Dear Jesse is my beleaguered undergrad student film that I refuse to let die. It’s a film adaptation of a Madonna and Patrick Leonard song of the same name with an ambiguous story that is similar to the ugly duckling but evolved into the a testament to autism.
Dear Jesse didn’t make the CalArts Producers with good reason: it was too big and complicated of a film for a 23-year-old in the analog era. I hadn’t learned layout (a short coming that would be resolved brutally so year later in my career) which hindered a flow to the film resulting in a rigid continuity. Furthermore, the use of the Madonna song would’ve gotten the whole school sued! Regardless, Frank Terry though the animation and design was top par and lamented that failed to learn crucial steps to filmmaking during my time at CalArts, but he and Corny were confident the skills would come to me eventually. I thank them for their tough love.
Dear Jesse is about a little boy who lives in his imagination 78% of the time. This alienates his classmates who torment him every time he attempts to tell a story of the world in his head while out on a field trip. His teacher is empathetic to his plight and tries to guide his rambling stories. The imagination is so compelling that she gets sucked in her herself. When student and teacher return to the material world, it turns out that there is another kid in the class—a visual artist who have been drawing Jessie’s stories along. A fast friendship is made. Jesse is no longer alone in his non-neurotypical order.
The film came together in sketchbooks and as a series of paintings that I couldn’t help but produce along side production at CalArts. I painted one large painting a year which served as a beat board for the film. Design was my strongest discipline at CalArts, animation being second, but I struggled in story development, but I pushed on. I knew I wasn’t a “broken toy”, just an unstructured one. During my masters at the Academy of Art and after finishing English 120 at College of Marin, I realized CalArts was not in vain; I could structure a story, what was missing was how to create a story that resonated with an mass audience. The student who hailed from the MidWest at CalArts were the best at story. The best of then had an English degree earned before attending the program and others seemed to have knack for what resonated with the audience which the city kids lacked. Yes, the divide was that obvious. The answer was in template of upbringing that is reflected in Maslowe’s Hierarchy of needs. What matters to a suburb kid is different than what matters to a city kid. So, since the suburb kid’s family is monied more often that city kids, stories that appeal to their needs wins. I didn’t learn this until after left the LA animation industry and moved back to the Bay Area where I rejuvenated myself academically: English 120 taught me about Maslowe’s Appeals and Jib Fowles 15 Appeals of advertising. More comprehensive art history classes at Academy expanded my understanding of how the Western imagination works solving the mystery at last! It’s amazing how a funny little anthology created by a small group of people living in the Levant structures the way of life and world view for millions and millions of people…
On an aesthetic and technical level, Dear Jesse was meant to look like a Fredric Back film: color pencil, but with watercolor substituting pastel. Thanks to the rise of motion graphics and 2.5D special effects application like After Effects, the paintings themselves can be animated creating a lovely bridge to the film, which can now resume now that Madonna has finally granted access to the rights of her song.
Dear Jesse isn’t a failure after all. It was just a lovely stew that needed to simmer for 20 years! I can’t wait to finish it and presented to Madonna just in time for her retirement.