Helllooooo everyone! While season 2 is currently in production, I’ve been digging in with some written interviews. Jayme Wojciechowski is an actor, filmmaker, stuntman and friend that I met many years ago. He’s not only an incredible human with unique perspectives, but he’s also had life experiences all over the map and has been pushing through challenges to grow his creative career on his own terms. I think you’re really going to love this interview with him, and be inspired to get out there and make sh*t happen!
Filmmaker, Actor, Stuntman: Jayme Wojciechowski
First off, where are you from, and what was the journey like to Los Angeles?
I am originally from Buffalo, NY, but since college I have been a bit of a vagabond. I live in Chicago for 4 years and then moved overseas where I spent time living in Scotland and London. I then took the plunge and moved to Los Angeles a little over four years ago.
I know you lived and studied acting abroad (Scotland) for quite some time, which is something a lot of people wish they could do, but feel scared to take that leap. What was it like getting used to a different culture and going to school in another country?
Studying and living in the UK was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I have always loved traveling and experiencing new cultures, so it felt very natural for me. I thrive and feel most at home in very diverse environments, and the best part of training overseas was being surrounded by people from a plethora of different countries and walks of life. It really forces you to open up your mind. I’d recommend spending time abroad to anyone who is contemplating. I also just started learning Japanese so I can eventually spend a year or two in Japan training in various Buddhist Martial Arts.
Do you have any advice for people wanting to make a major move somewhere that they’re unfamiliar with when pursuing a dream?
Do your research. Make sure to you have a basic understanding of the culture before you arrive. Make sure your economic situation allows you not only to move but to actually put your focus on pursuing the reasons you are moving. Familiarize yourself as much as possible before you get there. Social media and the internet make it quite easy. The quicker you can fully immerse yourself in your new environment, they faster you will adapt. This is particularly true for big cities like Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. The people I know who did their research before moving thrived much quicker than those who did not.
Do you find that mentorship in the entertainment industry has been something that’s helped you along the way? Do you have any personal advice as to how one can go about finding a mentor for a new endeavor they’re wanting to embark on, whether it’s self producing, or something in a radically different field?
I’ve never really been a fan of “mentorships” in the traditional sense. Collaboration has personally been much more beneficial and educational in my experience. I think the problem with “mentorships,” for me, is that they often feel like one way relationships. I also find that most professionals in the industry are just too busy to mentor, unless they are also benefiting from the mentorship in some way.
My advice for anyone looking for mentors is to reflect on what you can bring to the table. This way the relationship is mutually beneficial and feels more like a collaboration between professionals, instead of an expert being asked to simply show a newbie the ropes. Once you understand what you are able to bring to the table, it’s amazing how easy it becomes to build relationships with people you once thought were completely out of reach. Relationships as professional collaborators instead of teacher/student.
Finding your inner confidence, your voice, and loving yourself is definitely key in living a PermissionLESS life and feeling confident that you’ll find your way. Can you talk a little bit about any defining moments in your life where you started to realize and trust in your potential?
This is a hard question for me because I do not view myself as overly confident. I have always been the type to feel incredibly insecure about my potential. As a kid I often wondered why I seemed to have a habit of putting myself in incredibly vulnerable situations (like performing) when my insecurities often made these situations feel excruciatingly painful. Then in college, I started a meditation practice that led me to realize there were two parts of my personality in constant conflict. The insecure side of me that lacked confidence was often challenged by a side of me that was desperate to prove myself and succeed. I then noticed that these insecurities were often fueling my drive to succeed. So, I guess I can say that in many ways it is my awareness of my insecurities that helps me trust my potential and drive.
That was a bit of a rant, but I guess a simpler answer to the question is that starting a Zen meditation practice in college was a defining moment in my life. It cultivated a practice of self reflection that allows me to trust in myself and use both my positive and negative traits to live PermissionLESS.
What would you say has been your most challenging obstacles when it comes to blazing your own path in entertainment through self producing?
My own self doubt has been the only obstacle when it comes to self-producing. I had always wanted to self produce, but spent years making excuses why I couldn’t. For awhile I convinced myself it was because it was impossible to find a team as dedicated as myself. Then I told myself it was financially impossible. Eventually my desire to make it happen overpowered my long list of excuses. That was also around the time that Amy asked If I was interested in writing and producing a short with her. So, I did.
