Jay Ness shares the story behind 'Silent Hill: Anniversary'
Photo by Dave Puente
Jay Ness may be best known in the Twin Cities for his music-video work with pop-punk bands such as Paradise Fears, Stephen Jerzak, and Hyland. However, he decided to try his hand at a new form of art. His latest project is a short film that pulls from Konami's Silent Hill, a survival-horror video game. The game's story is set in a universe containing another dimension based on the titular fictional American town.
Silent Hill: Anniversary -- not to be confused with the Silent Hill movie released in 2006, based on the second Silent Hill video game -- is a film three years in the making. The labor of love has faced many set backs, including Ness being attacked in spring of 2011 while leaving a party with a friend in Uptown.
The film will be released via Machinima worldwide on September 24, 2012, the anniversary release date of the Silent Hill 2 videogame. Dressing Room sat and spoke with Ness to get his story on what went into making the film.
In early May of 2011, Ness and a friend were walking home from a party when they were mugged by four men. His friend required surgery for damage to his face and eye socket, and Ness suffered a concussion. The injury, along with an auto-immune disorder, required him to leave his job and move back home with his parents.
"I had never felt so empty. I had my own condo in Minneapolis, I was doing all of this fun work, and all of a sudden one night it was taken away from me," Ness says. "I had to rebuild my life. I was poor and struggling to pay my bills. I feel like this summer has been somewhat of a rebirth. I just started doing some work again a couple of months ago. I'd like to hope the healing process has begun."
Jay still suffers from PTSD, saying that he'll never walk down a street at night the same again. "It's really an eye opener when it happens to you," he says, "but I also realize how fortunate I am to still be alive." When asked if he had forgiven the men who attacked him, the director surprised even himself. "No," he says, then with more conviction, "no, I certainly haven't forgiven them. I would have a few things to say if I got face to face with those guys, but I don't know if I'll ever get past it as much as I just won't let it bother me anymore."
Photo via Jay Ness
Lately his work, specifically his short film Silent Hill: Anniversary, keeps the young director going. Ness cooked up the idea for his film in 2007 while working at Gamestop. Just like a scene out of Clerks, he and his co-workers sat around and talked about what they wanted out of life. "We talked about how we don't use our inner passions, and how so many people count down to the weekends. They don't live their lives Monday through Friday," he says. "I'd been wanting to make a movie for a long time, because I used to do them growing up."
Two co-workers submitted scripts, and from there Ness started doing screen tests. "Honestly, it evolved into something so much bigger than I thought it would be. The people who were originally involved eventually went on with with their lives, had other things to do, and I still kept moving forward with this, bringing along new people and more crew," he says.
Photo via Jay Ness
One of those people was producer Ryan Schneider, who came onto the project halfway through the making. As Ness's go-to guy, he acted as the second brain when they were on set for days. Schneider, along with Ness's girlfriend, Liz Akhavan, who plays Mary Shepherd in the film, were the ones who helped to keep the project alive during rough times.
Ness briefly walked away from the project last year. "I was going through a lot of health issues. I pulled the plug, and sat at home all summer. I was just rotting in my home in Minneapolis. One day, I booted up my hard drive for some reason. I looked at all the footage, and I said to myself, 'You know what? This actually isn't that bad. It's worth finishing.'" Ness cut a minute-long trailer and put it up online, catching the eye of Polish visual effects artist Paul "Apaczos" Galazka, who joined the production team and added another dimension to the project. "Paul gave the film a 180, and it looks beautiful. He's self-taught at his craft and so passionate."
Silent Hill: Anniversary stitches together pieces from the video games, but mainly focuses on Silent Hill 2, where the main character, James Sunderland, searches for his deceased wife after receiving a letter from her informing him that she is waiting for him in Silent Hill. "I took some liberties with all of the things that happened in my film," he says. "It's nothing that didn't happen in the Silent Hill franchise, I feel. I took the liberties for multiple reasons, but the main one was for the people who haven't played the games, and those that have no idea what Silent Hill is about. I chose my favorite aspects of the games."
Since this was his first foray into making an actual film, Ness learned along the way, maturing as time passed. "If I knew the things I know now, I would have done everything different. But I feel it took making this movie for me to learn what I need to know to get to my next film." The director sits and ponders for a bit. "I don't know if I would have done it differently, because now the next piece of art is going to be an improvement on what I've done," he reconsiders. "I will draw an analogy right now to maturity. It took all I needed to know to get here. In the end, I put myself through that, and I still love it. I know that I'm doing what I was meant to do. I am so lucky to find my passion, because so many people don't. I've learned so much more in my struggle than if everything came easily."
IF YOU GO:
Silent Hill: Anniversary
Wednesday, September 19
St. Anthony Main Theatre
115 Main St. NE, Minneapolis
All ages, free, doors 6:40 p.m., showing 7:40 p.m.
Click here for details
Machinima will also premiere Silent Hill: Anniversary on their site on Monday, September 24, 2012
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