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An Interview with Jack Littman, Director and Star of Rumble Strip

by Mike Haberfelner

December 2020

Jack Littman on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie Rumble Strip - in a few words, what is it about?

 

It's about an ex-mercenary in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, who must rescue his girlfriend from the last dictator on planet earth.

 

With Rumble Strip being a post doomsday movie - is that a genre at all dear to you, and some of your genre favourites?

 

It's actually not my favorite genre. It was an avenue to write something without all the hustle and bustle of modern day Los Angeles. I like sparse films with fewer cast members. My favorite genres are noir, western, thrillers and heist picture.

 

Other sources of inspiration when writing Rumble Strip?

 

I was on tour back in 2012 traveling with a group of musicians playing shows across the country. Late one night, a friend of mine was driving and fell asleep at the wheel. I was in the passenger seat and woke up to the horrific sound of the car running over the rumble strip. That sound sparked a feeling in me that has never left. It was the basis of the film. A feeling like I was always on the verge of running off the road.

 

Post doomsday movies need of course special and/or especially dressed locations - so what can you tell us about yours, how did you find them, and what was it like filming there?

 

My best friend got his Bachelor's Degree in Los Angeles History. He knew all these locations that were abandoned. We spent almost a year scouting locations and creating a list of ideal spots. Since there was essentially no budget, we hoped the locations would give authenticity to the feel of the film.

 

What can you tell us about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?

 

It was mostly flying by the seat of my pants. I also play a role in the film so it was a lot of trial and error. I had never undertaken a job so demanding as directing and also acting at the same time. I had help from the other actors and my father, who is the producer of the film. I did however grow up acting in theater and watched many great directors work with actors. This shaped my ability to direct in ways I probably can't even articulate.

 

You also play the lead in Rumble Strip - so what can you tell us about your character, what did you draw upon to bring him to life, and have you written him with yourself in mind?

 

I wrote the character with myself in mind. I was trying to create an archetypical antihero that was reminiscent of some of the western films I had long admired (Bad Day at Black Rock, The Searchers, Man of the West, Winchester 73, etc). I used my own feelings about my life at the time as inspiration for the character. I was 24 when we started filming and felt frustrated about where the world was heading. I imagine the character I play feels largely the same way about his world.

 

Do talk about the rest of your cast, and why exactly these people?

 

I have been blessed to grow up around a vibrant community of actors and artists all my life. Every role in Rumble Strip is played by someone that I have either been in plays with, or short films, music videos etc. It was truly a family affair.

 

A few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?

 

We filmed on weekends for nearly 4 years. It was gruelling. Lugging camera equipment into remote areas of Los Angeles and Victorville, having very little amenities for the cast, using locations without permits etc. The stress of filming this was something I'm still trying to understand. It was a hard shoot and everyone involved gave %110.

 

As you've also done the score for Rumble Strip, what can you tell us about the music in your movie, and your musical influences?

 

I never imagined I would do the music. It came down to a meeting I had with a potential candidate to do the score and he told me just to do it myself. Create sounds that interact with the actors' voices in dynamic ways. I figured it would be cheaper if I did it alone. I had no idea how much fun and how gratifying it would be to create soundscapes for the film. Perhaps it was the easiest part of the moviemaking process. My influences for the score were Ennio Morricone, Bernard Herman and Trent Reznor's work with Atticus Ross.

 

Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Rumble Strip?

 

My mother actually took charge of the film festival circuit, where we got accepted into five festivals (Golden State Film Fest, Hollywood Dreams Intl, Action on Film Megafest, Hollywood Reel Intl Film Fest and Los Angeles Underground Film Forum) and won the award for Best Science Fiction Film at the Action on Film Megafest. In addition we were able to sell the film to High Octane Pictures, who took charge of distribution and really believed in our project. The audience reaction has been truly fantastic and very gratifying.

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

I'm finishing up an album of music and another film is in the works to be filmed in 2021.

 

What made you become an actor in the first place, and did you recieve any formal training on the subject?

 

My parents are extremely talented and passionate actors. It's all I've ever known. As much as I try to stay away from that world, it's something that will always be a part of me. I'm always wanting to crack the code of performance and go deeper into my own self as an artist. Any good actor should want to unlock themselves in their work. I trained with a wonderful teacher, John Kirby who was a great mentor to me for film work. In theater I studied with John Steppling who was an unsung angel during my writing of Rumble Strip.

 

How would you describe yourself as an actor, and some of your techniques to bring your characters to life?

 

It's very intuitive. I studied Stella Adler, Meisner, Stanislavsky and also just studied actors that I admired such as Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Robert Mitchum etc. The best film acting in my opinion is a kind of "withholding" from the camera. It's a very subtle artform that I am still learning about every day.

 

According to my information, Rumble Strip is your first turn as a writer/director - so what prompted the move behind the camera, and how well did you feel prepared for this by your work as an actor?

 

I was always making short films as a kid. I bought Robert Rodriguez's book on his process of making El Mariachi which I have read maybe 5 times cover to cover. I was always obsessed with filmmaking but never thought I would be "ready" to do it unless someone gave me money. Finally I realized I would never be "ready" and I just had to jump in head first and try.

 

What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Rumble Strip?

 

I acted opposite Danny Trejo in a western when I was 16. I had no idea what it was like to be on a real film set and it was a big learning experience for me. I made many music videos in my early 20s when I was a singer/songwriter full time but never got to do other filmwork until making Rumble Strip. That was part of the reason I wanted to make it in the first place. I didn't like auditioning for roles in other movies. I realized I wanted to have more control creatively. An actor can sometimes realize that he's treated as just a puppet.

 

Actors, filmmakers, whoever else who inspire you?

 

I've recently discovered Jean-Pierre Melville and watched all his films. He's a God of cinema. I love the films of Taylor Sheridan, Debra Granik, and Lynne Ramsay. Some actors I love are James Caan, Robert Duvall, Billy Bob Thornton, Djimon Hounsou, Denzel Washington, Ben Foster, Albert Finney, Javier Bardem, Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Williams and so many more.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

This changes every week, but I'll list a few that I am currently obsessed with: Army of Shadows, Wind River, Le Doulos, Laura and Beau Travail.

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

I am really against films that glamourize militarism. The slew of Marvel films are very pretty to look at and they employ some great actors, but the actual content of these stories represent a really regressive form of cinema. In a recent interview Alan Moore lays out the sinister turn superhero movies have taken. And just as an aside, I love older superhero films like Meteor Man (one of the greatest IMHO) and even the Christopher Reeve Superman movies are fun as hell.

 

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Your/your movie's website, social media, whatever else?

 

www.jacklittman.com

@jacklittman on Instagram and Twitter.

Rumble Strip has a Facebook page as well.

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

Thank you so much for the interview Mike! 

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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