126: Fellowship ft. Jordan Leach: On Creative Pursuits, Filmmaking, Resilience, Perspective Changes, And Faith
Pursuing a career in the arts, unfortunately, does not guarantee the kind of financial stability we need to survive in this world. This is the reality that filmmaker and writer Jordan Leach continues to face. Having found stability in a 9 to 5 job, Jordan was able to follow his creative pursuits. Now, he has multiple accolades to his name, published the sci-fi, time-travel thriller called Echo, and currently producing his feature film, The Odyssey. In this episode, Jordan shares the journey of how he finds the balance between peace and stress and develops the mental and emotional resilience needed in today’s world. He also talks about his creative pursuits – the process of writing a novel, becoming a filmmaker, and finding a way to make things work. Sharing a load of wisdom, pick up some great life lessons from Jordan as he takes us across the changes of his perspective over time and more.
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Fellowship ft. Jordan Leach: On Creative Pursuits, Filmmaking, Resilience, Perspective Changes, And Faith
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This is a fellowship episode which is more of a peer to peer conversation, a little shorter than the deep dive interviews where a guest and I get to talk about a range of issues and topics that we’re facing in life. Our guest is Jordan Leach. He is a filmmaker and author from Waukesha, Wisconsin. With multiple accolades to his name, Jordan published the sci-fi time travel thriller Echo and is in production on his feature film, The Odyssey, set to be released late 2020. He now works with Crooked Jaw Productions and has produced several feature films both in Hollywood and in the independent markets.
Now transitioning to novels, Jordan’s talents began at the age of six, writing short stories and dabbling in animation. Soon after, he took up theater and vocal performances, finding all his skills culminating into a film. With a father who works as a videographer, Jordan helped cultivate the film production course at his high school and that ambition on to this day. Jordan recognizes that his gifts are God-given and he seeks to use him solely for his glory. While creating unique, exciting stories spanning multiple genres, he ensures the message points the audience to God speaking the truths and teaching of his love. Jordan hopes in the near future to turn his passions into a viable lifelong career, serving God and entertaining the world. You can find him on the socials and his book is now available on Amazon. In this conversation, there’s a wide range of topics we cover, including his diverse skillset and background.
We talk about the balance of peace versus stress. We talk about storytelling and different creative pursuits. We talk about developing mental and emotional resilience. We talk about the process of writing a novel, of becoming a filmmaker and finding a way to make things work. We talk about how perspective changes over time, the difference between openness and specificity and much more. It’s a fun, wide-ranging conversation. Jordan has many talents and has a sweet heart. We had a blast. I’m getting to talk about life and sharing where we’re at. There are a lot of helpful and practical relatable insights that you’re going to connect with from this conversation. I will stop talking and let you get to it. Please enjoy this fellowship episode with Jordan Leach.
Jordan Leach, welcome to the show.
Thank you very much.
It’s fun to be here. It’s fun to be chatting with you. LA is such a funny place because many times people are like, “What do you do?” I feel like your answer would be pretty intriguing to a lot of people.
It’s a harder question to answer than you would think especially out here in LA. When people ask me what I do, the toss-up is do I tell them what I do to make money or do I tell them what I’m pursuing? That’s how it is for a lot of people in LA.
Most people err on what they’re pursuing and trying to pretend that’s making them a lot of money. Tell me about your 9:00 to 5:00.
I would never have thought that this would have been the case a few years ago, but I work as a manager at a pest control company here in LA, which brings in quite a bit of business out here.
There’s such a need for that especially here or anywhere, but it’s a great business. It’s undeniable. Give me a little bit of scope from what you were doing even in the college years to where you are now because that’s always a fascinating journey.
In college, I always knew I wanted to pursue film and filmmaking. I started dabbling in that in high school and ever since then, I was on a straight forward trajectory. I was like, “I’m going to go into film.” I got some training. I went to university out in Florida and came out here to California pursuing that. I knew what I wanted to go for and so that’s what I was doing but that doesn’t always pay the bills right away. Once I moved out here to LA, I started bouncing around a little bit from job-to-job, a lot of part-time work, a lot of inconsistency, working nights, weekends, overnight shifts, a lot of different things that I was trying to feel any career in order to make some money while I was pursuing a career in film.
Eventually, one of my good buddies who work in marketing was working at different companies doing marketing and research and creating websites for them. One of the places he was working at was a pest control company. He was like, “They’re looking for a manager. I know that you’re good with management, organization, scheduling, that stuff. I should refer you to this job. He got me in. This is a small mom and pop place, but it’s a fast-growing one because the way that they organize and structure their business is employee-centric, which I like. I got the shoe in that way and it was a perfect fit, to be honest. I would never have thought that I was going to crave a 9:00 to 5:00 job.Constantly trying to pursue more is definitely stressful, tiring, and taxing. Click To Tweet
Isn’t that fascinating? I face that tension now even as I think about the future and having a serious girlfriend and planning on now, not one, but two. Thinking about how to provide and the tension of having that stability of a 9:00 to 5:00 is now in the front and center of my mind. There’s always this lurking feeling of, “I don’t want to sacrifice the pursuit of X, Y or Z for this.” There is some narrative around this that is not true. Talk to me more about what surprised you about that 9:00 to 5:00 stability or what it’s brought that you didn’t expect.
At first, I thought it was going to be monotonous. I thought it was going to be boring. It was going to be locked in which are elements to the 9:00 to 5:00 but what I love is that there’s consistency in it. I’m able to get nights and weekends off and that gives me more consistent time in order to pursue these other things. A few years ago, not only did I not expect to be in pest control, I did not expect to be working a 9:00 to 5:00.
