Writer/Director James D. Schumacher III Turns Personal Tragedies into Powerful Films
James D. Schumacher III may have risen in the ranks to become an award-winning filmmaker and graphic novelist. But, his life as a successful artist didn't come easy. Forced to learn about human fatality at a very young age, James watched his mother, the very person who gave him life, suffer a painful and early death after being diagnosed with cancer in her 30s. While the loss of his mother allowed him to regain the father/son relationship he always wanted but never had, James suffered a second blow when his father was suddenly struck with a near fatal condition a few years later.
But as tragic as a tale may be, James D. Schumacher III considers these the moments of truth or building blocks that shaped who he is today: A passionate writer, punch-in-the-gut filmmaker who has mastered the art of harnessing the power of human pain.
We had a chance to catch up with James and talk about his personal journey and his latest film, The Astronaut.
What first inspired you to become a filmmaker?
My mother was a novelist and was always encouraging me to pursue my passion for writing from a very young age. I actually started a UFO magazine and would distribute it to my parents who were my loyal monthly subscribers. Then I discovered my dad's VHS camera. My very first film was actually a music video of my sister dancing to the song, "Score Tonight" from Grease 2. We made a cardboard sign that read "A Schumacher Film" and my sister held it up in front of the camera as our opening title.
My mother had just been diagnosed with cancer at that time and had been suffering in a lot of pain, but when we showed her the film she was smiling and laughing. It made me realize that the power of art could actually fight the pain of cancer, if only for that moment of time.
So from that point on, there was no looking back?
I pretty much spent all of my time either writing short stories or making home movies with my friends. Then when I was going into high school I found out they were offering a media production course but you couldn't take it until senior year. So, I would just sneak in and sit in on the classes until the teacher finally clued in. He was actually really nice about it and they ended up letting me take the class during my junior year. By the time I graduated from high school, I had a pretty solid demo reel and that helped me to land my very first job at the local news channel in Reno.
I started out as a production assistant and I had only been there about a year when one of the directors got fired for swearing during a live broadcast and I ended up getting his job. So at 19, I was directing live action morning news. It was really hard work and very little pay but I loved it. Then my mother's cancer had come back and my father was working two jobs to pay for her treatment. As much as I loved my job, I loved my parents more and so I started working for homeland security to help pay the bills.
You then went through the very difficult period of your life that inspired The Astronaut. Tell us about that.
The two most painful experiences of my life were saying good-bye to my mother and then nearly losing my father a few years later. But they were also the two pivotal moments that put me on the path to where I am today. Right before mom died, she made me promise that no matter how hard it got, to never stop making films. But it was so hard for me to deal with the pain of losing her that I spent the next year hiding from it and buried myself in my office job. I had started to write and make films again when my dad suddenly faced his own mortality, but it was during those scary moments with him in the ICU that my vision for The Astronaut just hit me. I spent the next five days writing it out.
The story is obviously based on my personal experience of tragic circumstances mending a broken father/son relationship. But the film also speaks to the human struggle on a very universal level as well. We as humans all share love, loss and pain and it's what we decide to do with that pain that shapes who we become and determines the course of our life. The Astronaut is about a man whose pain is so great that he's been running from it for so long and he's lost his connection with his family and even himself. Then he's faced with an even worse tragedy that forces him to finally confront his pain and makes the best of the little time he has left.
Schumacher entered his script in the 2014 Action on Film International Film Festival's screenplay competition where it won in the "Best Horror Film" category award which was presented at AOF Awards Gala by Festival Director, Del Weston (Right).
What are your next projects that we can look forward to?
We're actually going into production with Of Devils and Men this year. I also wrote a three-part graphic novel called Inheritance, which is set to be released this year and it has already won an award for the cover work James Burton did for it.
What is your ultimate goal as an artist?
I have a unique style of blending dramatic themes and visual escapism to punch people in the gut and immerse them into the emotional human experience. But ultimately I want my films to inspire people and to show them that even in the worst depths of despair, there is always a way to harness our pain and move beyond it, more powerful than before.
To find out more about James D. Schumacher III, his film The Astronaut and his other works visit: www.schumacher3.com
For more information on Inheritance, visit: twitter.com/inheritnovel
Editors Note: The Astronaut will premiere at the NOHO 7 LAEMMLE Theaters in Los Angeles from March 6 - 12, 2015.
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