Hailing from the vast wilds of New Jersey, Katie Jepson has always possessed a keen interest in the natural world. That fascination followed her to Virginia's Shenandoah Valley where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Geology at James Madison University. Katie took advantage of the beautiful mountain setting to hone an interest in caving and cycling and in addition developed a desire to share her connection to the natural world. This zeal for seeing a story in everything led her to Bozeman, where she recently finished her MFA in Science and Natural History Film at Montana State University. Since then, her films have been featured in festivals and hosted in museums, and she has moved to Maine where she's working as an Associate Producer for Compass Light Media. Katie believes through laughter and creativity she may inspire others to keep learning, and in turn, to fully appreciate the world around them.
TERRA: What inspired you to make a film about humor?
KJ: I feel like humor has this unique quality in that it can be used to scale walls that sometimes block people from accepting new ideas. It opens them up, lightens the mood, and provides entertainment - all of which I feel are key in telling a good story. One of the greatest challenges in nonfiction film is figuring out how to reach that middle-ground audience - the silent majority - and I feel like humor is a key tool in obtaining that goal.
So keeping that in mind begs me to ask the question "well then, how do you construct the perfect joke" at the risk of hubris? And that's how I fell down that rabbit hole.
TERRA: What's your favorite type of joke?
KJ: Dry, deadpan humor that doesn't rely on crude, shocking humor or language. Comedians like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Demetri Martin all seem to have a direct line to my funny bone. They point out the incongruities in life and comment on them. In some ways, it seems like there is a fine line between comedy and philosophy - knock-knock jokes and Nietzsche.
TERRA: Give us a behind-the-scenes snapshot of what it was like in the field while making "Croaked."
KJ: Utterly hilarious...
TERRA: Did you have any particularly rewarding or challenging moments while making the film?
KJ: I don't find myself being particularly vested in the comedic ways. Perhaps that’s why I wanted to surround myself with those who seem to have cracked the humor code. I worried about the expectation of comedy in the film - would I kill the frog? There were many times during the course of the film that I thought "what if I do a film on humor and no one laughs?" So much pressure.
TERRA: What types of equipment did you use? Do you have a favorite piece?
KJ: A sense of humor, not only for this film but for any project. It is a stress reliever, and if you can't laugh at some of the absurd (and wonderful) situations that you get in as a filmmaker, then you're going to have a hard time.
TERRA: Anything else you'd like to add about "Croaked?"
KJ: Just what an amazing experience it was working with all those involved with the film. There is such a wonderful community of actors, improv artists, and filmmakers in Bozeman, and I am so thankful for all those who lent their time to help make this film come together.
TERRA: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
KJ: During my undergraduate career I was captivated by the natural world – specifically how geology gives us the lens to read the past through clues left in the present. Was this area once a shallow sea? What sort of life forms existed then? What sort of weather patterns existed in the past? Clues are all around us, it's like a never-ending CSI case. As a filmmaker I wanted to share this fascination and this enthusiasm.
TERRA: What would be your dream project?
KJ: I would love to do a piece that showcases the interconnectedness of culture and the natural world, specifically with geology. When you think about it, how many times have geologic features influenced the growth of civilizations? How have they influenced our imaginations, our cultures, and our sense of self in the natural world?
TERRA: What are the 3 things you’d never go into the field without and why?
KJ: A concrete plan of attack - some snacks - and a good alibi.
TERRA: What's your favorite aspect of filmmaking?
KJ: Every project is a puzzle – what visual style best tells the story, what characters are involved, what point of view do you take? I love the challenge of figuring out the best way to tell a story.
TERRA: Tell us how you came up with the idea for "The Life and Times of a Pet Rock?"
KJ: This film was one of the first projects I worked on as part of the Science and Natural History Filmmaking program. I really wanted to try something different that bridged the gap between my geology background and my passion for film.
TERRA: Do you think geology is an overlooked topic for science films?
KJ: There is this idea that geology is just the study of rocks – which can be a rather a boring subject to depict visually. Rocks are usually good at two things, staying still and getting in our shoes when we hike. But the upside of that is they are pretty easy to film – albeit boring. But the reality of the situation is that at its core, geology is the study of anything in the natural world that isn't living. So with that in mind, geology is an incredibly dynamic and visual subject, it's just getting people to understand what exactly is geology.
TERRA: Why did you decide to use humor in "Pet Rock?"
KJ: For me, humor allows us to lower our guards and make ourselves more receptive to information. If you can get someone to laugh you are obviously affecting them on an emotional level. Once someone is open to a film through the use of humor then I believe they can take away some educational component from a film.
TERRA: Why did you choose this particular style for the film?
KJ: I liked the accessibility that paper cutouts allow. The lo-fi aesthetics of the film breaks down barriers between the filmmaker and the viewing audience – which allows the channels to open for education and enjoyment. Annie Leonard, the creator behind the animation “The Story of Stuff” once said that 'everyone speaks stick figures' – which I whole-heartily believe.
TERRA: What was it like working with Rocky and his geologist friend?
KJ: Rocky was really a diva at times. Sometimes his demands really got out of hand – but you have to keep your talent happy. His geologist friend on the other hand was quite enjoyable to work with. Didn't say much. Mainly just mumbled about rocks the whole time.
TERRA: If you could be any kind of rock, which would you be?
KJ: Oh man. If I had to choose just one, I would say pumice. A volcanic rock that floats? Sounds pretty cool! But then again, it's also used as a foot scrub. So strike that.