How did you work through that in your mind or in your head when you’re going through even the applying or interview process and thinking about is this is what I want? What was that thought process like for you?
Honestly, I was looking for anything that would give me stability at the time. A lot of that came down to having worked many part-time jobs and jobs that have fluctuating hours for so long that I needed that stability. I was craving it at that point. I would never have thought that was the case. I’ve worked at fast-food restaurants. I’ve worked in retail. I’ve worked in security. Finally, I was looking for anything and everything that was available to me and that popped up.
What is the daily life and times of a manager at a pest control company like?
It depends on the company. This one specifically definitely the management of the actual technicians and employees that work there. It’s a lot of scheduling, maintenance, dealing with customers and dealing with sales. It’s an ongoing process. You would think that it would get monotonous. It is as a management, a desk job, which I know is not for everybody. Some people can’t stand sitting behind a desk but as a writer, I don’t mind it as much.
It’s fun too to figure out what’s best for us and not just have other people say or be influenced by what other people say. Many people say, “I don’t want to be a desk job,” but do you really? Maybe that is good for you or that’s truly how you’re going to be best supported in what you’re trying to do in life or what you feel called to do. It’s funny how I let the culture or the people around me influence who I am, whether or not that’s truly me. It’s pretty interesting. As you look at it now, how has this experience as a manager, not only how’s it grown you as a person, but also how has it improved, benefit or even hurt your other career pursuits, the other goals that you have?
There are a couple of different things that I’ve learned in this position. First of all, I constantly have to remind myself how much of a blessing this job is. I don’t think it matters what job a person is doing. We can easily start to take our blessings for granted. This position, this job that I have, came to me at the perfect time. It very much is a godsend position. There are things that it provides me that I would never have gotten anywhere else. Not to mention that it gives me the ability to pursue my career on the side, which is also quite difficult at any other job. That is one thing that I have had to remind myself of. Not much the job itself as it is, my heart and the need that I have to try to pursue more constantly. I wonder if that is something that’s a little bit cultural, that if we’re not positioned in the place that we want to be, we never find satisfaction in that.
That is a fascinating point, the need to pursue more. It’s something that most people in LA face because it is a hyper achievement culture. America is a culture of achievement, but city centers like LA or New York or other big cities are often hyper forms of these. I feel that a lot. Are you familiar with the Enneagram? It’s an ancient self-diagnostic tool that’s been getting a lot of buzzes. There are nine different archetypes that are your personality or your natural dispositions. I’m a three, which is the achiever. I already have a propensity towards that. Being in a place like LA amplifies that even more. This is a question that I think about quite a bit is the need to pursue more, what’s healthy and unhealthy in that. How do you evaluate that for yourself?
Now that you’re mentioning it, those nine archetypes, that sounds familiar to me. I was able to see something like that about a year ago or so. Going back to your question, how do I review that for myself?
The point you brought up with, the need to pursue more is something that I face a lot and I know a lot of people do in LA or anywhere. If you’re trying to accomplish things, there’s pressure to do more and more and accomplish more and more. Some of that is good. Some of that is not good. It’s healthy and unhealthy depending on where we’re at in the spectrum. In your own self-evaluation, how do you process that when you feel those pressures?
Some of it comes down to a level of peace, a level of stress. Those two things are constantly at odds. By constantly trying to pursue more, it’s stressful, tiring and taxing. There are things that we can neglect and you definitely can see not a mental but a physical toll. You’ll have an internal longing for peace. Naturally, we have this pole in us that is pulling us one direction. If we go too far in that direction, we’re going to pull back a little bit. It’s this pendulum dance. It happened naturally. God has ingrained that in our souls that we are created to work, to pursue, to build, to create, but at the same time, He also has built it in us for rest, for peace, for Him.
It’s funny there’s a quote that is good on change and basically, I’ll paraphrase it. It talks about how change and consistency are the two weights that God has patterned the world and he’s given us the means to enjoy them both. It’s constantly this pendulum swing between change and consistency. There is such a rhythm to that and a pattern to that in life. What you mentioned too as the key is recognizing where we’re at in that. It’s the biggest point, all of it. If I can’t see clearly where I’m at in that pendulum, I won’t be able to give myself what I need at that moment. If I don’t see it, the level of stress is beyond what’s helpful. I can’t give myself the necessary recovery to get back to that piece. I love what you mentioned, “Is there a level of peace or a level of distress within this?” Not all stress is bad. The you stress is good. It’s a good form of stress and we need that exertion, but we need the necessary recovery after that. It’s a funny dance. The more we try to remove the dance, the more harm we cause. We need to embrace the dance and see it as beautiful.
It’s the same with change too because change can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing. You don’t want to change everything for the sake of it. You want to be able to hold on and preserve the things that are worth saving and preserving while changing things that need to grow, need to change and all that stuff.
Change for itself isn’t worth it, but change for a greater purpose. Change just to change isn’t necessarily good. Change for growth and progress in a helpful way without discarding where we’ve been or where we’ve come from is more of that foundational importance in that chain. It’s funny because even that has such a pendulum. We can be all of our progress that we forget the necessary sustainable components of cultivating what we have. I love how Andy Crouch put it in Culture Making. It’s a great book. If you haven’t read it, you have to read it. He talks about our creational design being from God as creators and cultivators of culture. We’re both creating like Adam named all the animals. He gave him a job of creating to name all the things.
