On Jaywalking: Indie movie thrives with close collaborations and a generous EC community

Eric Christenson, photos by Zach Oliphant

WE’LL BRING THE POPCORN. Eau Claire native Peter Eaton’s new film, Jaywalking, is the story of two losers who become unlikely friends and lead other to cathartic self-discovery. The movie was shot in over 40 locations in Eau Claire, and had a supportive cast and crew (made up mostly of local friends) of about 130.
WE’LL BRING THE POPCORN. Eau Claire native Peter Eaton’s new film, Jaywalking, is the story of two losers who become unlikely friends and lead other to cathartic self-discovery. The movie was shot in over 40 locations in Eau Claire, and had a supportive cast and crew (made up mostly of local friends) of about 130. Above: Mack Hastings

After growing up in Eau Claire, filmmaker Peter Eaton made his way out to Los Angeles to do the thing. The real deal. His pie-in-the-sky idea for his three years in the City of Angels was to make movies, but what he actually found himself doing was shooting Instagram content for influencers – you know, makeup artists and models with obscene amounts of social capital. Pretty people. Rich people. To Eaton, it all seemed a bit vapid, but he had to pay the bills.

Feeling stuck and creatively zapped, he started to try to shake out what his priorities were, as an artist, a businessperson, and a human.

“You know, we can do something cool on our own with our own money. We don’t need a studio backing. I’m gonna cast my homies who can act. I had all these talented friends that I knew I could bring together to make something happen.” – Peter Eaton on his forthcoming independent film Jaywalking

“I made this big pros and cons list. What are the projects I loved? What are the projects that made the most money? What are the projects I hated?” he said. “All the projects that I never made any money on, but I loved the most and felt the most proud of – they were all shot in the Midwest, they were made here, and they were passion projects.”

Before he moved to the West Coast, Eaton had a number of creatively satisfying projects under his belt: His 2011 short film Sugar Mountain was a sunny, nostalgic homage to teenage summers in Eau Claire; he shot comedic sketches with local pals; and he still helps film the Chippewa Valley’s pastoral beauty for PBS series Around The Farm Table every summer.

Yearning for a fresh fulfilling project, Eaton quit his job in L.A. and started writing a script for Jaywalking – a feature-length film about two losers in small town Wisconsin whose chance meeting takes them on a journey of self-discovery. After getting some editing help from his friend Ian Jacoby – another EC native who stars in the film as Aaron, a 30-something insurance salesman in a state of arrested development – Eaton came back to Eau Claire with a script and a newfound sense of purpose.

Above: Ian Jacoby
Above: Ian Jacoby

Jaywalking also stars Mack Hastings (a frequent collaborator of Eaton’s who had a lead role in Sugar Mountain and a bunch of great sketches) as Nate, a 19-year-old burger flipper who lives in a seedy motel and plays online games. And at its core, it’s a story about friendship, set in the flat, wide landscapes of northwestern Wisconsin. Rather than get over-ambitious, shoot too high and potentially miss, Eaton wanted this story to be pared down to its most simple facets: The honesty and realness of two unlikely friends helping each other get unstuck.

“It’s such a simple story. To me, if you can take a really simple story and explore the complexity of those characters, those little honest interactions, that’s better to me,” Eaton said. “There’s a sense of honesty in the Midwest, and I love that.”

Jaywalking was shot over the course 23 days two summers ago at 40-plus locations in and around Eau Claire. But the coolest part of this production was the number of people involved. Tons of Eaton’s old friends and acquaintances lent their talents to this thing, and at the end of the day, the cast and crew numbers totaled about 130. Whether they were doing small bit parts, being extras, or assisting production, Eaton called on a myriad of local friends and supporters to help make this movie a reality. And quite honestly, he said they’re the reason this film exists at all.

Watch the Trailer

“It was a sense of pride. You know, we can do something cool on our own with our own money. We don’t need a studio backing. I’m gonna cast my homies who can act,” he said. “I had all these talented friends that I knew I could bring together to make something. People from Eau Claire came and saved the day and made it happen.”

Watching the film, you’ll notice some familiar settings, of course. There are scenes in the Festival Foods parking lot, Oak Leaf Surgical Center, there’s a concert scene backstage at The State Theatre – the list goes on. Eaton hesitates to call it a quintessential Eau Claire movie, though, and that’s because the themes of the movie itself should be relatable to anyone in any Midwestern town like this. Eau Claire is merely a backdrop for this very human story of connection.

So now, after two years of re-shooting, editing, color correcting, having extreme doubts about the whole thing, mixing sound, adding an original score, editing some more, and having some more self-doubt – Jaywalking is finished. The film is truly a testament to what’s possible with a shoestring budget, big dreams,  creative freedom, and a lot of friends.

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Area filmmaker Peter Eaton & Co.

Eaton is submitting the film to a few major film festivals whose contract language bars a public screening in case the festival can premiere it – as is the case with stuff like this – but a private screening for cast and crew is happening in Eau Claire Thursday Aug. 22. For the many many locals involved in this project, it’s exciting to see what’s become of this project in the last couple of years. And for everyone else, the story of friends and self-discovery is relatably cathartic.

For his next projects, Eaton hopes to continue this trend of low-budget films shot with friends and close collaborators. In a career where he’s experienced almost everything there is about shooting video, Eaton figures projects like Jaywalking are the ones worth fighting for. At the end of the day, if you get to do something awesome with your friends, that makes it all worth it.

To learn more about Jaywalking check out the film’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/delrepictures

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