A Father’s Legacy

Director Jason Mac on His Journey to LA, His New Film, and Working with an Icon

Director Jason Mac talks about his journey to LA, landing roles on critically acclaimed televisions shows, his decision to become a director, and working with the iconic Tobin Bell in his new film, 'A Father's Legacy.'
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PopTonic recently had the chance to chat with actor, writer, and director Jason Mac whose new film, A Father’s Legacy, screens in theaters across the country on June 17 through Fathom Events. Starring Tobin Bell (Saw, Mississippi Burning, The Firm) and Mac (Castle, The Vampire Diaries, NCIS), the film explores the unlikely relationship between a young man on the run from the law and a secluded old man who lives outside of society.

Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us a little about yourself and how you got your start in the film industry?

I grew up in South Carolina and was a tennis player serious about going pro. However, I realized around 16-17 years old that it wasn’t in the cards for me. I just wasn’t good enough. I played a couple of years in college and got a finance degree. After that, I spent a few years as sales director of a microbrewery. I had no idea who or what I wanted to be in the bigger picture. I just spent my days driving up and down the east coast slinging beers to bars and grocery stores.

So you had a lot of time to think?

Absolutely. I thought of how my favorite films and television shows impacted me. They made me think. They opened up emotions that I didn’t feel in everyday life. It was like they tapped into a side of me that I never accessed on my own. It didn’t take long for me to realize I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to impact people the same way I was impacted when I was transported into those stories.

And then you decided to start trying for roles?

Short films. Student films. It didn’t matter… I was there. I had zero experience and zero training so I just needed to get in front of cameras and make my mistakes and learn.

I’m assuming you moved on from South Carolina pretty early on in this process.

Right. I ended up going to Atlanta for a couple of years to get more experience. I booked my first big gig there on The Vampire Diaries. I was so nervous walking onto that set. I remember I had one line that particular day: “We don’t want any trouble here…” But I could not remember it! But ultimately I got through it.

So after Atlanta, you took the high dive and relocated to LA. What’s it really like being new talent there?

There is so much talent in LA… You can look at that in a negative way or a positive way. And how long you last is determined by that choice. I didn’t (and still don’t) work as much as I would like as an actor. About 99% of the actors you meet in LA will tell you the same thing.

What was a highlight from working in LA?

My absolute best experience on a show was Castle. Nathan Fillion was so generous and kind and welcoming. When you are only on a show for an episode, you may only be shooting for 1-3 days. So you aren’t really a part of the family. You show up, stay out of the way, and do your job.

That sounds like a bit of a drag…

Listen, I show up on the first day and Nathan comes over and sticks his hand out. “Hey, I’m Nathan. Can I get you anything? Do you need a water?” I was blown away! Everyone I’ve worked with has been professional, but this was next level. On our last day of shooting, he takes me and a couple of the other episode actors to lunch. We just hopped into his car and off we went.

That was the happiest set I’ve ever worked on. It comes from the top. And I’ll never forget that.

So when did you decide to dip into writing and directing?

While I was in LA I made the snap decision to stop waiting for my agent to call me. I decided to create. For me, it unlocked a whole new world. As an actor, I only had access to myself to alter a scene. As a director, I have access to everything… the performers, the camera, lights, music, editing, coloring… everything. I get to use the whole chessboard and that’s a lot of fun… and a very different challenge that I embraced.

I recommend to anyone who wants to be an actor: write a short script, shoot it, edit it, and finish it. You will learn so much in the process. But if your first thought is, “I can’t do that,” then I hope you are a patient person because you’ll be waiting for the phone to ring for a long time.

A Father’s Legacy

Let’s talk about your new film, A Father’s Legacy. What inspired you to make this piece? It seems very personal.

It came from one of the tougher times in my life. My father passed away unexpectedly. We were fortunate as a family to be able to say our goodbyes before he passed on. I remember being in the hospital talking to the ICU nurse and feeling like this was a significant shift in my life. A before and after moment. My father was one of my earthly guardians who I knew would be there to support me no matter what.