He also gave him the job of cultivating the garden, keeping what was there and that’s the sweet dance. That’s where our tagline, intention in the tension, it’s a sweet depiction of that. Both are true. It’s a both-and and where you are in the tension. I want to underscore what you said that I love so much is reminding yourself of the blessing that it is where we’re at. That is such a helpful practice. When I don’t do that, it’s hilarious how much lack of fulfillment, discontentment comes and creeps in instantly. What other things like that have kept you grounded or kept you grateful or present? What are some of those practices for you or those cornerstone habits?
Our culture is one that tries to tell us that we always need more, that we should not be satisfied, that we should not be content, that we need to keep pursuing and striving. That’s a little bit of capitalism in a sense, the competition sense. The balance, some of that is good. At the same time, if we’re constantly trying to get more without realizing what we have, we’re never going to find happiness. We’re going to find fulfillment. It doesn’t matter how much we achieve. We’ve seen people that have been able to achieve the world and still don’t find happiness, contentment and any of that. That was a humbling experience when I found that I might not have everything, maybe might not have that much, but what I do have, I can find contentment in.
At the end of the day, if I have God, I already have everything. That is a sobering and humbling reality that is contrasting to what the world is trying to tell me. As far as trying to constantly remind myself of that, a lot of that comes down to constantly immerse myself in the word, in God’s truths. Keeping a relationship with Him is crucial to reminding these simple truths that definitely helped to steer my life in a better direction because so often can I get self-destructive. Can I try to compromise and do things that are destructive for me out of the pursuit of progress?If we're constantly trying to get more without realizing what we have, we're never going to find happiness. Click To Tweet
It’s such an anchor too. It’s the thing that keeps us grounded because it’s always there. It’s never changing and it’s something tangible. The spirit is a force behind it. The word is also like the clarity that helps guide it. It’s that combination, that one-two punch that makes it powerful. We have to have it. It’s so fun because we can read our whole lives and new things are constantly coming out of it every single time. It’s mind-blowing. I’m always surprised and I’m like, “I’d never read this that way or I never saw this before,” and that happens so often. It’s funny because many things like that are simple, but by that nature that they’re not novel, we lose our love for it, which is funny. It’s ridiculous. Going back to a little bit of your background, you grew up in Wisconsin. You went to Florida for school and come down to California. Did you ever see yourself living in LA? What was that journey like culturally?
My dad was born and raised in the Long Beach area. I’m familiar with this area. I came out here and visited every once in a while when I was growing up. I always had a love for the city. Now I do know that LA is not what it was during my dad’s time. That’s interesting seeing the change in culture and the city as a whole out there. I always had this pursuit of getting away from the cold for one. It definitely can get cold in Wisconsin. The average per winter, I would say it can get with the wind chill around negative ten. There is a lot of snow, which you think it’s nice to have seasons, but having to wake up every single morning to scrape ice off your car and black ice on the road, it gets a little daunting after a while.
That’s true. Every place wears on you in different ways. We had to recognize it for what it is. It comes back to that same thing. Are we seeing it for what it is and seeing a blessing in it because each place does provide a blessing if we look for it hard enough. The film was always at the heart of what you felt called to in many ways or was it film and writing? What were those early longings? What is that dream that you’re pursuing now?
I started writing short stories when I was around six. I was homeschooled at the time. I had all these imaginative characters and all these stories in my head. I started to write them down on the page and back then they were not good, but I had a lot to tell. It was a fun little thing that I was constantly pursuing. I would get into animation and draw cartoons. I would get into theater eventually. All these different artistic dynamics eventually came together.
Do you still have any of those short stories?
I still have a couple of them in there. I look through them every once in a while and they’re pretty silly.
That’s got to be a trip to go back and read those.
I’ve written stories where I had an imaginary friend named Rick and we would go on these adventures. It made absolutely no sense. My dad was a videographer at a sports station. He got me interested in the camera side of things. All these artistic things from writing to drawing, animation to acting, theater, directing and camera work came together and geared me towards the film. Thankfully, I was at a school in high school that had a film program that was starting up. I helped cultivate the whole process at the school, which has now been booming. I got my shoe in that way. I was like, “This is what I want to do. This is what I want to pursue.” The funny thing is that in school growing up, the worst things that I remember having to go through were group projects. Those are definitely a struggle to get through. Film is the ultimate group project. There’s a humbling factor in that as well.
I want to hear a little bit more about this because this is something that was true for me as well. Golf is an individual sport. I was competitive. I wanted to win so bad that I gravitated towards golf because I felt like I control all the variables more and “guarantee success.” It was naive and ignorant of me. Regardless, how did you walk through that tension as a kid? Even learning how to work as a team or what that process was like?
I had to first come to terms with the fact that there’s always going to be at least one person in every group project that will not do the work. Once I accepted that and I’m willing to take on that extra work because I know that I’ll put the work in and get a good product out of it, I was okay with someone else taking the credit. At the end of the day, it wasn’t about me. It was about the final product. That’s how I always saw it. Thankfully, film, I would think more so than it would be in school, almost everyone involved is trying to create a good final product. That isn’t necessarily the case in all films, but the vast majority of the people that are working on it are trying to do their best work, which is cool as far as a group project goes.
In regards to what you were saying about wanting that control and having that ability to have the final product come out exactly as you see it, I’ve always struggled with that. That’s also why I was interested in writing a book as well. I’ve had all these stories in my head. Some of them are quite sizable as far as scale goes, the scope of it. I know that when it comes to a couple of these stories, they’re not stories or films that I could create as of right now. It would take a long time, a lot of influence and money. I didn’t realize that with some of these stories, the scope is only limited to someone’s imagination. Given that I have written prose and short stories in college and whatnot, I was like, “Why don’t I start pursuing writing a book, taking some of these stories and letting people’s imaginations run wild a little bit?” Not only would I be able to see that the final product came out exactly as it’s intended to do, rather than getting watered down from a bunch of different perspectives, viewpoints and ideas, that I’d be able to see that these stories come to life.
