There’s more to Branson than meets the eye. Although it’s not the first place to come to mind when you think of singing, dancing, and performing, it’s a place where passionate performers go to try and make their dreams some true. What made this film was the amazing true life story of Jackson Cash (featured above) a Johnny Cash impersonator whose life is not unlike the real Cash’s, only less successful (in some ways) and the keen eye of Director Brent Meeske.
This film was probably one of the most fascinating to come out of the LA Film Festival and the interview was just as unique. Brent is probably one of the sweetest guys you’ll ever meet who blushed every time Jackson praised him (which was quite often) and Jackson is one of those personalities that just sucks you in. Once he starts talking he takes the spotlight and I’ll admit, he even got me to blush a few times during the interview.
Check out what they had to say below…
So, what would you say is the biggest challenge setting out, I know that this wasn’t actually the film you set out to make in the first place. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that come up?
Brent Meeske: For me, the hardest thing was keeping people involved and interested over the course of the three year production that often didn’t seem to have an end in sight. Often it change focus, I’d switch the characters, we started off going one direction, I would meet someone interesting like Jackson and shift the whole production over and follow him. It was hard to convince people at home, who weren’t necessarily watching the footage, or getting to meet Jackson in person to understand why I would make such a shift in production. So it was hard to continue to keep the funds rolling in, to keep the budget in place. With a documentary like this where you don’t know the end, you don’t know the story, I think that was probably the biggest challenge.
Did you ever consider possibly just making a film about the lovely Jackson Cash?
BM: Absolutely. Absolutely, many times we thought about that. I think there’s still a film to be made about Jackson. Whether it’s a documentary or even kind of a biopic about his life. I think there’s definitely a film there, maybe two. We didn’t do that this time, because I felt like the material that was included in the film was the perfect amount. And too much more would have changed the focus, just would have shifted the balance and I think we needed the other characters in there to kind of help fill it out and tell three different stories each kind of showing a different type of performer, different approach, families, single mother, and Jackson. I think the balance worked out better that way.
Jackson, what was it like for you, seeing yourself on the big screen just living your life?
Jackson Cash: Well, I still don’t think it has sunk in all the way, you know. Like I said a little bit ago, I haven’t processed the whole thing. I’m still, I’m slow at processing things. I have so many wonderful and traumatic things happen to me it seems like on a daily basis, it’s like a real high-low roller coaster ride. I just kind of slowly process things and so far it’s been one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had in my entire life, if not the most as far as being entertaining. Of course it is, I have never been on the silver screen at that level. And, never have I dreamed that I would meet people like Brent and be able to be apart of something so appreciated. I just feel so loved and appreciated here, its just incredible. I’m just, almost in bliss here but I got to contain myself, you know what I mean.
Would you like to do another film, if he wanted to feature you in something, are you up for that?
Never ending! What was it like when you guys first met? How did you approach him to get him signed on? And how do you approach tell your friends that you were going to be in a film ?
BM: Well Jackson, maybe you should start. Jackson’s got a good story from how we met, he remembers it a little better than me.
JC: No, please go ahead.
BM: Well, how I remember it is that we were camped out at the Branson mall working on the film and we kind of just moved him and lived there and when we weren’t filming we were eating there and we just kind of hang out waiting for something to happen or people to meet and Jackson was playing down the way at the food court. And he was kind of just omnipresent. I didn’t consider really at that point taking him on as a character because he wasn’t in a show, or an established show, he was kind of a one man band playing for tips at the food court. It was really his music that changed my mind, we heard him play an original song and it was remarkable and it’s in the film. And that’s kind of when I decided to give him a chance and go interview him. And we just filmed him playing a song and then we did a real quick interview where he was selling CD’s and the rest is history. From then on he was one of the characters, he eventually became the main character but tell your story.
JC: How we met?
How he convinced you…
JC: Well, the way I re-call, I was desperate to obtain a promotional DVD of a three-four minute DVD of my tribute to Johnny Cash. There I was at the Branson Mall, center stage, not a very large venue there per se, compared to the other theaters. Didn’t have a lot of money, hardly any at all as a matter of fact. I couldn’t afford a DVD and I seen this two hippies, which I couldn’t wait to meet ‘cause I’m an old hippie, and they were carrying around these movie cameras, you know and I thought, “Man, them guys just might help me, those cats might help me, they’ll understand.”
