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Exclusive Interview with Ashes’ Jake Raymond

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Talk Nerdy With Us recently chatted with Canadian actor, writer and producer Jake Raymond. Jake is best known for his roles on Teenagers, How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town, Liminality and Being Human. Read our interview below! We discuss Jake’s most recent project Ashes (a film he wrote, produced and starred in) and what he nerds out over.

Where did your passion for acting come from?

Great question. I always loved acting as a child. I grew up in a small town, so I guess I was never really exposed to it as someone who, say, grew up in Toronto would be. Here, you see a movie set kind of on every street corner. My school was really big into theater productions though. I was involved with those every year but it wasn’t till later in life, halfway through a kinesiology degree, that my brain kind of realized there’s this whole other world out there that I wanted to pursue.

 That sparked a little tension between my parents and I because I wanted to drop out of university and go chase my acting dream. They talked me into finishing my degree, which I’m very thankful they did that. I got my degree, moved to Toronto, and started chasing a dream.

Have you thought of going back to school for acting or are you done with school?

Actually, I do take acting classes in Toronto now. Not necessarily in a university setting, but yeah, I do work with an acting coach that’s here and study.

What was the first theater production that you were a part of?

It would’ve been my grade 4 production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” I was in the choir. Actually, I remember a moment specifically where they picked 5 kids from the choir, who got to go on stage. It’s a scene where they hold up Joseph’s coat. I remember I didn’t get picked and I was so devastated. I don’t know if that was the thing that maybe sparked it in me that, hey, one day I want to be that kid on stage!

Did your love for acting come first, or your love for writing?

Acting definitely. Acting is my first love. Writing came, I guess, as a way to create an opportunity for myself and my friends. I wanted to do a movie that we could all be involved in, and thought, the only way to make this happen is to write it myself. That’s how the wheels started turning. I had this blank canvas and started writing and thinking about characters that my friends can play. About a year later we had a first draft of “Ashes” and it was off to the races from there.

You guys, you went on a road trip…

We did, yeah.

Walk me through the whole origin story of “Ashes.”

I guess it was a bit of a bro weekend for us. It was Ray, Dalmar, Craig, and myself. We went to this little beach town that friends of my family have a cottage near . I had been there every summer as a kid and always loved it. The four of us went up and were just kind of hanging around. There’s something really cool about being in an isolated place with no one around.

I think we were kind of just sitting around a bonfire one night and talking about how cool it would be to shoot a movie in a location like that. It was the location that inspired the story for “Ashes.” Then I had to figure out the characters. What characters would be in this location? What would get them there? I guess that was the big inspiration for us.

How much truth went into “Ashes?” Or is it all fictional?

It’s completely fictional. The story is about a young man who loses his parents and sets north to scatter the ashes. Thankfully I do still have both my parents with me. Actually, they were a huge help on the production. They came up north with us and did all the cooking for the cast and the crew. We spent the last day trying to … We had this whole motel to ourselves. A big film crew can leave things kind of messy, so my parents were there helping me clean it up and get it back into shape because I wanted to leave it how we got it. It was really the location that built the story. 

This location on Georgian Bay is just this beautiful beachfront town. Dan Slater, who actually co-wrote the script with me and he directed the film, it’s him and I working together with this location in mind that brought the story to life.

Besides the death of his parents, what else can you tell us about your character Liam?

Liam, he’s the guy who kind of had everything going for him. He was probably the student council president in high school, has great friends, and this was the first time in his life where it’s not the storybook life. I really wanted to dive into … We all kind of face that in life. What happens when things don’t go how we plan them to, or when we’re suddenly thrown into a situation we weren’t expecting?

I really wanted to dive into that aspect of this character. Not only how it affects Liam, but how it affects the people around him, which is why the other characters in the script are so important, too. It’s not just about Liam. It’s about how a situation affects all of them and how they all come together to overcome it. Even the friends, they all have storylines that they’re dealing with, too. On this road trip collectively the four of them kind of help each other all at the same time.

How long did the actual writing of the script take?

That is a good question. I started writing about two years ago and kind of had … I think I’ve got like, 11 different script ideas and would kind of bounce back and forth between them. I’d write a scene, like, oh this scene could go in this movie. Oh, this scene can go in that movie. I think “Ashes” became the first script that had a start and an end. I guess that process was probably a year and a half, and then Dan and I spent a good six months really powering through the story and making it the best script it can be.

Was it easier to write the beginning or the ending?

