After 21 years at Leo Burnett celebrated ad man John Jessup is turning his hand to directing to tell the story of Californian town Lone Pine and its surprising heritage.
Dramatically changed in 1920 when a movie production company came to Lone Pine’s Alabama Hills to shoot a silent movie, over 400 films – including Blue Steel, Hop-Along Cassidy, Gunga Din and How the West Was Won - 100 TV episodes, and countless ads have been shot in the town over the years.
Speaking to The Drum Jessup explained: “I took a month off last year and was doing a tour of California and we drove through Lone Pine. Four years previously I had shot an ad in the hills behind the town, I said to my wife we should stop here and it just so happened they were having a film festival to celebrate the cowboy films made there. It was fascinating and I thought someone should make a documentary about this.
“I went back to my day job at Leo’s and I made a bit of a treatment for it and when I left I decided that I had to be the one to do it.”
So far Jessup has shot for three days to create the film’s trailer and plans to return in October to film the Festival that inspired the project last year.
Of how he found the ‘quirky’ Lone Pine residents, Jessup said he was put in touch with “interesting characters” after speaking with Bob Sigman who runs the Lone Pine Film History Museum.
He added: “The point of this film is to round the story off, the town of Lone Pine is just a small place of Route 395 but for three days a year it attracts 2,000 people from around the world. In October I’m going to be speaking to the delegates, but also the Sheriff and the people in the town to paint a picture of what it’s really like.”
Though recent blockbusters including Django Unchained and Johnny Depp’s The Lone Ranger were shot in the Alabama Hills, Westerns are Lone Pine’s true bread and butter though Jessup describes the Western and a “dying genre”.
“The story of where these iconic films were shot is just fantastic; these are my generation’s heroes. We grew up with matinees of Hop-Along Cassidy and films like that. It’s the same way Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are the heroes for kids today, the Western stars were the heroes of the boomer generation,” he said.
With just a few short weeks until the festival Jessup admitted that filming a documentary was “totally out of his comfort zone” as his only directorial experience comes from “making commercials”. But he optimistically ads “they say you should do stuff that scares you, don’t they?”
After filming is completed in October Jessup suggested the film may be ready for public consumption at the end of the year, or beginning of 2015.