Q&A: Joe Bookman and Jesse Damazo

BY DI STAFF | APRIL 21, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Daily Iowan sat down with graduate students Joe Bookman and Jesse Damazo, who recently had their film The Agony and Sweat of the Human Spirit accepted for screening at the Cannes Film Festival in France on May 11 through 22. They discussed the film, in which they starred and wrote.

Daily Iowan: Where did you get the idea for The Agony and Sweat of the Human Spirit?

Bookman: The idea for this film was really a gradual accretion of ideas, which [Damazo] and I co-arrived at after several weeks of brainstorming last fall. We knew we wanted to make a comic narrative, and at a certain point, we decided to capitalize on [Damazo’s] ukulele skills. We just kept hashing out different concepts: One decision led to another, and after a while, a little story emerged.

DI: What was the best/most fun part about filming the movie?

Bookman: Each stage of the production had its own thing going for it. The writing part was great. [Damazo] and I work well together, and even when most of the ideas we were generating seemed hopelessly useless and bad, it always felt like we were moving toward some better, more promising place. Production itself was often hard, physically taxing work but was exciting in its own way. In every scene, some unexpected thing happened during the shoot, which produced exciting details in the footage. It’s an accurate cliché that filmmaking really is sort of adventure. I think this one of the reasons I’m most interested in it.

DI: What was the worst part?

Bookman: For [Damazo], I’m guessing it was probably the time he had to eat 16 cough drops all in one sitting. For me, probably the time my hair gel froze.

DI: How long have you played ukulele? How did you become interested in the instrument?

Damazo: My mom found a ukulele in a dry creek bed. My grandfather fixed the neck and strings and gave it to me. I started plunking around on it last summer. I’ve played since then.

DI: Will you travel to France for the screening? If so, what else do you plan to do while over there?

Bookman: Yes. The university has been incredibly generous with its support, and thanks to a long list of departments and organizations, we’ll be able to travel to France in May. We’ll spend most of our time watching movies and meeting people at Cannes, but we also plan to spend a few days in Paris, which should be a lot of fun.

DI: Which do you enjoy more: acting, writing, or directing? Why?

Bookman: I have a lot more experience writing that I do acting or directing, but they’re all differently rewarding pursuits. Writing is obviously a more solitary kind of task, though the way [Damazo] and I have learned to collaborate, the writing can feel less lonely than it sometimes does. Directing is interesting because you get to learn from all the talented people around you. And acting is a thing I’m just beginning to explore, but it’s a strangely exciting process that I’m eager to learn more about.

Damazo: I actually like editing the best. It happens at your own pace, and you can listen to music while you work.

— by Ryan Cole

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