A Louisiana-based award-winning veteran of the indie film industry, King Jeff has been around creating his own brand of on-screen magic since 1995. His filmography includes works such as Bang, Shallow Creek Cult and The Murder Men, with his most recent work, Troubleshooters, garnering praise for its uniquely crafted B-movie thrills. He is the first filmmaker to be inducted into the Louisiana Artist Roster and has generously shared his knowledge of the arts with children at risk, an act recognized by the Mayor of New Orleans.
How would you describe your upbringing and what role did film play in it?
I was a very happy kid due to two great, loving parents who left me and my three brothers wanting for nothing. My brothers and I spent a lot of fun times together. Particularly watching our favorite tv shows like Star Trek, The Mod Squad and The Wild Wild West. Sometimes when those shows went off, we would immediately start our own make-believe versions of those shows, which often involved coordinated fight scenes with stunts like diving over sofas and such. For me, when watching those shows, I always saw myself as Linc Hayes on the Mod Squad or Captain Kirk or Artemus Gordon on the Wild Wild West. I selected Gordon over James West because he was the smart one and I was a precocious kid. It wasn’t until my teens when I saw films like Jaws and Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind in crowded theaters that I wanted to create the fantasies in my head. The feeling those films gave me and the audience reactions to them stayed with me long after I left the theater.
King Jeff – bottom right with family
Who are the filmmakers that inspire you and your work?
At different times in my life, I was really into a particular director’s films. It went from Steven Spielberg, Charlie Chaplin, Sergio Leone, Jerry Lewis, Orson Welles, Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino as well as the first three Star Wars movies. I couldn’t get enough of each one of those directors at the time I was over-dosing on them. And I think that the main reason for me liking those particular filmmakers is because they weren’t afraid to put their own style and vision for doing things into their films. Their own influences showed in their films, but they’d add their own individuality and they didn’t care about doubters.
In what ways would you say film has shaped your identity as a creative? Who is King Jeff, the filmmaker?
King Jeff, the filmmaker is someone who is a filmmaking sponge. Because I wear pretty much every hat there is to wear during my productions, I have to pay attention to more than, say, a person who just does cinematography or music scores or acting. I have to be on top of all of that stuff. Some things more than others. For instance: writing, directing and acting I can do with my eyes closed. I excel at that. I have to focus more on the mechanics of cinematography and sound. Not the selecting of what angles to choose from, because I also feel I excel at that because I published my own comic book back in the days so I’m pretty skilled at visualizing. But it is the camera dialogue and technical stuff that I need to learn more about. What I mean by that is, I can’t hold a technically intelligent conversation in a room full of professional cinematographers about what lens to use or iris settings or any of that stuff, but when you see my work, you’d think I can because of my lighting and angles and such. A fellow filmmaker I know said it best when I asked him about the lighting in a black and white film he had done. I admired the look of the film, which had a noir look full of shadows, so I asked him is there a rule of thumb when it comes to lighting and he said “Hey, man, it’s whatever you’re looking for”. If I wanted a shadow on the floor or on the wall or if I wanted an actor silhouetted, just light it until I get what I’m looking for. The same applies to the music. I can’t play any instruments. All of the orchestrated sounding music in my films come from me taping numbers on the keys and playing the notes that way. First, I hum the song in its entirety into my phone when it comes to me so I won’t forget it. Then I have to practice a little before laying the recording down on file. If I do the bass, then I have to go through the same process for all the other simulated sounds. When you hear it, you’d think I had an orchestra involved because of the simulated instruments I use, but its just me and a worn-out keyboard from the 80s and a lot of sticky notes. I listen to the great John Williams for inspiration before every film I compose the music for. Cinematography and music are two of the things that is often pointed out in reviews of our music as standing out. So, to answer your question “who is King Jeff, the filmmaker?”, he is a testament to the adage “where there’s a will there’s a way.”
King Jeff – Cinematographer
What can you tell us about your production company, JeTi FILMS? What’s the ultimate goal with your projects?
JeTi FILMS currently consists of myself and my co-producing younger brother Gorio, who is the Dr. Jekyll to my Mister Hyde. He focuses more on the technical side of things, so if there is a problem with the camera or the audio, nine times out of nine, he’ll figure it out. He has a lot more patience at that type of stuff than I do, which makes him a very important part of JeTi FILMS. He also writes and directs on our various projects. As actors we play off each other well and we’ve surrounded ourselves with actors who we have the utmost confidence to be able to pull off their characters. When I’m writing I already know who will be playing what part. They are the people who have never let us down yet in our productions. The goal is basically to work with larger budgets. If I read another film reviewer saying “imagine what this guy could do if he had a bigger budget”, I will scream until the beams at City Hall shake. Because its true. I could do a lot more with a bigger budget. Maybe get a larger crew, so that Gorio and I won’t have to run back and forth while on set. But that’s the missing piece. I would like to get a contract with a studio or streaming platform for one of my series ideas and just focus on that for as long as the series lasts. Maybe do a movie during the series down time. That’s the goal.
Troubleshooters is one of the most bonkers, yet charming, indie films we’ve seen in a while. How did you come up with the concept?
