By David Rosenfeld
Jeffery Patterson began our interview asking the first question. “So what do you want to know?” And like an open book he threw his cowboy boots up on the coffee table and grinned through a wild beard like he just emerged from a dairy farm. But don’t let looks and his southern accent deceive you. This is a man with the passion and drive to possibly become America’s next great filmmaker.
We were buzzed up by his assistant to a penthouse apartment in Marina Del Rey. It’s a temporary dwelling until he and his twin 14-year-old daughters move into an 88-foot yacht he just purchased. At the apartment, the conference table is covered in papers and his phone rings off the hook. Patterson just returned from Tucson shooting the third movie in the past two years that he’s produced and starred in. The latest – shot in December – is the sequel to Hot Bath an’ a Stiff Drink, a family western where Patterson plays two roles – twin brothers with a sibling rivalry that drives most of the drama.
He said the first was so well received in test screenings they went ahead with the sequel. The two period Westerns come on the heels of a touching family drama set in Alabama called Finding Harmony. All three are currently working on distribution.
“There comes a time when you just have to do it,” Patterson said. “So I decided to produce my own films no differently than Sylvester Stallone, Matt Damon or Billy Bob Thornton.”
It was after several years working as an actor and coming off a successful business career that Patterson said he committed to making movies full time. While each of his films are considered low budget by the Screen Actors Guild standards, film critics say the quality looks closer to a $40 million or $50 million film. The secret involves a great script, proper planning, a grueling production schedule and a talented cast and crew.
“Acting and producing are perfect careers for me,” Patterson said. “I would always get bored with what I was doing and this is anything but boring. Every production is different than the other. Every film has its own challenges. I have now found what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
His assistant said she’s shocked how much Patterson can fit into a day. “You’re on the clock constantly,” she said. “He’s spontaneous. I have to put food in front of him so he remembers to eat. He will take out time to spend with his daughters, but other than that he’s always on the go.”
Matthew Gratzner directed both Hot Bath an’ a Stiff Drink films and is widely respected in the entertainment industry for his work on a range of movies including The Aviator, Shutter Island, Hugo and Iron Man. He said Patterson stands out in Hollywood as someone who sticks by his word and that he truly delivered remarkable performances.
“The thing that impresses me most about Jeffery is that while he doesn’t have a long track record as an actor, he’s a really good natural talent, and it’s what makes the films really work,” Gratzner said. “If someone walked in off the street, and they do, and say they want to make a movie and play two parts, I’d say you’re nuts. But Jeffery sincerely put the money up and not only that but he knocked it out of the park with the performance. He stepped up, and no one in Hollywood really does that. And the reality is he really did a terrific job.”
Gratzner said the spirit Patterson brings to filmmaking embodies what Hollywood was originally about. During the silent era and into the 1940s and 1950s, entrepreneurs came from New York with no idea how to make movies. But it was through creativity and drive that they succeeded. It’s those attributes Gratzner contends that Patterson possesses.
“The films we are making are very similar to how it was in the golden age of Hollywood,” Gratzner said. “It was how films were made. We don’t have huge crews. We don’t have big huge budgets, but we deliver great character pieces, good stories with plenty of action and a lot of drama. What Jeffery really has is a good sense of what people will want, a good sense of an audience.”
Patterson is a man of many lives. Having grown up on an Alabama dairy farm, he first learned about business by watching his father who ran several different companies. Patterson became a stock broker, an investment banker and ran a successful real estate firm over the course of his career. He said he was encouraged by his mother to follow his dreams, which made a big difference in his life. He took a stab at Hollywood in the early 1990s before moving back to the South to start a family. All the while he continued to perform in community theater, keeping the dream alive.
Patterson had full custody of three of his four daughters, who were also interested in acting, when they packed up their bags and moved to Los Angeles in 2008. At first he took roles in short films and small independents with lots of rejection along the way. He said he realized at one point that making movies is a business like anything else. So he got a job working at a small production company in order to learn the craft.
When the time came, he launched Once Upon a Dream Productions and started looking for scripts. For his first full length feature he chose a heartfelt screenplay about a close-knit Alabama community called Finding Harmony, written by Judy Norton, best known as Mary Ellen from the long running TV series The Waltons. The film stars Patterson, Billy Zane and Alison Eastwood. In an interview with Eastwood she said when she first heard about Patterson she thought “who is this guy?”
“It was like he magically appeared out of nowhere,” said Eastwood, the daughter of Clint Eastwood. “He has a really fun, silly sense of humor and so do I, so we got along well. We both shared a love of good Tequila and a good joke. I found he has a natural ability as an actor, and I give him a lot of credit for putting everything together and getting great people involved and having a great crew. I was really impressed with him. He kind of gears his projects to folks in between New York and Los Angeles, people that want to have a down home really straight-forward family entertainment. And I think there is a big audience for that.”
Patterson clearly doesn’t fit the Hollywood mold. He despises schmoozing and doesn’t care for clubs. He still carries his Alabama accent and likes to wear cowboy boots. What he hopes to bring to filmmaking is an understanding of what people enjoy in the vast majority of America.
“The primary motivation for me in all of this is to produce quality, family-friendly content,” he said. “First and foremost my most important job and title is Dad. Being inspired by my daughters and being able to do what I love and include my family is truly a dream come true.”
His oldest daughter, Mara and twin daughters Autumn and Paige, each had roles in their father’s movies. Up next, Patterson plans to produce three more movies this year including one this summer starring the twins in a story that touches on bullying and coming of age in modern schools.
“I think he is off and running as far as his career,” Eastwood said. “He’s definitely one of those maverick types that does what he wants to do. He’s definitely not willing to play the whole Hollywood game. He obviously has access to funds, but beyond that he really wants to make the kind of films that he wants to make and not let anyone stop him. I think he’s off to a really good start. Similar to my dad, he’s a really intelligent guy and he knows what he wants and the projects he wants to do,”
Some of the other actors in one or both of the films include Tim Murphy of Appaloosa and Lone Ranger, Ronnie Blevins of Dark Knight, Grainger Hines from Lincoln and Hell on Wheels, Rex Linn from CSI Miami and Django, Frankie Muniz from Malcolm in the Middle and Big Fat Liar, Robert Patrick from Terminator 2 and Gangster Squad , Mirelly Taylor from Lost, Tom Schanley and Tonya Clark.
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