I want to underscore a couple of things. First, what you said about everyone trying to do their best work is such a revolutionary concept for all of us to latch on to. Even in an argument or a debate or a disagreement, the understanding that we all think that we’re right. We’re operating from a place of thinking that we’re doing our best or whatever for our greatest good and the world’s greatest good. That’s the place that pretty much 99% of people operate from. If we can remove our defenses saying, “They think they’re right. I think I’m right. Let’s have a conversation.” That’s helpful in personal relationships and conversations.
Even on the teamwork side, we’re all trying to do our best work. We’re trying to do what’s best for us sometimes too, which is a different question like, “How can we make that the same thing as what’s great for the team too,” and merging those? I love what you highlighted there and I think it’s true for all of us in life. I love the other thing you brought up, which was making things not about our self. I find that so much for me, even like a recipe for disaster is when I make something about myself that shouldn’t be and a lot of things shouldn’t, most things shouldn’t. It’s not about me. The world doesn’t revolve around me. Thane is not the center of the universe. We can all agree with that, now act in accordance to that. It’s such a practice of that. We have to all fight to not make it about our self. That’s huge. The other thing I want to hear more on now is that scope is limited to our imagination. That is such a powerful idea.
How do you think about that? Give me a little bit more of your thoughts on what the implications of that are. There are many self-limiting beliefs that get in the way in every arena in life, not creative endeavors, but maybe it’s in the gym, the weight you can lift. Maybe it’s within your job, the responsibility you can take on or maybe it’s within a relationship and what you’re able to sacrifice for another human being. All of those things we have self-fulling beliefs and the scope often is limited. What are the implications of that, the scope is limited to your imagination? How does that flush out for you or what are the implications of that for you and your own life?
I first learned how much I have to grapple with my own limitations because I spent a few years in the military. One thing I had to learn quickly was that I can always take more than my mind thinks I can. I think that not only it was true there, but it’s true in every walk of life. You’re talking about working out at the gym, sometimes I’ll get tired, but I have to fight through that mental block and tell myself, “I can take more, I can do more.” There is a limitation to that as well because sometimes we’re pushing ourselves so hard that we end up hurting ourselves in the long run. A lot of it comes back down to that balance that we keep talking about, keep bringing up. That’s like we should know and understand that we can do more. We are only as limited as we allow ourselves to be but at the same time, we do have to reflect on that and keep ourselves in check.
It is a constant checking in the process too. We all have to be forced to that place of like, “I can do more, take more than I think I can.” I slept in a little bit and ran over to the park. I was planning on getting a workout in. I didn’t get one in, but I ran over to the park and did some park workout stuff for 15, 20 minutes. I was running back. I was thinking, “Thane, you’re starting to be easier on yourself than you used to be,” which is natural. I was forced as a professional athlete to not ever do less than I can and to always push beyond what I can because that was my job. For you in the military, you were forced to do more than you thought you could and to prove to yourself and to those around you that what you’re capable of and what you’re required sometimes in service. We all have to be forced that place to understand that from an experiential level, otherwise, we’re never going to understand that. You have to be forced to. Even then, you have to keep forcing yourself too in a healthy way and have others do that too, which is the importance of accountability in a lot of ways. What were the few years in the military like? Where did you serve? When was that in the timeline?
There was an interesting process. I was in Wisconsin at the time, starting out college. I felt like it was a good career path to pursue for a couple of years. I never wanted to pursue it long-term, but it was something I wanted to pursue. I had a couple of buddies who were in it, talking me through it. That was definitely an interesting process because not only did it strengthen me mentally, it’s strengthened me emotionally as well. Before that time, I was taking for granted the life I was living. I liked to be comfortable. A lot of us like to be comfortable no matter where we are in life. I wasn’t pushing myself in any one direction. I had my own dreams and pursuits. If I was doing anything that was outside of my own personal dream, I didn’t care so much. Discipline was something that was ingrained in me through the military. I had to be in basic training down in Georgia for a few months. Basic training in Georgia is already brutal. Georgia, that whole state, the border traps in the most amount of humidity you will ever feel in your life. Having to carry 100 pounds of weight fully clothed from head to toe in 110-degree weather was brutal.
When we hear about strength, we always first think physical. Sometimes we think mental, but rarely do we think emotional, which is interesting. They’re all important facets. It gets harder to train, the more you get done. Physical is probably easier than mental and mental is probably easier than emotional. The most crucial is probably the emotional side to be able to handle the toll of life that will inevitably come. Death is an inescapable part of life and that is an incredible emotional tool. Hardship and suckiness are present everywhere in life. If we aren’t strengthened emotionally to endure that, we’ll break. That’s a growing problem too is how do we do a better job of strengthening the next generation, the generations to come, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally?Sometimes, we're pushing ourselves so hard that we end up hurting ourselves in the long run. Click To Tweet
That’s why I feel so blessed too to be a Christian, especially now our world is getting harder to live in. It’s not harder physically, it’s harder emotionally, economically and spiritually. Being a Christian, being able to find that strength in God, there is never going to be a limit to that. That’s definitely a blessing that I do not want to take for granted is that I’m able to withstand the world because I have gotten.
