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In Loss of Essence, the debut feature film from writer-director Jonathan Breaux, When Stewart Berwick (Phillip Andre Botello) flocks to the woods.

Jonathan Breaux Unveils a Filmmakers Story Through a Rollercoaster of Laughter and Suspense in His Debut Feature ‘Loss of Essence’

In Loss of Essence, the debut feature film from writer-director Jonathan Breaux, When Stewart Berwick (Phillip Andre Botello) flocks to the woods to direct his first feature film;  his eccentric crew suffers through an intense seven-day shoot. Tommy Kent (Jadon Cal), the film’s Production Assistant, is left feeling overworked and underappreciated. After finally being pushed to his limit, Tommy snaps and holds the 35mm film canisters hostage. Stewart must decide what is more important: his film or his integrity?

Where was this shot?

Loss of Essence was shot on my family’s farm in Natchez, Mississippi. 

What perspective was this written from, actual experience or something imagined, a little of both?

I would say a little bit of both. I’ve worked a lot of jobs on set – from the lowest position on set, to the highest. Pieces of those experiences helped to create this film. I knew I needed it to fit within a certain budget and primarily stay in one location, so I chose to write about what I know, which is filmmaking. The idea continued to develop from there. 

Were any of the characters/filmmakers based on anyone you’ve worked with?

None of the characters were based on anyone I’ve personally worked with. On a film set, you see a lot of different personalities, with people from completely different backgrounds. I wanted to encapsulate that in this film. That’s why you see dramatized versions of different characters: Stewart – a director willing to risk his life for his film, Tommy – a PA who is overworked, and The Soldier – a hot shot actor, for example. I was also studying Stanley Kubrik and his experience making Fear and Desire. That served as another heavy influence for this film. 

It’s a film about shooting a film, what gave you this idea? 

I was given a great piece of advice from a mentor, which is to write what you know. For this film, I really wanted to focus on that. I know and have a deep love for filmmaking, so I chose to take this idea and run with it. I can really relate to Stewart’s devotion to his film – how he saved up the money and wanted it to be perfect. I had similar feelings while making Loss of Essence.

How did you decide to write it as a comedy/thriller? 

I think the bizarreness of the scenario made me want to play into the dry humor and almost satirical side of things. I really wanted to make a feature film, and I remember writing a script before this one that was so stiff and rigid and I had to just force it out. It wasn’t any good. After that, I told myself to write something fun and avoid putting so much pressure on myself. I didn’t have any expectations. Ultimately, I wanted it to feel like a rollercoaster ride. I think the comedy just naturally found its way in. 

Why did you choose to shoot film instead of digital?

All of my favorite directors shoot their movies on film, and I was always intrigued by that. 16mm film has an aesthetic that you can’t replicate on digital. The more I learned about the process of shooting a movie on film, the more I realized how helpful it could be to a young filmmaker, while simultaneously being a bit more constraining. Film is a finite, living organism, and it’s very delicate. It’s expensive to purchase, and once you’re out of film, that’s it. The crew and cast would often tell me that it just feels different when shooting on film. They would mention that they could hear the film running through the camera shutter, like you hear the money being spent. There’s just more pressure when you shoot on film. It’s good for a first time filmmaker, though, because it leaves little room for error, which makes you want to prepare even more. It forces you to be confident as a filmmaker because when shooting digital, you can see your dailies instantly. Whereas with shooting film, you have to wait until you get it back from the lab, which could be weeks. You have to be rock solid with the choices you made as a director that day. 

How large was your crew and how many days did you shoot for?

We had an 8 person crew. We shot it in 12 days in Natchez, MS. We shot it in a very run and gun style. I had my Director of Photography, Johnnie Gorczyca, basically live with a camera on his shoulder. We knew we had to shoot a lot of scenes every day to make it work, and a lot of the actors pitched in to help with various jobs on set. I even remember shooting all day and then going inside and cooking the cast and crew dinner for the night. We all lived on the property, and it was almost like a summer camp feeling. I think that really helped with the chemistry of those on set because we all became really close, almost over night. I’ve known that I wanted to be a filmmaker since I was 13 years old. To be able to make my first feature film on my family’s farm, which is a place that means the world to me, was truly a full circle moment. 

Loss of Essence will be available everywhere February 2, 2023. The Buffalo 8 distributed film stars Phillip Andre Botello, Jadon Cal, Jakki Jandrell, Kate Schrader, Kofi Baffour, Bonnie Jean Tyer, Kyle Maddox, Joel – Steven Hammond, Johnny Clement. Written and Directed by Jonathan Breaux, Produced by Jonathan Breaux and Kaylee Jones, and Cinematographer Jonathan Gorczyca.

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