100 Dallas Creatives: No. 80 Imaginative Director Jeremy Bartel
Mixmaster presents "100 Creatives," in which we feature cultural entrepreneurs of Dallas in random order. Know an artistic mind who deserves a little bit of blog love? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the whos and whys.
As a kid Jeremy Bartel's mother made him and his two brothers dress alike. He never found out why, but needless to say, their family photos are pretty spectacular. Bartel called it quits on twinsies when he was in kindergarten. Up until that point he didn't mind, but once he was surrounded by kids his own age, he was over it. And that's the story of Bartel, or at least the arc - he does what he wants. But not in a Willy-Wonka-Veruca-Salt kind of way. More in a matter-of-fact, I'm-going-to-go-try-this-now sort of way.
Bartel is a local commercial and film director who's been obsessed with moviemaking since childhood. He's on one of the most unique career paths you can imagine, which was sparked by a sense of curiosity that never quits and a frankness that, as trite as it sounds, is incredibly refreshing.
It all started when Bartel's parents moved him to Tulsa and not to punish him or anything, but because they wanted to start a church. They were active in youth group and eventually started a Christian television series in the 1980s called Fire By Nite (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTyu0HMLZUg). "It lives up to its name. They had music videos with the popular Christian artists of the time, preaching and a sitcom within the show called Family First where my mom and dad played brother and sister so that was a little strange." Out of curiosity Bartel stated asking questions about filming and production and was amazed that people earned a living doing something that fun.
Travis Aitken We didn't say he wasn't a goofball.
Even though his parents were in front of the camera, he always loved being behind the lens calling the shots. "I never took acting seriously. I wanted to be over all the elements and control everything. I like the storytelling part of it - getting a reaction from people. I think that's why comedy is so interesting. With drama people can sit in silence mostly, but in comedy you get reactions."
As the oldest he was always organizing games including one called "It's not my fault" where Bartel would basically jump at his brothers on a trampoline and if he knocked them down, he'd just yell, "It's not my fault." Sibling bullying aside, they were a tight little crew and started making their own movies.
"Usually it was parodies - Star Wars, Three Stooges, action movies. I was thirteen at the time and they were eleven and eight and there's some drug exchange happening and I'd burst in with a gun," Bartell recalls. "We'd come up with all the action quips and one liners and we'd storyboard it beforehand and draw out where the cameras would be."
Bartel learned the technique from the commentaries and behind the scenes sections of DVDs.
"Even before DVDs, I had this behind the scenes Star Wars VHS that I would obsess over and watch over and over again," he says - although the movie that changed his life was Jaws, and after that, it was "anything Spielberg - Indiana Jones, Jaws, whatever my dad would let me watch." Clearly a lifelong student of film, Bartel believes that every filmmaker should know the history and be familiar with movies that came before. It's one of the things he respects about Texas Theatre. "Not only do they bring in films no other theater is going to show, they also pair it with something similar that was made thirty years ago."
Which brings us to current day. Bartel writes every day and he completed the first full-length film that he's extremely proud of. He spent two years working on it and he says that's when he knows he has something - "It just never went away and that to me is a good sign - an idea to pursue. I would set it aside for a few weeks, but I'd always go back to it."
Now that it's completed, he'll head out to upstate Washington, where the story takes place, and spend two weeks with a cinematographer. "We're going to scout it out and find all the locations ourselves. Do ride alongs with police officers, get more information to build more of a story and let the place influence the story, because it started with the place - the conifers and the trees surrounded by ocean."
He'll fund the trip himself and do what he always does - act as if. "If you take the action and the steps, the rest kind of starts to fall into place," Bartel says. "Even before we had the money for my last short film, Summons, I had the locations, I knew exactly what actors were going to play each role. It was basically storyboarded. It was like, okay, now let's get the money."
Sometimes the money comes from Kickstarter, but other times Bartel funds it himself. More often than not it's just assembling a crew that's excited to be a part of something interesting.
"People just want to be a part of something that's outside of their everyday life and that's what making movies and commercials is - it's something new all the time," he says. "Any sort of thing that's low budget, the idea sells the people. I've never had a bad experience in Dallas - it's iron sharpening iron in this industry and everyone is so willing. It's incredible."
As a commercial director, Bartel has been on the fringes of the Dallas film world, but Summons changed a lot of that. He met people he'd never met before and felt really welcomed. But if he could, would he transition wholly to film? Not likely.
"I got into film to make films," he says. "All I ever wanted to do was make movies and as I started to realize more what that is...I don't want to make Hollywood movies, I don't want to make movies with movie stars. I want to make the movies I want to make and tell the stories I want to tell."
And hopefully, he'll keep telling them in Dallas. His talent, vision and go-do-it attitude will only add to the foundation that's already been laid. When asked what he'd like to see more of in our city, Bartel deadpanned, "More churches." Then he thought for a moment and offered, "I know what it is. I want to see more of what's happening that's already happening. I feel like the last three or four years it's just getting better and better."
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99. Comedy Queen Amanda Austin
98. Deep Ellum Enterpriser Brandon Castillo
97. Humanitarian Artist Willie Baronet
96. Funny Man Paul Varghese
95. Painting Provocateur Art Peña
94. Magic Man Trigg Watson
93. Enigmatic Musician George Quartz
92. Artistic Luminary Joshua King
91. Inventive Director Rene Moreno
90. Color Mavens Marianne Newsom and Sunny Sliger
89. Literary Lion Thea Temple
88. Movie Maestro Eric Steele
87. Storytelling Dynamo Nicole Stewart
86. Collaborative Artist Ryder Richards
85. Party Planning Print maker Raymond Butler
84. Avant-gardist Publisher Javier Valadez
83. Movie Nerd James Wallace
82. Artistic Tastemakers Elissa & Erin Stafford
81. Pioneering Arts Advocates Mark Lowry & Michael Warner