So I went to Brent and asked him if he would work with me and help me make a promotional DVD and he says “I’m sorry sir, but we’re busy doing a Branson documentary here in town, and we’re from Los Angeles, California with a production company. I wish we could help you but we can’t.” And so, “Well, thank you buddy I appreciate it, I hope, good luck on your documentary.” And I got back on stage and started singing, doing my last set and when I got gone, Brent approached me with Brian his buddy and said “I tell you what, we’ll make you a deal. If you gives us clearance to put one of your original songs on our documentary, we’ll film that documentary for you for free. I said, “Well ok let’s get it done.”
One thing led to another, I met Mr. Mack at the Carival Theater just right around that time, he asked me to open the show for The Liverpool Legends, the greatest Beatle impersonating band in the world, to open the show for them and it just so happened that Brent and them were there right there and then and they came and gave me a videotape, a DVD demo tape of me doing that. One thing led to another and they started talking to me and we became friends, they seemed interested in my story and before I knew it, there were camera’s set up and lights and everything at Denny’s restaurant in Branson, Missouri before I even got there. And I walk in, and they’re there and I’m thinking “Man, this is kind of cool” and everyone’s wondering, “who’s the star that’s walking in” and they’ve never seen me before but boy did I feel important. (laughter)
And it just worked for three years, there I was, walking around Branson with the lights and cameras on me and that helped me a lot, of course.
Did you enjoy it? Or did you have to adjust to the cameras being in your face all the time?
JC: You know, the first thought that just came to my mind was, I saw myself at five months old when my parents took me out of the adoption agency in Salt Lake City and took me home, they were so proud to have a child, a little boy, it wasn’t until they were 32-years-old when they were able to do that and they got their son and took him home and they must have had years of footage of me, home movies from the time I was in a crib, and high chair ‘til mom and dad passed away. I mean I’ve always been on camera, I mean, plus I started entertaining at a very young age, 8 years old you know, in front of people at school, on stage and just been part of my life ever since I could remember.
Did anybody ever say no that you weren’t allowed to film them?
BM: Yea, a few people, few big shots turned us down, Yakaf Smirnoff and what was the other name, I forgot. But you know actually who did was Mrs. Harrison, remember?
JC: Louise Harrison.
BM: Yea, George Harrison’s sister turned us down. We didn’t really want to follow her or anything but she did say “no.” Some of the big names weren’t interested. I think Branson’s often the bud of the joke, you know in the media, and different times they were portrayed they’re often made fun of, so I think they thought we got nothing to gain and a lot to lose. I don’t really have much reputation, I, you know I was beginner and so they hadn’t heard of me and said no. But it all worked out because I was kind of more interested in the regular kind of working family type people anyway, not the kind of, not the successful big names. I didn’t find their stories as interesting, I thought, I want to make a movie about regular people who had to work day jobs and struggle to be stars and who weren’t there yet so it all worked out.
JC: I think you don’t know this, but I think deep down inside and the back of his mind and in his heart he really wanted to help people. And, he could, why try to help Andy Williams. He don’t need help, maybe up the stairs. (Speaks directly into the recorder) Sorry Andy, I love you buddy. I’m just kidding, you’re young.
Brent, how do you deal with being such a strong part of these people’s lives? You’re a part of them in their highest moments and in their lowest moments, and I know as a documentary film maker you are not supposed to get attached, you’re supposed to stay outside but how do you not get attached in a situation like this?
BM: Yeah, I had that problem. I don’t know how you don’t get attached ‘cause I did and I broke the rules. I read a book right before this that told me that you’re not even supposed to accept a cup of coffee from your subjects. But I didn’t really understand that method. It didn’t make much sense to me. I certainly didn’t see how I could win them or earn their trust if I built, had that wall between us. I suppose you’re supposed to stay detached. It makes a little sense, it just didn’t make sense to me. So I kind of broke that rule and got attached to them all and they’re all close friends.
I’m glad the movie turned out, that they liked it, it definitely was something I thought a lot of, I mean, I thought about it a lot and I didn’t want to disappoint them but at the same time I had to be responsible to the film and tell the truth so I took certain risks with Jackson, portraying certain part of his life, that may have been difficult for him to watch and I just kind of hoped that they would respect that in the end and enjoy the film and be able to watch it and not cringe too much and I think everyone enjoyed it so it worked out for everyone. But I don’t know how you approach this without breaking that rule.
And is it hard for you when they are down? Did you try to pick them up, is there moment, or do you just have to let them have their moment?
BM: I don’t know, Jackson what do you think, did I try to?
JC: Just having him around picked me up and that’s not, I’m not trying to toot his horn or stroke him in any way. I really like Brent and he has a gift of making somebody feel really comfortable, you know, and that’s a neat thing. I believe one of the biggest reasons why Brent has that quality of making a person feel comfortable because he doesn’t try to control. He just lets happen what happens and that’s all I have to say on that matter.
