It’s impossible not to speak in pop-song couplets after chatting with Chad Hendricks. The Jacksonville filmmaker is steeped in pop culture. It’s the air he breathes. His movies are likewise sewn with references to the pop canon. Hell, he even named his latest indie production after a song. And, like the eponymous Billy Paul hit, Hendricks’ Me & Mrs. Jones is about a doomed, adulterous love affair.
In keeping with the musical theme, Hendricks named his chief characters after a John “Cougar” Mellencamp jam. Meet Jack and Diane. The latter is played by Jax actor Julie Ann Dinneweth, while the former is portrayed by none other than Hendricks himself.
Shot and edited over the course of the last three years, the film is finally ready for its close-up. Folio Weekly discussed the process and the product with Hendricks.
Me & Mrs. Jones is something of a milestone for the veteran director. It’s his first time in front of the camera, so he recruited a co-director, Tamika Lee, in addition to co-producer Kathryn McAvoy.
“She was the backbone of it in the beginning,” Hendricks says. “I needed someone to whip me into shape as an actor.”
Though this is his first time acting, it’s not Hendricks’ first rodeo. By his own count, he has directed nine features in 18 years. The first was a collaboration with his cinematographer cousin, Josh Skierski, who had recently graduated from Full Sail University in Central Florida. For his part, Hendricks had just returned from a sojourn in LA, with little to show, apart from a stand-in appearance in an Eminem music video and a turn on the reality television show Blind Date. And a script that he had written.
“Josh said he would shoot and edit if I directed,” Hendricks says, “It was one of those things where I had never finished anything. I had a hard enough time directing my own life! But before long, I was directing 10 actors. That’s when I caught the bug.”
The result, a raunchy comedy titled 2HEADS1BRAIN (2000), set the tone for what would follow: a string of defiantly lo-fi, defiantly Duval productions created under the aegis Two Crackers and a Lamp Productions. (Skierski, the second cracker, has since moved on to Atlanta to work at Adult Swim.) Those early works were indebted stylistically to the exploitation films and gonzo comedies of the 1970s and ’80s, but their substance has always been contemporary Jacksonville.
Though the films have matured with their director, Hendricks’ sense of the absurd remains. Me & Mrs. Jones is not a slasher comedy like Kracker Jack’d (’03) or a blaxploitation-style zombie romp like Insane in the Brain (’07), but it does feature a sh*t-talking puppet who embodies Jack’s ego.
And, though Me & Mrs. Jones is a (relatively) adult comedy, its director remains forever a film nerd. He even sought out one of his favorite actors to appear in his latest. Cult film star Camille Keaton makes an appearance as Jack’s mom. Pulp aficionados will recognize Keaton from Meir Zachi’s 1978 exploitation classic, I Spit on Your Grave, and a host of Italian giallo flicks from the same decade.
“She plays my mom in this one,” Hendricks says, “so she got to take a break from being chased around with knives through the woods!”
The rest of the cast is pure Duval. The actors auditioned at an open call, which was later turned into a web series. Local wrestler Derrick Allen voices Jack’s Ego, and Andy Nance co-stars as Jack’s wise uncle. Folio Weekly’s 2018 Best of Jax readers’ poll voted Jaybier Nino as Best Actor—he makes a cameo appearance, too.
Me & Mrs. Jones naturally boasts a Duval-heavy soundtrack as well. Featured artists include Kip Kolb, Mama Blue and Shane Myers.
“My one addiction has always been music,” says Hendricks, as if it weren’t already obvious.
The plot of Me & Mrs. Jones is a slice of life (at least the life of a neurotic filmmaker). Neither time nor distance has helped Jack get over his affair with the married Diane so, in a fit of narcissistic desperation, he travels thousands of miles for closure.
“I lived it 15 years ago, wrote it 10 years ago and started filming it three years ago,” says Hendricks. “It’s based on a true story. I really did travel cross-country to see the girl I loved—and found myself in the process.”
Despite the male crisis at the heart of the story, however, Hendricks suggests that co-director Lee brings balance to the forces at play.
“It’s a chick flick meets a dick pic,” he laughs. “Women aren’t supposed to know we men have feelings, so I guess I’m giving away some secrets.”
Yes, Jack cries a lot. And he eventually learns to ignore his crude, impulsive puppet ego. Finally, at the end of the film, Jack drives off into the sunset with himself. Not by himself but with himself—Hendricks is credited as playing both Jack and Jack’s Self. Carrying him/them away is a Lexus sporting the vanity plate “LOV3YOURS3LF.” Leetspeak to live by.
Hendricks, Lee and co. are set to unveil Me & Mrs. Jones at a red-carpet premiere on Dec. 9. The date was not chosen at random. Both Hendricks and his father celebrate their birthdays on Dec. 10, and family is important to the director. His uncle, Sam Skierski, appears in the film (as Jack’s birth father); cousins Billy Inman and Harley Cooper Wright also have roles. The sets are strewn with authentic family photos.
Hendricks’ 2019 plans include shopping Me & Mrs. Jones on the festival circuit, though he’s all-too-aware how real independent filmmakers are treated by film fest bigwigs.
“The tough part with that,” he sighs, “is you’re usually just paying someone’s light bill for a good ol’-fashioned ‘thanks but no thanks.’”
Oh, but ain’t that America?