Making Something From Nothing: Jesse Randall of JR Vision Films On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Fotis Georgiadis
Authority Magazine
21 min readOct 10, 2022

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Don’t fall for potential — when you’re working with someone, make sure they’ve truly exhibited the skills they claim to possess that you’re looking for. I’ve fallen for potential way too many times than I care to admit, and I suffered greatly for it. If you haven’t seen them deliver what they claim they can, don’t work with them. Having vision is no solution. It all depends on the execution. People will say and do anything to get ahead. Make people prove they can provide results before you go into business with them.

As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jesse Randall.

Jesse Randall is a writer, director, and producer that primarily focuses on creating LGBTQIA+ content through his production company, JR VISION FILMS. His digital series, The Safety Plan, is now streaming on multiple platforms including Plex TV, Revry TV, and an exciting new streaming service called Mometu! His upcoming film about the homeless crisis, Spare Change, will debut on the film festival circuit next Spring.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I’ve listed the same “childhood backstory” in the past three articles I’ve been profiled for in this publication. So, I’ll tell a different story to mix it up. I grew up in a desolate farming town in North Carolina, and it wasn’t an easy place to grow up as a queer-identifying person. I always longed to get out, but I didn’t have good grades in school due to being relentlessly depressed. I also realized later in life I had some learning issues that I wasn’t aware of when I was younger. All the film majors I knew in North Carolina quickly gave up on their dreams of becoming a filmmaker because they were swamped in student debt and we were too far from the industry. I decided I’d be better off moving to New York or Los Angeles without knowing anyone, or having any money, and figuring it out from there instead of transferring to a university in North Carolina. I moved to New York and studied screenwriting, acting, and directing at the famed HB Studios in the West Village for almost three years. Meanwhile, I independently produced low budget indie projects to advance my film career. Still, life was a struggle without having a college degree. After moving to Los Angeles, I decided to finally finish my film degree while I was producing my digital series, The Safety Plan. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life up to that point, and that’s saying a lot. However, it was worth it as The Safety Plan got me my first major licensing deal, and my short film collection was acquired as well. The Safety Plan continues to get new licensing deals along with my most recent work as well. I’m almost done finally finishing my degree after all this time. It’s an interesting full circle moment as I’m finally returning to close that gap with an abundance of knowledge I’ve gained independently producing content against all odds.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The quote I always return to is Steven Sondheim’s “Having vision is no solution. It all depends on the execution.” You can have the greatest idea in the world but if you don’t have the skills or discipline to execute it, the project won’t turn out well. You have to do the work. I’m so horrified to continually meet people who are so desperate to get away with not doing the work because they believe cutting corners will be more beneficial in the long run. Just do the work, no matter how long it takes. If you want things for the right reasons, the time you’ve invested will be worth it in the end.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

There are so many films and books that have made a significant impact on me, but the film that immediately comes to mind consistently every time I’m asked this question is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I saw it when I was younger, and I think it made such an impression because it helped me reimagine the mundane aspects of daily life and made me realize how much each moment counts. I love that scene near the end of the film when Jimmy Carey’s character, Joel, is having his final memories of Kate Winslet’s character, Clementine, erased in the bookstore where she works. It seems like such an understated “small” moment at the beginning of their relationship compared to the explosive memories they have together, but it’s the moment that changed everything for the two of them. I think that scene encompasses what makes Eternal Sunshine so great. It’s the moments that we’re fully present, no matter how big or small, that shape us. Every moment in life matters, good or bad, big or small. It’s part of the full human experience. Eternal Sunshine puts life in perspective for me, and that’s the kind of content I want to create as a filmmaker.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?

