Filmmakers Jack Howard and Dominic Fera met through YouTube nearly a decade ago. Although from opposite ends of the world, the two became fast friends online and have been working together, both onscreen and off, ever since. At the end of the summer the two caught up to chat about their futures, their projects, and a pesky little horse from space.
Dom Fera: Back in the day, Jack was my number one fan.
Jack Howard: That is not untrue [laughs]. When I was around sixteen years old, I was huge a fan of the stuff he was doing. I think one of the reasons I am so driven to be a filmmaker is because I saw another guy the same age as me doing it.
DF: Are you saying that it’s my fault that you are you?
JH: I won’t give you all of that blame, but I think some of it has to do with you.
DF: When we first started talking I don’t think I knew that you made stuff right away; I just knew you watched my stuff. But then you started sending me the ‘Jack and Dean’ sketches and I started thinking ‘oh, they’re funny.’ Do you remember when you realized that people were watching? I don’t.
JH: I think it was occasionally when you saw people you recognize interact with you in some way, that always felt like a little notch, like you moved up a little bit. That happened with you. I remember calling Dean and being like ‘guess who just subscribed!’
DF: Oh, stop it [laughs]. So, I’m curious. If you could do one job, that had nothing to do with filmmaking, what would it be and why?
JH: Holy crap. I really don’t know.
DF: I think I have an answer that you will agree with. Teaching?
JH: Actually, yes. Even now, at 25, when I see someone who is younger and has some sort of talent or drive, I have this need to try and lift them up and get them something. I mean, we’re all still waiting for that bigger break and step up, ourselves. But, I just get something out of pushing people into something that they excel at.
DF: It’s very difficult to answer this, I think for both of us, because this was always the dream. I think at one time I wanted to be a weatherman. But, looking back, that was because I liked movies where there was bad weather. I was like ‘I know exactly what is happening here! My destiny is to tell people the weather’. [laughs]. I think now though, it would be the teaching thing.
JH: It’s about having an impact on people and that’s sort of what we also want in movies, isn’t it? We want to tell stories and have people take them home and have them stay with them. I know I have teachers, in my life, that have stayed with me and I still say things that they’ve said to me.
DF: Okay, you only get a half point for that because I gave you the answer.
JH: I didn’t realize this was working on a point system. My turn. I’m going to start with a statement. You are, and I always say this to people –
JH: Ugly? No. An Idiot? Yes. You’re an idiot. [Laughs]. You’re also the most talented person I know, in life. You can write, you direct, you act, you dance, you sing – and do it all so well. What’s that term for people who can do everything?
DF: Assholes. Sorry. [Laughs]. You’re flattering me so you’re witnessing a wall go up to deflect all the nice things you’re saying. I think they’re called a renaissance man.
JH: It genuinely baffles me. How?
DF: Everything along the way was just go get the thing made. I was editing myself because there was no one else to do it. I was acting because my friends didn’t want to when we started. The music was because at some point I could just keep using scores from movies I liked because… that’s illegal.
JH: So everything you’ve done and the reason you’ve gotten so good at everything individually is because you want to make movies?
DF: Yeah. At some point I realized that part of the satisfaction I got from it being done was if I did everything, then it really really felt like it was coming from me. But, that made it way too personal because I had my hands in every single facet of it. So, Jack. When you’re coming up with something, how often do you think in the ‘Jack and Dean’ parameters? Do you have to actively push away that Jack and Dean stuff or do they just exist in completely different worlds?
JH: It’s a little bit of both, actually. This Jack and Dean dynamic has been with me for ten years, so it’s sort of automatic to try and put them in it. I don’t even have to think about it anymore. I struggled with that after finishing Season 2 of the show [Jack and Dean of All Trades], and I was developing another concept for a new show. I didn’t want people to think we were ripping ourselves off and coming up with another sitcom style show with us in it and that expected dynamic.
DF: When we’re at conventions and stuff, it feels big; it feels like the whole world is paying attention. Sometimes it’s good to check yourself. We’re still in this position where we are polishing whatever our strengths are and we’re totally allowed, right now, to be like ‘I know this works. I’ve seen this work and I’m going to do it again.’ On that, do you feel like you revisit a similar theme? Even if this is in stuff we haven’t seen of yours yet.
JH: Yes. At the moment, and I still don’t really know why it’s coming up so much, but a main character who is a lost. The more I write, the more I can find that character. It absolutely has got to be a personal thing, but I can’t figure out why. I know what I want to do with my life, I know what I want to get out of it, and I know I want to create. It must be a deeper thing than that; something about being unsure.
