Exploring A Passionate Mind: Interview With Filmmaker Jason Burke

I’ve known filmmaker/fellow PopHorror writer Jason Burke for a few years now. Every time I talk to him, I’m blown away by his positive energy and fervent desire to create. Despite being born with cerebral palsy and spinal stenosis, Jason has persevered, never letting his disability hold him back or make him bitter about what life has given him. On the contrary, he continually inspires the people around him with an endless capacity for love and acceptance. I was honored that he took time out of his busy schedule to speak with me about his life, his films, and his continual tenacity to make the world a better place.

PopHorror: How long have you wanted to be a filmmaker?

Jason Burke: I think being a filmmaker and a writer were just always intrinsically a part of me. I was writing full short stories when I was seven. I can remember watching movies at a very young age and wondering how they did certain effects or certain stunts. I wanted to be a professional wrestler first, but I was told by doctors that they’d never clear me because it was life threatening. So I snuck off and tried it anyway, and they caught me. That weekend in 2005 when I came back, I bought a camera on a whim and realized that I wanted to learn every inch of the filmmaking process. So I signed up for college courses a few days later.

PopHorror: What roles in the filmmaking process do you play?

Jason Burke: I like to learn every single facet of whatever I’m doing. If I can do every job, then not only am I more employable, but I also know how to relate to all of my co-workers on a given set. My main areas of experience are as Director, Writer, Assistant Director, Director of Photography, Assistant Camera, Actor, and Editor.

PopHorror: Tell me a bit about your films and shorts so far.

Jason Burke: Since I re-entered the film scene in 2016, I’ve directed five of my own shorts. Mindbender is about a crazed psychologist who uses his powers over his clients for revenge. The Limbo Cafe [PopHorror review] is about a place for the lost and broken to go to pay for their misgivings. Grave Encounters examines the powers of love on damaged people who fight through pain. Shackles [PopHorror review] is a silent film about being quarantined with anxiety and depression on a daily basis. And A Soul’s Window is a morality tale about being confronted by your sins and finding value in your existence.

PopHorror: You seem to gravitate toward horror. Is horror a passion for you? Why?

Jason Burke: It’s one of my BIGGEST passions in life. I used to sit on my mother and my aunt’s floor and marathon VHS horror tapes with my cousin at sleepovers. Being scared is one of the deepest emotions in the world. There’s something so nostalgic and intimate about sitting in a closed room with the lights off and being horrified with your friends. I’ve been doing it for nearly thirty years. Building to the scares and survival is such an art form that I named my company, Nostalgic Nightmare Productions, after it.

PopHorror: What idea ties all of these projects together?

Jason Burke: When people ask me what I write about, my main themes are “people change people” and “events change people.” I love finding the realism and grey areas in situations. Good people will do bad things to survive, and bad people will do good things for someone they love. We’re all made up of that grey matter, and when we’re pushed to our brink, some of the biggest moments happen. I take situations I’ve never seen on screen before, and I let the characters get darker and more emotional before my eyes.

PopHorror: Tell me about your disability and how it has affected your filmmaking experience.

Jason Burke: I was born with cerebral palsy and spinal stenosis. I’ve had nearly a dozen surgeries, including three spinal fusions. When I started adding film into my theatre work in about 2008, I was still fully functional. In 2010, when I got into the meat of my first film run, I had my first fusion, which took me down to about 50% balance/speed. In 2019, in the thick of my second film run, I had two more fusions, which has me now at about 20% functionality. So it’s interesting to be able to log and compare the regressions as I go along. My disabilities are physical, but the real consternation is mental. Occasionally, I’ll have to turn down shoots now if they’re going to go for multiple weeks, or not get a part because I can’t perform the physicality anymore. That’s very humbling. But with any obstacle, the key is to adapt and be the best at the skills that you can still perform. In life, as in directing, you must keep a level head and learn to improvise. I have a lot of skills left that can’t be taken away from me. I’ll perform those until my limbs fall off.

PopHorror: Tell me about your passion for seeing people with disabilities act in and create films and/or art.

