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Spotlight Interview with Writer Jesse Dorian ("SVEN")

Jesse Dorian

Before we talk about your latest screenplay, SVEN, we'd like to learn more about your inspiring journey- how did an ex-drug dealer and a community college dropout become a screenwriter, actor, editor, and director?

Okay, well first let me just say-- How dare you. How dare you kick off this interview with such a great question. And the truth is, I was actually a screenwriter, actor, editor, and director before I was ever a drug dealer and a community college dropout... but unfortunately, I had bills that I had to pay on time, and back then I didn’t have the right connections into the industry. In fact, I had even less connections back then, than I do now — if such a thing was even possible. Also, it didn’t help that I lived in Texas, which is where anything that’s too rational or intellectual is told to die. Or at the very least, awarded with a gunshot wound.

Jesse Dorian - Imitate Invertebrate

Alongside writing, you also have a goth-pop music project on the side. What can you tell us about that?

You’re referring to Imitate Invertebrate. It’s a solo music project of mine that I’ve had for years in which I write, compose, and sing everything. For the longest time, I had only been working on this one project. Quite frequently, anytime I would tell someone about my music, and ask if they would let me play for them some of what I was working on, the overall response would be, “Okay. I’ll listen to your shitty little death metal band.” And then afterwards, they were surprised that the music I was working on wasn’t death metal, and then even more surprised that my music wasn’t anywhere near as shitty as they were anticipating.

So, I’ve started working on about 22 songs or something, and have only technically finished two so far — classic ADD amirite? And the two songs that I actually did finish, I had produced in a professional recording studio in San Antonio.

Long story short, I absolutely fucking hated how they turned out but they were both a valid effort. So, I released them as a digital EP but never really told anyone about the EP. I did no promotion for it, but I needed something accessible out there as a point of reference. It’s been 5 years, and it’s something I might as well start telling everyone about now — especially because I’m on the verge of returning to Imitate Invertebrate to at least finish what I started. For now, it’s on Apple Music, Pandora, Spotify, SoundCloud, Youtube.

Jesse Dorian

How do you choose the stories you are going to write about, and where do you find your inspiration?

I would say that traveling has a lot to do with the inspiration behind the settings and environments of where most of my stories take place but not necessarily with the stories themselves. I choose to not write conventional screenplays— I don’t really know exactly what the hell any of them are about until I finish writing the entire story. Then, I take a step back and decide what’s missing, or— what I already included that doesn’t need to be there after all.

I don’t walk in with a plan. Doing that, would suck out what little fun there is to screenwriting. Maybe I already have the ending figured out when I start writing, maybe I don’t. It’s not an excuse for me to be unorganized, it’s an excuse for me to be spontaneous and deliver a story that’s truly different, takes credible risks with its characters, and maybe even does it all with an ending, or resolution that no one will see coming.

How do you deal with writer's block?

I have absolutely no method for dealing with writer’s block. It’s still a total mystery to me and it doesn’t happen to me frequently enough to where I figure that I have to map out exactly how I’m going to deal with it. I’m already too preoccupied with how my brain doesn’t know how to shut up. There’s almost always an internal dialogue going on inside my head that refuses to end. It’s quite annoying, actually.

Brandon Bennett (as Sven), Jesse Dorian behind the scenes of “SVEN” The Internet Series

Now let's dive into your recent work, titled SVEN. Where did the idea for the story come from, and how did you build the unique character of Sven?

There is a long, complicated backstory to the origins of “SVEN.” I came up with the character of Sven about 15 years ago, more or less. As a project, “SVEN” was originally an unscripted internet series I had created and uploaded to Myspace — Yes, I said Myspace, that’s how ancient this is — but then abruptly abandoned before I finished it back in the fall of 2008, so that I could make more money at the time selling weed out of my apartment.

And back then, I was doing — what all community college students from a small town do in their late teens, and early twenties — a lot of drugs, and watching a lot of David Lynch.

But going even further back, in late 2007, I made an experimental short film that served as my final for a technical film class, while at Austin Community College. It was one of the last school projects I worked on before I finally dropped out. A long-time friend of mine since 6th grade, Brandon, played Sven in my college project, and subsequently in the internet series.