DF: Let’s do therapy, real quick. [Laughs]. When you start to inch closer to a thing, you start re-evaluate the value that you’ve placed on it when it’s something you’ve wanted to do since you were 10 years old. That’s a lot of pressure. Once you graduate from college and you start to actually do it professionally, it turns out you’ve anchored your entire personality on it. You have moments where you start to get nervous that it’s never going to feel as good as what you’ve built up.
JH: It’s also that self-conscious feeling that everyone around you is developing at a faster rate than you. You can look at what they are making and I can see where they’ve improved or they’re making it quicker – all the sort of stuff. But it’s hard to see that personal growth.
DF: Well, we’re in the eye of the storm, to a degree. You keep gravitating towards filmaker-y people. So, wherever you look there is someone who is doing what you want to do or they’re posting about some new opportunity. That stuff can be hard to look at – especially if you feel like you’re not sure when your next cool thing is going to happen. So what did we circle in on here? Everything is going to suck and the world is dark, horrible, nightmare?
JH: I mean, yeah. That’s what I’ve learned. [Laughs]. Before you move on Dominic, is there anything thematic that you lean towards?
DF: I think that’s my mission statement in general for the stuff I want to make is about sympathy. If someone is not doing a good thing, I want people to try and understand why they are doing what they are doing. I never want to be definite and say this is the lesson and here is how people are. It’s more ‘check this feeling out…’ I have a fear of excluding how someone feels about something. In 100 years, some kid is telling their friends to watch your movies, Jack Howard movies, how would you hope they would describe your films?
JH: I would hope that they would describe them in ways that I would describe my favorite filmmakers, now. They make stuff that’s entertaining and fun to watch; they don’t try to exclude certain people. I don’t like when movies try to be superior. I want them to be intelligent without being condensing. I also hope those conversations happen outside of my earshot – that’s the biggest compliment. I think that’s my big answer. I just want people to talk about my movies, at all.
DF: Amazing answer. Bravo.
JH: What would you want someone to say when they recommend your movie?
DF: I think I hope that they say that I took an idea that’s maybe a little bit silly but it gets it’s fair shot. And fun. I very much hope that the word fun is used a lot because that’s a big thing for me. I want that kid to be like ‘just check it out, it’s a fun movie about a… Space Horse.’ But, there is still an emotional pull to it. I think it’s the spoonful of sugar thing. It’s like ‘Okay, I think people are going to be interested in the idea of Space Horse even though I have no idea what that means. Now I have to make them care.’
JH: I know exactly what you mean. It’s the challenge of figuring out how to make people care about this sort of thing. There are only a certain number of notes you can hit and you can’t make something wholly original, even if no one has seen a Space Horse movie. So that Space Horse movie is going to follow some sort of way that’s been done before or you’re just going to be lost.
DF: I also think you should just do a film because you like it, if you can make other people care about it as well. Just like ‘Oh, I think that’s cool. I think Space Horses are cool.’ You know what I love, is that I just said that and now we’re still talking about Space Horse.
JH: Dominic. What is a Space Horse?
DF: I don’t even know. Every time I say it I think of a Robot horse galloping through the stars, but I don’t know if that’s right.
JH: I think that Space Horse is a horse that just wants to go to space.
DF: Oh, that’s good.
JH: [pause] … is it?
DF: [laughs] So…what’s your Buffer piece this year?
JH: It’s a Jack and Dean sketch and I don’t want to say too much about it and give away the joke but, it’s very silly. It’s one of the simpler ones we’ve done but at it’s core it’s very funny. The basic premise is that Dean thinks his computer is self-conscious. What’s yours about?
DF: Well my Buffer movie is an analog for myself. I sort of play a character that is the closest to me that I’ve ever done before – it’s almost a goofy autobiography. It’s about a person who wants to make movies but feels kind of weighed down by YouTube and how I feel like I might not fit there anymore. It’s sort of a look at the feeling that maybe YouTube isn’t really designed for filmmakers; that it’s become a different animal.
JH: What’s it called?
DF: It’s called Content. Which, here’s a little secret, you can also say it’s called Content. See that. See what I did?
JH: I see it.
DF: It’s a very fun one. I felt like I accidently made something very dramatic the last few times and you know, I cry like a little baby at the end of ‘Hero’. But, I wanted to return to this tone I had in some of my older stuff. It’s the first time in awhile that I’ve put this much effort into something that’s exclusively fun. I’m trying to make my point without seeming bitter or grumpy that this whole filmmaking landscape has changed.
JH: I’m so jazzed about this! Wait. [Pause] … imagine if after all that Dom was like… it’s called… Space Horse.