Film Producer Jordan Yale Levine Talks Humble Beginnings, Success, Jay-Z & More
Jordan Yale Levine is a film producer on the rise. He’s already got 20+ credits under his belt at age 30 and has plans to grow and expand his production catalog. Born and based in New York City, Jordan threw himself into the hustle of filmmaking and has experienced great success, armed with hustle and an insatiable hunger for doing what he loves to do. Heed got a chance to sit down with Jordan and talk about his humble beginnings as a penniless teen in LA to his current projects and releases this year and beyond.
Heed Mag: I’ve read your bio, but how would you describe your journey? What’s your story in your own words?
Jordan Yale Levine: When I graduated high school, I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the path a lot of my friends were taking, going to school and getting a degree. I was much more interested in entertainment. At 19, I packed my bags and headed to LA. I learned very quickly that in order to do this I needed money, because my parents weren’t helping me financially (they’re very conservative people). For a while, I was just figuring out what I wanted to do and I finally decided on producing. I thought it would be extremely difficult with no resume to get funding for my own ideas for films, so for the first 5 or 6 years, I just hooked up with producers that already had projects. I built up enough executive producer credits during that time to sustain myself in LA. After that, I realized I had the credibility to attract financing, so then I transitioned into producing. My first movie was Black Limousine and it starred David Arquette, Vivica Fox and Bijou Phillips. From there, I had an opportunity to come to my hometown of New York City and film Petunia, starring Brittany Snow, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Thora Birch and some other cool people. The film commission tax credit in New York was very attractive and it became a huge incentive for me to stay in New York and produce films. There’s lots of talent already here, It’s aesthetically beautiful and Upstate New York can look like any part of the country. The film community is smaller than LA’s, so that makes it a bit easier to procure financing. So I’ve been here since.
HM: You’ve been involved with the thriller genre (Tooth and Nail), meta-comedy (He’s Way More Famous Than You), comedy-drama (Petunia) and even crime-drama (Datin’ Marvin). Are there any particular genre’s that you want to venture into as your career grows?
JYL: I’m a film lover and I enjoy all kinds of genres. My interest depends on the kind of mood I’m in, really. For example, the latest film I produced, My First Christmas, is a type of movie I’ve never done before. It’s a family movie, but it’s also a movie to raise awareness about a rare form of cancer called Myelodysplastic Syndrome. It was written by a guy who’s father passed away from this kind of cancer. I’ve gotten so much support from people thanking me for making a movie about this. It’s a type of cancer that people don’t even know about until they get it, which is horrible. I’ll be making a similar film about autism soon.
As far as where I want to end up, I’d love to do big films like Fast and Furious and I love the “big” genres, but I also appreciate doing indie films.
HM: You’ve seen a good bit of success at an early age. Lots of artist feel pressure to perform and reach a certain place by a certain time. Can you identify with that?
JYL: Yeah, it’s funny you bring that up. My mother likes to tell me I missed the best 4 years of my life, but I almost think of it as a 4 year head start. I definitely put a good amount of pressure on myself to drive and continuously be better. I feel that I’ve proven myself as an executive producer in different genres. My next goal is for a film that I produce to hit at a Sundance, or a Toronto, or a Tribeca. Further down the road, I’d like to transition to studio and get one or two films that hit either critically or financially.
HM: What’s going on now with you?
JYL: I have 3 movies minimum coming out this year, including My First Christmas. Sean Patrick Flanery is on board for that film as well as Jason London and Quinton Aaron. Another one I’m doing is called Dynamite: A Cautionary Tale. If I had to compare, I’d say it’s very similar to Requiem For A Dream. It’s a story about a friend of mine who, in his 20s, was involved in illegal pornography distribution in order to feed his heroin addiction. It was a downward spiral and almost killed him. When it started to affect his children, that’s what helped him turn his life around. What’s crazy is his wife doesn’t even know about the movie and some of his kids have no idea about his past life. They’ll see for the first time when this movie comes out. Ian Harding, from Pretty Little Liars, plays the lead role, Max and he did an amazing job. Evanna Lynch, from the Harry Potter series, plays Max’s wife, Theresa and we have a very cool supporting cast, too. The theatrical release will be around November, in 10 cities.
HM: What’s next?
JYL: I’ll be doing a movie about autism in the fall called Scared of Sarah, starring Aya Cash from You’re The Worst. I’m also working on another film that I can’t give away too much about, but what I can tell you is that it’s a biopic about basketball. I’m working with the filmmaker Christine Crokos on that one. I’m a big basketball fan, so the fact that I get the opportunity to do this kind of film is extremely enticing for me.
HM: Favorite basketball team?
JYL: Brooklyn Nets. I was at the elimination game a couple of weeks ago and it was so bad I had to get up and leave. I also have season tickets to the Knicks and they are terrible, as you know. I took Quinton Aaron to one game before we filmed My First Christmas and they put him on the big screen and everything. It was fun!
HM: Favorite movie character of all time?
JYL: Oh wow, that’s a hard one. I mean, I can give you favorite actors like Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and I might have a special feeling toward Paul Walker, with all of the drama surrounding his untimely death. The end of Furious 7 got me.
As far as favorite character…I guess I have to go with Matt Damon in The Departed. I really love that role. That was a tough situation he was put in and what his character did was brave. The way the whole story unfolded was exciting, too.
HM: What is a quote, work of art, song, etc. that really resonates with you?
JYL: I’m really into Jay-Z and his music. His story really motivates me. Even the movie American Gangster, which Jay-Z did a soundtrack for, really gets me going. While I’ve never been involved with drugs or anything like that, seeing a guy go from a limousine driver to being the leader of an empire is so motivating. I dig New York rap as well.
HM: Our readers are creative rebels, young professionals, cultural critics and consumers of culture. What should our readers take Heed to?
JYL: As far as now, I think what’s really relevant in the film industry are indie films. Independent films have their own category now. There are movies now that are completely shot on a iPhone. Aspiring filmmakers should know that they don’t have to be a multimillionaires to create films. Take advantage of the new waves of technology. Look at what can be done with a tripod and a phone. Movies like Little Miss Sunshine and Juno and even smaller films like Precious and Beast of the Southern Wild costs very little to produce but have gone on to do extremely well. You can make things happen without huge amounts of resources. Just be smart and creative.
Stay Connect with Jordan:
Twitter – @jylevine