I think too many people get caught up in perfectionism and are overwhelmed by the mentality of “I can’t put it out into the world until it’s perfect.” When I started out on my journey as a filmmaker, I really couldn’t afford perfectionism and I’m not one to live above my means. I didn’t finish college until later in life. So, if I worked on a project that I invested a lot of time in and it didn’t turn out the way I hoped, I had to find a way to make it a beneficial experience for me. I remember my first short film I made when I moved to New York was made on ZERO budget. I had a DSLR and a shotgun microphone. The short film was an adaptation of a ten-minute play I wrote while studying writing at HB Studios. It needed to be re-written to work for the film, but I wasn’t educated enough about writing at that point to know that. Naturally, the film didn’t turn out well. When I was ready to start casting my first 30-minute indie television pilot for a series I wanted to develop, I needed to have something to show for myself in order to cast quality actors who would work for little money. I decided to put the 30-second trailer for the ill-fated short film on the casting breakdown. Every single person that applied said how much they liked the trailer. Fortunately, they didn’t see the full ten-minute film, or I’ m sure they wouldn’t have wanted to work with me on the project. Had it not been for that 30-second trailer I made, who knows where my film career would be now? When you’re independently producing low-budget content, there’s always going to be flaws. But I was able to take the lessons I learned on previous projects to help make subsequent projects better. There were a few projects I made that I shelved, but I released everything that was worthy of being released. Had I waited to make something that was “perfect” I would have never evolved as a filmmaker. A phrase that has helped me minimize my quest for perfectionism is, “A film is never really finished. There just comes a point where you stop working on it.” While I was watching the Fran Lebowtiz docuseries on Netflix, I was shocked to hear her say that her longtime friend, Martin Scorsese, is still angry and embarrassed about the tint of red that appears in Taxi Driver because the studio wouldn’t give him any more money for color correction. Even the greatest filmmakers of all time feel insecure about their work even after it becomes legendary. What I consider to be my worst film wound up getting me into my first major film festival that changed the course of my career. I was so embarrassed to release this film and promote it, but had I tossed it away my career would look a lot different. That experience taught me that you never know how something will be perceived. If you’ve made something as honest as possible, even on difficult projects, I think it’s worth putting out into the world. I think art of any discipline, whether you’re a filmmaker, a sculptor, or even an architect or gardener, teaches us that good ideas need time and practice in order to develop and grow. You have to let go of the idea that you’re going to nail it on the first try. Good writing only comes from numerous rewrites. No one has ever nailed a first draft of any successful film produced. As Steven Spielberg says, “All good ideas start out as bad ideas, that’s why it takes so long.”

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

I actually feel a great sense of relief about the fact that there’s nothing new under the sun. If you’ve thought of it, somebody, somewhere, has thought of the idea as well. I even feel empowered by this notion. It takes the pressure off the need to reinvent the wheel. Essentially, when you break down a story to its bones, every story is the same: the protagonist wants something and faces opposition. The formula of deep structure is the same for every story, but that doesn’t mean all stories are the same. You wouldn’t think a film like The Godfather is the same as Legally Blonde, but at their core, they’re the same story just told in different ways: the protagonists go on a quest in an unfamiliar world that’s initially out of their element in hopes of achieving their goal of a better life. Real life is the same way. We all want the same things: to be loved, to be seen, to be validated. Those are intrinsic desires of human nature, but we all pursue them in different ways. That’s why the deep structure of every story is the same. However, when it comes to developing ideas for business, you have to do your homework. There were two films that came out last year that I loved that have very similar themes to one of my dream projects that I want to develop into a feature-length film: Promising Young Woman and The Power of the Dog. They’re two films you wouldn’t exactly associate with each other, but I see their connection because I explore similar themes in my screenplay that I’ve been working on since 2020. I was excited when I initially saw the trailers for these films, but I was a little concerned they would capture what I was hoping to do with my story. I loved both films after I saw them and was even inspired by them. Those films helped me see how I could contribute to the themes explored, but in my own way. I think when it comes to developing new ideas, you have to find a way to advance the needle in an authentic way that brings a new perspective to the subject. In order to do that, you have to do extensive homework on the idea you’re pursuing. I wouldn’t recommend embarking on a project until you’ve done your homework. I try to watch as many films as possible, even films I’m not interested in, or I’ve heard aren’t good. I need to know what’s out there, and how I can find something new to add to the conversation. The same applies to developing an idea for business.

