Ferndale High graduate finds directorial inspiration from growing up in a small town

From the April 20, 2017 print edition

By Ken McCanless

Enterprise contributor

Courtesy Sweeney Photography
Ferndale High School graduate Jacob Cooney on the set of “Pitching Tents.”  Behind him, producer Jane Kelly Kosek.

Ferndale native Jacob Cooney (Ferndale High class of 2000) is bringing his directorial skills back to his hometown in a big way, paving the way for screenings of his new indie comedy “Pitching Tents” at The Old Steeple in Ferndale at 8 pm on Saturday, April 22 and at Mill Creek Cinema in McKinleyville at 8:30 pm on Wednesday, April 26.

Cooney, son of Grizzly Bluff’s Tim and Elaine Cooney, said that originally, the distributor wasn’t looking to target northern California, so he decided to start making the necessary inroads to ensure that interested people could get a chance to see the film in Humboldt County, which in many ways served as an inspiration to Cooney throughout his career. He actually took film classes at Humboldt State in high school before going on to film school at California State University Monterey Bay (shooting his thesis back in Humboldt County) and then moving to Los Angeles, and ultimately New York to work in the movie industry.

“I wanted to bring ‘Pitching Tents’ back to Humboldt not only because I want the local community to take part in its success, but because the film’s story reminds me of my own journey in some ways,” said Cooney. “I wanted to get the movie up there (Northern California) because I felt like people would enjoy it, and I’ve never had a film play up there before out of the number of things that I’ve done, and this was the first opportunity to get it up in the home field and show people what I’ve been up to.”

He said he and the producers and distributors managed to work out the two local screenings. Asked about his motivation, Cooney said that “in general, depending on the project, I have to find something that I feel down to my core, and that’s where the inspiration comes from. The story for ‘Pitching Tents’ really hit me because it’s about an artistic kid in a small town in Pennsylvania who’s looking to figure out what he’s going to do in his future,” describing how his protagonist is torn between adult figures trying to provide guidance and “finds himself” in a frivolous weekend with friends.

According to the film’s press release, “Pitching Tents” finds high school senior Danny Whitaker at a crossroads — will he do what his working-class father thinks is practical and take a job at the local metal factory, or will his “loose cannon” guidance counselor persuade him to enroll in college to save his own job. To escape reality, Danny and his band of misfit buddies head to the woods for the town’s annual rite-of- passage fishing trip. It’s after a wild party that Danny stumbles upon Goddess Camp, the urban legend of “skinny-dipping chicks” that so many horny high-school boys have fantasized about for years. Here he meets Alison, who helps him find the strength he needs to take charge of his own destiny. “Pitching Tents” is unrated with a run time of 93 minutes.

“For ‘Pitching Tents,’ being from Ferndale, growing up in a small town, having a dream and trying to reach that dream, is really kind of what brought me to the story,” said Cooney. He called it a “homegrown attitude” that Ferndale nurtured and has come into his adulthood and into his career. “Having a community that was rallying behind what I wanted to do fostered my ability to achieve my goals and to direct movies and write films and be involved in the entertainment industry,” he said, adding that it was the pushing of parents and friends that allowed him to fully explore his creative faculties and said that without it, “I don’t know if we would be having this conversation.” “Pitching Tents,” as a comedy/drama, is somewhat of a departure from Cooney’s past repertoire of mostly action and horror films. But as Cooney describes, the genre is something he’d like to delve into more deeply.

“In making the movie, I realized that I wanted to make more movies that instead of doing pure entertainment and blowing stuff up or scaring people, I really want to tug at the heartstrings and am now looking for material that along with having those action elements also is more personable to the audience and makes them feel more to their core rather than jumping or saying ‘ooh’ or ‘aah’,” said Cooney.

Cooney lived in LA for 10 to 11 years after college and three or four years ago, he says, moved to the east coast. He says he’s always considered himself more of a director than a writer, saying, “I love writing, I love telling stories, that’s what I love to do regardless of what I’m doing, but my preference is to direct.”

The director had kind words for the entire cast of “Pitching Tents.”

“They really put in the research and the time to understand the characters,” he said. “It was just a really good experience working with them. Working with Jonathan Lipnicki (of ‘Jerry Maguire’ fame) was great, and we talk a lot now and we’re trying to figure out what we’re going to work on next together.”

Cooney said in past projects he had especially enjoyed working with Maury Sterling (“Homeland”), but was especially complimentary of the “core four” youngsters in “Pitching Tents,” consisting of Lipnicki, Marco James, Michael Grant, and Booboo Stewart.

Cooney is coming off a recent trip to Los Angeles where he saw the film premiere on March 30 and then open in theaters the next day. He mentioned that he and the cast “hit Entertainment Tonight, and were on CNN, and talking with a number of newspapers.

“There was a lot going on leading up to it, but once you sat down in that theater and the movie started playing and you started hearing the reactions, you kind of relaxed a little bit,” he said. “Luckily the audience reaction has been really good and you can’t ask much more than that for the audience to enjoy something you put together.”

He said it was good for him and his wife Dana and 17-month-old Emmeline to reconnect with some of their old friends, including some college colleagues and former co-workers, during the LA swing on their “half-work-half-play vacation.”

Those interested in what else Cooney has accomplished in the past decade with his long list of writing, directing, and producing credits can visit www.jacobcooney.com, and for more information on the cast and plot of “Pitching Tents,” deemed a coming-of-age 80s comedy, one can visit pitchingtentsmovie.com or the film’s Facebook page.

The local boy summed it up by saying, “Since people of Ferndale helped push me to follow my dreams, I wanted to bring the film back to my hometown not only because I want the local community to take part in its success, but because the film’s story reminds me of my own journey in some ways.”

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