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With Bobby Jones’ New Film, Terror Comes into ‘Raw Focus’

Bobby Jones' new horror feature, "Raw Focus."
While the premise of Raw Focus might seem ripped from the pages of a pulp novel - a group of sexy young models disturb the nest of three psychopaths with terrifying results - the story’s inspiration is very much grounded in real world horror.

“I was living in Tucson, Ariz., with my older brother,” explains Cleveland filmmaker Bobby Jones. “I was working on a lot of photo shoots with local models. I was always out in the desert and the mountains. Around the same time, there were several news reports about people discovering the bodies of Mexican immigrants in the desert and nobody knowing anything about what happened.”

Those two realities merged together in Jones’ mind. Would he one day encounter the killers while out on a photo shoot in the desert?

“Sometimes the most terrifying things in life are real. And it was a terrifying idea,” Jones says. “What if you were a model on a photo shoot, came across a murder, and were caught by the killers? That was an interesting concept, wrought with vulnerability and terror.”

The end result is Jones’ first feature film, a shoestring budget indie Jones is shooting in and around the Cleveland area. On his side are Roger Conners, Noelle Bye Hansen, Roger Jason Hursh, and a small team of local actors ready to bring the horror of Raw Focus to life.

Midwest Movie Maker (MMM): Tell me a little bit about your team.

Director and writer Bobby Jones with cast and crew.
Bobby Jones (BJ): The production is small in terms of production staff. It’s mostly Roger Conners and me. 

Noelle Bye Hansen has aided us greatly in terms of camera work, but Roger has led the casting, production and style sides of things. He’s handled 90 percent of the makeup effects and created most of the fashion design as well.

He’s done amazing things with the cast. Roger turned the super pretty Kinsley Funari into a dark-toned, fresh-on-leave-from-combat war vet trying to fit in. He chiseled Rachel Anderson into a hard-as-nails biker with the sharpest eyes. He took Deanna Sherman from beautiful to demonic throughout the course of the film. I can’t say enough for him.

I wrote the screenplay, secured locations, run the primary camera and directed. Roger Jason Hursh is creating a wonderful score that I can’t speak highly enough of.

It couldn’t have been done with anybody else given our circumstances and budget. I’m proud of all of them.  

MMM: Where will folks be able to see the film once it's completed?

BJ: Once Raw Focus is completed we will begin the festival route. The production stretches a wider genre than just horror, iwith larger action sequences and the tone of a dark psychological thriller. It should make a nice splash across the board. Blu-ray distribution is in the plans, as well as pay-per-view and streaming. Digital download is a possibility we’re researching as well.

MMM: Can you share your filmmaking journey?

BJ: I started when I was 21, working on a friend’s film, acting and writing, and quickly found my place behind the camera. It was right around that time that people could finally afford a prosumer grade camera and Adobe Premiere became a common name. I took to the software quickly and running a camera was simple.

Before long, I was working on more projects 
and in different roles. This led to work on music videos and an MTV Network Award in 2008, as well as a grant. That success led to work as the head of production at a large Cleveland production house, where I stayed for nearly four years.

I continued working on indie films, but moonlighted, working on everything from reality TV to fundraising work. Eventually the corporate morons who hire experts and studios at $200 an hour - and then refuse to acknowledge professional advice - burned me out. So I set the toys down for a year.

Then I decided I wanted to do my own film. After debating between scripts I had written, Raw Focus became that project.

MMM: You have a few horror films under your belt. What draws you to the genre?

BJ: I have worked on a few horror films! Quite a few, more than my resume actually represents. Truthfully I do it because I like it.

I am drawn to horror and fear because they root deep inside people and can be easily built on dramatically. It is also the one genre where I haven’t seen everything. I find it fun to be able to shock people with something they haven’t seen.  

At some gut level the concept of letting loose the darkside is a bit fun. But it does run thin. Everybody is making these things, and they’re not really that good anymore.

A lot of filmmakers have grown up watching horror films, then say, “I could do that better.” They try. Most even make a feature. But they’re not very good. The film ends up marginalized by inexperience and ego.

MMM: What makes a good horror film? What sets the great ones apart?

Setting up a shot on location.
BJ: I think a good horror film is something that gets down inside a culture, seeks out its root fears and exploits them. It has to be surprising, witty, suspenseful and messy, sometimes silly and at all times intelligent. It has to engage the audience and get under their skin. A great horror film is one that leaves an impact on culture. Freddy Krueger became a household name known by millions. Jason did the same, as did Hannibal Lecter. The marks these films leave resonate for years.

MMM: What advice would you give a filmmaker who wants to make a horror film?

BJ: Remember to break rules and not forget to tell a story. Character development is key. If you’ve committed to this kind of film, it is only going to end up being as good as your characters are developed. Most importantly have fun. A film works when it is fun to make, not the other way around.

MMM: Why do audiences love to be scared? And what scares them?

BJ: I think audiences love horror films for a number of reasons, but most are a little more socio-intuitive and analytical than others.

For young audiences, it is mostly because of the gore. But for adults, it’s a combination of youthful nostalgia mixed with a real-world sensibility.

The world sucks right now. People are worried about so many things, from the government to war to the economy and a million other stressful things. A horror film allows them to get away from that.

Plus most of us want to think of ourselves as survivors - and a horror film will often provide the audience with somebody a survivor they can relate to.

I also think people are afraid of the unknown. We think we know everything, and scientifically we do have a vast understanding of things. Narratives of fiction and horror allow suspension of the known with ease and take away from a person’s ability to adapt to something grounded in reality. It’s the ever ominous threat of that unknown being malevolent that catches the audience.

My favorite thing about a horror film is an intelligent, self-aware character humbled by an inability to grasp the nuances of an altered reality. What sits behind the veil of dark shadow? Of course it’s something horrible! Human nature doesn’t envision something wonderful in the shadow.


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