Philadelphian filmmaker Jesse Vile will be hoping that the UK cinematic release of his debut documentary Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet (2012) on 16 November, followed closely by its DVD release on 3 December courtesy of Dogwoof Films, will inspire viewers and raise awareness of the film’s extraordinary subject and guitar virtuoso, Jason Becker. To find out more about how it was to work with guitar hero Becker – who, whilst paralysed from the neck down, is still writing music to this day, and the ultimately inspiring network of fans, family and friends that surround and support him around the clock – CineVue were lucky enough to be granted a special one-to-one chat with Vile, the film’s talented director and producer.
Russell Cook: Why did you feel compelled to tell Jason’s story?
Jesse Vile: There were a lot of reasons but his story is just something that I felt connected to. It was something that I felt an energy and connection to that had always stayed with me and in the back of my mind. That’s what drew me to it and wanting to be the one to tell the story, and the fact that I have always wanted to be a storyteller, in whatever form that was going to be – I decided film later – so it just made sense to make a film about this story.
RC: You get the impression that Jason and his family were apprehensive about making a movie at all; why do you think he was happy for you to tell his story?
JV: He was apprehensive with me because he had had trouble with other filmmakers. A lot of people want to help him and a lot of people have really big creative ideas and ambitions, but most people never follow through because they either get bored, or they get scared, or they realise that it’s to much work. This stuff would happen, things would get started and then it would just go away and it would disappoint Jason. He and his parents would put lots of time and work and effort into it, and get their hopes up, just to see it go away. He gets lots of fans saying things, not just making films; putting on concerts, releasing CDs, doing shows, and all kinds of things, and then most of the time nothing really comes of it. Jason has to pick his battles very, very carefully.
RC: Not Dead Yet is your directorial debut? How did you find the process and what challenges did you face in the making of the movie?
JV: I made shorts in film school and stuff, but it’s been a good while now since I directed anything; a good 8 years. I suppose the number one challenge – there were so many challenges because I produced it as well – was to look at all of the footage and decide what was the best way to tell the story. I don’t mean the editing so much as making sure I pleased Jason and that I pleased the fans. I had to do something that was going to be good but that was going to be within the budget that we had. Ultimately, though, I think the biggest challenge was probably having enough faith in myself, which would then fit into every challenge that came along. You have to make sure you are really passionate about it and you put your head down and just keep going.
RC: Jason is a truly inspiring person. He writes music in his mind and communicates it with his eyes; what was he like to work with? Were you able to feel Jason’s drive and passion for the project?
JV: He’s a real kind of goofball. He’d goof around a lot and sometimes it’d be hard to get him to focus on something serious, but when he’s focused he’s incredibly focused and serious. He’s not just great at guitar, he’s a really smart guy. He produced a couple of albums, back in the day, before he got sick, so he understands the production process, not necessarily film producing but what’s involved in making a complete package of something. He was great to work with. Super-fun, super-cool.
RC: Not Dead Yet does a great job of conveying the amazing relationship between Jason and his father; they appear to collaborate very well. How was that relationship to work with?
JV: His father was the one who invented the mechanism for the way that he communicates, and the thing is, Jason is an incredibly inspirational guy, and when you’re around him you feel really inspired, but it’s also when you’re around his family and friends, and particularly his father; he’s a really inspirational person who is really imaginative and creative. There’s art and poetry all over the house, and he has an art studio and these amazing pictures. Even the way he thinks about stuff and talks about life. He’s just as inspiring.
RC: Do you think the film has the kind of power that will inspire other people who watch it to, perhaps do something bigger with their own lives? Do you feel that the movie has that capacity?
JV: It definitely does, and having been out on the festival circuit since March we can really see that. Every festival we go to, people are already inspired and turned on to Jason and his music. I’ve met other people with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) who have told me how much it has inspired them. I guess it’s just a question of how much capacity it has, and that’s really down to how much it gets out there.
RC: How did you decide upon the film’s title?
JV: We spent a year with just a working title and so many different ideas and really, it was just one day, I think the benefit show – which you see in the film – where people were walking around with t-shirts saying “Jason Becker’s Not Dead Yet” was part of it, but I think some of it comes from a Richard Pryor stand-up comedy called ‘I Ain’t Dead Yet, Bitch!’ [laughs]. That’s just sort of Jason’s attitude, but the reason I like the title is that it’s not just about his physicality or the fact he’s still alive – he was told that he wouldn’t make music again and guess what, his music isn’t dead yet, his career isn’t dead yet, his fans aren’t dead yet.
Read our glowing DVD review of Jesse Vile’s Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet here.