Actually, the ending is the first thing I wrote. (Laughs). Again, it was all based on this location. I think even as an actor I’m very visual. When I get a character, the first thing I do is go through my wardrobe and figure out what that character would wear and how does that character move and stuff. I think that lent itself to my writing as well. It helps that I’d been to these places in real life, where I wanted to film the movie. I could actually visualize the characters walking through certain areas of the beach and what was going on.

How long did the filming actually take?

We had 11 days of shooting. They were about 12 hour days each. I called in a lot of favors on this. It was a lot of friends helping me out for free. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t working them too hard. We kept it at 12 hours days and I made sure it was the best food they’d ever had on set. Everyone was quite happy.

Now they all want to work with you again because of the food!

Exactly, yeah. (Laughs).

Why use the Indiegogo platform?

I think it’s become such a great thing because it’s a lot of artists supporting other artists. It gets the word of your project out there before you’ve even shot it. Gets people interested in it. Again, it’s really cool when someone believes in your project enough to give you some money to make it.

Was there any debate between Kickstarter and Indiegogo? Or was Indiegogo the first and only option?

Indiegogo was the first option because I was more educated in it. Some people I know had used it successfully before, so I was already aware with it, where I haven’t really learned much about Kickstarter. Yeah, it was never really a decision between the two. It was always Indiegogo.

Who taught you about Indiegogo?

It was actually Jeremy Lalonde. He had a film called “How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town,” which I had a part in. Jeremy was great. I had a lot of questions for him as a producer going into this. He always had the time to take a phone call and guide me through it as someone making my first feature film. He’s had quite a few successful films. He was a really great mentor on this project. Seeing what he did with “How to Plan an Orgy” and how successful they were on Indiegogo, I knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps.

How did you decide on the incentives? How did you decide on the $5,000 budget?

Again, Jeremy was a big help in that. He’s kind of the master of Indiegogo, so he would tell me what people usually go for and what incentives sell better. When people give you money for your project, you want to make sure they feel appreciated, which incentive would best do that. The $5,000 budget was me guessing at how to be a producer and guessing how much a movie costs. (Laughs). I definitely underestimated. Thankfully we ended up getting more than our budget because we definitely needed it. My credit card took a bit of a beating on that as well. It all worked out in the end and the movie is in post production and looking great.

What was it like having to wear three different hats? Having to be the lead actor, the writer, and the producer.

Completely insane. It was such a challenge.

Which role was most challenging?

Being a producer, because at the end of the day if there are any problems it is my responsibility to deal with it and figure out how do we make a movie when these things are presenting themselves to us. Thankfully I had an amazing team. I definitely couldn’t have done it without them. They allowed me to be able to bounce between the hats and tell me, “Okay, Jake, you’re only wearing your actor hat right now” or, “Jake, you’re not in this scene. Go put your producer hat on.”

Especially the cast. I cannot speak highly enough about the cast that I had because I could go from making sure the food is going to be ready in time to then jumping into a scene, especially Sara Mitich who plays my girlfriend in the film. She’s such an incredible actress that we could just step away for two minutes, talk about the scene, and then all of a sudden I was right back into actor mode. It was definitely the team that helped me go between hats.

What was something that you didn’t know about producing that you learned from “Ashes?”

Oh, very good question. I’d say just how much is involved in all the little details that … If I’m on set as just an actor, all the little things I’m not aware that are happening at the same time while I’m doing my process. When you’re a producer, you’re essentially the captain of every team on set and you’re the go-to point. Just knowing all the little things that go into making a movie and how much each person on set contribute to the whole project, and how much of a team effort it is. Really you can’t make a movie without the entire cast and crew and everyone involved.

You mentioned that Kristian Bruun has a cameo. Is he playing himself or is he playing a character you wrote?

Kristian does play a character. I’m a big “Orphan Black” fan and actually met Kristian through doing that “How to Plan an Orgy” movie. I think it was at the wrap party for that film that I causally just asked him. I was like, “Hey, I’m making a movie. Would you come out for a day and do a part for us?” Without even reading the script, he’s like, “Yeah, absolutely.” That’s just who Kristian is. He’s one of the most generous actors I’ve ever met in my life. Yeah, I wrote him in. I don’t think it gives away any plot line, but there’s a scene where they’re up north when they go to a bar. Kristian’s character is the bartender that they meet and converse with for a bit.

