybody to see what a lot of fun ferrets are.”
Blu Mankuma (Forever Knight, Supernatural), who plays Mr. Whitney, the principal of Jake’s school, had only praise for Parker. “That was one determined lady! Like Jake, she was fighting for her ferret so it was a noble cause and definitely a labor of love. She did it brilliantly. Got a stellar crew that knew exactly what they were doing, and a wonderful cast. Connor is just excellent as Jake. Andrew [Jackson] was simply amazing and a joy to work with. All of the kids at the school were right into it and they did an awesome job, and Falcor, ham that he is, stole the whole show. Alison managed all of these elements with grace, pace, and fun. That's skill at its finest. I was quite impressed with her and I hope her film inspires more local filmmakers to go for it.”
Jake’s father is played by veteran actor Andrew Jackson (Seawolf, The Collector), another cast member impressed by Parker’s determination. “It’s one thing to be creative and commit to someone else’s project. It’s quite another to bring that personal vision to fruition. I am extremely impressed with Alison’s drive and unbridled determination to bring her project to life.”
What sort of work did you do prior to becoming a filmmaker?
Besides many day jobs to pay the bills, I was an audio engineer and worked at an audio post-production studio.
Where are you from? How old are you? Do you come from a family of filmmakers, actors, or writers?
I grew up in Victoria, BC, Canada. I am 30 years old. My family is not in this industry at all although my father has written several books about helicopters and fire fighters. They enjoy watching movies though, and get very excited to hear about my life in film and the people I get to meet. They enjoy showing my DVDs to their friends and 'bragging'.
What inspired you to make Jake and Jasper: A Ferret Tale? Can you discuss the premise and the message you hope the film conveys?
I was inspired to make this movie because ferrets have always been portrayed in a negative way in the media. They have been shown as being vicious, used as weapons to kill people, referred to as rodents, etc. This could not be further from the truth. They are cute, funny, smart and loving creatures. I know because I own two ferrets myself. It really is like having a puppy or a kitten that never grows up! So I decided to make this movie to show that.
The premise is that a young boy named Jake (Connor Stanhope) has recently lost his mother, his father (Andrew Jackson) can't help him emotionally, he has trouble in school, and his sister moves out. He's completely alone and has become withdrawn, but his sister Jesse (Nina Hagerty) gives him a pet ferret to keep him company. The film shows what a positive effect the ferret, whom he names Jasper, has on Jake's life, and the adventures they get themselves into.
Why did you take it upon yourself to do this project independently rather than by more traditional means?
I just wanted to get this movie made. I wasn't going to wait around for months to see if I could get a grant. I decided to use crowd funding through IndieGoGo because I had a feeling this was the movie ferret owners had been waiting for, and they'd want to help.
How long did it take you to round up partners and get the funding you needed?
I came up with the idea to make a movie about a boy and a ferret in May 2011. We started fund raising on IndieGoGo in June, and in 50 days we raised $13,055. I also put in a lot of my own money, and we had many corporate sponsorships, such as Nintendo, Converse, Marshall Pet Products, Blue Sky Soda, Tweak Footwear and much more. We shot the movie in August and September.
In the beginning, did you have to deal with industry professionals who told you that what you were doing was a lost cause?
No. No one ever told me that. I'm sure there's some people out there who thought I was silly for making a movie about a ferret. Of course, nothing drives me more than proving people wrong. There is a huge market for this. It's the #3 pet in America, #2 in Japan. Why wouldn't there be a movie about a ferret?
You used your own pet ferret for the film. How did you train him to be “on” and to do what you needed him to do?
Falcor plays "Jasper" in the film and he was very easy to train. I had the help of professional animal trainers and taught him how to do many tricks, such as standing up, going to a mark, rolling over, staying, digging, etc. I used treats, clickers, two-way radios, and more treats. Falcor is incredibly smart and usually picks up on what I want him to do within minutes. Training your animal to do tricks is also a really great way to bond with your pet. The other day I was watching TV and Falcor walked up to me and then rolled over! I had to run to get him a treat. Sometimes I think he is the one training me!
Your cast and crew were all volunteers. How did you inspire these people to get on board with your project?
It's really tough and I always feel bad for not paying people but the truth is, if I did, we would have had no equipment. All the money went into the camera and grip/lighting equipment, locations and food. That being said, everyone was really excited about this project! We shot it on the RED Epic, we had a 30-foot Supertechno crane, a ton of animals, great actors, a talented DOP. I think people were really happy to be a part of this, for the experience, and to see how far this film could go.
Was there a time when you felt you might not be able to see the project through? If so, how did you manage to overcome this to get the job done?
No, that thought has not and will not ever cross my mind. This film is beyond a labor of love for me. But this is not just for me. This is for the ferret community around the world. My ferret Falcor has become one of the most famous and recognized ferrets in the world. He has fans! The film has thousands of fans and no one has even seen it yet! I could never walk away from that. I'd also like to see this turned into a feature film.
What advice would you offer others who would like to follow your example?
My advice is to make what you know. Make it something you can be passionate about. If you love it, chances are there are other people that will love it too. Be original. Use social media daily to promote and grow your fan base. If you're crowd funding, make a clever, great quality promo video showing WHY you need the money, and ask for something in specific. We asked for $10,000 to pay for the animals in the film. We made a promo video showing what Jake and Jasper would look like if we didn't raise the money to get real animals, and had to use papier mache animals instead. It was cute, funny, and thankfully, it worked.