A lot of people view our industry as difficult because of all the “gatekeepers.” I think gatekeepers are bullshit. Self producing is a form of living PermissionLESS, because we’re out there creating our own work and not letting anybody stop us. You have full control over your series right now. Where do you see the project going?
The stigma around gatekeepers are bullshit. I think the problem with the idea of “gatekeepers” is that most people seem to think of “gatekeepers” as an enemy that is creating obstacles to success. “Gatekeepers” do exist, but they are actually here to help us succeed. But they are unable to help us until we stop seeing them as an enemy and start seeing them as a valuable resource.
When I self-producer, I in many ways become a gatekeeper. I am in charge of hiring my actors, crew, creatives, etc. Like every other industry professional I know, I always look through my network first. If I’m casting and I have a choice between an actor I have a relationship with versus an actor I have no experience with, I am almost always going to pick the actor I have a relationship with. Why? Because I know that they can do the job. Now, let’s say that two years down the road I’ve now had that other actor audition for me multiple time and he always deliver a killer audition. Then randomly one evening I hear that actor just worked on a film with a friend of mine. I ask my friend about that actor and my friend says the actor is both reliable and professional on set. Now I trust that actor I once was unsure about, and I’m eager to work with him on my next project. This is how the industry works and how gatekeepers can be used to our benefit. They are not here to stop us, they are hoping we build relationships with them through our consistent, solid and professional work. They want to have a relationship with professional and talented creatives! It makes their job so much easier!
As for ‘Trials of Ember,’ the goal is to complete a 6 episode webseries in both 2D and 3D VR formats, then produce a feature.
It’s funny because as a creator, I try to never have full control. It scares me. I thrive under restrictions, so having no set boundaries or people I’m accountable to makes me feel unfocused. I also feel sharing control feels more collaborative and creates better work. What’s nice about self-producing is that I am the one who gets to choose who I share control with.
Do you have any failures that you truly feel shaped and paved the way for your successes with Trials of Ember?
I don’t mean to sound overly woo woo, but I don’t really believe in failure. I think the problem with labeling things as failures and successes is that it’s based on current perception. Things I once considered failures, I so often later view as a success. I’ll give a quick example. I few years ago I tried to help get a new type of production company off the ground. For a year, I dedicated most of my time and energy to have the entire thing implode. I could have easily seen that as a failure, but instead I focused on how I could use the experience to keep moving forward. Without that experience, there is no way I would have taken the plunge to write and produce Trials of Ember. So, even though the company was falling apart felt like a fail at the time, when I look at it now, I see it as a huge success because of where it led me to.
Speaking of self producing , your latest release, Trials of Ember, has a VR component. Virtual Reality, for as mainstream as it might appear right now, is still relatively new and hasn’t been experienced by the majority. Have you found any challenges with working in a new medium and learning as you go? What has helped you overcome some of the obstacles?
Trials of Ember was originally meant to be exclusively a traditional 2D webseries. After we produced the first webisode, we thought it would be fun to incorporate a VR element since the story takes place in a VR world. We then produced a VR teaser that gave fans an immersive look at the sword fights from the first webisode.
I knew almost nothing about VR when we started Trials of Ember, but luckily our director, Stephen LaMorte, had been directing and producing VR content for years. We also brought the incredible host of PermissionLess, Selena Vidya, on as our VR producer. Making sure we collaborated with people who had worked in VR and understood the challenges made the process incredibly smooth. We basically told Steven and Selena what our ideas were and they came up with the ways to make it happen. In other words, I passed on all the challenges to people who knew how to execute them.
I think VR was also a natural fit for myself and Amy. We are both action actors with strong background is physical theatre, so we both tend to think in terms of movement and how movement affects an audience. That is critical when trying to create an immersive VR experience.
Our VR camera did decide to overheat during filming which resulted in us failing to get our last shot. But it worked out because instead the viewer now get that creepy moment where they stand face to face with Ember. Another example of a “failure” being a secret success.
You’re a swordsman and stuntman; one of things that sets Trials of Ember apart (to me) is that both you and Amy are doing your own swordfighting for the series, and the VR content, rather than actors trying to learn it as they go for the shot. What originally drew you to the swordfighting and stunt side? How long have you been doing it?
