An interview with JAMES M. STORM | THE ELECTRIC CYCLE RACING LEAGUE | VMA 2022
Savage does not begin to explain our guest today, the multi-award-winning filmmaker and artist James M. Storm and his crew of misfit guerilla filmmakers.
Original creative freedom, large doses of risk-taking, and integrity are the secret weapons by which a filmmaker can open the door to very difficult moments, but also the ones that, during the long climb to personal success, will really lead him/her to it.
And these are the same weapons that James himself uses for his tireless production of indie films, now over 60, and which are a common denominator to a beautiful friendship and collaboration between artists that has lasted since childhood.
The VMAs were able to appreciate James' unique, alternative, and psychedelic style through 3 projects: 'Meet My Pet Monster', 'The Electric Cycle Racing League', and 'Captain Fantastic and the Magic Piano' for which he won awards and experienced success on the film festival circuit.
Today we are pleased to talk more with him about his behind-the-scene work!
• Hello James and welcome to this space dedicated to our winners and their projects. First of all, congratulations on your wins at the VMAs! Would you like to briefly introduce yourself to our audience?
Thank you VMA for having me. My name is James M. Storm. I am an indie filmmaker from San Diego CA. I have been an artist and a filmmaker my entire life yet I only started taking on the film festival circuit this year. After an 8-year cycle of non-stop production, we finally felt as though we had a few films worthy of selection and we were pleasantly surprised that all of our recent releases have been winning awards, most notably our flagship project, ‘The ELECTRIC CYCLE RACING LEAGUE” (2022).
• We know that your passion for filmmaking started around the age of 6 with a family camera and VHS. Would you like to tell us, if you remember, what most fascinated, inspired, and brought you closer to filmmaking?
Ever since I was a child, movies to me were pure magic. They were the ultimate form of entertainment that could bring people together and transport them to any place or time. I quickly learned that behind
every one of these magnificent displays of pure magic was a brilliant magician conducting this story. So of course I was obsessed with the idea of becoming a great cinematic magician someday myself so I went to work telling my stories the best way I knew how. I commandeered the family VHS camera, recruited my neighborhood friends, and began making epic backyard productions.
Most of the time I’m compelled to make the film because I’ve already made the entire thing in my head and now I have to get it out.
• When did you decide that you would dedicate your life to filmmaking by opening J.S. Co. Productions Digital Video Studios?
By my senior year in high school, I was already an accomplished stage actor and filmmaker. I knew that if I was going to continue making movies on my own I was going to have to think outside the box. So instead of pursuing some of the more traditional routes to filmmaking success, I decided to start a production company of my own. The company could pay the bills by working on traditional high-end commercial productions by day while allowing me to have the recourses to make my indie films by night.
• In your projects, we can feel the influence that the 1980s had on your experimental phase, helping to create this original and instantly recognizable style of yours that also reveals a distinct sense of humor.
I’ll admit that as a child of the 1980’s I really do enjoy referencing some of my favorite pop culture icons in my films. In the case of “The ELECTRIC CYCLE RACING LEAGUE” (2022), we had the opportunity to have some fun with the look and design of the film from the sets, to the costumes, to the vehicles. If you pay close attention you will find multiple ways in which we pay homage to our favorite 80’s franchises. The style of the film was greatly inspired by films like TRON, BATMAN, BACK TO THE FUTURE, ROAD WARRIOR, and more. By the nature of the subject matter, I really wanted the film to be modern with a very retro and nostalgic vibe.
• What inspired you the most in those years and what inspires you today to create your indie films?
Every film is different for me and so is the inspiration. Sometimes I just want to jam, other times I take myself too seriously and try to create high art. Generally speaking, however, once I have conceptualized a great story I become obsessed with getting it out of my head. Most of the time I’m compelled to make the film because I’ve already made the entire thing in my head and now I have to get it out. But I know that once I do make the film, I’ll enjoy it and I know others will too.
• All the passion, fun, and great friendship between you and your team shine through your projects. It seems like you guys have a lot of fun together creating even "impossible" things like in the case of the prototypes for the film 'The Electric Cycle Racing League'! What is your secret to keeping a working hard team together?
