Interview with Greg Jacobs

Greg Jacobs is one of the directors of the documentary film “Louder Than a Bomb”. The film takes a look at an annual poetry competition held in Chicago, IL and follows four schools preparing to compete in the event. Media Mikes had a chance recently to talk with Greg about his work on the film.

Adam Lawton: Can you tell us about your film “Louder Than a Bomb”?
Greg Jacobs: The film is about the world’s largest high school poetry competition. The competition is called Louder than a Bomb and it takes place each year in Chicago. The film follows four schools from the beginning of the school year until the end of the contest. Over the course of the film you start to see the film shift into being about something very different than what you envision at the start.

AL: What was it about the project that really interested you?
GJ: Documentaries have a funny way of finding you instead of you finding them. That is what happened with this film. I was driving down Clark St. in Chicago in the spring of 2005 and we went pass The Metro which is a famous rock club. I looked up at the marquee to see who was playing and it was the finals of the Louder than a Bomb competition. There was a line of kids made up of all different shapes, colors and sizes stretching down the block. Chicago is such a segregated city that it was really weird to see that type of crowd on the North side of Chicago for a poetry competition on a Saturday night. I mentioned this to my partner and everything sort of got started from there.

AL: Were you aware of this type of performance prior to the project?
GJ: We were both aware of slam poetry as it was something that came out of Chicago. We didn’t know that it existed as a high school thing or about the Louder than a Bomb program. It was really fun getting to know everyone involved and the culture of the teams.

AL: How did you go about choosing the four teams featured in the film?
GJ: Kevin Coval who is one of the founders of the program served as our tour guide. Over the course of a year he kind of directed us towards the school that had really serious programs. We visited about 12 schools to begin with. We attended the competition in 2007 on a scouting mission. The kids who made it into the film really jumped out and it was clear who we were going to follow. A lot of the kids we met at the event kind of pointed out who we should really follow as well.

AL: What do you think was the hardest part of shooting the film?
GJ: Everyone involved was really co-operative. We in a sense were part of the family. The real trick came when we took the 350 hrs. of footage we had shot into the editing room. Editing for the film took about 2 yrs. It really took a lot to get the film cut down and to get the story right. We have a really great editor.

AL: Over the course of shooting did the kids ever get you to try your hand at any poetry?
GJ: I don’t think anybody wanted to see that! (Laughs) That would have been catastrophic.

AL: Can you tell us when we can see the film?
GJ: The film will be airing on the Oprah Winfrey network January 5th. It’s a huge honor to be one of the first dozen documentary clubs to shown on that network. We also are planning a DVD release for early March.

AL: Do you have any other upcoming projects?
GJ: Jon Siskel and I also do television series. We have been doing a series of shows for National Geographic. We actually just won an Emmy for one we did on Hurricane Katrina. “Loader than a Bomb” just keeps growing and over the last year we have really been able to expand the outreach of the program. We are very slowly taking this thing that’s in Chicago and turning it into a national thing. Doing all this has really taken up a lot of our time and energy so we haven’t really been open to the next big idea.

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