Student Spotlight | Jonathan Rowan, MFA ’20

Third-year LMU SFTV graduate student Jonathan Rowan has had a busy fall. Two of his projects—a music video called “Runnin” and his second-year film BEAUTY MARK—have debuted on Revolt TV (owned by Sean Combs, also known as rapper P. Diddy) and at the DTLA Film Festival, respectively. BEAUTY MARK also screened at the Louisville International Festival of Film. We caught up with Jonathan to ask him about his work.

Tell us a little bit about BEAUTY MARK. Why do you think it caught the attention of the film festivals where it’s been screened?

My film is about a woman trapped in an abusive marriage who struggles with the illusion that pain is love. I think it has some strong filmmaking choices in it, strong conflict, strong performances. In this film, I wanted to focus on the topic of domestic violence and what many people experience in their daily lives. And the DTLA Film Festival had a #MeToo category this year, so it fit into their programming.

What were the biggest challenges in producing it? What were the most satisfying moments?

The most challenging part was gazing at the intensity of domestic violence. The actors were not afraid to give 100 percent to their performances. We shot a lot of scenes from 12 to 3 in the morning, and neighbors heard us and were getting ready to call the police until they learned it was a film shoot. Even people on set were afraid sometimes; some couldn’t watch the film because they’d had similar experiences in their lives. On the plus side, I think we managed to touch people on many levels with the film, helping them to heal. Whenever you see anyone in this sort of situation, you can help them not to feel trapped or isolated.

Why did you make “Runnin’”? Are you passionate about music and music videos?

“Runnin’” was my first-year project at LMU SFTV. Prior to attending grad school I directed and produced a horror film called SLASHER that screened locally from Ohio to Kentucky, from 2014 to 2016. I decided to cut that film as a music video from a perspective of a serial killer during his hunt, and the music became the part of the cinematic universe.

How did you find out about the opportunities that got your work noticed?

Knowing what genres the festivals are interested in is very important. I used a website called Film Freeway and created a list of various festivals I was interested in and sent them the work. I was thinking about the distribution of my film as well. For instance, Revolt TV had a Short and Fresh Hip-Hop Halloween special contest, so my film was great for their program. Now I have a distribution contract with them for three years.

SFTV’s faculty have also been very helpful, especially my editing teacher and personal mentor Skinner Myers. He takes his time to help us to navigate the festivals, and is always ready to give advice on transitioning into the real world.

What are you currently working on?

I will soon be shooting my MFA thesis film about an unarmed teenager of color being shot by the police. I’m dealing with a very important, personal subject here. My uncle was shot by a police officer and my mother never recovered from the trauma. I still feel uncomfortable in the presence of the police, and I have many friends that have experienced similar situations. In my script the police officer is also a man of color, which complicates things. Through making this film, I’d like to illuminate stories about victims of police violence and how these shootings affect the people in their lives.

Any suggestions for aspiring filmmakers on how to promote their projects?

As filmmakers, we can’t be afraid to put our work out there. Social media is a great tool for posting things. My work is on Facebook, Vimeo, YouTube. Send your work to people, submit it to festivals, put it online, get feedback. Learn from your mistakes. Keep improving. Embrace the change, the better you, the better filmmaker and storyteller. For me, it was always important to show my work to people. I was drawn to the industry from an early age. The start of my career was amazing and I hope to continue in the same mode. If you know what you want to do, why not do it with passion and joy?

Reporter Sona Mkrtumian is a first-year MFA student in Film and Television Production at LMU SFTV.