Through that process of grieving, I really started exploring that father/son relationship and what it meant, and why it was so important to me. To say there was a heavy personal influence on the film is an understatement. This film is my soul. It’s a love letter to my late father.

You cast Tobin Bell to play the father figure in this movie. I can imagine his gravitas was a serious grounding force. What was it like to work with him?

My first meeting with Tobin was at a cafe in Santa Monica. We just sat and talked for the whole afternoon. He believed in the story enough and, for whatever reason, trusted me to take him on this journey to South Carolina and make this film.

I was smart (or lucky?) enough to hire a casting director named Matthew Sefick who was tremendous in getting Tobin involved. This is such a different role for Tobin. It’s not what he’s known for. But he is such a craftsman. Every day he showed up ready to bust his butt to make the best movie we could.

What was it like to direct him?

It was really fun because he always wanted a motivation. He wouldn’t do anything that was empty. It had to make sense so he could ground it. And I really appreciated that because he doesn’t ever have a false moment. Movement in the scene is really important to him, and that’s something that I learned a lot from. Not only for directing, but also acting. To be more free and to experiment.

Here’s a funny story. Tobin has this childlike enthusiasm, which is totally contagious. There was a bird box on the pond that he wanted to get a shot of him “fixing it up.” I’m looking at the schedule and I’m just like, no no no… we don’t have time. And it’s not a shot that I’ll use in the film anyway. But Tobin keeps bringing it up. Finally, one morning we were waiting for a scene to be set up and had 15 minutes. So I grab the director of photography and tell Tobin if he can get ready we’ll do it. I cannot even tell you how fast he got into wardrobe and out in that pond with his shoes and pants soaked past the knees. We got the shot.

And you know what? It’s the opening shot of the movie. Lesson learned. Be open.

It sounds like Tobin was a rock.

To be able to work with him was a tremendous gift to me. And on a personal level, I look up to him so much. Just look at what he’s done with his career. I remember on some days the gnats were so awful they would be crawling around on our eyeballs during scenes and as soon as we cut, we’d be cleaning out our ears and eyes. To this day we shoot messages back and forth about his character chilling by the pond house drinking a beer. He was utterly invested in this story and I am forever grateful.

A Father’s Legacy

What other films or directors did you draw inspiration from?

A big influence in the tone of this film was Gran Torino. Obviously, Clint Eastwood is an acting icon and an incredible director. That film has a lot of themes within it, but the father/son dynamic speaks to me. It’s not biological, but it’s about family and adopted families. On a practical level, I think Eastwood is one of the most fundamental directors in how he shoots and tells stories. That was something that really struck me. Partially because we only had a short time to shoot… but also because it felt right for this story.

So you have a completed film. How did you find distribution, and, specifically, how did Fathom Events come into play?

I won’t sugarcoat it. Distribution is tough and it’s grueling. You want people to see the thing you’ve worked so hard on for so long. This is my first feature film and I learned a lot in this process. You have to meet a lot of people and quickly figure out who can help the film and who may hurt it. We had multiple deals that fell through at the last minute. But I’m glad about that.

Because of where you ended up?

Exactly. We ended up with Cinedigm as our distribution partner. They pitched it to Fathom who took a liking. They saw an opportunity coming out of the pandemic and with Father’s Day coming up. This theatrical release is very unexpected and I never imagined my little movie would be on 700 screens. I couldn’t be more excited.

What can we expect from the screening?

The showing will be on June 17th in theaters across the country. But we’re not just showing the film. Afterward, there will be a conversation between myself and pastor Brannon Shortt about some of the themes from the movie. Brannon was one of the first people to read the script back in 2017, so it was kind of a full-circle moment to have that conversation with him.

What’s next for Jason Mac?

Good question! There’s a book that I really want to turn into a film. I think I’m going to really start chasing that. Other than that, I’m exploring a couple of ideas in the horror space and reading some other scripts as well. Time will tell what is next!

Thanks to Jason Mac for taking the time to speak with us. You can purchase tickets for the one-night-only screening via Fathom Events here.