"We were exceptionally lucky to have such a loyal and talented team"
The year is 1961. Jackie and Terry Bumbry are a mixed race couple who have a paranormal encounter with a bright light in the sky while driving near Mount Shasta. They report their experience to local law enforcement, who bring in a psychologist to assess the situation. But as Jackie tells her story to the doctor she comes to realize that there may be ulterior motives at play.
Inspired by true events that occurred in 1961 America, ‘The Bumbry Encounter’ is a tightly woven and suspenseful tale that asks us to question our personal biases towards others and how shock and trauma can influence them.
The film recently won Best Picture at LAFA, as well as Best Narrative Short and Best Supporting Actor (Ross Turner, who plays Doctor Bancroft). The lead judge, Ronn Kilby, described it as "a little cinematic gem. Inspired performances from all, thoughtful camera work, exquisite lighting, spot-on music and deft editing combine to make this period sci-fi piece eminently enjoyable."
We asked writer-director Jay K. Raja to join us for an interview.
Writer-director Jay K Raja
Jay, congratulations again on winning Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor and Best Narrative Short. Tell us more about yourself. California born and raised, were films always a passion and a goal? When did you fall in love with filmmaking and how did you start out?
I was a voracious reader and writer as a kid, but honestly never really watched or enjoyed movies until middle school, when my friend showed me ‘Donnie Darko’ and ‘American Pie.’ I wish they were more dramatic films, but nevertheless the duo blew away my little seventh grade mind - I was amazed at the breadth of stories that film could tell and how effective they were at telling them. Soon I was writing screenplays instead of short stories, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
What was the inspiration for the story?
It was originally inspired by the real life Betty and Barney Hill incident, a landmark case in UFO abduction stories. I should say that what happens in our movie does not represent the true events - as far as we know ;)
Lauren McFall and Skipper Elekwachi as Jackie and Terry Bumbry
Period Sci-Fi is such an exciting genre! What were some of the visual references that came to mind when you were conceived the concept for the film?
While we did want to honour the 1950s aesthetic with a softer vintage lenses alongside accurate decor and clothing, our main visual references came from early Spielberg movies, especially ‘E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial’ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind.’ Director of Photography Jerome Stolly loves to paint with light, so a dark, contrasty interior was right up his alley.
Can you talk about the challenges you encountered during the shoot?
On paper, this seemed like a pretty straightforward shoot. Two main characters, one room location, mostly all dialogue. No problem! But we definitely found a way to make it more complicated than that - we shot the whole thing on stage, which meant production designer Micah Embry Wilmott had to cram almost a whole house into a small studio and still leave room for lights (and fire lanes!). The exterior night scenes were further complicated by shooting on stage, ending up being a combination of live action background plates, miniatures, green screen, and considerable VFX work by producer/editor Roth Rind.
Ross Turner as Dr. Bancroft
Ross Turner won Best Supporting Actor for his role. When did he come on board, and how did you work with him to achieve such a wonderful performance?
Ross was the first person cast on the film - this was all the way back in 2016 when it was just going to be a scene study that I wanted to shoot as an exercise. He seemed to instantly understand the character of Dr. Bancroft, and he brought this sugar-coated wickedness that was perfect for the role. It was the kind of casting that makes the director’s job easy - I only had to say very little to Ross and he’d instantly have a wonderful idea of what to do on the next take.
You and producer Roth Rind go way back- in 2013, you worked as a Staff Producer at Roth Rind Productions, and then you formed a new company, Rind- Raja Picture Company. Tell us a bit about your journey together and how you divide the responsibilities when providing projects together. Also, what does your company specialize in and what are your future goals?
Roth and I started working together in the second half of 2013. He was already a successful producer doing video content in the Bay Area, and I was coming off an unsuccessful attempt at an office desk job. We cut our teeth on corporate videos to feed the tech machine, but moved onto doing more narrative commercials and music videos. I think what makes us a good team is our ability to quote ‘Jurassic Park’ from top to bottom and our shared love for a good stout beer. Right now our main focus is promoting ‘The Bumbry Encounter’ and finishing up on another low key sci-fi we filmed titled ‘This is Fine.’
Are there other important collaborators in your life (that helped you with this movie and /or other films)?
This movie was all hands on deck, and thankfully my family and friends got involved. My parents have been incredibly supportive over the years despite me not being an engineer or doctor. My sister actually did the poster art for the film - she’s an incredibly talented artist in her own right. And the crew was made up of people who put in an extraordinary amount of time and creative effort into the film. We were exceptionally lucky to have such a loyal and talented team.
How you normally find balance between the need of the production and the creative vision?
It’s kind of a gut reaction. You compare the knot in your stomach when you find the perfect room divider for the set versus the knot when you look at your credit card balance and see which one is worse. For this movie, we got the divider, and it was glorious.