Story: Tiffany Adams | Photography: Rett Peek |
This Arkansas native recently completed his first feature-length film, Then There Was Joe, which was shot at his parents’ Little Rock home
You’ve been making films since you were 8 years old, and you majored in theater at Hendrix College before attending The USC School of Cinematic Arts for film school. Where did you get this passion? My oldest brother, Jonathan, is a huge movie buff and gave me a videotape documenting the making of the original Star Wars trilogy. I popped it in, and my mind was immediately blown; I discovered the ships were actually scale models and the lightsabers were just sticks with the glow added later. That was the first time I realized that movies were made by people. My dad noticed I kept watching that tape over and over, so he went out and bought me a video camera and encouraged me to play with it. The first movie I made was with my toy R2-D2, moving it across the kitchen table using stop-motion animation.
This film chronicles the life of your other brother and how his path affected your family—and you in particular. What made you want to tell this story? Just after film school, I was determined to make a feature film. I’m at my best when I’m telling extremely personal stories, so I did a lot of self-examination and realized that the most conflict in my life up to this point, both internal and external, has been my turbulent relationship with my middle brother, Jamie [Joe in the movie]. He’s much older than I am and we took very, very different paths in life. As a result, I feel we sort of missed out on being brothers.
The story seems as though it could have been portrayed as a drama. Why did you choose to tell it as a comedy? My favorite thing to do in life is to laugh. For me, it’s God’s best medicine. My work always leans comedic, and one of the golden rules of comedy is that the best laughs come from pain. I knew a movie based on my brother would have a lot of potential. I was also very afraid, because it felt too real—too uncomfortable. My family has an unofficial rule: If you’re afraid of something that will make you a stronger, better person, then that’s probably the thing you need to do. So I faced my fears and hopped in. To my surprise, the story flowed out of me—laughter, tears and all.
Tell us about your relationship with your brother now. While the movie was being shot, my brother Jamie was on the run from the police. The day before we shot the film he was one of Pulaski County’s most wanted. I lost touch with him over the next couple years, prayed for him, and just went on with my life, which included trying to bring this movie to life. At some point while we were editing, he was caught and sent to prison. Miraculously, while the movie was being sound-edited and mixed, Jamie got out on a work-release program and began teaching in a barber school. He has turned his life around and was released from prison. We’ve since reconnected and we talk almost every day. It’s something I never, ever thought would happen in a million years. This story is a great example of how life imitates art and art imitates life.
What’s next for you? I’m currently living in Pasadena, California, and I just finished writing a draft of my next film, another Arkansas-centric comedy, which I will direct in 2019. Up next, I’m producing a psychological thriller, which I co-wrote, called Driver 113. The next few years will be very busy, but I’ve never been more excited about filmmaking and its future.
Then There Was Joe premiered in February as the first film in Arkansas Cinema Society’s Homegrown Film Series. Learn more about Warren at justinwarren.me, and visit thentherewasjoe.com for information on the movie.