For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

1. Extensive research — if you aren’t willing to do your homework, you’re going to find yourself wasting your time. You need to know how to properly patent ideas and make sure you’re creating something that isn’t already on the market. If it is already on the market, how are you adding to this product or idea? You’ll need to know what sets you apart and how to properly protect your work.

2. Extensive planning — Before I start a screenplay, I write numerous versions of the outline for the story. I’m not getting any younger and I don’t have the time to write a 120-page screenplay I realize I don’t like after I’ve finished a few drafts. I’ll still end up doing lots of re-writes on the script, but I do a lot of story revisions in the outline beforehand. That way, I’m certain I really like this story and have a strong grasp on it before I invest a lot of time writing and re-writing the full version.

3. Make sure you’re working with the right people — This can be tricky because I’ve found myself in situations where people are really desperate to be involved with your idea because they believe in it so much, they’re willing to deceive you in order to get it. If something doesn’t feel right when you’re working with someone, it’s a sign. I’ve still had films I sold with people I regret working with, but I found myself in a complicated situation. I worked on one project recently that I invested two years of my life with a collaborator who decided to publicly make up lies about me and sabotage the project because I decided not to share my director’s interview at a film festival with them after I got fed up with their poor behavior. I’ll no longer be promoting the film ever again because I don’t want to promote a project with someone who makes up lies about anyone, and now there’s two years of my life I’ll never get back.

4. Make sure it’s a project you’re pursuing for the right reasons — There’s nothing worse than having to stand by a project you invested a lot of time in that you secretly loathe. I’ve found myself in this situation. In a world ruled by capitalism, everyone wants some sort of payoff for their work. No one pursues a project without a purpose, but really take time to consider why you’re pursuing this project. If you pursue something for the wrong reasons, it’s guaranteed to blow up in your face.

5. Make sure you know who your audience is — Your product isn’t going to be a good fit for every audience. There’s rarely a “one size fits all” product of any kind. Once you’ve identified your audience, you’ll be able to narrow down what market you need to focus on when you’re selling it.

6. Have a great short pitch — The research you’ve done will payoff here. You need to have a long version of the pitch so you can answer as many questions as possible, but you also need to have a five-minute elevator pitch. Potential investors and distributors hear a lot of ideas all day long. They’ll immediately be turned off if you start pitching them a two-hour presentation. Give the “elevator pitch” version of the project first, and have it perfected. Practice it until you have it memorized. Be able to pitch your project in one sentence that hooks people. In filmmaking, we call this a “log line” that summarizes what your film is about in a complete sentence that introduces the protagonist, their goal, their opposition, and what the journey means for them. You should be able to do this for your project as well, to some degree, no matter what you’re selling.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company” and why?

1. Don’t fall for potential — when you’re working with someone, make sure they’ve truly exhibited the skills they claim to possess that you’re looking for. I’ve fallen for potential way too many times than I care to admit, and I suffered greatly for it. If you haven’t seen them deliver what they claim they can, don’t work with them. Having vision is no solution. It all depends on the execution. People will say and do anything to get ahead. Make people prove they can provide results before you go into business with them.

2. No casual agreements — no matter if you’re working with friends, people you just met, or someone really established, GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING! Explicitly lay out the terms and conditions of the project, what you expect from them, and what you promise to deliver on your end. At the end of the day, there’s nothing “causal” about a project that requires a lot of time and energy. I’ve had one project that I was really proud of completely taken from me because I trusted the executive producer to have my best interest since we were friends at the time, and they absolutely didn’t. I also once collaborated on a film with someone who tried to take credit for all my work on the project because I didn’t have the formal agreements necessary to protect myself and my work. Both of these mistakes were completely my fault. If someone you’re working with doesn’t want to take the formal steps to protect everyone involved in the project, DON’T WORK WITH THEM. Don’t let your guard down when it comes to protecting your work — EVER. If someone you’re working with truly cares about you and respects you, they’ll understand the importance of self-preservation.