I’m reading through John 8. It’s amazing to see as the example we’ll get to follow in Jesus because this dude was a normal guy that lived a couple of thousand years ago and yet he came and flipped the world on its head, of showing, “You think you want this great heroic power and I’m going to come to lay down my life.” That’s what it looks like. That’s what power is. It’s laying down your life. What killed Jesus was religion and power. The religious people and the people with power were the ones that ended up executing Him, which is fascinating to think about. In John 8, the religious rulers are completely ignorant of what he’s saying and not accepting. There’s a lot of boldness that Jesus displays, that we get to live with boldness from too. We get to see the example and yet it’s a boldness that’s all grounded in love. It’s based in love, which is what changes the world, that type of love.
The one thing that got me, my wife and I were reading through 2 Samuel and in that story, David was king, anointed by God and through his trials, his flaws and failures, he ended up killing Bathsheba’s husband and taking her in. His family was completely broken apart. There was a section that we came upon that humbled me where he was fleeing Israel. He left his throne and left everything. He had a couple of companions and his friends with him. His son has created a conspiracy and taken over. In his journey into the wilderness, completely losing everything, he came upon a man named Shimei, who had a lineage with Saul, David’s old rival. During this time, David is in the desert. He’s exhausted. He’s starving. All of his men are on edge. His throne has been taken from his son.
This man, Shimei, starts cursing him, starts throwing insults at him, and starts throwing rocks at them. He’s literally hitting David with dirt and rocks. His men turned to David and said, “Should we kill this man? Should we take him out? We don’t have to deal with this.” David said, “It’s possible that his cursing is coming from God, that this might be a test, that God is allowing this man to curse us and throw these rocks at us and allow us to feel punishment for my sin.” It’s possible. David wasn’t saying that this is the case but he’s saying it’s possible. I reflected on that when it comes to everyday life and trials that we’ve faced, driving on the road, someone cuts you off, having to deal with little nuisances throughout the day.
Somebody gets in your way at the grocery store, all these little things that build up and are uncomfortable that we take them personally. These little things that build up throughout the day and we harbor that in our hearts and allow this to break us down a little bit. That section in the Bible changed my perspective on a lot of that where it’s like, “It doesn’t necessarily mean that this is a test from God, but possibly I’m in this position because God is trying to test me, build me and grow me. That possibly what is happening right here, God is trying to better me as a person, strengthen me emotionally and spiritually.”
It redeems everything in that sense. There’s nothing that’s not redeemable in that perspective, which is so beautiful and that gives us the resilience and the strength to endure things that are hard to endure. That’s what faith is all about. It’s believing in what you can’t fully see. It is built over time. It is given at one point in time. It’s a both-and. It’s a crazy journey. I love that story. I would love to hear a little bit since you were pursuing film for quite some time and you’ve had quite a few endeavors with a film. What has been the career path or trajectory for you as a filmmaker and the projects you’ve done and what those have taught you? What have those experiences given you?
Starting out here in LA, I did get a couple of positions in jobs, working freelance on some bigger pictures. That was a pretty interesting process to see how Hollywood and the big elites created film and how that works. That was interesting. On the flip side, I attached myself to some people that I knew from film school. We created a production company and we’ve been working on stuff for the last several years, short films here and there. We ended up working on a feature film. As of right now, we are working on my first feature film that I have also written. I’m directing and producing that one. There are a lot of different hats that everyone has to wear when you’re working on a smaller production, not to mention you’re working with smaller budgets too. The question becomes, how much can we make this money stretch? How much can we do with what we have? What resources do we have at our disposal that we can use? The game completely changes depending on where you are in the industry.
What’s a typical budget size that you’re working with versus when people think of feature-length films? What is a typical budget for the ones that most people reading would expect?
The production company that I’m with, we are willing to work with any amount we’re given, to be honest. We’re quite resourceful in that fact. I know I’ve met a lot of up and coming filmmakers who don’t have the same mentality. That mentality is unique to us, which I appreciate. I don’t want not to be able to do something because we don’t have money or resources. We have creativity. We have a drive. We might as well try to find a way to do it. The first feature film we made a while back, I wasn’t much involved in the creative process as I was the production side. That one was a horror comedy and that one we were given a budget of $15,000, which for a feature film is next to no money.
What is the typical budget for a feature film that would go to the big screen? What is the average budget for that?
Here’s the thing. A low-budget feature film that could possibly make it into a few theaters is $5 million. It’s hilarious to think about a couple of different things. The first Star Wars film back in ‘76, if you take inflation into account, you could’ve made that movie for about $76 million. The average big-budget blockbuster film nowadays is getting made for $150 million, twice that. It’s hilarious. I was also thinking about Howard Hughes back in the ‘20s. He was putting gobs of money behind projects that people were like, “You can’t put this much money behind a film when it’s hilarious.” If you account for inflation, he’s putting maybe $30 million behind a movie. I’ve seen some great films in the last several years that were made for only $40 million, $50 million, which sounds like a lot, but when you take into account all these other films that are being made, it’s not a lot.
It’s honestly on the lower end, which is why I don’t believe that you need a ton of money to make a great film. Hollywood gets a little bit frivolous with their money. They are willing to show a lot of these funds out to try to create the best product possible without much thought process behind using it wisely. We see films that get made for $200 million and even more so. That’s the thing too because you have the actual budget of the film, which might be $150 million, but you don’t account for marketing and distribution. That could be another $100 million right there depending on the film. There are a lot of different factors at play and there’s a ton of money going behind it. Having worked in the studio system, I also do know that when it comes to the big studios, a lot of the times, they are banking on 1 to 2 films throughout the entire year to make back their entire budget hopefully. They’ll be putting out 10, 15, 20 films a year, but they’re hoping on maybe two making back a profit.
