Sight of the Hunter

John Jimenez

Photo By Larry Dalton

Elk Grove director John Jimenez‘s feature film debut is as much a moviemaking success story as it is an ass-kicking action thriller. Shot in Sacramento three winters ago with a crew of more than 200 locals, it was lauded, under the working title End of the Law, as the Best Local Film of Access Sacramento’s 2003 Festival of Cinema—but it wasn’t widely seen. Now, courtesy of a national DVD release from Lions Gate Home Entertainment, the renamed Fugitive Hunter is back (look for it at Tower Video), and it means business. Jimenez talked to SN&R about what you can do with a little bit of capital, a lot of willpower and a clear-eyed business plan.

How long have you lived in Sacramento?

All my life. I was born in 1969. I’ve always felt good here and had good experiences here, so I stay here.

Have you always wanted to make movies?

Oh man, since … well, at least since watching Star Wars at 7 years old. Way back when. I’ve always just really, really liked movies. It always was an escape for me as a child. It was exciting when I first realized, “Wow, maybe I can do this.” At some point, I started making music videos and skateboarding videos. This was before they had all the desktop software, so I was hands-on. I learned a lot.

Such as?

Well, actually, as I progressed to bigger budgets and more responsibility, I learned that the expectation of what it’s supposed to be is probably an even bigger concern than the money sometimes. Expectations can make or break a movie.

Tell us about making this one.

This guy Wayne Wallace had written this script. He’s a talented actor. I had known Wayne; I met him at a film festival. I gave him my number and forgot about it, and then four years later he says, “I got this feature. I want you to direct it.” I went through the script, rewrote it and got the writing credit ‘cause I put a lot of effort into that. Then we got hooked up with this producer, who used to be his high-school teacher. Well, Wayne is really mature and really talented. I could see where he’s going to go in the future. We met, and I knew it was the real deal.

So how’d you do it?

We did it with less than $80,000. And we got national distribution. In our business plan, that was the goal. And, actually, Lions Gate was the goal, too, so it worked out. After years of doing this, I’m realizing the business end of it is super important. Taking care of yourself contractually also is huge. You get lost in the shuffle if you don’t. We pretty much met every single goal in the business plan. We went over budget a little bit, but it wasn’t that much. We’re learning as we go here. But the thing is we did it all without a star. We’re proud of that. It was all Sacramento people, which I think is a huge accomplishment. It was just straight, grassroots Sacramento.

What’s Fugitive Hunter about?

It’s your basic action-drama formula. It’s the guy that’s down and out who’s forced into a situation … and when he gets into this business of bounty hunting, it’s a little bit dangerous and corrupt, but he needs the money. Well, corruption leads to more corruption. He exposes it all and takes down the bad guy and all that stuff. It’s all the classic stuff. And that was the plan: to go along with what works.

What’s the toughest thing about making movies here?

That’s an interesting question. Most of the time you hear, “Why is it nice to shoot Sacramento?” And everybody is nice and supportive—business owners go out of their way to help us out. But the hardest thing is taking it seriously. This is a real movie. If they don’t see a show of all the money, the trailers and the lights, if people don’t see that, it’s hard for them to think of it as a real feature. Yeah, just having people take you seriously. But I’ve already had a couple actors tell me they’ve been recognized. People staring at them from across the room at Mikuni’s. That’s nice.

And now what?

There’s always something in the works. Right now I’m working with iLine studios. They’re local. There’s a script I’m up to direct, maybe two. Because of this movie and because of all my other experience, I’ve been in and out of deals for a few years now. And that’s how it is. It’s all about timing. Are you in the flow or not? Are you going to get the break? And are you ready to take advantage of it? I’m just trying to keep working and go with stuff that I like. This one has its problems just like any movie, but I’m proud of it. It’s done what it was supposed to do. And now it’s on to the next one.