Brandon wasn’t a professionally-trained actor at the time but he was, and always has had the potential to be a versatile and unique physical performer. Plus, he’s good at following instructions.

Brandon takes direction extremely well and is incredibly easy to work with. So it made sense at the time to give the character of Sven no dialogue. And it wasn’t until I began outlining some of the ideas for the screenplay in late 2012, that I realized that “SVEN” really was beginning to take on a new identity.

It was beginning to look and feel a lot like a contemporary throwback to classic Universal Studios monsters. And on that note — I think Sven, as a tortured soul, would make the quintessential Universal Studios monster for a contemporary era. An original classic monster for a new generation, if you will.

And in some ways, Sven’s a little bit like the wolfman; and a little bit like Kong. Sven’s also originally from the same general area as the Gill-man from Creature From The Black Lagoon. Except unlike the Gill-man, Sven's not a complete asshole. Sven doesn’t put his hands on women without their consent first; and he has good table manners. Sven has both the etiquette, and the mental capacity to get through an extensive dinner and social outing without ever feeling the urge to strangle and pulverize one of his girlfriend’s parents.

Jesse Dorian “A Close Divide” behind the scenes - May 2011

You managed to build a colorful world, full of mystery and interest around the characters and their background, all while using one location throughout most of the story. What is your creative process like? Do you normally start with the characters?

Back in January and February 2011, I wrote my third feature screenplay, “A Close Divide,” in about 5-6 weeks. “A Close Divide” was supposed to compensate for “Sly,” the second screenplay that I had written. “Sly” was a movie that I really wanted to film. It was going to be my directorial debut. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anywhere near the amount of money that I would’ve needed to make it.

Long story short, “A Close Divide” was the movie I ultimately wound up directing, editing, and co-producing in the summer of 2011. It was a movie that was written entirely within my limitations and within reason of the budget I was going to have to work with. I also starred in the movie as one of the two main leads. The film was never technically released, and it was a troubled production to say the least. It was also the single-most traumatic, negative, most thoroughly discouraging experience of my entire life, and I’m still in therapy because of it… but “A Close Divide” is another story that I’ll save for another day.

The reason I bring up my incomplete film “A Close Divide,” is because when I started writing projects that I knew I wanted to produce myself, instead of starting with the characters, I would initially begin with my limitations. “SVEN” is a special case compared to all of my other scripts. It’s the only original script of mine that I had adapted from an original concept that I had already created, and filmed — or at the very least, started to film.

The idea for Sven wasn’t preplanned. It gradually developed around the limitations that a low-income college student faces when wanting to attempt a film project. The story originally all took place inside my apartment because I didn’t have to consult with anyone to use it as a film set. I could film scenes entirely on my own time, and with no money. Therefore, I produced, directed and filmed all of it using a brand new Sony HDV-FX1 that I had purchased with money I had saved up from multiple low wage jobs. This was back when filming in high definition still meant filming with mini DV tapes. And then, I edited the first few episodes using iMovie at the time because that’s how minimal the whole production was.

I also composed all of the music for the “SVEN” 2008 internet series using a KORG Triton synthesizer that I had purchased back in high school, using most of the money that I had earned scrubbing dishes in the back of a restaurant for a year and a half. Again, an advanced piece of equipment for its time— but in this era? It’s hard to believe how much you could really utilize all of it if you were both driven and persistent.

I also had a pet emperor scorpion, named Precious, who died in- between filming that same year, and a 2nd emperor scorpion, named Lilian— which would somewhat influence the project, and eventually go on to become the name of the human character in the feature script for “SVEN.” Also, in the beginning, the entire production of “SVEN” in 2008 was just Brandon in-front of the camera and me behind the camera.

Later that same year, I asked Sara, a friend of an ex-roommate of mine, if she would like to participate as a new character. And then, after Sara was on-board as Lilian, I inevitably would’ve played the character of Michael on-camera, while someone else could be behind the camera. Because none of the series was scripted, and characters weren’t to have entire conversations — since Sven had no dialogue — only monologues, this made it particularly easy for us to just make shit up as we all went along, and not have to memorize dialogue word- for-word.