It’s the same as the startup world, unicorns and how all these hedge funds or VC firms. They’ll make 100 investments, but they want the 1 or 2 that are the icing on the cake that makes everything else happen. The $15,000 is basically like someone handing you $5.
It was a taxing process too because on that production, I was credited as a producer. I came on as a first assistant director. The first assistant director is responsible for scheduling contracts, basically all the paperwork. I’d never loved doing paperwork no matter what the job was, but I’m good at it. I’m good at organization. I’m good at scheduling all that other stuff. I had to take this $15,000 and be able to distribute evenly throughout the production to make sure it was going where it needed to go and also be able to schedule all these different crews and cast members. What we ended up doing was filmed an entire feature film, which runs around 90 minutes or so over the course of one week, which as far as timing goes, very few productions can film one movie in one week. We went to a cabin up in Idyllwild, California for a week. Many people got sick, myself included and even though it was incredibly exhausting and a lot of people were putting a lot of blood, sweat and tears into it, it was an experience that I’ll never forget.
What are you most proud of from that experience?
It’s the fact that we accomplished it given such a minimal budget, which I do not take for granted. The fact that someone gave us $15,000 is a lot of money and I appreciate that. We took that amount of money and be able to bring all these cast and crew members on and be able to film an entire feature within one week completely. That’s a huge accomplishment. Not only that, but everyone came out on the other side still in love with each other. We were a total family by the end of it, which we definitely had our ups and downs. It was a trying week but it was a great accomplishment.
It’s like it’s going to battle. You create those bonds that are tight-knit. When you think about film and that genre, that lane that you’re in, what is the long-term vision for you? What do you aspire towards in that?
My perspective on that has changed. Perspective is an interesting topic that we might be able to come back to. As far as what I hope to eventually accomplish is whether it be film or writing, I would like to be able to turn it into a viable career. I’d like to be able to make a living doing that, given that I believe this is something that I was called to do. It is a gift that God has given me and I do believe that he has given me these gifts for a reason. I would definitely love to be able to turn either film or writing or something creative into a career where I’d be able to do this long-term and be able to put all my focus on this one avenue.While we are only as limited as we allow ourselves to be, we do have to reflect and keep ourselves in check. Click To Tweet
In your current outlook on that, what is your estimation on a timeline? We didn’t even know a timeline and that’s not great to predict, but as you see it now, what is that back of mind number of years to get to that place?
I would love to say that within five years that I’ve stabilized myself. That first feature that the production team I’m with, the one that we created, the marketing and distribution of it was a huge learning process, not the creating of the film itself, but what we did after we created it. We’ve learned much through that process that we’re able to do it correctly this time. That’s going to play out in our benefit in the near future. I would like to say five years I’d be able to figure something out.
I want to come back to perspective as you mentioned because perspective is everything. I love this quote from Richard Rohr. I thought it was one of the better ones I’ve heard. He said, “Every viewpoint is a view from a point. The more ways of knowing what we use, the closer we come to an understanding and yet the full picture will always elude us. In this way, the mystery is endlessly knowable.” I thought that was a beautiful picture of how our perspective will always be changing and never be full or complete. How have you seen your perspective shift and change?
This was a life-changing moment a couple of years back. Having come out here to LA pursuing these careers, the careers that I believed were God-driven, God-focused, it was a life-changing and humbling experience to realize where my heart truly was at. How I perceived my life and my future, I’ve been finding is quite common amongst our age group that we have this idea, this perspective of what our future needs to be. If we do not achieve that specific image, that picture of our future, if we don’t constantly strive towards that one perspective, that image, then we are not going to be fulfilled or happy.
I had this image several years back that in order to be content and happy with myself and my career, I would need to become a successful filmmaker. Get myself involved in the studio system, be able to purchase land and home out here in LA. There are specifics in this picture that I truly believed this was what I needed to do. I’ve been finding that there are other people like me who are coming out here pursuing dreams and their dream is a specific picture and that they’re holding onto that one picture. If they don’t achieve it, they start to fall apart a little bit. I know I myself fell into depression because I felt like that dream was slipping away. What I had to learn was that when it comes to happiness, joy, contentment and what life is, it’s not about specificity, it’s not about fulfilling this one specific dream. God can take us at any one moment, bless us and make us feel content in that.
I’ve stopped trying to control my life and my vision for my future. I started to accept that God is going to use me however He is going to use me. All I can do is try my best and do it for Him rather than for myself because if I’m striving to fulfill this one specific picture for my future, I’m doing it for myself and not for Him. That was a huge moment that broke me down as an individual where I had to accept that I wasn’t going to achieve this ideal future and that I had to give up this control and relent to God basically.
I definitely can say at that moment, that dark moment, I felt like I was being abandoned by God, that he had given me these gifts, but he wasn’t allowing me to use them and it confused me. I can now see that he was breaking me down to bring me back to him. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what I am doing, it’s all about Him. Our lives are not about us. They’re about Him and praising Him and being able to have a relationship with Him, drawing closer to Him and I was missing that for a long period of my life.
I love hearing that. We could read that over and over again because that is crucial. It’s interesting when we think about depression or anxiety, depression is geared more towards the past. Anxiety is geared more towards the future, but both of them entail this control aspect of controlling the ideal and reconciling the difference between ideal and reality. That specificity versus the openness of receiving whatever it is, is the key. What you said, “Stop controlling, start accepting,” that’s such a hard thing to do. I don’t think we can overstate how hard that is, but I don’t think we can also overstate how crucial that is and that’s what frees us up to live lives of joy, abundance, peace and blessing or whatever that looks like. That looks like a lot of different things. It’s not what we think it looks like but what it actually is.
