Who Is Jesse Thunderwake?

If you have ‘liked’ my Facebook page (and if not, get with the program) you may have seen a couple posts about Jesse Thunderwake: American Icon over the last few days. While I did discuss this project in detail in a February blog post about the premiere (you can also see a trailer and stills from the movie there, which I’ll leave out of this post), I think it’s time for a few more words about it.

Here’s the badass poster, a spoof of the great Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film A Clockwork Orange (the film’s protagonist is an art snob obsessed with Kubrick’s work). The poster was created by artist Cody Sims, who worked on the film in too many ways to name:

Greg Sisco Jesse Thunderwake independent movie poster

The film Jesse Thunderwake: American Icon was released yesterday via Amazon On Demand and is available for purchase ($9.99) and rental ($2.99) here.

Three obvious questions come to mind:

1. Who is Jesse Thunderwake?
2. If he’s an American icon, why haven’t I heard of him?
3. Why am I not watching this right now?

The answer to all three of these questions, as provided by Jim Cunningham, would be “Fuck you.” (That joke might be funny if you knew who Jim is, but since you haven’t seen the movie you have no idea what I’m talking about.)

Before I go any further, here is the official plot description:

A mockumentary comedy about a man whose ambition far outweighs his talent. The story follows Jesse Thunderwake, the world’s largest dilettante, as he makes his first film to showcase his talents in writing, directing, acting, singing, stunts, and so much more. Jesse Thunderwake: American Icon is an ode to bad art in all forms.

As some of you might know, I was a filmmaker before I was a novelist. I taught myself filmmaking with an (very) independent film called Gunslinger, P.I. when I was 18 years old, and then I spent the next few years trying to come up with a screenplay that didn’t suck for my follow-up movie. After five screenplays that were deemed either too expensive or not good enough (a film version of One-Night Stan’s among them), the character of Jesse Thunderwake was born.

Here we go…

1. Who is Jesse Thunderwake?

People interested in independent filmmaking like to tell the story of Kevin Smith, who famously maxed out several credit cards and wracked up thousands of dollars in debt to make Clerks. The movie took off and earned back his money many times over, turning him into an overnight success.

It’s an inspirational story and it’s ballsy as hell but it’s also a blatantly irresponsible move, and you never hear the story about the hundreds of other guys who have tried it and run themselves into debt from which they never recovered. That’s the guy I wanted to make a movie about—the guy who tried to prove he was a great artist and fucked himself over when he found out he wasn’t.

As far as I’m concerned, nine out of ten people who create any kind of art suck at it. Jesse Thunderwake is one of “the nine” who is certain he is “the one”, as most members of “the nine” are. Likewise, “the one”, from my experience, is usually terrified that he is one of “the nine”. This is how the art world works.

I believe when you do anything creative, you are terrified that you have no talent at all and that all of the confidence you’re trying to feign is making you look all the more foolish. Especially when you’re trying your hand at several different artistic trades, you have to cross your fingers you aren’t some talentless jackass making a fool of him/herself several times over.

As I attempted to make a name for myself as a writer/director/actor/comedian/etc., I gave a name to the guy who I hoped I wasn’t, and that name was Jesse Thunderwake.

2. If he’s an American Icon, why haven’t I heard of him?

We live in a celebrity-obsessed country and a particularly fame-worshipping era. Most young people now want to be “celebrities.” Not actors or singers or brilliant artists. No, they just want the rest of the world fascinated by everything they do, showering them with more money and praise than they deserve, and wanting to have sex with them. (Is there any way I can get away with not saying “myself included” right now? I guess there isn’t.) Myself included.

Jesse Thunderwake: American Icon is something of an attack on the state of the entertainment industry. More than that, it’s an attack on the people who want to be famous. Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself an artist and artists are my favorite people, but good Christ we’re a pretentious bunch and most of us need severely for somebody to tell us to shut the fuck up and take an associate manager job at Wendy’s.

At the same time, there is a special place in my heart for really truly awful art, whether it be movies, music, or novels. I think the movie also functions as a love letter to delightfully terrible films like Birdemic or The Room.

The movie is full of dark, dry humor, a tragicomedy about about how it feels to chase a goal with all your heart—a goal that is completely unrealistic and is absolutely never going to come true for you. What some people call “The American Dream.”

It’s also a love story about a man who is desperately in love with a woman who happens to be a lesbian. If you’ve ever been in love with a person whose sexual preference is for a sex other than your own, or if you’ve ever chased after fame and fortune in any artistic field, you probably won’t be particularly surprised at how Jesse’s quest turns out, but you might feel a little better about yourself after watching his spectacular downfall. As I’ve joked several times, “Trying to succeed in the film industry is a bit like being in love with a lesbian. This is a movie about both.”

So why haven’t you heard of Jesse Thunderwake? Well, because he’s not an American icon and he doesn’t deserve to be. Not anywhere except in his own mind, just like most of us “artists.” Silly bastards, we are.

3. Why am I not watching this right now?

No kidding. Go check it out. And please remember to leave a review on Amazon. The film represents two years of hard work for a lot of people and we really appreciate knowing if you had fun watching it.


WARNING: The film contains roughly 200 uses of the word fuck including one use by a six-year-old, graphic drug use, two pairs of breasts, my ass, frequent drinking and driving, some strong sexual dialogue, a maiming, brief human heads being split open, bad people triumphing over good ones, and a general dark and uncomfortable tone. It may not be appropriate for children under the age of four and a half.

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