Jacob Aaron Estes has never killed a raccoon. When confronted with rodent pestilence in his backyard, Estes pulled back all of his grass and put down a wire mesh normally used in structural concrete, to deter the pesky carnivores from tearing up his lawn. The raccoons managed still to outwit Estes, and what resulted was a ruined lawn strewn with sharp ridges of wire, a pair of bloody palms, and a movie.
“The Details,” starring Tobey Maguire, premiered for UC Santa Cruz students on Oct. 4 in the Media Theater. Following the showing of his new film, Estes engaged the audience in a Q&A where he delved deeper into the story of being an adult — both on and off-screen. That journey, for Estes, began here at UCSC, where he began to envision his multifaceted career as a director, writer and producer.
The following questions were posed by audience members who attended the screening.
Q: When you were first starting out as a director and screenwriter, breaking into the film business, what is one thing you wish you had known?
Jacob Aaron Estes: “My playwriting teacher [Jim Bierman] here said if I could, I should quit writing … he had tried to quit writing 10 times but he couldn’t stop himself, so, that was the only reason to be a writer. [Laughs] I’ve always remembered that conversation … The one thing I would say is you have to go forward, you just have to go as hard as humanly possible … and each opportunity that you have to get better at [your craft], you seize that.”
Q: In your various creative undertakings, like writing, screenplays, directing [movies] and editing them, do you ever feel they’re really finished, or at some point do you just have to abandon them?
Estes: “No, not really. But you have to let things go at some point. You have to just stop and say enough of this, I’ve turned over every single stone that I can turn over, and I’ve asked every single person I know to advise me. It’s not going to get much better than this.”
Q: How involved are you with the storyboard and/or shot list with your Director of Photography?
Estes: “[I’m involved in] everything. Once we have the money secured, we sit down and literally will spend two to three months in my office, my backyard, or wherever, fantasizing about what it should feel like and how to create a visual art to the story … it’s very planned out, but in a sense, the reason why great jazz feels good because there’s all this preparation beforehand and you can improvise around themes … because what happens on set is you’ve got Tobey Maguire and Laura Linney, and you were expecting them to do this but they do that, and so these visual ideas that you had sitting around three or four months ago, you have to reimagine them and not try to destroy the energy the actors are bringing to you … so all that preparation really pays off.”
Q: You mentioned the movie was very chaotic and there were a lot of surprises on the way, and yet there is an intuition about the structure and the way the story unfolds. How did you come to reach that resolution at the end, where life just goes on?
Estes: “I think that was the only natural resolution for me. I’m never very interested in actual justice … I like a lot of moral ambiguity in my material, and the challenge of making people deal with that.”
Q: In the period after your education and before you actually achieved success, when you were writing all the time, was there ever a point where you thought you couldn’t write anymore? If there was, how did you get beyond it?
Estes: “Yes, and it was three weeks ago, and it was six months ago, and two years ago … and then something occurs to me and I just start trying … you really can’t write anything until you sit down and actually write … the only cure is to exercise that muscle as much as humanly possible. That’s how I have to deal with it, and then maybe I’ll just write 10 pages of nonsense that day, but at least I feel like I tried and that helps me break through.”
Q: Concerning the story itself, from a raccoon just popping into the backyard to these dire, strange, and humorous circumstances … where did you pull all of these events together?
Estes: “There’s not a clear answer to that, but I can tell you I just kept trying to lose myself and top myself and make it more and more of unraveling of events … It was just this weird, organic process of figuring it out as I went along. I can’t say that I structured the story from the get go. I just got lucky.”