Anything to do with children believing in themselves; whatever movement that could begin to inspire. Not just reading and literacy programs, but actual mental health programs where children who were in broken homes, or homes where the parents were working too much, could go to discover their talents, whatever they may be.
Drawing? Inspire to be the best artist, or a comic book artist. Sports? Inspire to be a great athlete. Math? Then be the best accountant, and live a good and stable life. I want children to be able to be happy, and believe in themselves, and there are too many who don’t. I was always a smart kid, but I lived in a bubble of fear and insecurity. I was too afraid to try to reach my goals, too unsure of myself. And I watch my gorgeous daughters and every day we talk about what they CAN do, not cannot do. They are my life.
I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jess Norvisgaard, a writer/director of feature films, and cut his teeth on feature film and commercial camera operation in Asheville, NC. He has worked on various television productions including The Biggest Loser, L.A. Ink, Foxsports Racing, and Fastrak World Championship. Jess wrote and directed his first feature film, The Good Things Devils Do in 2019, directing such horror icons Bill Oberst Jr., Kane Hodder, and Linnea Quigley. Jess is involved in all aspects of filmmaking, even co-writing the score for The Good Things Devils Do. He is very passionate about his work.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born in Hollywood — Florida that is. Regular middle-class divorced family, one of two sons and some half brothers and sisters in Minnesota and St. Pete, Fl. We were everyday people. My mother worked two jobs and went to school to be a nurse, and my Dad got us on holidays and was a journalist. I loved my upbringing. My brother and I were creative people, and did comics, short stories and pretend movies growing up. It was a lot of fun, even through all the challenges.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I knew I wanted to make movies since I was a child. My brother and I were watching De Palma’s Scarface late one evening while Mom was at work. I dozed off, only to wake up to the “chainsaw scene”. When Al Pacino chased the bad guy out into the street, held the gun to his head in public and blew his brains out I gasped, fell in love, and from then on, I fell in love with cinema and knew this is what I wanted to do.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The most interesting ones aren’t fit to print. One fun one though, was when I was a camera operator for a family feature that saw me and the crew move around from city to city for more than a month in Virginia. We stopped off one night at a seedy joint for some drinks, and well into the evening, we realized the group we were sharing drinks with were Aryan Brotherhood and their gun-toting clients. They treated us as curiosities, even buying us drinks at times and inviting us into the secret room to play high stakes pool with their lady friends. By the end of the night, one of our crew had unwittingly hit on one of their girlfriends, and we were given a five-minute count to run. We did. And as we were laughing jogging down the street, we looked behind us to see them actually giving pursuit. They had a lot of people. We stopped laughing and ran harder.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was Assistant Director for a short film long ago, I had jumped in upon the closing of a scene to help the gaffer move his set up. I was about to unplug a large HMI light, and his focus puller buddy blew up at me and threatened me, calling me out in front of everyone. There were a lot of really good names on this project, and I was humiliated. Later in the project, we had an important scene he couldn’t get focus on, and was screwing up every attempt he made. I blew up on him, and threatened to have him fired (though it was an absurd gesture I couldn’t have followed through on) and humiliated him back. It was totally unprofessional but it made me very happy. The director later laughed and gently scolded me, but admitted she had a blast watching it.
The lesson I learned is, let the departments work their departments, and even good intentions can pave the road to hell sometimes.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Truth be told, mine. Some of the shorts I’ve made because they’re always crazy, fun, and hard. Let it be known that if you work on one of my projects, you’ll have wild stories to tell afterward.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
I think diversity is important in the entertainment industry because we as an audience are the whole of an entire people who love to be entertained. The audience is all of us. And so, therefore, we should all be given a chance to tell our stories and to weave our webs. It’s not one group of people that have the stories to tell; it’s all of us.
In such divisive times, it’s more important than ever to learn from each other. So that requires listening to each other, and though tough dialogue is important to have so that we can all better understand each other, one of the greatest forms of expression is art. Filmmaking can tell our tales to each other in ways where we don’t browbeat, berate, or scold. We simply entertain you. We make you laugh, cringe, cry, love, and what better way to all come together than the expression of storytelling in film? The audience chooses to listen to your tale, and if they want to leave, they can without threat. If they want to stay, then they can love and learn and understand.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Stop working endlessly on friends’ projects. Your time is limited, and you have to put in all the brutal time and energy into your own work to succeed. (I wasted two years cam op’ing for various projects that were non-paid to help my buddies and when I needed them they weren’t there).
2. Develop a thick skin. Everyone in this business that is successful is smart, and your best allies will shoot you straight. (I had too many people around me who would try to convince me what I was doing was wrong and would work against me and truthfully I think they wanted me to fail).
3. Learn as much as you can. (I only cared about camera, writing and directing. I wish I knew more about post).
4. Surround yourself with positive people. Critical people are fine, but naysayers and doubters are killers. They will bury you in doubt.
5. DO NOT LET FEAR DICTATE YOUR SCHEDULE. (I lost so many years making excuses and trying to make sure everything was perfect, hiding behind a guise of being hyper-critical of my own work. I was too paralyzed to ever pull the trigger. A decade was wasted because of this.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
This is tough because I’m of the belief that your work has to be relentless to give yourself the best chance to succeed. However, my answer would be to take it one day at a time, one step at a time, one task at a time. Give time to your loved ones, find people in your life that will offer little drama and a lot of support, and try not to be assholes to the people who love you and are there for you.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Anything to do with children believing in themselves; whatever movement that could begin to inspire. Not just reading and literacy programs, but actual mental health programs where children who were in broken homes, or homes where the parents were working too much, could go to discover their talents, whatever they may be. Drawing? Inspire to be the best artist, or a comic book artist. Sports? Inspire to be a great athlete. Math? Then be the best accountant, and live a good and stable life. I want children to be able to be happy, and believe in themselves, and there are too many who don’t. I was always a smart kid, but I lived in a bubble of fear and insecurity. I was too afraid to try to reach my goals, too unsure of myself. And I watch my gorgeous daughters and every day we talk about what they CAN do, not cannot do. They are my life.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My mother and my father.
My mother, for having endured an incredible rebellious stretch where the trouble I got into was very serious, and for loving me and supporting me no matter how awful I got. Her love has been unconditional for as long as I’ve known her, and her sacrifice unending. She is relentless in her love, and a warrior who has overcome my worst, and all the challenges thrown her way.
My father. He was the kind of man who is strong, rarely shows emotion other than his love for you. I will not forget the day when I was getting into bad trouble, he cried in the car next to me. I had never seen him cry before, and never again. He was hard to get close to near the end, but he kept telling me I was going to be a filmmaker. He died unexpectedly before I was able to show him he was right. Some of the money he left his family went into producing Devils. In many respects, this movie is because of him.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Truthfully I’ve never gone by quotes or really paid much attention to them. Life lessons for me would be that hard word nets reward. As cliche as it sounds, it’s true and when I finally dedicated my energy into myself instead of others, my dreams became goals. I made a movie with Bill Oberst, Jr., Linnea Quigley and Kane Hodder. And they were not just cameos. We created something savage and funny, and for better or worse, we did it with hard work and determination. None of Devils came easy.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Whoever wants to invest in the next film. We would discuss a business plan and how we can make something even better, that would bring a return to our investments, and grow together.
How can our readers follow you online?
Jess Norvisgaard on Facebook, and Instagram. I have got to be better at the social media game, I’m not one to spend a lot of time on it, but I’m trying to be better.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Thank you! I appreciate your time and your work into helping the film scene!