“I love Atlanta,” says filmmaker Jessica Imoto Harney. The funny thing is, she’s calling from Los Angeles. “I go where the work is,” she says with the cheerful equivalent of a vocal shrug. “I have my computer, so I can be anywhere.” (More about that L.A. issue later.)
Harney is the founder of Captain Crazy Productions, a multimedia production company whose goal, it seems, is to make whatever a client wants to happen, happen. “I call it a one-stop shop,” she says. “We do a lot of things, anything from industrial training videos to whatever type of video service someone might need.” Or portraits, or head shots, or sizzle reels, website development, commercials, electronic press kits or features.
“Movies are the most powerful tool of mass communication,” she says. “You can reach people the deepest way through them.” (Funnily enough, she doesn’t watch many movies in her free time, except for research of some kind; she’s more into video games, hiking or exploring abandoned buildings.) “Yeah, we made a slasher zombie film, sort of junk-food entertainment. But we want to create stuff that is really sustainable and helps people in the universe — but entertains as well. With maybe a better message than ‘The Hangover.’ ”
One ongoing passion is an interest in documentary-type real-life stories. “Kind of along the lines of Vice.com,” she says, “the way they create their media and these inspiring stories about nice, regular people living their life.”
Her recent work in Los Angeles focused on a mini-documentary about someone who wouldn’t immediately be thought of as nice and regular: John Alan Schwartz, director of the infamous 1978 shock doc “Faces of Death.”
“He’s a really interesting guy, going on his own mystical journey,” Harney says. “We’re investigating his life and his mentality.” (If she can’t say a lot more about it, that’s because we spoke on the first day of shooting.)
Harney started life as a West Coast baby, born in Santa Monica. “When I was seven, my parents decided that California wasn’t the place for us,” she says. “We drove to Marietta in ’93, when it was still farmland. Although I wasn’t born in Atlanta, I feel a connection to Southern living.”
First, though, came the culture shock. Instead of living in a tiny house in the Valley, the family transitioned to a three-story Marietta home with 10 acres and a pond. Her father started an emu farm, 300 birds strong. “My whole childhood was me running in the forest with my dog, playing ‘Lion King.’ ” But she and her “right-hand man,” her brother who’s two years her senior, held on to some grudges toward the relocation.
“All the way through high school, we were like, ‘We could’ve been professional surfers — screw you guys!,’ ” she says with a laugh. “But then I moved to the dorms at Georgia State and I started to see this rich art and cultural community in the city. And I thought, ‘Screw L.A.!’ But I come back to L.A. for work sometimes, and it’s nice to be able to go back and forth. I’m very anchored in Atlanta, but for the past year and a half I’ve had this bicoastal lifestyle.”
Oh yeah, there’s one other reason she goes back to the West Coast a lot: “I have a boyfriend, a companion, a serious relationship. He lives in L.A.” He’s the grandson of a legendary Los Angeles projectionist, whose Charles Aidikoff Screening Room is a signature destination for private Hollywood viewings. “It’s a family business, and I come out and help him with that sometimes,” Harney says. (She also has another man in her life: her dog Mookie, a frequent star or supporting actor in her work. “He’s my pride and joy,” she says.)
Here’s one final irony about the L.A. thing: While for decades, aspiring — as well as fully accomplished — filmmakers have trekked to that city in search of work, things are different now. There’s more film and television work than ever in Atlanta and Georgia, and West Coast professionals often find themselves making the pilgrimage east in search of jobs.
So when Harney goes to California, it’s often just to get away and focus on particular projects. “When I’m in Atlanta, there’s so much work going on in the community, I never get a chance to sit down at my computer,” she explains. “I come to L.A. to get away from the hustle and bustle. In Atlanta, everyone’s working on shorts and features and music videos.
“I love it so much, and when I get a call from a friend saying, ‘We’re doing this and this,’ I’m like, ‘I’ll be there.’ You know what I mean? Every day is completely full of helping other people on their projects and work.”