Filmmaking Alumnus John Jencks Returns to NYFA to Screen “The Hippopotamus”

Earlier this month, New York Film Academy Filmmaking alumnus John Jencks returned to NYFA Los Angeles to screen his feature film, “The Hippopotamus,” starring NYFA Board Member Matthew Modine.

Having grown up in the UK, Jencks recalls his time as a student, hitting up three movies a day at the local theater. His fascination with films took a step further when he worked on a commercial shoot in Portgual with his friends. “I enjoyed the camaraderie of it all,” he said. Ultimately, Jencks relished the multitude of challenges and coming up with different solutions.

john jencksIt was at that point that Jencks wanted to create his own projects under the tutelage of industry professionals in Los Angeles, where his father happened to live and teach at a local university.

“I chose NYFA because they give you a camera and let you go on with it,” he said. “It’s an environment where I can make a lot of mistakes and then work them out with industry professionals.”

While at NYFA, Jencks quickly found his clique who he bonded with and shot a series of short films that helped build his reel and filmmaking experience. After graduating from NYFA, he got a job at the production company, Muse. “I was the first person at work and the last person to leave, but as long as I kept a smile on my face, they’d keep giving me more and more responsibility,” said Jencks about his time with Muse.

From there he took a job as a 3rd AD on a feature film that was filming in Utah. The film, “Blind Dating,” which starred Chris Pine, introduced Jencks to a fairly large budget production.

He then went on to produce “Lying” which premiered at the Director’s Fortnight in Cannes, though things didn’t go quite as he’d hoped. “I was booed by the crowd. I believe the film may have been too pretentious, even for the French,” he quipped. Nevertheless, Jencks pressed on in his career, starting his own production company, Electric Shadow Company.

Jencks has now been working in the film industry for over 10 years as a producer, writer and director. His short film, “Go Away, Please!” (2009) won the Shooting People prize at London Short Film Festival. His debut feature, “The Fold,” starred Catherine McCormack and got its cinematic release in 2013.

Interestingly enough, back in 2002, while staying at producer Roger Corman’s home, Jencks noticed Stephen Fry’s novel, “The Hippopotamus,” resting alongside his guest bed. “I laughed and laughed,” said Jencks. “I responded very well to the protagonist and antagonist. I thought this story would do well if we were able to take the essence of it and provide a traditional narrative structure.”

Years later he acquired the rights to the novel and directed the film under his production company.

When it comes to directing his actors, Jencks talks about using the script as the blueprint to abide by, and how he interprets it is a really interesting journey. His job is to ensure each and every talented actor is on the same page. “You have to tie everything together. That’s the job of the director,” he adds.

Aside from his directing credits, Jencks has executive producer credits on “Swallows and Amazons” (Andrew Scott, Rafe Spall and Kelly Macdonald); “The Trust” (Nic Cage and Elijah Wood), “Terminal” (Margot Robbie, Simon Pegg, Mike Myers) and “The Crow” remake.

As for his role as executive producer, Jencks says he trusts his directors and tries not to get involved with the creative.

john jencks

NYFA Dean of the College Sonny Calderon with John Jencks

Outside of the entertainment business, Jencks is a family man and a keen advocate of human rights. He’s closely involved with Reprieve and Just for Kids Law.

He is the proud custodian of the internationally renowned “Garden of Cosmic Speculation” designed and created by his father, architect and landform artist Charles Jencks and late mother Maggie Keswick Jencksat, at their family home near Dumfries. His parents are also the founders of Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres, which now have 17 units at major NHS cancer hospitals throughout the UK and overseas.

For those with an affinity for wine, Jencks is also passionate about natural wine and is a part owner of Aubert and Mascoli Ltd, which supplies organic and biodynamic wine to some of the UK’s best restaurants and various discerning private clients.

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