There’s another quote, “Love is accepting what is.” I was like, “That is good.” We all struggle with this. We all have a small view of the future and what we want it to be. We all think, “This is who I am now. This is who I need to be in the future. I need to do everything right so that I fit into that little tiny picture that I have is the ideal.” We don’t know. None of us know the future and we shouldn’t, we can’t and that starting to accept what is, it’s the practice that frees us up and releases us from the bondage that these other things can produce. I fall prey to this too. I err on the side of stress versus peace when I start saying, “This is where I need to be. This is what I needed to do. This is how I need to make money and this is how I need to provide because these things are unknown. If I don’t do X, Y or Z, my worst fears are going to come true.” I have to do the practice of letting go of control, accepting where I’m at, seeing the blessing where it is, affirming what I know to be true and taking another step regardless of the outcome. It’s such a human practice.
That specifically is why I wrote the book that I did, dealing with time travel. It was a personal story. Like you were saying, “Depression is about the past, the fear of the future and trying to control it,” and that’s something I wanted to explore. I wanted to break it down and evaluate myself, my internal struggles and put that into a story. I found that storytelling for me personally is definitely a cathartic experience. I’m able to learn and evaluate myself and my struggles, my flaws, my failures through storytelling.
It’s such a human thing. We learn from story. We don’t learn from information because we put ourselves in the story and we experience it in a visceral and tangible way versus this intellectual head speak, which I’m guilty of more than anyone else. The book is Echo. Tell me about where this book came from and a little bit of an overview of the process from start to end.
I’ve read your book as well and it’s two completely different worlds when it comes to books because yours is self-help, more of an inspirational, informational one. Mine is completely fictional, more on the narrative aspects of storytelling. I wrote this a few years ago as a screenplay. I have all these ideas and I do write fast. I don’t read fast. Reading is a whole process for me because I’m such a visual learner. I wouldn’t say I was good at school growing up because I needed to translate everything that I was receiving on the page into an image in my head. For that reason, when it comes to reading, I usually have to reread paragraphs over and over again in order to retain what’s being said. However, when it comes to writing, I already have the images in my head, now I just need to translate them to the page.
Is that true too for fiction when you read fiction versus nonfiction?
It’s true for both. I need to know and picture what I’m seeing.
Do you say you prefer movies over books for both entertainment and learning?
Yes, it’s a struggle when it comes to books that have been turned into TV shows or movies. I will automatically be tempted to want to watch the movie or the TV show more because it’s much easier to consume. It takes a lot of patience and discipline in order to read a book, but it’s definitely rewarding. I wrote Echo specifically as a screenplay as I’ve written with all my other stories. I knew that this story has a scale, a scope to it. If it was going to be told in the near future, it had to be told in a book. Given my personal struggles in years, this was the one that I was like, “This one needs to be told.” This is an important one, not for me personally, I think this is what God wants me to share. This is what people need to hear. It’s an entertaining story because that’s something to me as a storyteller. This is something that I’ve always tried to do is that I want to tell God’s truths. I want to say something rather than have a cool story. While I’m saying those things, these truths of God, I want to be able to entertain the audience as well. I want the story to be iconic and memorable and have a lasting impression on the reader.
When you were in this process, you have a lot of these different narratives and stories that you’ve created and come up with that are all promising in your mind. How did you decide to take the first step with this one? Anytime we start anything, we know that it means you can’t do other things. There’s a limitation that’s scary. There’s this opposition to taking the first step. How did you take that first step in starting it? How did you end up choosing this story out of the other ones?
There was a period where I started to see that self-publishing was a viable option. When I had written it as a screenplay, there were some things that I knew I wanted to do with this story. Things like telling the story out of order, things like changing different formats, specific things that traditional book publishers usually don’t allow. If I was going to create this story, it was going to be self-published. I knew that already. I was being introduced to this idea that self-publishing was becoming not a viable option, but it was growing in popularity. I also was not ignorant in knowing that writing a book and marketing and publishing all that other stuff, it is a completely different world than filmmaking.Our lives are not about us. They're about Him, praising Him and being able to have a relationship with Him. Click To Tweet
If I was going to pursue it, I was going to have to research every aspect of it. It was going to be a lot of work. I went in knowing that. It was interesting too because I started this process in 2018. It’s been about a twelve-month process at this point between writing and editing and publishing and marketing. It was interesting because when I did the research, I researched everything while in 2018, all of the formalities and policies when it came to self-publishing completely changed. I had to re-research everything. It was an interesting process too because we had talked about filmmaking being a group project and then me going into writing a book thinking that it was a self-project. I would have more control over the final product and yet through the process, I had to learn how much of a group project it is. You need other people for the final product to come out. Thankfully, I have some amazing people in my life that were willing and excited to help out with this project. I met some great people in the process, through the editing and the creation of the cover. On the marketing side of things, to the promotional side, creating the website and all these other social media pages, everything goes into the process and it’s something that you can’t do alone.
We always underestimate what goes into anything, all of the decisions, pieces, components and people that are teammates that are needed. It’s shocking. Even me, when I went into it, I was aware that was a common reality. Because you’re aware of something, that doesn’t mean it’s still not going to be hard and different than you experienced or thought before and it was so true for me too. You’re like, “There are many pieces to this puzzle.” The writing is one small piece of that. What are you most proud of with this book? What are the things that you’re grateful for in this process, what did it teach you and what are you most proud of in it?
