An Interview with Film Director Jules Dameron

(Transcript in English)

JON: Hello. I’ve enjoyed having gone on a trip to North Hollywood and checking it out. That’s the right sign for (North Hollywood), right?

JULES: Right, on the cheek.

JON: That’s awesome. So… I’ve been watching your short films, and I’ve been enjoying them thoroughly. Now, I’m very curious to learn about you. Would you mind telling me some things about yourself– perhaps your upbringing, how you fell in love with film?

JULES: My life started at seven years old. As it happened, my family had a reunion. My uncle had a camera– a video camera. I had never seen one before. The camera was connected to the television. You could see that it was being shot live– whatever the camera was seeing, it was on the television screen simultaneously. That was new to me. I had only seen regular TV shows or movies, but not this. This piqued my curiosity. I went up to my uncle asking about it. He handed it over to me, and once I looked through it, I was excited at the fact that I could have control of the camera and start everything. So immediately I started asking my family to help me make a movie with that camera. I could see that it wasn’t really their thing. But ever since I was seven years old, I made it my mission to get my parents to give me a video camera. My parents could see that it was important to me. They finally gave me one when I was 13 years old.

JON: Wow.

JULES: They didn’t have much money, but they gave me one for when I was 13. It was a used camera, of course. But I was still so thrilled. I’ve made movies ever since.

JON: Whoo.

JULES: My parents really encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to do. They never gave me limits or conditions. Like, they would say if I ever wanted to be a doctor or a singer, they would not be in my way of doing it. It would be entirely up to me. So I chose to be a filmmaker. That was my choice. They supported me the entire time. They were a hearing family, and it was still good.

JON: Wow. You still heavily pursued your passion and kept moving forward. Now, what did you do after you graduated from high school?

JULES: I went to Gallaudet University. First thing. I had been mainstreamed my whole life, basically. I was already mixed with other deaf people and used American Sign Language, so it wasn’t like I was entirely clueless to that culture and language. But the reason I wanted to go to Gallaudet was so I could have that deaf-world experience. It really helped me a lot– helped me become who I am today. Because of Gallaudet.

JON: Super.

JULES: I majored in TV/Film there, was able to group up with– some of my friends from today were from that Gallaudet period of my life. I made movies there… and it went really well. When I was done with Gallaudet, I traveled the world a little bit. I went to Germany, then…. Spain. I moved to Florida and lived there. I decided that it was time for me to learn more about film. I felt I didn’t know enough– indeed, Gallaudet provided me with a lot, but I needed more. I knew that filmmaking is incredibly complex, a very tough process. I simply wanted to learn more. So what was next? I decided to apply for grad school, because I knew that graduate school would be heavily concentrated in film, and nothing else, so I was thrilled at the concept. So I applied to a lot of places. I found some schools, and was thinking about going to Europe film schools… and then applied to FSU. I nearly made it in but didn’t. Then one friend from California suggested that I apply to USC (University of Southern California)– I had known about that film school since high school, and knew that it was one of the best film schools in the world, and wanted to go there. I applied to it as a joke, not thinking I’d make it in. But the important thing is I tried, right? Before long, I got accepted to USC.

JON: Wow.

JULES: I was flustered and shocked, because I knew that was a big-name school. I actually questioned going. I wasn’t sure about going, knowing it’d be difficult because I was living in Florida, and I had never been to L.A. before, and that it would be a hard move. I chatted with my family and friends about it and they reminded me of who I was and what I was about. About film, and that I had been working my whole life to get there, and that I should go. I had never wavered in other directions my whole life. It was always about film for me. I finally decided, “That’s it. I’m going to USC.” It was a truly amazing experience. USC was worth it. Always has been. The reason it’s so special is that mainly everything I did there was hands-on. It was different from your regular school. It was more like a trade school, actually. This is because they teach you to do everything, directing, acting (well, understanding the process, at least) and filiming… I made so many movies there. It was a wonderful experience.

JON: Wow. So you basically stayed on track. Never wavered once. That’s amazing. This is fascinating. This requires heavy commitment, I’m sure! Now, this makes me remember that you’ve been mentioning “Beyond Essays.” Would you mind expanding more on that interesting subject?

JULES: I had learned a lot from both Gallaudet and USC, so I felt like creating a film of my own voice, my own thinking process. Let me back up a bit here. “Beyond Essays” is a very important film to me, so… I’ll be explaining shortly on why that’s the case. Now, you notice how we watch typical films with this fantastic acting moments, where we just fall in love with it?

JON: Yeah.

JULES: In regards to ASL, Acting, and deafness– To be frank, I don’t feel we have enough of that quality and level of acting in this area–to be in a place where I could personally enjoy my own language in the same way. I decided to bring that experience of wonderful acting moments into this area. By doing that, I–well… I decided to audition myself, for the experience, because I specialize in directing. I wanted to switch roles so I could understand the acting perspective– to help improve the system for the actors. The acting aspect is my favorite of the entire directing experience– I love my actors!

JON: That’s awesome.

JULES: So I went ahead with the audition experience, and I discovered a big problem– reading the script. Oftentimes, a studio would hand you a script and expect you to translate that by yourself– into American Sign Language. The thing is, so many problems can root from one simple English line of dialogue. For starters, it would not have the right phrase– what we would tend to say in a situation like that… and the translation would be a big mess. This would ruin the entire acting process for the deaf actor, or the American Sign Language-speaking actor. So, I’m frustrated about that. For this, I want to avoid that process for this film, and for my actors. The first thing I would do is to “write” (not literally write on paper) ASL– create lines of dialogue in ASL but of course, with everything that’s crucial– characters, story, goals, and so on… and I won’t let the actors create the lines, because they’ll become the writer. I will write the dialogue for them, so they don’t have to think that way. It’s not their department. They’re actors. They act. So I get to create the lines– I have an team of ASL writers– we’ll be coming up with the lines that are fitting for the story and goals… and hand it over to them– I’ll film myself signing the lines — neutrally, of course, without emotion, and hand the film over to the actors. And then they’ll work from there. They can build up from there. Because of this, half of the work is done, relatively speaking– in terms of what deaf/ASL actors have done historically. Since I probably will be working with people who read English or don’t know ASL, I would take that originally written ASL, and then translate it into english on a paper script, so they can see what I’m trying to do. So importantly, my job as a director is to convey that vision.

JON: That’s a wonderful idea. I hope this is a success and moves forward. I look forward to watching that film! I hope to see more from you in the future! I want to say thank you for taking this interview, and I really enjoyed it.

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  1. […] Jon Savage’s interview with Jules Dameron […]

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