Jared Hogan has a beard that reaches down past his collar. He wears hats with straight brims and shirts that must be at least a decade old. He looks comfortable. But beneath his nonchalant exterior is a filmmaker who is deeply committed to becoming one of the best in the business — a filmmaker who can’t stand the thought of mediocrity. “I’m incredibly ambitious,” he told us. “I can’t disappear into the middle.” This makes Jared’s statement on his About page on Tumblr all the more interesting:
“I am a husband. I am a father. I am a lover of Jesus. And least of all, I am a filmmaker.”
It’s easy to let our ambitions take over our lives, so it’s surprising to meet someone for whom that hasn’t been the case. Jared said sometimes that statement on his About page is more aspirational than reality. But what he’s learned after all these years is that when work isn’t the most important thing in your life, that’s when you’re free to create work that counts. “It almost doesn’t make sense,” he says at the end of the interview. But we’ll let you get there for yourself.
Here’s our conversation with the beautifully counterintuitive filmmaker, Jared Hogan.
Where are you at this exact moment?
Right now…I am headed out to scout a location. I’m actually stopping by our studio real quick. You’re going to hear an alarm go off in just a second. I’m grabbing a couple things before I head out.
What’s the location?
It’s really just a field. I’m going to make sure I’ve got my head wrapped around exactly what we’re doing.
So take me from the very beginning of your career to this field. How did you get here?
Okay, so when I was in 7th grade, I scraped some money together and bought a really horrible Hi8 digital camera. I remember thinking at the time, This is either a big waste of money, or this is what I’m going to do with my life. I got the camera on clearance and started making really, really terrible videos with my friends in middle school and then high school.
I was a pretty horrible high school student — I barely graduated. I actually walked across the stage at graduation not knowing if I’d actually graduated. Somehow I got into college, Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. My first semester I made straight As. I was like, “Man, this is right. This is how I think, this is how I learn, this is what I really want to do.”
You had a formal film education then?
Were there things you learned in film school that have stuck with you?
Kind of on my own, I learned to reject the old Hollywood idea that everybody has their own specialized role. I was doing so much by myself and with a small group of friends that everybody had to wear multiple hats. It was never like, “You’re only first AD,” or “You’re only first AC.” Everybody was doing everything. Most of the roles we learned about in film school didn’t even exist.
So how’d you end up where you are today?
At the time when I was in film school, I was really into documentaries. I really thought that was the path for me. I was obsessed with Barbara Kopple and The Maysles Brothers. So I pursued internships at both of their production studios — and didn’t get them. That was a little devastating.
Randomly, though, I’d heard about Elevation Church [in Charlotte, North Carolina]. And because my internships had fallen through, I was like, “Well, I’ll go help out for the summer.” And honestly, I just fell in love with the place, with what the Lord was doing there. Never in a million years did I expect to end up working at a church. If anything, I was probably against it just because I’d seen what my dad — he was a pastor — had gone through. I just wasn’t interested. But there was something different about this place. There was this high emphasis on creativity. There was a lot of potential. I felt the Lord tell me very clearly that this is where I needed to be. It was so counter to everything I was being told at school, and everything my friends were telling me. They were like, “What are you doing?”
Was there a reason you chose to work at a church or was it just a feeling?
It doesn’t make any sense, right? There was no logical reason. I just felt it was what the Lord was telling me to do. I guess I was foolish enough to listen. I’m actually incredibly ambitious when it comes to my career. I have always wanted to make great stuff and rise to the top. I think every artist wants that, to do something extraordinary. I can’t disappear into the middle. So I didn’t necessarily see how that was going to work out by my working at a church, but I knew it was the right place for me to be.
It seems like career paths can be so over intellectualized. And then one day you just make a random decision, or you have a feeling about something.
Totally. I think I just trusted that this was what I was supposed to do and I did it. As far as career path goes, we’re in a generation that’s rejecting the old model of “career path.” The old model being what I was talking about earlier, where you worked your way up and only after 20 years could you hold a camera. Until then, you’re running extension cords and getting people coffee. That’s done. That’s over. We’ve stumbled through the back door. Now, if you make good work, people notice. It doesn’t take 40 years to work your way up anymore. It seems like cheating, but that’s the revolution.
Does your faith affect the way you approach your craft?
It’s everything. I feel like the Lord gave me the gift of communicating in a visual way. It’s not mine. So I’m trying to give it back in a way that multiplies the gift that was given to me. I try not to over spiritualize it. I think if you allow yourself to think your gifts are your own, it’s easy to get lost in yourself. I have to remind myself that none of this is mine. It’s not like a one-time decision, it’s like every day I wake up and go to work and remind myself.
Why do you think Christian art and films and stuff are usually so bad?
It’s a great question, and I don’t really know the answer. I have some theories. Some of it is that you’re trying to inspire people who already believe what you’re teaching. You’re preaching to the choir. I’m not very interested in that. I’m more interested in trying to reach people who maybe don’t understand the full extent of God’s grace. That’s more what I’m interested in, but not necessarily just saying that.
I think a lot of times where Christian art falls short is when people want to load you up with different religious theories and theological perspectives, when really what we’re supposed to do is just have a conversation, commune with people, build relationships, ask questions, not necessarily tie everything up with a nice big bow. Things fall short when we try to tie them all up, when we try to make life or spirituality or the gospel this clean thing when it’s not.
When you are able to understand that not everything is answerable and that life is complicated — that’s art.
On your bio page it says, “I am a husband, I am a father, I am a lover of Jesus, and least of all, I am a filmmaker.”
Do you really feel that way?
It’s another one of those daily things, reminding myself that I’m not defined by what I do. It’s hard. It’s hard to remember that. Sometimes it’s how I feel, but sometimes it’s how I want to feel. If I’m honest, I guess it’s probably more often on the side of what I want to feel.
We did a teaching at my church a couple years ago called, “Don’t Put Jesus First.” It sounds shocking, but the idea is that Jesus should be part of everything you do. Instead of ordering your priorities in a numbered hierarchy, Jesus is in your marriage, Jesus is in your family, Jesus is in what you do professionally. That’s how I try to operate as much as possible.
I try to be a good dad and a good husband. I try to live a life that reflects what I believe. And I just hope that ends up affecting my art in a positive way.
I think it does. Because it’s not everything to me. When I screw up, I don’t have to collapse. It takes the pressure off, which frees me up to make creative choices I might be too afraid to make if everything was always on the line.
It’s sort of counterintuitive.
It almost doesn’t make sense.