3. Fake it until you make it is pure fraud — I’ve never believed in this ideology to begin with, and I was always too scared to try it because I knew it would blow up in my face. However, I’m sorry to say I’ve found myself in situations where I was working with people who have spent their entire lives living by this philosophy and I gave them the benefit of the doubt. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work out, to say the least. I find that most people who believe in this philosophy think that deception is justifiable. I beg to differ. I think if you’ve done the work, even at an elementary level, it will bring you the credibility you’re looking for. Going back to the story I previously mentioned about my first 10-minute short film I made in New York, even though I didn’t make a good film I made a good trailer. I was able to show people my vision and that I had the skills to execute it to some degree. If you do the work, it will pay off. If you are coasting by on fooling other people, you’ll pay for it sooner or later. There’s no way to accomplish something on your own merit until you actually do the work. I’ve also found that the “fake it until you make it” believers are usually eager to benefit from you doing all the work while they take all the credit for it. People can go to great lengths to be deceptive. Sometimes you attract people in your life because you share the same energy and objectives, but sometimes you attract people who are desperate to have what you’ve earned.

4. Don’t work with people who don’t believe in you — No matter how enticing an opportunity may seem, or how “established” the person associated with the opportunity, don’t work with people who don’t believe in you. I’ve encountered various people at all levels who didn’t believe in my work, looked down on me, or didn’t think I was good enough. I made one film where several of the actors in it wanted to distance themselves from the project because they didn’t think it was going to turn out well, or it wasn’t a “positive” representation of the LGBTQIA+ community. It went on to become my most successful project to date. In one of my earlier films, it became obvious that one of the actors I worked with several projects with didn’t really have a lot of faith in my work and it ended up affecting his performance in the final project we worked on together, subsequently affecting the quality of the film. I knew deep down something wasn’t right, and several people discreetly tried to warn me this person’s heart wasn’t in acting anymore. Those people turned out to be right. The actor decided they didn’t want to be an act anymore and went on to work in a completely different field. I don’t think the person I’m referring to meant to cause harm to me or the project. In retrospect, I think they believed they were being loyal by honoring their commitment to be in the film, even though their heart wasn’t in it anymore. Still, their lack of enthusiasm showed up on screen, and I’m the one that got to pay for it since it was my film. That was a big learning lesson for me: when it’s time to let something go — let it go.

5. “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life” is an unhealthy delusional fantasy — I love what I do, but it absolutely feels like work. It’s important to acknowledge that what I love to do is work so I can distinguish when I’m feeling burn out and need some rest. You can’t achieve anything when you’re not in a clear, healthy state of mind. It’s imperative to be able to step back and spend time recovering when you need it. Americans have such an unhealthy relationship with the workforce that I understand why people don’t love to think about what they love as “work”. That being said, pursuing anything involves technical work. That doesn’t mean you have to turn your passion into a soulless 9-to-5 job mentality, but it’s important to realize that every step along the way of creating something isn’t going to feel like fun. One of the most frustrating aspects of independently producing content is that I cross paths with way too many people who want to pursue filmmaking or the arts because they want to spend the rest of their lives feeling like they’re in elementary school recess to access their inner child. Though I love filmmaking, producing a project with someone else’s money is incredibly stressful, and I want the people I’m working with to respect that. That doesn’t mean we have to act like we’re doctors saving lives, or that I’m an unreasonable tyrant, but I only want to work with people who bring honor to their work. If we have fun along the way, that’s great! But there’s a time to joke around and there’s a time to focus. I only want to work with people going forward who understand the difference because I’ve found it’s a disaster otherwise.

