SMU grad Dax Phelan talks filmmaking, ‘Jasmine’

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This past week at the Dallas International Film Festival, filmmakers from around the world showcased their newest works, including first-time directors and professionals with a long history in the field.

Among these talented artists, Dax Phelan, an SMU grad, premiered his film “Jasmine.”

“Jasmine” follows grief-stricken Leonard To (Jason Tobin) as he hunts down his wife’s murderer. A year after her death, he is still experiencing great emotional setbacks and irregularities due to his wife’s passing, but his pain ends up fueling his relentless search. Ultimately, Leonard faces his wife’s assumed killer, and the truth finally comes out.

Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Dax and discussing his thoughts on filmmaking and the making of “Jasmine.”

jasmine

The DC: Is film always something you wanted to do?

Dax: “No I definitely didn’t. I was actually a pre-med major when I came to SMU. I thought I wanted to be a psychiatrist. After my first semester, which I spent staring at walls most of the time, I had failed out of the classes you need to pass to be a doctor. I was on academic probation, and I had never really been in trouble for anything in my life. I was just really feeling lost and adrift. And then my pre-med advisor said, ‘Are you really sure you want to be a doctor? Because every time you come into my office, we talk about movies. Have you ever thought about taking a film class?’ And the most remarkable thing happened when I started taking these film classes. School didn’t feel like school anymore. For the first 19 years of my life, I had always felt like a racehorse whose gate wouldn’t open. And my parents were thrilled because even though they knew nothing about film, they could see how excited I was. It was a great experience, and I am so thankful to SMU and my adviser for knowing me better than I know myself.”

The DC: Is there a specific movie that influenced you throughout your career so far?

Dax: “Well, there were a few movies that sort of shook up my worldview. I would say one of the first ones was ‘Reservoir Dogs.’ I didn’t like it the first time I saw it, but I found it incredibly powerful. Not long after that, I saw ‘Schindler’s List,’ and I just didn’t know a film could be like that because I had never seen anything like it. Then ‘Pulp Fiction’ came out, which inspired so many. We had people making hit man movies for years because of that movie. But during my freshman year, I went to a screening at the USA Film Festival. I saw this movie called ‘Clean, Shaven,’ and that movie was a huge inspiration for me. That was a huge inspiration for ‘Jasmine’ along with ‘Keane’ with Damien Lewis.”

The DC: What was the hardest and greatest part of making “Jasmine”?

Dax: “There were two thing that were the toughest. First, just doing it in Hong Kong on such a low budget. I had self-financed about half of the movie in order to get the ball rolling. It got hard again in post when my mom passed away. The movie deals with grief, loss and coping. All of a sudden, it was just too close and too personal for me, so I had to had to take some time off. That was tough, but ironically, I think it was the best thing for the film. When I cam back to it and re-watched the film, I noticed weaknesses I hadn’t noticed before. I decided to re-cut the movie, and I think we arrived at the best possible version as a result of that experience. It’s hard to call it a blessing, but in some ways, it does feel eerily like one.”

The DC: If there were one piece of advice you could give to aspiring students, what would it be?

Dax: “Don’t’ hear the word ‘no.’ You are going to hear it a lot from your family, friends, manager, or agent, and whenever you hear ‘no,’ you have to ignore it and pretend like you didn’t hear it. And ask again. Just keep going, because the people that say that are the ones that don’t make movies. Also, do things that other people think are totally crazy. We would have never made ‘Jasmine’ if we had listened to everybody else. Crazy works. If you feel it in your heart, you got to go with it.”

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