So it turns out James Franco and me have more in common than I thought. I’m not a wildly handsome, successful, world famous modern Renaissance man with their fingers in the film, art and publishing worlds, mind you. But, when we were both little boys, we had a fascination with those ‘Chose Your Own Adventure’ books. Remember those? The books where you, the reader, decide what the characters would do as the story unfolds. (James preferred the Tunnels & Trolls series, whereas I was more into the Lone Wolf.) My mom ended up refusing to read me these books when I was little because I never had the confidence to fully commit to one choice. I guess that says a lot about me.
But back to James: There is a similar concept to the new Seven Jeans for All Mankind advertising campaign, called ‘A Beautiful Odyssey,’ which James directed. You, the viewer, can decide what happens to the characters in the story, which include Elise Crombez as a bride choosing between her happy fiancé and a bad boy ex-boyfriend, the latter of which is played by my buddy and former Ranger rabble rouser Sean Avery. All of the footage is shot, but it’s up to we viewers to decide how it’s played out. It’s up to us to decide if the bride gets her happy ending or if she jilts her man at the alter. (This is sort of like therapy: What you chose will say a lot about you.)
When I speak to James about the project, he reads me a laundry list of references for this project: From the Romantic poet William Blake to Guns N Roses’ November Rain, from Kenneth Anger’s art videos to scenes from Jim Morrison’s movie HWY. (Feel free to Google all of these, kids. They’re worth it.) “They wanted a wedding, that was fine with me. Who doesn’t like a wedding?” James explains. “But I wanted more of a variety. And I like to bring in references of all levels, both Hollywood or literary.” When he looked at William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell, the concept began to fully take shape. Morrison’s HWY was the finishing touch: “It’s just Jim waking up near this waterfall and he walks thru the desert and hitchhikes from LA to Malibu and there might be a murder involved, but it’s very vague. It’s really a good metaphor, and an inspiration for the way that we shot it.”
James is no stranger to art projects. In addition to starring in both independent and blockbuster films, he has created video works and collaborated with contemporary artists on video series for years. But he told me this specifically was an exciting prospect. “It’s one of the most fun shooting experiences I’ve been able to have. We get all the great things about making a film as far as performers and equipment, but there aren’t the same kinds of requirements to make an entertaining narrative,” he said. As opposed to the Hollywood system, this success isn’t measured in the box office but rather in viewer entertainment, which is what should really be the point of moviemaking in the first place. “It needs to be appealing, we’re not selling tickets. That’s not how success is defined, so that the narrative and the experience can be more unusual.” Just how unusual? Well, that’s up to you.
Get involved in the odyssey on the 7 For All Mankind’s Facebook page. (Am I the only one hoping for a little pre-wedding drama?)