Mischa Jakupcak’s short film The Hero Pose features a father, Joe, trying to sell an old car, and his daughter, Mia, a wise-beyond-her-years preteen in a jean jacket and tutu who listens to NPR. Mia sits on an American flag, puts jumper cables on her braids and makes confident observations about life as Joe talks on his phone and dismisses Mia’s antics. At first. But as the 12-minute film rolls along, there are sweet moments of clarity between the father and daughter—including one in which they talk about what the “M” on Missoula’s Mt. Sentinel stands for. For Joe it’s “motor,” “mass” and “mortgage.” For Mia it’s “marvelous” and “magpie.” It’s “Mackerel. As in, holy!”
Jakupcak, a Missoula native and now-seasoned filmmaker, has won dozens of awards across the country for The Hero Pose in Seattle, Spokane, Toronto and as far as Oaxaca, Mexico. For its Missoula premiere this week, we spoke with Jakupcak about her feisty characters, her love of film and why Missoula plays a special role in her work.
You started writing The Hero Pose at the Missoula Colony in 2012. Where did the idea come from?
Mischa Jakupcak:The subject for that year’s Colony was “Missoula Stories.” To get ideas, I got online and sifted through Missoula’s Craigslist and started exploring different ads. I was amused by the “for trade” section where people were wanting to trade Game Boys for guns, for Dobermans, etc. It reminded me of how much I love the distinct, sometimes odd culture of Missoula and the random collision of strangers that occurs because of Craigslist ads everyday around the globe.
Joe, the main character, is played by Chaske Spencer, who is also in Winter in the Blood and the Twilight series. How did you end up working with him?
MJ:It’s funny, I didn’t know that he was a star in Winter in the Blood—though now I am dying to see that film—or that he had a starring role in the Twilight series. I had been co-producing an independent film that was shot in eastern Washington called Desert Cathedral. I saw several versions and was immediately drawn to the subtle, quiet charisma that Chaske’s character embodied. I got in touch with the director, Travis Gutiérrez Senger, who put me in touch with Chaske.
Nikki Hahn is so wonderfully charming in how she inhabits Joe’s young daughter, Mia.
MJ:She was by far the most professional person on our set. She often helped prompt Chaske and myself as well, having memorized the script better than anyone else. I first heard about her from our friends and sound technicians [at] Digital Sorcery. I watched a piece called “Toddlers & Tiaras” on “Jimmy Kimmel” where Nikki plays Tom Hank’s beauty pageant daughter and I was impressed immediately. She is whip-smart and seems to have an effortless talent in front of the camera.
Is she based on anyone?
MJ:The character of Mia is based on my niece, Eliza—easily one of my all-time favorite people. She is 9 years old and wise beyond her years. I definitely channeled her language and sassiness when I wrote Mia’s dialogue.
What made you fall in love with film?
MJ:I went to a matinee by myself at a cheap theater in Lynnwood [Seattle] one rainy afternoon and saw Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love. It was so beautiful and compelling, and as I watched the credits roll, I saw lists of individuals who had somehow managed to work in the film industry and I thought to myself, why couldn’t I find a way to do this as well? Is it possible? Having grown up on a goat farm down the Bitterroot, it seemed a bit far fetched. But … I began volunteering at the Northwest Film Forum delivering their newspapers [and] I eventually attended the London Film School, getting an MA in filmmaking.
What has been the most interesting feedback you’ve gotten from people on the film?
MJ:I didn’t set out to write a children’s story. In fact, the language that the father character uses was sort of inappropriate for kids, I thought. But after I made the film and started sending it to festivals, it kept getting selected to screen at Children’s Film Festivals.
What else are you working on?
MJ:I have a feature script that is set in Missoula called Walrus. It’s a comedy about a woman in her 20s who is returning to Missoula after dropping out of law school and features her friendship with a young girl—basically the Mia character from The Hero Pose—and an older, gay man who is dying of cancer.
Why do you like filming in Missoula?
MJ:It’s a cliché, but there is an authority as a writer that comes from setting stories in places that you know. Every time I come back to Missoula, I climb to the M. It’s the perfect setting for so many stories—and of course has special meaning and nostalgia to me.
The Hero Pose screens at the Roxy along with The Duchess of Suchness and Bastard Fri., Aug. 15, at 7 PM.