I’ve been doing martial arts (Aikido / Kempo Arnis) and fencing for over 20 years, and have been specifically doing stunt training for 12 years. As a kid, my favorite part of martial arts was when I was able to perform demos at competitions. For those who don’t know, demos are basically fight scenes that are choreographed and performed to showcase a martial artist at a competition. I was also obsessed with japanese anime and martial arts movies. I dreamed of becoming one of those actors who got to do all the crazy cool fights. When I decided to go to college for acting, I ended up picking Columbia College Chicago due to it having the best stage combat department in the world. I then continues my training in the UK and since moving to LA, I have been training and working with the Academy of Theatrical Combat. This is where Amy and I first met.
Most of our PermissionLESS readers and listeners are riding the lines between biz and creative, and carving their own paths without much guidance. When you’re self producing, sometimes you have to wear a few different hats, moreso than someone who is coming in as purely an actor, or purely a producer. Any advice for juggling both sides of the biz?
I learned very quickly that in order to create content I’m proud of, I can only wear one hat at a time. Of course I can switch to a different hat as often as I need, but as soon as I try to wear more than one hat at the same time, things become chaotic. This is why I always make sure to put together a team I trust and can rely on. This way I don’t need to be juggling wearing multiple hats at once.
This can be difficult for many creatives who want full control of their project. That is why trust is so important. Trying to control everything is a sure fire way to drive yourself crazy. Having a team of people you trust, that you can delegate responsibilities to will allow you to focus on what’s most important in each moment. This is the only way I remain sane through the process.
What’s your underlying “theme” that’s followed you throughout your endeavors and basically lights a fire under you to keep you on the path that you’re on? (for instance, mine is storytelling and community – everything I do, work on, or build involves that in some way)
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” This has always been a favorite quote of mine. Whenever I am acting, fighting, writing or producing, I always try to make the choices that most challenge and expand my comfort zone. There is something I find incredibly empowering about becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. It allows me to be constantly surprising myself, and I love surprises.
What’s a fun ritual, activity, or thing you do when you need to pull yourself out of being heads down in work, or just a general funk?
I kind of mentioned it a few times already, but I have a rule about constantly stepping outside my physical, intellectual and emotional comfort zone. Over the years I have developed multiple rituals and hobbies to help me accomplish this. These include meditation, crossfit, powerlifting, learning new languages, reading the latest scientific journals, watching the saddest movies I can find.
How do you deal with fear or uncertainty when you’re working on something that’s in uncharted waters?
Embrace it. Uncharted waters are supposed to be scary and fear inducing. That’s what makes successfully swimming in them so rewarding. I also make sure to collaborate with people who have swam the waters, or at the very least are interested in exploring them with me for the first time.
Which of these PermissionLESS Mantra words do you feel got you where you are now, and which do you want to build upon?-BOLDNESS, ADAPTABILITY, FEARLESSNESS, CONFIDENCE
All those years being overly concerned about what others thought of me caused me to develop on incredibly beneficial skill; adaptability. Adaptability is also the most important skill I look for when I am looking for people to collaborate with. The entertainment industry is all about collaboration, and collaboration only works when those involved are adaptable. I can easily collaborate with artists who lack boldness, fearlessness or confidence, but collaborating with someone who is not adaptable never works.
I think working on my confidence will be my life’s work. And I’m okay with that.
What are two badass songs that get you energized and vibing high?
Wow, this is a hard one. I’m going to cheat a bit on this question. The first song is actually the entire Bjork album, Vespertine. It’s really just one epically long love song. There is something about the intricate beats Bjork produced for the album that instantly brings me to a state of energized curiosity.
Lately, I find myself also listening to Dog Years, by Maggie Rogers, on repeat for hours at a time.
Who is someone that you feel truly lives PermissionLESS (it could be anyone – someone you don’t know, someone you do know, etc) and would love to see interviewed?
Wow, just one? I know so many incredible people who truly live PermissionLESS. If I have to pick just one, then I’d say Cat LaCohie (aka Vixen DeVille). She is an actor, burlesque dancer, creator, and all around badass who’s dedicated to empowering others to love themselves, their bodies, and life itself. Interview her immediately! (ON IT! – Selena)
Where to find you, and any projects you’re currently working on?
I’m on most social media at @jaymewoj. Trials of Ember can be found on all major social media platforms at @trialsofember and at trialsofember.com.
Also published on Medium.