First of all, I am proud of how the final product came out. It’s interesting because I would say a few years ago, I started to research storytelling as an art form and trying to better myself as a writer and something in me clicked. Even though I wrote this story a few years ago, it is leaps and bounds over what it was originally between the characters, story, plot beats and plot twists and all of these different things that would not have reached its full potential a couple of years ago. God specifically put this on my heart at this moment because it was going to reach its full potential right now. I’m proud of that. I am proud of the cover. I’m proud of the marketing campaign that has been behind it, basically the whole process. I am proud of how everything has turned out. I can’t speak to how it’s done financially. I think I’ve given all that up to God. I’ve done my part and I’ve said, “God, I want this to be about you. I’m going to give it up to you.” The process of getting there, God has definitely been driving me through that. Honestly, I’m looking at it now and I’m a self-published author, which I don’t want to undermine that and that’s a cool thing. That’s not me trying to brag but that’s an accomplishment. That’s something that God has allowed me to do.
It’s owning the blessing in that and being proud of that. Being proud of that is not a simple thing. It’s a good thing. Being proud of the work you put in, the efforts and the final product and knowing that you did your best work with it and that’s such a rewarding thing. That’s such a God-honoring thing. A lot of times in the Christian world, we have a lot of angst about, “I need to be humble,” but also need to be proud of the way God’s gifted us and using us. We struggle more with that than being humble part a lot of times, so I love that. You should own that. It is such a sweet thing.
I am such a believer that if you want to write a book, you should. Not everyone can, but if you have the space and the time where you were willing to sacrifice to make the spaces, then we should regardless of what comes. It’s going to be rewarding from seeing it through to completion, having something you’re going to hold and something you can always look back. You’re going to learn much from the process of doing it that it will be worth its weight in gold regardless. The financial return isn’t important. That’s not what it’s about. If that’s what it’s about, don’t do it. Who is this book for? Who are the people that should read this?
It definitely caters to science fiction, fantasy and spy thriller. Those people will get a kick out of this story. However, I would also say that there is a true emotional center to the book. Anyone that’s looking for truth, looking for clarity in life, this has a human element to it that speaks to all of humanity and not specifically to a niche market. I know that a lot of times, science fiction as a genre can cater to a specific audience and alienate people that aren’t in the genre. I tried to look at science fiction from a practical, real-world sense. I tried to look at people like Stephen Hawking and other scientists like Einstein. I look at what their theories are when it comes to elements like time travel. I was like, “I want to bring that into this story.” I’ve tried to open up the audience a little bit that way that I’m bringing the real-world aspects into it rather than try to muddle it with technical jargon. I tried to bog down with too much fantasy behind the time travel, give a little bit of weight and foundation to it. The heart and center isn’t the time travel itself. It’s the characters, the journeys, the growth and the arts that they’re experiencing, the trials and the situations that they’re confronted with. That is what’s going to speak to people the most.
From what we’ve talked about, as a teaser for people reading, there are some cool creative pieces that he’s inputted into the book that you’re going to love. I can’t endorse that enough, a few one-offs. We could keep talking forever, but the day is getting away from us. A few one-offs and we’ll be done. The first one is what question do you ask yourself the most?
I would say what I ask myself the most is, “Am I doing what’s right?” Even subconsciously, I’m always thinking that. I know I’m not always doing what’s right, but it’s always in the back of my mind. There is something inside me, probably the Holy Spirit who’s constantly wanting me to do what’s right and constantly questioning that.
If you could teach a class for a semester, what would you teach on in one?
It’s got to be creative writing. I took a couple of creative writing classes in college. I absolutely loved them. I feel like I’ve got some good insights and practical insight that would help a lot of up and coming writers.
What age would you want to teach on that?
College would be a good one. I don’t have a doctorate.
This is the last question and we ask every guest this question. If you could send a morning text reminder to every up and comer out there, what message would you send and why?
I would say wake up reminding yourself of all the blessings God has given you. That is the best way to start your day. If you’re starting out thinking about God and everything that you do have and everything He’s blessed you with, the rest of the day gets so much easier.
Jordan, this has been awesome. Where are good places for people to find the book, find you, reach out, what are all the places to connect?
The book right now is on Amazon in paperback and eBook versions. As far as where you can find me, I’m on Facebook, social media, Instagram, those are the best places to find me. Facebook, it’s Facebook.com/jordanmichaelleach. On Instagram, it’s @JordanLeach_Author. Those are places you can find and reach me. I’m definitely and willing to reach out and talk more about different story ideas and questions you may have.
Until next time, thanks so much for coming on and sharing some insights.
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About Jordan Leach
Jordan Leach is a filmmaker and author from Waukesha, WI.
With multiple accolades to his name, Jordan recently published the sci-fi, time-travel thriller “Echo” and is currently in production on his feature film “The Odyssey” set to be released late 2020.
He now works with Crooked Jaw Productions and has produced several feature films, both in Hollywood and in the Independent markets. Now transitioning to novels, Jordan’s talents began at the age of six, writing short stories and dabbling in animation. Soon after he took up theater and vocal performances, finding all his skills culminating into film. With a father who works as a videographer, Jordan helped cultivate the film production course at his high school, and that ambition continues on to this day.
Jordan recognizes that his gifts are God given, and he seeks to use them solely for His glory. While creating unique, exciting stories spanning multiple genres, he ensures the message points the audience to God, speaking His truths and teaching of His love. Jordan hopes in the near future to turn his passions into a viable, life-long career, serving God and entertaining the world.
You can find him on the socials and his book is available on Amazon.
Connect with Jordan!
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