Speaking of “Orphan Black,” I know you’re a huge fan. I also know you’re a huge fan of “The 100.” If you had the opportunity to guest star on one or the other, which would you choose?

Oh, don’t do that to me. (Laughs). I feel like I’m going to shoot myself in the foot either way here. Those are honestly my two favorite shows. At the end of the day I’d have to go with “The 100.” (Sorry Kristian!)

Would you want to be a sky person or a grounder?

Sky person. I was going to say because I love playing the good guy, but “The 100” is such a complex show that most of the time you don’t know who the good guy is, right?

Or it changes from one season to the next, and you’re just like, “What?”

I know. One episode I’d be like, rooting for one person. Then the next episode I’m like, “No, I don’t like that person anymore.” I think that just goes to show how great of a showrunner Jason Rothenberg is. I remember just randomly coming across “The 100” on Netflix. I’m like, I’ll check out the pilot. 12 hours later I watched like, probably an entire first season in one sitting. It’s like, oh, there goes that day.

(Laughs). So, “Ashes” is in post production. Do you guys have a release date?

Our big goal would be the Toronto International Film Festival next year. Most of the cast lives in Toronto, so we actively attend TIFF every year. I know every year I buy the 10 film package and try to get into 10 movies, and then of course go to as many TIFF parties as I can sneak my way into. Yeah, I think TIFF.

What’s been your favorite movie that you’ve seen at TIFF?

Oh, I’m the worst at that question ever because I love so many movies. I’ll go with this year’s TIFF. I saw “The Danish Girl” with Eddie Redmayne. I think anything Eddie Redmayne does just blows everyone out of the water. I remember walking out of the theater when I saw “Theory of Everything” and predicting that … I was like, “If he doesn’t win the Oscar, there is something wrong.”

Thankfully he won because I didn’t want to put my foot in my mouth on that one. (Laughs). Eddie is just such an incredible actor. I think he’s the actor I look up to most. His ability to lose himself in a role. Every character you watch him play is completely different. I don’t feel like I’m watching Eddie Redmayne play a character. I’m watching the character, you know?

Completely agree! So, Ray [Ablack] told us a funny story about how you joined “Teenagers.” He said he called you when they needed extras for a party scene and that was the first we saw of Johnny. 

Ray’s one of my best friends in real life. We were just hanging out, I guess. Well, Matt, they were trying to organize this party scene. Ray’s just like, “Hey, do you want to come be an extra?” I’m like, “Yeah, absolutely.” I love helping friends out. We went and shot it and I got along with the entire cast and crew. It was a fun day.

Then literally the second I walked into my house after that night, I got a phone call from Matt saying, “Hey, can you actually come back tomorrow? We’re filming this scene and I want to write you a small part.” Like, oh, absolutely. Definitely. We went the next day and it was the scene where Ray’s character finds a few friends watching the video of Bree. Just a quick scene. I was there for the day.

This was actually probably exactly this time last year because I think it was our last two days of filming before they kind of took two weeks off for the Christmas break. I’m like, cool, you know, I got to do a scene. I was actually a character now, which was cool. At first I thought it was just going to be like, Gabe’s friend.

I went home for Christmas and then actually went down to Florida with my family right after New Year’s. I think I was supposed to fly back like, January 15th. Then all of a sudden, I think it was like, January 8th, I get an email with a call sheet for the next few days of filming. All of a sudden I’m a character and I’m in like, three more episodes. I call Matt, like, “What’s going on?” He’s like, “Yeah, man. Everyone loved you, so we’re writing you a part. You’re an actual character now.” I had to spend $300 to change my flight to fly home a week early, but it was absolutely worth it because being on that set was one of the greatest experiences of my career.

Will Johnny be back for season 3?

I hope so. I’ve had a few chats with Matt and where he’s thinking of taking the story. Everything he said so far, Johnny’s involved. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing that happen when it happens.

You’ve done TV, shorts, web series, film and theater. Do you have a preference between one medium? Do you have a favorite?

In general I just love being on set. That aspect of making film and TV, of having the entire team … You know, it’s crazy hours and everyone going crazy doing all these things to make this production come to life, I love that atmosphere and that energy. Film and TV, I definitely have a passion for over theater. I think I would definitely pick a TV series over a film.

Obviously at this point in my career I want to say yes to everything, actually I hope I say yes to everything for the rest of my career, but there’s something about being on a TV series because you’re with the same people for such a long time that you become a family. You definitely get that in film as well, but if you can get a lead on a TV series, that’s people that are going to be your film family for the next few years. I love that aspect of going to work and it feeling like a family. Everyone pulling together and doing their best to bring out the best in everyone else.