My crew is made up of an eclectic group of misfit geniuses from all walks of life, cultures, and religions. A history of friendship is definitely not enough for any crew to stay together and there really is no logical reason we all do stay together as an ensemble. It’s the films themselves that keep the crew coming back each time. Our film sets are the perfect place where true artists are welcome to come and practice their craft in a fun and safe environment. We come together for a higher purpose in spite of our usually conflicting worldviews and the payoff is these cinematic masterpieces of pure magic. Magic that we created together. Collaborating to make something much bigger than yourself is an awesome feeling and when you have taken this kind of journey together multiple times, the crew really does start to become like family.
• We know that the sudden loss of some important people on the crew brought you really close to shutting down some projects. Who and what helped you get through those moments of deep discouragement?
As usual, the films came to my rescue. There have been many times in my life when I was in distress
and I didn’t know what to do but press on and forward. Art can be very therapeutic when you have nowhere else to go and you know you can’t stand still. I’ll admit that a lot of my films were motivated or inspired by deep emotional trauma. Trauma from losing loved ones and the death of crewmates, trauma from sacrificing so much to make my dreams a reality. There were many times I wanted to give up thinking to myself “what’s the point?”. But I have to remind myself that the best way to bring honor to my fallen soldiers is to press on and finish the fight. It’s what they would have wanted. And maybe, just maybe, along the way I might create something beautiful that brings a little bit of light to this world. It’s the least that I can do since I am the fortunate one to still be walking this earth.
• What have been in all these years of your career the most significant moments and those that have made you more complete as an artist? What have been the challenges?
To be completely honest the most significant moments in my career have been in these last few seasons in which my films have finally begun getting recognized and I have actually been receiving awards for my work. As an artist first, my primary focus has always been on the perfection of my art. I never really spent much time promoting my films or going to festivals. Once a film is finished, I’m ready to move on to the next one. It wasn’t until recently I felt I had enough material worthy of the festival circuit, so I decided to try my luck. I felt like I had something special on my hands, but I didn’t know for sure. After a lifetime of filmmaking, I’m sure you can imagine how honored and accomplished I finally feel to have my films appreciated by such respected festivals. Especially festivals like the Vegas Movie Awards have given so much love to my work. I don’t want to sound dramatic but it really has changed my life by giving me credibility as an artist. I know as an artist I should feel accomplished just by finishing a film and I do. But damn, that golden trophy sure feels good in my hands. The recognition from my peers feels even better.
• You said, "My creative well runs deep and I don't need a Hollywood budget to tell a great story. Give me a VHS camera and a flashlight and I will give you 'Gone with the Wind.'" Would you elaborate on this concept?
So many artists that I know feel as though their creativity is stifled by a lack of budget or sophisticated equipment. I’ve never let that stop me and it shouldn’t stop you. I get it, some people are creatively bankrupt and can only solve problems by throwing money at them. But for the people like me that have endless creative energy and passion, I hope I can inspire them to go out and make something anyway because you never really know what you are capable of unless you try. After all, some of the best films were created out of necessity and not luxury. For me, big budget… No budget… It doesn’t matter; I’m never going to stop telling stories and making movies. Like the great magicians that came before me, I’m a pro at making something from nothing. For me that’s a necessary part of the experience, that’s my time to shine.
• What are your future plans and projects? Would you like to offer our audience any glimpses?
My next project has been years in the making and is one of the most anticipated projects of my career. It’s a novel and film titled “WHERE THE DRAGONS SLEEP” (2024) It’s essentially a semi-autobiographical adventure thriller about my crew and me as we navigate indie movie-making in what we like to call Dark Hollywood.
Collaborating to make something much bigger than yourself is an awesome feeling and when you have taken this kind of journey together multiple times, the crew really does start to become like family.
• Thank you, James, for this interview, for your originality, and for keeping high the values of creative freedom and integrity as a way of living. Would you like to dedicate these final words to someone close to you?
My crew and I really are like a family, so I would like to dedicate these last words to some of our fallen crewmates who passed away so untimely over the course of these productions. Andy Campbell, Erin Storm, and Zack Bohacz. I dedicate this film to them and I hope the completion of these projects will bring them honor. They taught me that the show must go on and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t carry all of them with me in my heart. And thank you VMA again, for allowing me to participate in this interview. We love right back VMA!