BM: That’s why I wanted to let him answer because I didn’t know how successful I was but I tried to stay, especially with Jackson, stay involved in his life. It’s one thing when the cameras are there, but I tried to stay involved to a certain degree, and see what I could do. I didn’t want to push him, one way or another but I did want him to know that I believed in him and thought that he had a better future out there and that he should try as hard as he could to make it.
Because of your relationships with everyone in the film, was it important for you to end this film on a positive note? Was that something that was important to the people that in it, or to you, or just as an overall tone?
BM: Yeah, it was important to me. They didn’t know about it because they weren’t involved in the editing and I don’t know if they knew what was going on at all. It started off really light because I think for the most part a lot of people kind of, when we started put on a little bit of a mask, a little bit of a persona and tried to sell me the best, most positive view of Branson that they could muster up. And then over time, as days went on and we filmed, I think, it slowly eroded away and they showed me what it was really like, which is what I wanted to know; what it’s like to be a performer, what’s it like to struggle, work as a waitress during the day and perform every single night. You know, struggle with whatever it was, they each kind of got their own demons and personal problems.
It was very important, I did not want the movie to end in the middle there, I did not want it to end as a bummer, and I did not want it to end showing these people kind of suffering or failing. I just held on until they succeeded and luckily they all did. They found, they all landed on their feet or found a new sort of happiness. Each case is a little different.
There were a lot of different styles of film making and some of it was, how did you get the hand-held footage?
BM: Yeah, that was something we tried in the middle. I couldn’t be there all the time since I lived out in L.A. and the budget was limited, so I had to leave and didn’t want to leave, and so we got a hold of kind of cheaper camera and I would leave it behind and tell them, just keep it on hand, if anything really interesting or dramatic happens or if you ever feel like expressing yourself please use the camera. It paid off in the end, Amber was great, She… (Brent looks at Jackson and says to me) He has something for you.
I looked over to find Jackson offering me a tootsie roll from his pocket, if you would have seen the sweet face Jackson was giving me, you would have done exactly what I did…
Side Note: It’s very hard to eat something chewy and interview someone, but it was worth it. Now back to what Brent was saying…
BM: She filmed herself and some great moments that we used in the film. The Habers, I gave it to them for awhile and they documented a little bit of their trip, we didn’t end up using it but we got a few hours from people, I never got it to you, did I? The camera, did I ever give you a camera to shoot yourself. I don’t think so. It got stolen.
JC: A camera, you gave people cameras.
BM: Yeah, the one they passed around and people would film themselves. It never got to you because it got stolen from Amber’s car.
JC: I didn’t steal it, honestly.
BM: But it is an interesting technique, just let them film themselves. In Amber’s case, I think it really paid off ‘cause she kind of expressed herself maybe in a way that she wouldn’t have if I was there. Same with her daughter, her daughter probably would have never been like that around me.
How do you feel like religion plays a part in the film because everybody is… (at this point I was chewing on my tootsie roll and found it very hard to finish the question, luckily Brent seemed to know where I was going with it…)
B: It’s alright. Yeah, it’s a big part of their all their lives. It’s a huge part of Branson, part of the country in general. They are real serious about their faith, and some people express it none stop all the time like Nina Tate, that’s kind of everything, every time I talked to her that’s what she talked about. Other people like Amber don’t bring it up but they still take it quite serious, go to church every Sunday. And Jackson’s story it plays a pivotal role with Jackson, his relationship and experience with Jim Baker is a key part of the story, big part of the movie.
And it seemed like you, at times were being forced into religion. On the TV show you were forced to say…
JC: The Sinner’s Prayer. You say the Sinner’s Prayer and you turn your life over to Jesus Christ and he becomes your Lord and Savior and you become a member of the family of God.
Was that something that was important to you to do or was it something that was thrown at you?
JC: I felt railroaded into it. I hadn’t planned on doing that. I felt, I was a little uneasy, because I haven’t done many television interviews or spots, it wasn’t planned, you know, I just kind of went with it. Like I said in the movie as well, I expected if it was true, this thing that had happened, this miracle, that my that life would all of a sudden get better and it didn’t, it got worse, I mean way worse. I felt like I had just made a deal with the devil, ok, and that I was on my way to hell. And I felt I was in it before long, and when I called Joan Cash and told her what was going on, and she told me that she forgot to tell me that once you accept Jesus Christ into your life that the devil is going to be after you as hard as you can and that your life is not necessarily going to get better right away but to not give up, there’s a lot of prayers and people praying for you all around the world.