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

First, ask yourself, “what purpose does this serve?” Nothing exists for the sake of existing. Everything in life ultimately serves a purpose. Second, ask yourself “am I willing to invest the time this project requires in order for it to be successful?” Sure, you can start and stop projects, but as you get older you realize how precious time is. There are only so many hours in the day. Utilizing your time becomes a priority when you get older. Third, ask yourself if you really have the discipline to pursue this project. Abandoning projects isn’t a great feeling. Lastly, if you’ve answered “yes” to all the previous questions — do you have the resources to realistically pursue your project? If not, can you find the resources or work toward finding them? I’m all about dreaming big, but there comes a point where you have to address reality in order for your project to succeed. I think almost anything is possible as long as you want things for the right reasons and you’re willing to do the work to get there.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

Do as much as you can on your own until you’ve reached the end of that road, and then seek help. You can’t accomplish anything entirely on your own. Eventually, you will need people to help you ascend to the next level. That being said, you should try to do as much as you can on your own. It helps you learn your product inside and out, but it also shows potential investors and consultants that you’re willing to do the work in order for your product to succeed.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

Again, do as much as you can on your own before pursuing help. At the beginning of my career, I had to prove to people that I was worth investing in. I had to assemble projects on my own, sometimes with no budget or the little money I was able to save working in bars in restaurants. I had to literally invest in myself because I knew I had no reason for people to invest in me at the time. I wanted to prove I was worth investing in on my own. Because I believed in myself and I proved I was willing to do the work, others were willing to invest in me, eventually.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

A phrase I think about a lot is: be the adult you needed as a child. I try to apply that philosophy to everything I’ve ever made, to some degree. In addition to campaigning LGBTQIA+ representation, I try to tell stories about the lessons I wish I had learned when I was younger. I’ve tried to give my work purpose by creating stories that are honest about my experience as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. My work has received some criticism that it’s not the most flattering depiction of the LGBTQIA+ community at times, but I’m just trying to share my experiences in hopes that others benefit from it. Sometimes it isn’t pretty, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. I think a lot of LGBTQIA+ media presents a fantasy that most queer-identifying people wish they had experienced. I think that’s lovely, but that’s not what I’m interested in doing as an artist. Some people go to the movies for escapism and some people go to the movies to re-examine the world we live in. I think of myself as a sociologist first and a filmmaker second. I’m just reporting the world around me as I see it. When I was growing up, I felt like all the adults were gaslighting me, trying to convince me the world was such a perfect place even though I could tell the adults in my life weren’t very happy. I never want to exhibit that quality as an adult. That doesn’t mean I want to be a pessimist about the world, but I feel like we can’t fix the problems our society faces unless we can be honest about where we are. I’ve tried to create content that reflects my ideology, but I’m also excited to promote my most recent project because it explores the homeless epidemic, and that’s a subject I’m very passionate about finding a solution to. I don’t want to become a “cause” filmmaker, but I do want to tell stories about people our society doesn’t normally pay attention to, or perspectives that challenge people to be better in real life.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

On a large scale, I would like to ultimately abolish capitalism, but a more immediate movement I would like to inspire is to find a permanent solution to the homeless crisis. This crisis is a major human rights violation. Housing is a human right. The fact that our elected officials have allowed this crisis to happen by not passing laws to protect people is criminal. Its horrifying to see the homeless epidemic and affordable housing crisis continue to spiral out of control as our elected officials do nothing about it, despite their campaign promises. Getting people to understand the severity and complexity of the homeless epidemic is a dire need in order to resolve this crisis, as well as understanding that unhoused residents are more than just victims. Though the circumstances are tragic, I’m endlessly inspired by the resilience and hope of the unhoused neighbors I’ve met throughout my life. It’s far beyond time for our society to realize that housing a human right and there are more than enough resources to see that every person who exists in this world is housed and fed. Anyone who tells you otherwise is conditioned by capitalism or a thief.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Dolly Parton. Not that I’ll ever be as brilliant as her, but I love how she has dedicated her life to her craft and made the world a better place because of it without being preachy or self-indulgent. Her work has a lot of empathy while still being wildly entertaining.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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Fotis Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

Passionate about bringing emerging technologies to the market