Interviews: Director Thomas Jakobsen Talks About His Upcoming Thriller The Unraveling

The Unraveling, directed by first-time Danish director Thomas Jakobsen, is an immersive and visceral cinematic experience that captures one man’s relentless fight to survive two brutal forces at once: a mysterious killer in the woods and a ruthless heroin addiction. In a desperate pursuit to find redemption, Michael (played by Zack Gold), must navigate a vicious wilderness and face the unimaginable if he ever hopes to make it back to his fiancé and unborn child. In addition to Zack Gold, the film also stars Jason Tobias, Bennett Viso, Bob Turton and Jake Crumbine. The Unraveling was co-written by Thomas Jakobsen and Justin Monroe. 

We caught up with co-writer and director Thomas Jakobsen to talk about the film. 

TMS: First off, can you provide us with a little bit of background information. Did you always want to be involved in filmmaking? 

TJ: I am not sure exactly when my fascination with movies began, but there are a few moments in my life that stand out to me. I grew up in a rural part of Denmark and in my household we only had one public TV channel, so I didn’t really spend much time in front of the TV as a child. I don’t exactly remember how old I was, but at some point in the mid-80s my parents decided to let me rent a VHS machine and a movie for my birthday. We went to the local gas station and rented a MovieBox, which is basically a VHS machine inside a Pelican Case and I distinctly remember the agony of deciding on just that one right movie. I still remember picking up Raiders of the Lost Ark and off course I ended up absolutely loving it. I actually liked it so much that I ended up renting it again for my next birthday the following year. I think I was afraid of picking a bad movie after that, besides, how can you ever get tired of Spielberg? 

TMS: What type of training or schooling did you have? 

TJ: I was 22 years old when I decided to move to the US. Unfortunately, I never went to a real film school program, I went to a university in Oklahoma to study theater, film and media, but I honestly enjoyed my minor in philosophy far more than anything else I studied in those years. After college, my wife and I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film making, but I ended up having to work my way up from the very bottom before I got any real production and post-production experience that could really help me get towards my ultimate goal. Still, the real problem is that no-one will ever really teach you how to direct, unless you actually do it yourself and The Unraveling was really my first true experience in directing. Instead of doing a short film I think I just decided to simply go ahead and make a feature film instead. I hope I made the right decision. 

TMS: Did you have a lot of support when you decided to get into filmmaking? 

TJ: I think my family and close friends really did support me in my move to America, but I don’t blame them for secretly thinking I was a bit crazy to actually follow through with it. However, the thing that truly fascinates me about indie filmmaking is really how much it requires of not just the director, but everyone else around you as well. If you actually want to do something like this, It will require an amount of tenacity and commitment from your entire team that will leave you completely emotional drained by the end of it. To me, one of the most important skills in Indie filmmaking is the ability to find people who are both passionate and committed, but still absolutely talented enough to carry the film all the way through to finish. There’s a lot of people like that in Hollywood, but if you can’t really pay them much then they are not very easy to find. I honestly think you might have to be a bit insane to willingly do something like this, but it also incredibly rewarding. To see all these talented people that barely knows you showing up on that first day of filming, taking a chance on someone who has never directed anything before? It’s an incredibly humbling feeling that I am very grateful to have experienced in my life. 

TMS: What’s up with The Unraveling? Where can people see it? 

TJ: Well, we had our UK and Ireland release in October and we are very exited that Gravitas Ventures is now releasing our film in US and Canada both Digitally and on Blu-Ray™and DVD on December 26th. So I hope people will go see it! 

TMS: And what do you want them to know about the movie? 

TJ: Ideally, I’d like people to know as little as possible about it before they see it, but I know most people don’t like to engage without some sort of idea of what kind of film it is. More than that, I really hope that people will go see it to support independent filmmaking, which is unfortunately something the current distribution climate is not really supporting in any meaningful or sustainable way. I think it’s safe to say that not many films out there are made on the budget or timeline that we had to make this film on and I am probably more proud of that accomplishment than anything else we did. I think it’s a true testament to this group of people that came together to help us make this film and I could write a whole book about crew members who either worked for free or suddenly decided to pay out of their own pocket to bring this film all the way to the finish line. Even though the film had real personal and financial cost to many of us, I really do hope that everyone came away from it with the same rewarding feeling that I sit with now. 

TMS: What was the inspiration behind this story? 

TJ: Back when I lived in Denmark, we were a group of very close friends who actually kidnapped a friend of ours from his work and drove him out into the wilderness for a two day bachelor party. So many crazy and hilarious things happened on that trip that it led me to the idea of writing a script loosely based on that experience. When I pitched the film idea to my friend Justin Monroe (Co-Writer and Producer) he somehow connected with it and away we went with writing the script. Just to be clear, this movie is mostly fiction and my real friend Michael is not a drug addict or a thief. I think he’ll appreciate that clarification. 

