Jared Cohn got tired of waiting for acting roles, so he created work for himself instead; now he’s a sought-after writer/director with a newly released Bruce Willis film.
Cohn had graduated from the New York Institute of Technology, majoring in film production; things took off from there as far as ambition but not as much work-wise – that took a good 15 years more where he cut his directing/writing film teeth working with the prolific American independent film company Asylum (also a distributor).
Persuaded to take time out of his busy schedule, Jared sat down with Moviehole to talk about working with Willis, who is playing a bad guy in the new thriller film “Deadlock” and also about how not to get scammed in Hollywood.
Moviehole: How did you start out in acting, directing and writing?
Jared Cohn: I started as an actor and writer, worked on a lot of super low budget films and the acting thing didn’t go the way I wanted to; so I leaned more into being a writer, and thank God that I fell into directing more. I still act once in a blue moon.
With acting, I was living with an actor roommate on the east coast right after high school, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I thought acting was cool, so I followed suit, moved to L.A., then after some years of working in low budget acting, I was writing screenplays because I had so much free time. I was also working at a telephone sales job, then luckily I got connected with the Asylum; they’ve done so many movies. I directed a movie for them and then I directed 15 more movies for them, it gave me a springboard to connect with other companies. I directed for different producers and kept getting called back to direct and wrote scripts, I expanded my rolodex. The most important part of your job is getting people to read scripts; I called everyone I knew, I had different scripts, action, horror, I was writing nonstop. Then I started getting better as an actor, and the only way to get a directing job was if I wrote the script. It’s really hard.
And nowadays getting cast is less about acting and more about Instagram followers, I have heard this casting discussion where they say “damn, this person has two million Instagram followers,” then the fifth question is “can they act?”.
I’ve seen amazing actors come in to audition, and it’s crazy because they have fantastic credits, you don’t understand why they still audition, I’m like, “you should be a star or on a series network.” But there’s only so many acting jobs. There are all these platforms but it’s almost like a lottery. People ask what’s the best piece of advice, I say to be born into it.
Moviehole: How you get involved with “Deadlock”?
JC: I wrote it and I was shopping it to everyone I knew; eventually I got good news — it almost got made a bunch of times, it almost got optioned a couple of times. I paid to get coverage and I knew it was pretty good. There are some good services, and you pay a company $200 and they crap all over it (laughs), but if you can take it and have a thick skin, it’s good. It got into the right hands, it got made, it was a journey. Keep going if you have a good script, a lot of people give up on their scripts. They write other scripts and forget about their script. I actually stopped writing for a bit after so many rejections, because I was so discouraged.
Moviehole: What was Bruce Willis and Patrick Muldoon like to work with?
JC: Patrick is great, I’ve worked with him before, he’s professional and funny. With Bruce we only had a few days, but the times we did talk, he’s very cool. He delivered a very interesting performance, the same with Patrick. I’ve worked with method actors, fun actors, and every actor sort of wants to be directed in a way they like. Some actors say very little and it’s an interesting way to navigate; I’m good at sensing what type of person they are, like if they want more direction…if I have a note I’ll give it to them. A lot of actors like Patrick and Bruce, they know their character and how to play it for the camera. You tell them the general gist and they do their own thing which is the best thing for the movie, they’ve been studying those lines.
Moviehole: Bruce plays a bad guy, isn’t that unusual?
JC: It’s not something you see Bruce do a lot, but you sympathize with his character to some extent.
Moviehole: What about funny stories on the set?
JC: The funniest stuff was when I had the script with a nuclear power plant in it, and they said they found the reactor and I said really? And they said, “it’s a water dam! Look at these photos. You’re going to rewrite it!” For three days my brain couldn’t process it, a lot of pounding my head against the pavement — I think I made it work and in some ways I think it works better. The whole thing with the nuclear reactor, with a water dam you can open levies and flood things and it ruins lives, it adds to that. It’s not just this imminent threat with the reactor that we never see because it’s a red button. It was definitely crazy for the first few days, it wasn’t even writer’s block, it was writer’s shock. Of course I’m going to do it, what would you do, cry about it?
And coming from a low to no budget background of all the movies I’ve done, I’ve shown up and there are supposed to be spaceships and instead it’s a guy’s room in a backyard with crates and I’m like, “this is a spaceship??” They said we’ll put in a blue light and special effects, and it worked, you know?
Moviehole: What is your method of writing and directing?
JC: I hunker down and write long hours…I want to be a full-time writer guy, I write just to write movies that I can direct. I learned how to write characters that actors want to play. That’s the secret, that’s it. Think of who you want to play the lead, then write a role so when they read it, they like it. The actors have all the power to get it greenlit, the catalyst to get the movie made.
Moviehole: What was the most challenging time of your life?
JC: When I was mostly acting — that was brutal, just rejection after rejection, the victories were very small, that was really hard. Then going to transition into writing and directing so I was basically starting from scratch, I had to build relationships with producers, but by acting for four or five years, that helped me to sell a script and direct a movie. I’ve been doing this for 20 years, the first 15-16 years were hard, so don’t give up. For me, it took about 15 years, I was questioning life decisions every year. I wish I could say I came here and gave myself a year and after 8 months I made it (laughs).
And there are rackets within the industry, they say we’ll publish your book, give us 10 grand — I fell for that as an actor, I fell for that as a screenwriter, there are little scammy organizations that promise to help you. It’s like an industry that feeds off another industry.
Moviehole: What are your projects coming up?
JC: “Vendetta” where we have Bruce Willis, Mike Tyson and Thomas Jane, there’s no release date yet — Bruce plays the bad guy again which he justifies, a guy whose daughter gets murdered and it’s basically family vs. family. It’s one man against a local crime gang, we shot it in Georgia – there’s a lot of things shooting in Georgia. I’m trying to stay busy and keep it going.
I just also did an MMA movie with Richard Grieco and all these MMA fighters, that was “Lord of the Streets” which is coming up.
“Deadlock” came out Dec. 3.