Q&A with Jared Callahan, award-winning film director and PLNU alumnus

Photo courtesy of Callahan.

The Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, an annual event hosted by Point Loma Nazarene University, provides the opportunity for renowned authors to grace the student population with their wisdom and creativity. On Monday night, Feb. 20, students were given a chance to exhibit their own creativity through the PLNU Student Short Film Festival. In addition to a screening of the winning student films, Jared Callahan, award-winning film director and producer, was the featured guest speaker for the night. 

Callahan founded People People Media, an Emmy-nominated production company based on a 95-acre farm in the San Francisco East Bay. His work has appeared in The New York Times, PBS, The Atlantic and at signature film festivals such as Sundance. He studied media communication at PLNU and graduated in 2005. The Point talked with him after the student short film festival to hear about things he’s working on, advice for aspiring filmmakers and his time at PLNU. 

The Point: Do you remember any films you created during your time at PLNU?

Jared Callahan: When I was young at Point Loma, we made a pirate movie and it was a large production. We definitely bit off more than we could chew. It packed out Brown chapel and it was a fun night. We dressed up all of the guys in Young and Hendricks as pirates and put them on the Star of India and filmed all night. It was awesome, but it was also terrible. By the end of college, my friend group made all kinds of weird short films and music videos. 

TP: When did your love for making films begin?

JC: Skateboard movies. I skated, but my brother was better than me. So we’d get to a place where I could no longer do anything, but I could hold a camera while he did things. By senior year, we edited a 15-minute skate video that we sold to all our friends and it was so fun. It was fun to craft something that people could watch and I had the bug. So when I came to Point Loma, Media Com and production was the natural next step. 

TP: With People People Media Co., where you now direct and produce, what voices are you amplifying and what stories are you telling?

JC: People People has provided a platform both to tell stories, but also to help people tell their stories. So, a lot of what I run at the farm is in conjunction with Heirloom East Bay, the 95-acre farm near Oakland, California, is hosting artists to come make their work with us. So we have people who are of all genres — painters, poets, novelists, filmmakers, actors — come and they can work on their art and share it with each other. Then we provide feedback and their work can get better while they are on the land with the animals, walking in the creek. So, that has been my focus a lot over the last couple of years. I’m excited to take a breather and spend some time reflecting on “what are the next stories that I need to learn from and help shepherd into existence?”

TP: How do you balance your faith with your filmmaking? How do you see your faith come to fruition through your filmmaking?

JC: For me, my faith and filmmaking are inseparable because filmmaking is asking questions and being open to learning. And I feel like somewhere in the Christian faith, we’ve shifted from mysticism, mystery and learning into commercialism: “I have an answer for you and let me sell it to you.” That’s not what I understand faith to be. So for me, making films is an exploration in growth, in learning, in changing. And I think for me, that is incredibly linked to how I see faith. 

TP: What would you say are the most important skills in order to go into this career?

JC: Filmmaking is such a collaborative medium that there is space for everyone. If you are a writer and have a phobia of talking to people, there is space for you, because you can spend your entire life absorbing, processing and writing. What you put on page goes and can be the map that thousands of people follow to bring that story onto screen. Film doesn’t need you to be anything; film needs you to be wholly yourself. 

TP: How do you tell a good story?

JC: Tell a story that scares you. How is this challenging you to be vulnerable? A comedian once said, “If you’re not telling secrets then you’re wasting my time.” I think the more that we can do that, especially in Christianity, we can get passed things taught to us, or forced upon us and we can move to places of truth, goodness and change because we’ve challenged the status quo. I think good film provides safe spaces to do incredibly dangerous things.

TP: What advice do you have for Point Loma students, and what should they lean into before leaving college?

JC: Be kind to yourself. It’s good to have drive and you need to have some resiliency and do things, but also, it’s okay to take a day off. It’s okay to not be stuck as a producer or consumer and go wander in a creek or listen to a tree. Just be. The more you can be in touch with yourself and what’s growing in yourself, the better art that you’ll make. The more we learn to listen, the more interesting it will be when you speak.  

Written By: Sofie Fransen