TMS: What genre would you describe The Unraveling as?

TJ: I still don’t know if it’s truly a horror film, but some people seem to really appreciate our self-conscious genre confusion while others truly don’t. I guess it’s a psychological Thriller/Horror/Drama with some comedy, but at least the film doesn’t have a twist. That would be ridiculous. 

TMS: Are you a horror fan? If so, some favorites? 

TJ: I am. Again, it depends on the film. I’m not much of a traditional gore and slasher fan and you’ll never see me watch torture porn. I simply just don’t get the attraction, but Ridley Scott's Alien is probably one of my favorite films and I consider that very much a horror film. 

TMS: How long of a shoot was it? 

TJ: I think 14 or 15 days, but it felt like a month and I guess it basically was since I didn’t really sleep during that whole period. We shot most of it in and around the Tehachapi Mountains in Mojave dessert and only a few days in Los Angeles due to budget constraints. 

TMS: How were the main actors selected? Was there any rehearsals prior to the shoot? 

TJ: We actually couldn’t afford making this a SAG union film, so that really limited us in the casting process. This was probably one of the most frustrating parts of the pre-production process and it was very hard to do it without a professional casting agent. I did most of it myself and I actually posted a lot on various casting websites in LA . I had to look through an inhumane amount of bad reels before we could even start actual casting calls. With the help of Justin (Producer/Co-Writer) and Aaron Moore (Producer) we found a group of actors who didn’t necessarily have a ton of experience, but who had some real talent if pushed in the right direction. I am actually very proud of how we found our group of actors and a lot of credit goes to Zack Gold for helping us with recommendations via his network of friends in the LA action community. 

TMS: How was the shoot? Being a Danish director, was it challenging shooting in the US? 

TJ: I lived here for almost half of my life, so I really feel more like a local when I film in Los Angeles, but I still need to remind myself that in American culture it’s very important to be positive, optimistic and encouraging. Americans don’t like Danish doom and gloom all the time. I’m still working on it. 

TMS: In terms of directing choices, anyone that you try to emulate? Or ones that have influenced you? 

TJ: I think I admire a lot of different directors and even more so after I have directed myself. If I was pressed to mention someone specific, I would probably say Alejandro Iñárritu because he’s a true master at his craft and maybe I’d like to think that Steven Spielberg is the one who has influenced me the most. 

TMS: How was this production on the cast and crew? Any challenges or funny stories? 

TJ: We could almost make a Horror movie about how this movie was made. First off, the entire cast and crew were staying at these rundown mountain lodges up in the Tehachapi Mountain Park. Basically, it was a group of lodges with prison bunkbeds, no windows and a couple of outhouses to share. Despite the terrible living conditions and freezing cold 15 hour shoot days, the crew somehow didn’t commit mutiny. One funny story though. One of the PAs disappeared after the first night of shooting and we couldn’t find him anywhere. He had driven up to the movie set with together with our Producer Aaron Moore, but the next morning he was simply just missing. Aaron found out later that morning that the PA had taken a taxi home all the way to LA . He basically left at 5 in the morning after we had finished the first night of shooting. To be fair, he was a friend of Aaron who had just volunteered to come up and help for free as a PA for a couple of days, but it was still funny. 

TMS: This was your first feature. Is there anything you learned from making it? 

TJ: I feel like I learned a ton. I learned that I need to trust my gut more. It really killed me in the cutting room whenever I realized that I should have stayed with my gut instead of compromising in any certain moment. I also think I learned from the difficult balance of trying to strike the right tone with the film in all scenes, especially with the ending of the film. Another thing you can learn from is just to listen to people’s critique of the film. It’s always interesting to see how you film can create such different emotions and reactions from people. Both the positive and the negative. When it comes to the negative, I think the hardest part of criticism is really when you agree with it, but at the same time I'm sitting with the knowledge that we knew it needed to be fixed, but we simply didn’t have the resources to do so. Those are hard lessons, but good ones. 

TMS: If you had a choice to remake a genre movie, what movie would you like to remake? 

TJ: I really detest remakes of any kind. The Studios should just stop this insanity and I really have very little respect for what they are doing these days. However, if someone offered me a well paid Studio Directing job, I’d probably consider it. The original movie would still have to be a real bad one though. 

TMS: Can you tell us anything about the other projects that you are working on or planning on working on? Or, anything else that you would like to plug? 

TJ: I wish I could. I’m watching Netflix instead and I feel guilty about it. Actually, I have a few things brewing, but still baby stages, so too early to say anything.