Award-winning Carmel Valley filmmaker embraces binational projects


Carmel Valley filmmaker Jared Jacobsen has built a career out of story-telling, whether it is shooting commercials, corporate videos, music videos or creating his own documentaries and narrative short films. His 10 films, including four documentaries, have screened in over 40 festivals nationally and internationally and have won several awards.

Jacobsen has a master’s degree in economics from San Diego State University and didn’t get into filmmaking until later in 2009.

“I always enjoyed telling stories but I didn’t get started making movies until after my dad passed away,” Jacobsen said. “It was a life-changing experience and it pushed me into making a change and doing something I always really wanted to do and really wanted to try.”

Jacobsen said many filmmakers in San Diego have a second source of income, his happens to work a whole other side of his brain. Jacobsen works in educational research doing test development and psychometrics, making sure computer adaptive tests measure results accurately.

With his company StephenJake Video Productions, Jacobsen has done all kinds of commercials for various clients, from Kraft in Mexico to Bayer aspirin to pop-up internet ads.

“What I like about commercials is that every second counts,” Jacobsen said. “It only takes one false move to lose an audience.”

Being precise in commercial-making is good practice in everything he does — his goal is to not waste any action.

A lot of Jacobsen’s documentary and narrative film work is binational, taking place in Baja California and Tijuana, a reflection of his admiration for Mexico and his deep connection to the country after spending a year living there with his wife, Suzanne. When he first made the transition into film, he took an extended studies program at Centro de Estudios Cinematograficos de Baja California — it was a “natural progression” to do a lot of work down there due to the connections made in the industry there and his affinity for the culture, the richness and uniqueness and ambiance of the country.

His documentary subjects have been varied, one highly rewarding project “Quiero Ser” was about five individuals and their families facing HIV. Another, “El Gran Taxista,” was a documentary that came out of a trip with his son to Colombia and a chance meeting with a unique taxi driver with a story to tell.

The documentary subject came as a surprise to him and the resulting film showed in quite a few festivals — he said often documentary subjects can pop up that way, when you are not looking for a story to tell or to force or squeeze a story.

“It just comes to you and you go for it and see where it takes you,” Jacobsen said. “People really seemed to like it.”

Every year he interviews people on film to produce a video for Survivors of Torture International in San Diego. Survivors tell him stories that are “heartbreaking and personal” — a lot of careful work goes into the high stakes project that is only shown one time at an event for the organization due to the sensitivity of the material.

“It’s really important that the person I’m interviewing is comfortable when telling me their story and that they feel like they’re in a safe place,” Jacobsen said. “I have to make sure I’m not pressing them to say too much or get into areas they don’t want to get into…I’ve learned a lot about that over the years.”

In his narratives, he is often telling stories about “touchy subjects” and tragic events, but with humor, like 2014’s “Hotel del Paso,” a dark comedy about a woman out of place in a hotel that charges by the hour.

Jacobsen wrote and made the film to poke fun at the filmmaking profession and the way women are portrayed in film. The film won the Binational Award at the 2015 San Diego Film Awards.

Jacobsen’s latest film, “Happy birthday/Felicidades,” is in pre-production and incorporates an overlap between American and Mexican cultures. Inspired by characters created by award-winning Spanish author Rosa Montero, the short film tells the story of a California mother struggling with a mental illness who takes her twin children on a surprise trip to Tijuana. Not familiar with the city, the family stumbles onto different adventures and a Tijuana cop becomes an unwitting participant in those adventures.

What Jacobsen likes most about the film is that it is not stereotypical Tijuana, it’s more based on his own experiences, “the warmth and the positivity that I see down there.”

“It’s about the commonalities that we share as opposed to the differences,” Jacobsen said, noting that the film also explores some challenging subjects of mental illness and addiction.

The film includes a binational cast and crew, and he raised funds for his film through Seed and Spark, a crowdfunding platform focused on promoting diversity in independent films. Jacobsen’s goal is to make this short film to raise money for a feature-length film telling a new story about the characters introduced in “Felicidades.”

“I love it, I love telling stories,” Jacobsen said of his career. “I really like the variety and hope to keep doing it. There’s always more ideas of stories I would like to tell, I feel there’s never a lack of material.”