Many conversations with my oldest brother Charlie about what ingredients we’d like to see in sci-fi. Just subtle FX mixed with modern times. A la ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’. That is the perfect blend of special FX and just modern settings. Seeing people in blue jeans and suits and ties in contrast to the bright lights and the space ships. Then you toss in a great story handled by a great director with a vision and great acting. Troubleshooters is an eclectic mix of influences. The original two, very raw, pilot episodes of the original Star Trek series, the old Adam-12 series, where the two cops are driving around going from one call to another, Star Wars and a blend of Quentin Tarantino’s subtle, yet realistic dialogue. A couple of reviewers have compared it to the movie Blade Runner, but the truth is I’ve never seen that movie. I’ve always had a thing for sci-fi. Even my old comic book that I published was sci-fi. Its just in my blood, I guess.
How did you navigate budget constraints and other issues that arose during production?
A large part of our budget goes to the actors first and foremost. Them and people who let us use their locations for filming. Months before filming we are getting the props and uniforms for the film. That way there’s not a whole lot to spend money on during filming. As far as the crew is concerned, Gorio and I are it. Writing, storyboarding, acting, directing, producing, lights, cameras, sound, P.A. work, set designs, the music, costumes, painting, nailing, whatever is required is done by us. Just look at the closing credits and you’ll see. We generally film in various rooms in our own houses. When we did our film Grip: A Criminal’s Story, Gorio transformed one room in his house into a prison, a restaurant and a police station. It was very impressive. We write with an ultra-low budget in mind. We don’t write huge crowd scenes or something that will require big special FX. We let the characters explain a lot of things that other filmmakers would’ve shown instead, which would’ve shot their budget up. Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs is about a jewelry heist that the audience never sees. Its all presented in the dialogue. Not showing the robbery allowed Tarantino room in the budget to film other scenes.
King Jeff on set acting
What gear was used to help create the film and why?
We filmed with a Canon Rebel T8i 4K camera, because we wanted to go up to 4K. And for sound we use Rode wireless devices. They are inexpensive is the main reason I guess. So much so that we have two cameras in case one breaks down as well as for shooting with two cameras for expediency. We also have two Rebel T6i cameras that we shot some of our other projects with.
Was there any storyboarding involved? How did you as the film’s cinematographer come up with all the shots?
Yes, I always storyboard my films while I’m writing the script in fact. This saves time as opposed to writing the script then doing the storyboard. I’m often seeing my angles in my head as I’m writing, so I draw the images right then. With the storyboards in a way I guess I’m watching the film as I’m writing it. Nothing elaborate like the storyboards for Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark. Those drawings could easily be made into comic books. My storyboards are usually one step away from being stick figures or doodling, but since I will be on set behind the camera, I know what they mean and can easily explain them to Gorio if he is behind the camera. And I usually include notes so I won’t forget what the drawings represented.
Storyboard for Troubleshooters
Why was sci-fi your chosen genre, given how difficult it is to pull it off?
I’ve always loved sci-fi. I just made sure it wouldn’t be difficult when I wrote the script. It is a pretty basic story with basic FX. To be honest, the most difficult thing to do in the film were the laser blasting shots. And they weren’t of the pulling my hair out variety. I didn’t see it as difficult to pull off.
What is your fondest memory from the set of Troubleshooters?
The same as always. Working with my brother Gorio to achieve something we love. Pulling it off and then having it deemed good enough to be accepted by Fox Corporation’s Tubi TV for streaming worldwide. And working with my acting family, Brian Lanigan, Roy Jackson, Chuck Hollins (our dad), Demorian Lizana, David Chapman, Brad Franklin, Dusty Brown and new comers Laiken Olive and Cage Garcia. Plus, on the days when I’m filming my scenes alone, my mom yelling upstairs while I’m filming, asking me if I need help with anything. She is the best P.A. I could ask for. Generally, those scenes where I’m by myself in shots, I was alone and just put the camera on the tripod.
Gorio left – King Jeff right
Is there any piece of advice you can give fellow aspiring filmmakers?
If you really, really want to make films. . . MAKE FILMS. In today’s world people are making films with their phones and now there are so many platforms to get your film on. So, get with others in your circle and if you really want to do it, start off with something easy and inexpensive like a two or three minute short about a person getting out of bed, going to get a drink of water in the bathroom, and then getting back in bed. Figure out the angles you will shoot from and shoot it. Save up for your own equipment to cut your future budgets down. And make it your own vision.
What’s next for you? Any shorts or features we can look forward to?
I’ve kind of given up on doing shorts. If I’m going to put in the time of pulling my hair out, I will make it a feature. But to answer the question, I am currently finishing up the script on a series idea that I have and would like to do as a 30 minute/five or six episode special event type of thing. I am also waiting to see how Troubleshooters does over the next six months or so to determine if I do a sequel or not. I may try to do an Indiegogo campaign this time around. For now, that is the plan until I’m walking down Isle 7 at the grocery store and I get an epiphany to do something else. Which happens a lot in the mind and world of King Jeff.
Watch Troubleshooters (2023) – Free Movies | Tubi (tubitv.com)