Which was true! I mean I got letters, and fan mail and prayer cards from, I mean abroad, Europe, Ireland, Switzerland, you name it, it was just unbelievable how many Christians reached out to me. I couldn’t even get sick and go to the hospital without there being a dozen Christians, complete strangers to me, in the emergency room waiting outside to lay their hands on me and heal me, you know.
I don’t know, I’m still in a place in my belief system where I don’t know, I will be honest with the whole world, I don’t know that there’s a Jesus Christ living today, I don’t know that there’s a Krishna that ever lived, I don’t know that there is a God that really cares about what’s going on here but I have a sneaking hunch that there is, I have a sneaking hunch that there is some beautiful, great big thing, a lot bigger than I am, who is responsible for the wonderful things that have been happening to me lately and all the wonderful things that I’ve experienced in my life like my daughters, my beautiful new granddaughter, friends like y’all, the career, the movie, my adopted parents who picked me out of all those kids, you name it, being alive when I should have been dead years ago many, many times.
Some thing is in charge, and it’s not me, I believe that there is a wonderful thing, I don’t want to die. Right there it tells you, this is alright. Most everyone I think doesn’t want to die, if they did, they’d do it. If it wasn’t worth it, they’d end it. This place is over-populated so there must be something to it, you know. So even though you might say you hate it here and you hate God, then why haven’t left? You know what I mean? Truthfully, you know, I love it. I’d do it again, I’d do it all again. Wouldn’t you?
I’m still doing it. I wouldn’t even do it again I’m fine doing it this time. You talk about angels a lot in the film, which angels lead you here? Do you consider Brent an angel?
JC: I do. I think that the world is full of people, and if you look up, the word Angel — Sometimes when I have a problem with a definition, I get out the dictionary — I looked up Angel for the first time, and it said someone that works for God. It doesn’t say that they’re dead, it doesn’t say that they’re a spirit, doesn’t say they’re a ghost, it just says someone that works for God. Okay, if that’s the case then we’re all working for God, because you can’t help it. If there’s a God, or Gods, they’re in charge and they obviously have something planned and they obviously don’t want us to know. ‘Cause if they did, they would. If they exist, we’d know who they are, they’d let us know. So I don’t want to get angry here because I’m getting over that part of this process, and this phase of my development. All I know is, Brent is part of my life for a reason and I’m sure am glad he is. And you’re in my life for a reason right now and you’ve just totally made this day a whole lot more enjoyable just by sitting next to me, and being able to look at your beautiful little self.
Trying to make me blush. He’s going around the table.
JC: Well, you know. Look at you. My daughter is out there and she’s the exact same way. She doesn’t affect me the same way, thank God. I mean I’m an old man, you’re old enough probably to be my granddaughter and I’m starting to get a little bit of perspective on the truth and what I should pursue.
What do you hope people take away from this? Is there a message? Is there just a feeling? What do you hope they see and walk away form the film with?
BM: I just hope they see, it’s a story about people up against incredible odds stacked against them who never give up and find a way to do what they love to do, and need to do in order to be happy. So that’s really the story and that’s kind of my story, making films, not giving up and sticking with it, pursuing it. I don’t know if there’s a message per se, but I hope it’s a, Branson’s kind of an unlikely place for this to happen in a sense that it is kind of mocked a lot, it’s kind of the bud of the joke a lot, and so to find these people who are very inspiring there, I think that can be part of the message. Jackson’s story probably has a message…
JC: There’s life after drugs.
BM: …Redemption. Redemption for a lot of these characters. I think, all three of them find some sort of redemption, either landing on your feet or finding a new way to be happy. Happiness doing what you’re doing, just a small step up or in Jackson’s case, you know, recovering and life after, what, life after death?
Is there anything that you hope people who watch will take away from everything that you showed them onscreen?
JC: Well its like I said, I don’t know what each person is going to take away, I’m not even sure what I gave. I know that more than one person has approached me, hundreds and hundreds have approached me, I’ll be honest with you, in Branson, Missouri since I’ve been there, and even here now after that movie. They were, people that were, one lady even at the bar last night when we performed there said I’m having trouble with alcohol and drugs, I’ll be honest with “that movie helped me a lot, seeing you here sober helped me a lot, thank you very much.” And a lot of the people that had been sober, two of them after the movie that were sober for twenty-some-what years, said the message you carried in that movie for people like us is incredible and we appreciate what you have done. So, it’s not me, I’m a small part of the whole. Him, all of us, her, you, we all are a part of this deal, whatever they want us to do, we’re doing it and that’s a good thing. I know it’s a good thing. I just want them to take back whatever it is that they need and then leave the rest.
The film will hopefully be coming to theaters soon! We’ll keep you posted when we find out more, but keep an eye out for it!