From actor to director
Jess Thomas is a producer, film director and actor whose academic background is centered at San Francisco State University and work speaks for itself as to his talent. Once he made the decision to move to Los Angeles, he started making occasional appearances as an actor and stuntman in some television series. As a director, he has written about seven scripts and plunged into the world of broadcast engineering for various television networks such as FOX and ABC.
We had the opportunity to talk to Mr. Thomas to know many more details about his career and we were pleasantly surprised with the receptivity of the talented filmmaker and his wife and producing partner Anayancy Thomas. Below, we’ll talk a bit about his beginnings, recognitions and his most recent film ”God & Salsa”.
How his interest in film began
Thomas tells us that she had a fascination for the world of entertainment since she was very young, as both his parents were always related to the arts one way or another. His father Jess Thomas Senior was an opera singer, while his mother Bettye Wright was a dancer and model. This family background led him to venture into all this at a very early age and the best example is the creation of super-eight films (film format in which eight-millimeter wide film is used) in high school.
He recalls that he had to produce a 60-page assignment for his history class, but his teacher allowed him to produce a short film instead. The grade was an A on that assignment and the teacher was so delighted that he showed the tape to the rest of his classmates and put him as a great example of creativity in cases like this. This is how a very young Jess already felt that his destiny would follow this same path for the rest of his life.
Beginnings as an actor
He took his first steps in this profession as an actor and thought that this was the branch to which he wanted to dedicate himself definitively, but over time he discovered that writing, directing and producing were much more appealing to him. Jess found that he enjoyed joining the pieces together to take a film from a script to a screen much more than simply acting on it.
However, the filmmaker acknowledges that having acted allows him to communicate much more effectively and empathetically with the actors in his productions, as he understands the language of acting perfectly.
His first work as a director was the documentary ”The Seeker”, which tells the story of a quadriplegic who embarks on a journey on a motorcycle adapted to his disability and won in the category of Best American Documentary at the Rome International Film Festival. On this subject, Jess told us that the plot of the film was not his idea, but that of his friend Evan Somers, who stated his intentions to create a material that would raise awareness about this type of disability.
The idea of following him around the country on a motorcycle (designed by Somers himself) so much that he put all his efforts into learning all about the struggles of his friend, which led Somers to hire him as producer and director for a film about his story. They spent a month shoting the scenes and always something special and unexpected happened as the days went on.
Although they cannot be sure that everything would go as they planned, the result of the recordings spoke for themselves. In reviewing the tapes, they realized that they were getting something truly beautiful and completely spontaneous, as there was absolutely unscripted or unprepared by the team in charge of making the material.
In the end, they simply had to honor it in the editing room and sew all the pieces come together in a single masterpiece.
God & Salsa
Her most recent film work ”God & Salsa” has given much to talk about since its release in 2022. It all started when Jess met his now wife and producing partner Anayancy Thomas at an Entertainment Ministry event hosted by the church where they both attended. She told him she had plans to make a documentary about the negative impact that divorce can have on both children and parents in the long run, which Jess loved because his parents divorced when he was a child.
This event represented a before and after in his life during his adolescence, which made him develop certain behaviors and conducts that were destroying him, such as anger, lethargy, drug addiction, alcoholism, among others. In view of their shared the taste for this subject, they came together to make a feature film in which they would develop this point through characters who had these same experiences in the most natural way possible.
Although it is fiction, Thomas made it clear that there were several elements that had much to do with him and Anayancy herself, who began taking salsa classes to distract herself from various negative aspects of her life in those years through the use of the body and the mind required by the dance discipline. In fact, her teachers, Enio and Terryl, appear in the film and are part of the cast.
During all this time, there was a very special feeling between the two, so they ended up falling in love and got married shortly thereafter. 10 years later, they have a finished feature film, which premiered in October 11, 2022 in the United States and will soon be distributed in Latin America and the rest of the world. ”Our greatest inspiration for this project is the duty to use our pain to help others overcome theirs” said the director.
How the cast and soundtrack were chosen
When we wanted to know how the cast of ”God & Salsa” was chosen, he revealed that they shot a short film with the purpose of knowing how the movie would look like. It was also intended to serve as a proof of concept and a means to raise funds so we could create the feature film the way they wanted to.
”We put out a casting call through the Backstage platform, since our search was not focused on well-known actors, but on emerging talents avid of opportunities to shine. That is how we managed to find Javier Luna and Jovanna Vital, who did such a wonderful job that we decided to use them for the feature film. The other roles were assigned to people we already knew or had worked with previously, even if they didn’t have a lot of acting experience,” he continued.
As for the film’s soundtrack, the director told us that they focused their attention on local salsa bands and composers. Enio, Anayancy’s aforementioned dance teacher, recommended Carlos Navarro and his orchestra Son Y Clave, which has played in many of the best local and foreign clubs. Once we listening to them, we loved the sound, so we involved him in the project from the beginning of the proof of concept. Both Carlos and his musicians appear in some scenes showing all their talent.
They also used some of the music composed by Stephen Giraldo and Voodoo Tracks Music Publishing.
Read also: GOD & SALSA