Let’s start a petition to get you on “The 100.”

Please! Can we just make that a thing? Get Jake on “The 100.”

They film somewhere in Canada!

They film in Vancouver. I debated moving to Vancouver this year for the full purpose of getting on the show, but then “Ashes” happened and I actually wasn’t going to be able to do that across the country when every one’s here in Toronto.

“Hey, guys. Thanks for agreeing to do a movie for me, but I got to move to Vancouver. We’re going to have to put this on pause.” (Laughs). 

Yeah. “Sorry, guys. I’m just going to go be on this show. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, ‘The 100.'” Now that “Ashes” is in post, I think, A. They better get season 4. I can’t see them not getting it. As soon as that’s announced, I think that’s me buying a plane ticket to Vancouver.

Our website is called “Talk Nerdy With Us.” What do you nerd out about?

I feel like we’ve talked about “The 100” enough, so I can’t keep going on about that, even though I could for hours. I am such a “Harry Potter” fan. I think it was 2008-2010, I was “Harry Potter” for Halloween three years in a row. Actually, I’m going to go back down to Florida this year with my family. The only thing I want to do when I’m there is go to the Harry Potter world at Universal.

Have you done the sorting hat? What house are you in?

I’m Gryffindor. I know that’s kind of like, the typical answer, but that’s what I got.

Are you excited for “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them?” Eddie Redmayne is starring in them. 

Eddie Redmayne’s going to be in them? I’m clearly the worst “Harry Potter” fan, even though I thought I was a huge one. (Laughs). This is the best thing ever. This is what I’m going to be researching for the next three hours. Thank you.

For “Ashes,” what are you doing about distribution? As the producer is that your role?

Yes, I guess that would be one of the things I now have to learn as a producer. For me, “Ashes” is a festival film. I want to spend at least a year trying to promote it at as many festivals as I can. From my understanding now, I think festivals are where distributors go. If they like your movie, that’s kind of when all that starts to happen.

My main goal always was, with “Ashes,” was to get it out into festivals and create an opportunity to showcase all my friends and every one’s talent. This was a definitely a movie for us and I just want as many people in the world to be able to see it. I might be a little bit bias, but I think my friends are some of the most talented actors I’ve ever met. I hope this film can open some doors for them.

Would you use Indiegogo again to fund another project?

In a heartbeat. It was so easy to do. Even if I had a question, the Indiegogo support team would answer within an hour. The support system there is absolutely incredible.

Nice! We saw on Twitter that you are currently writing something else, or working on writing something else. What are you currently working on?

I am, yeah. I’ve started dabbling into … Again, as I’ve told you, I have many random script ideas floating around. I think I’m locked on the next one I want to write. It’s a romantic comedy that takes place on a college campus. I think that’s all I can say right now. I’ve been spending my days writing that and seeing where it goes.

Was that one also inspired by a location?

Yeah, definitely. I went to the University of Windsor. As I am writing this, I’m just picturing all the buildings on our campus. I’m like, okay, I can film there, I can film there. I think as my alma mater, if I reached out to the University of Windsor, I think they would be supportive and help me out there, or at least they will now after I’ve given them a shout out in my interview.

Besides what you’re currently writing, what else do you have in the works acting-wise? Is there anything else you want to talk about that you want to promote?

Yeah. Actually, a good friend of mine, another actor-writer-director, his name’s Denis Theriault. He’s writing a feature film as well. He’s approached me to play a character in it and kind of jump onboard and help produce as well. I guess I did good as a first time producer because people are asking me to help them out now. It’s a weird situation, but I’m taking it as a compliment.

Do you want to continue producing? Is that something you are interested in?

I did really take a liking to it and it’s cool to have a lot of creative control. Again, not only in … As an actor you have creative control in the character you’re playing, but it just opened my mind up to, again, all the different aspects of film. Even just thinking of locations and how the overall look of the film will be.

I definitely see myself continuing as a producer I guess selfishly because it then creates an acting opportunity for myself. Acting will definitely always be my first love and the thing I want to mainly focus on, but if I can produce a movie at the same time and give myself and my friends roles then that’s definitely something I’m going to keep doing.

You’re more interested in producing and acting in something than just producing it, right?

Absolutely, yeah.

Follow Jake on Twitter.

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