Jason Burke: One of my biggest goals as a creator is to open doors for people with disabilities. People often forget about ableism as a problem in the workplace. I was put into a very unique situation in that I’m disabled but not so much that I’ve been held back from many things. I have two college degrees. I’ve published six books. I own and manage my own home and my own production company. So I’m extremely blessed. I want to be a voice for the voiceless and hopefully inspire some other children that grew up like me. I found myself being a bit typecast out of roles with romance and depth since I lost my balance. So I started writing my own roles for myself. If I can show the world that we—the differently abled—can be leads, can be writers, can be directors, can be anything at all… then maybe I can help other people find their passions and reasons to keep fighting.

PopHorror: What messages do you hope people will get from your films?

Jason Burke: First and foremost, that we can still be original. I’m bored to death with all the stereotypical jump scare movies and reboots of old franchises. I want to tell stories that haven’t been told before. I also want to break the stigma that low budget indie equates to “bad.” You don’t need the fanciest equipment or the most money to make a good movie. You just need drive, passion, and preparation. And I want people to have an escape from the riggers of life when they watch my work, to forget about their problems and immerse themselves in my world for a few minutes. That just proves how vital that art is to daily life.

PopHorror: What stories do you still want to tell?

Jason Burke: I’ve got SO many film and book ideas in my mental holster. I have a ton of scripts written that are ready to be shot. I have a new twist on a gothic haunted house thriller, a femme fatale dark-action movie, and a body horror It’s A Wonderful Life concept ready to go. I also want to write more poetry books and a children’s story. For me, storytelling comes naturally. I sit down and let the ideas pour out of my soul. An hour or two later, a new script is finished. Untold stories burn my insides the way that a carton of ice cream might harm a lactose intolerant person. Ideas strike me suddenly, and they make me anxious until they shoot out onto the page. So, I’ve got a million stories left for the world to see. But nothing that they’ve ever seen before, hopefully.

PopHorror: Who would be on your bucket list film cast and crew?

Jason Burke: Oh man, I could fill a hundred pages with names. I’ve been trying to have bigger casts in my films and use a ton of new people each time just so I can say I’ve worked with everyone. Each person brings such a unique flavor into the proverbial pot of soup. There are too many local names and I don’t want to offend anyone, so I’ll talk about some Hollywood people. Samara Weaving is doing tremendous work. Anya Taylor-Joy is killing it. And then there are my obvious horror heroes like Kane Hodder, Danielle Harris, Felissa Rose, and Robert Englund. I’d love to work behind the scenes with Mike Flanigan, Jordan Peele, Kevin Williamson, KNB EFX, and Harry Manfredini. Then have Joe Bob Briggs screen my film.

PopHorror: What movie has provided the most inspiration for you?

Jason Burke: The two that I grew up with and watched the most were Psycho and Halloween. Everyone touts those, but the paths they blazed are so important. Wes Craven is the biggest reason that I direct. I feel like he revolutionized two decades of the slasher genre. To me, he always made smart characters. I hate that women and people of color got stuck behind outdated tropes for so long. I love powerful women characters, and those are the centerpieces of my stories as well. The Twilight Zone is another huge inspiration. It gives me a chance to break all the rules, work my macabre magic, and place my smart characters into otherworldly situations.

Jason Burke, Shackles
Jason Burke in ‘Shackles’

PopHorror: What’s your favorite candy to get on Halloween?

Jason Burke: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are the mecca of all candy. But I’m here to confirm that Reese’s Pumpkins taste better than regular Reese’s. Aldi’s also gets these apple cider cookies in October that are fantastic. My mom—Lord rest her soul—passed down a Halloween candy bowl to me, and I fill it to the brim every October for my friends who come over to watch horror movies with me. Somehow, I wind up eating 90% of the candy every year. That’s a horror mystery in itself.

About Tracy Allen

As the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of PopHorror.com, Tracy has learned a lot about independent horror films and the people who love them. Now an approved critic for Rotten Tomatoes, she hopes the masses will follow her reviews back to PopHorror and learn more about the creativity and uniqueness of indie horror movies.

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