My blog series, “The Person Behind the Project,” is one where I interview individuals who are doing interesting and meaningful things in the world. I not only talk about their projects, but try to find out what makes them tick. For people in the public eye, too often others tell their stories for them. Sometimes those stories are true and at other times — not so much. As I talk with folks, I hope you enjoy getting to know these folks, not solely as creators of influential content, but as human beings living life in meaningful ways. Enjoy.
I first met filmmaker, James Kicklighter . . .
. . . in 2010 when my middle daughter was cast in his short film Followed [trailer] where Abby played a different kind of zombie. I enjoyed my time on set with James and crew and at that time knew that one day we would be seeing James’ name rising up the Hollywood ranks. His energy, integrity, and creativity were evident throughout the process. And while I was just the parent sitting in corner, it was fascinating to watch James and the rest of the crew at work.
James has since made a few films and has been has become a multi-award winning writer/director whose work has been recognized by leading film publications around the world, including The Hollywood Reporter, The Times of India and FilmInk Australia. James is def on the move.
I have connected with James over the years as he has moved to LA and last year he and Abby were able to have a little reunion here in San Francisco. Since then, James is working hard and has some interesting projects in the mix. So through the magic of the interwebs, I sat down with James to talk about his projects and what is important to him.
Okay, let’s get the bio stuff out of the way, give me the quick version of, “Who is James Kicklighter?”
After spending the first 18 years of my life in Bellville, Georgia, population 123, I currently live in Los Angeles, CA my boyfriend, Xintong Li, a brand consultant for hospitality industries.I earned my degree in Public Relations from Georgia Southern University and have worked across the United States and around the world telling a variety of narrative, documentary and corporate films.
A little random, but what’s the origin of your name?
I was supposed to be named “John Barton Kicklighter,” but three months ahead of my birth, my next door neighbor got out of the womb first and was named John. Growing up in a town of 123 people, my parents feared that yelling out the door, two John’s would forever be running to the doorstep, so I became James instead.
So what are you working on right now?
I recently completed the film A Few Things About Cancer, an intimate look at a newlywed couple’s quarter-life crisis through stage four cancer. It won the Best Documentary Short at the 2015 FirstGlance Film Festival. You can now watch for free on YouTube [Watch Now].
So what was is it like to film a documentary like A Few Things about Cancer?
When you are making a documentary film about a real-life subject going through a journey, you have no idea how it is going to end. Literally, you are observing the story and figuring out how to tell it as you go. Profiling a stage four cancer patient, his wife and his family, that’s an awesome responsibility that required sensitivity throughout all aspects of production.
Okay, so now that you have been doing this for a bit and have experienced some success, as you look back, who gave you your “first break?”
There are really three people I can identify with my “first break.” I met my former production partner Mark Ezra Stokes at a young writer’s conference in high school. He was developing a documentary about the western character actor Dub Taylor and we, along with his future wife and collaborator Kasey, embarked together on a journey spanning half of America. Though we didn’t really know what we were doing at the time, I personally learned a lot of lessons that have carried me through to this day.
Second, to Dixie Carter, who was the first “name” to say yes to an interview for our humble documentary. After driving all night to get to the estate she shared with Hal Holbrook in Tennessee, she greeted us with cookies and sweet tea and apologized for not providing us with a fried chicken dinner. It was a formative experience that showed me the right way to deal with talent; respectfully and politely.
I’ll forever be grateful to Mark, Kasey and Dixie.
Switching gears a bit, as you go about your work and deal with the ups and downs of life, what does the “good life” mean to you?
Honestly, “the good life” is being able to do the things I want to do while supporting the dreams and ambitions of my friends and collaborators. Life is meaningless without good company. Find the people rowing in the same direction and help them steer.
Beyond work, it is super important for me to have mental resets through travel. I like going far away where I can see and feel something I have never felt before.
For example, last year Xintong and I spent time in Peru, splitting our trip between the Amazon Jungle and the mountainous terrains of Cusco, spanning from the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu. We were led by a Shaman for part of the time that practices both native jungle and Judeo-Christian beliefs. Growing up in the rural south, where many Christians have a uniform set of thoughts about faith, it was fascinating to observe an entirely different brand of the religion.
While directing Desires of the Heart over in Rajasthan, India, I saw Hindu’s worshiping rats in the world’s only rat temple, Karni Mata. The villagers believe that they are reincarnated family members, and as such, they go to visit them.
I believe these sorts of experiences broaden the mind, helping me to better understand the world, making me a stronger storyteller.
Now the fun stuff begins, Please complete the following phrases . . .
I just don’t understand . . . BIGOTRY
I freaks me out when . . . AN EARTHQUAKE HAPPENS. I DON’t ENJOY THE UNPREDICTABILITY OF THEM.
Green is to salmon, as surreal is to . . . BLUE
I am hopping on a plane tomorrow headed to . . . MONTEPULCIANO, ITALY
There should be a movie made about . . . ERK RUSSELL. I’M FORTUNATE TO BE DEVELOPING IT.
My mom, dad and/or relative makes the best . . . NANA DOT MADE THE BEST DRESSING FROM SCRATCH, AND IT WAS HANDS DOWN THE GREATEST DRESSING EVER MADE. OTHERS AROUND BROOKLET, GEORGIA WILL TELL YOU THAT. I’VE THOUGHT ABOUT HER EVERY DAY SINCE SHE’S LEFT US.
My beverage of choice is . . . CABERNET SAUVIGNON
You can’t pay me enough to eat . . . RAW TOMATOES; JUST COOK THEM!
I love the sound of . . . RAIN
I sometimes spoil myself by . . . EATING PUMPKIN PIE FOR BREAKFAST. IT’S THE BEST.
Thanks for doing that. Okay so now pay it forward a bit. Who should more people know about?
Nancy Gale’s Los Angeles-based AMBITION program teaches underserved youth entrepreneurial skills that enable them to become better prepared for college, many of them being the first in their families. I have been fortunate to work with the program since its inception. You can learn more at www.ambition.education.
While I can’t promise anything, if you have some folks who are doing cool things and who might be an interesting interview, please let me know. In the mean time, check out more from The Person Behind the Project.