When it comes to writing scripts, industry brothers, Jake & Conor Allyn, bring the best of both worlds; Jake provides the actor’s perspective, while Conor delves into the director’s frame of mind. We got the chance to speak with writer and actor, Jake Allyn, getting a BTS look at what it means be a scriptwriter, create engaging and successful films, and which actors he’d love to write a role for. He currently stars as a football player in BET’s college drama, “The Quad,” which explores issues of racism, sexual assault, and domestic violence and he wants you to tune in!
You and your brother, Conor Allyn, have been working in the entertainment industry together for years. How do your skill sets compliment each other and differ from one another?
The ways we differ are actually exactly how we compliment each other. We’ve been writing partners on two films and Conor, who’s directed six feature films, always writes from that director’s mindset. Our scripts always tend to be well paced and extremely visual. I always write with an actor’s mind and our scripts will always have flushed out people, not characters, and they will always have at least one internal conflict they are dealing with. That’s how you hook great actors to agree to our movies!
From a non-writing standpoint, it’s tremendous to have a director I can always practice an audition with or ask to read a script I’m breaking down. And hopefully for Conor, it’s nice to always have an actor to run an idea past when he’s about to direct a big scene or aid him in how to talk from an actor’s perspective while he’s working on character development with an actor on one of his own films.
What was your first big break as a duo and as an individual?
As a duo, it was definitely selling our first co-written film, “Forsaken.” We’d been writing together for about a year and were confident in our material, but it’s always a self-gratifying win to get that first big sale. Conor ended up directing the film; an edgy modern retelling of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” set in a Middle America town. As an individual, landing that first network role was a big role. I played a frat guy named Jason on the ABC sitcom, “The Middle.” It was the first time I was able to get my SAG-AFTRA membership card. But no doubt “The Quad” will be the big break I remember, but ultimately, I might not even have gotten a first audition without that holy SAG card.
You star on BET’s original series, “The Quad.” What do you think the show seeks to highlight about the university experience?
EVERYTHING! That’s what I love about it. It’s not just a football party show like “Blue Mountain State”, and not just a romantic drama like “Gossip Girl,” or “Greek.” What I remember about college was how my eyes were opened. In college, you end up hanging out with different cliques than you did in high school, you gain perspective on social and political issues aside of how you were raised, and you most certainly get yourself into and hopefully out of some sticky situations. I’m glad our creators decided to show different aspects of campus life, and because of that, we will see different sides of each character. You won’t only see my character, BoJohn Folsom, on the football field. You’ll know him in the classroom, at parties, at political events, and obviously, on “The Quad.”
In “The Quad,” fictional school, Georgia A&M University, is a predominantly black establishment. As a white football player, where does your character fit in and does he face any challenges in doing so?
At first, he doesn’t fit in at all. His teammates don’t want him there and BoJohn doesn’t particularly want to be there either. BoJohn was a big time division one recruit in high school but anger issues and emotional instability got him blacklisted from top football schools. So when GAMU takes a chance on him, he has no choice but to take a chance on GAMU. But like many things in life, the hardest challenges end with the greatest rewards. So once BoJohn is able to gain the trust of his teammates and he befriends a few, he begins to find a home at GAMU. And I said in a previous question, college is a place where your eyes are opened and this is definitely true for BoJohn. Day by day, he realizes there’s a bigger world beyond the small Texas town he was raised in. So much so, that by the time his family visits, they practically meet a different kid and his parents are not happy about it either.
Aside from acting, you’re also a screenwriter. What do you enjoy the most about writing and what do you find the most challenging?
There’s a certain control in writing that I love. It’s just you, your characters, and the page. Luckily in today’s technology, there’s no “ give critique” function on Final Draft. For instance, I could write all day but then if I felt so inclined, I could erase it all the next morning and start from scratch. Another control you have in writing that you don’t in acting is the arc of the character. Acting on a TV show, you don’t always know where your character is heading and you have to ride the roller coaster but as a writer, you engineer every twist and turn of the character.
The most challenging aspect of writing is definitely handing over all that control once you’ve finished the script. Whether you sell it to a production company, a studio, or a director, you simply can’t be a professional writer if you’re not willing to give away a script you’ve spent months and months and maybe even years writing. There’s an acting phrase I like to use for my writing as well: “in show business, you show your work, and then other people to business with it.”
Do you prefer one to the other? Why or why not?
I’m an actor who loves to write. I hope that I continue to write and that I continue to love writing, but I simply know in my heart I will always be an actor. Even if that’s on a tiny stage back in Dallas or getting together in my buddy’s garage in Venice to work on some scenes. My next challenge is to act in a script I’ve written myself. It might sound easy since I’d obviously know what the writer was going for in each scene, but it’s surprisingly hard to find organic moments when you’ve been writing and imagining scenes and characters for so long.
Can you tell us a bit about the CIA thriller, “Ex-Patriot,” that you co-wrote? What inspired you to take on a more political side of things?
It’s kind of a spin-off of the Edward Snowden whistle blower case where a CIA analyst leaked a ton of illegal CIA surveillance on U.S citizens. When Conor and I started researching the Snowden case, we had a “what if” moment and we thought, what if one of the people the CIA were illegally spying on really was a terrorist? What if doing the right thing and blowing the whistle on illegal CIA activities actually allowed a terrorist to go free and act on his destructive aptitudes? It was a great breakthrough because not only did Conor, the director, find his plot, but I had also found the main character’s struggle; to carry the guilt and confliction of letting a terrorist run free.
As the writer, do you have a lot of input when it comes to the production of your project?
It depends, is my big bro directing it? Haha, I’m joking…but not really. On the projects I’ve sold in which Conor directs, I always have his ear in production, especially in the casting process. At the end of the day, no one knows the characters or cares about them more than the writer. Like I said, the writer spends years engineering, tweaking, and refining his characters so I tend to bring a very specific and hopefully helpful eye to the casting process.
On the other hand, every project is different and with the scripts I’ve sold not directed by Conor, I do have less input and even scripts Conor has directed I needed to step aside. As hard as it can be to lose that control and hand over my baby, many times I’m happily surprised by what new ingredients the producers or director brought to the film. Sometimes, you have to get out of your own way and let someone else just do their job cause they’re usually good at it. It’s about trust, as long as you give your baby to someone you trust, you’re in good hands.
When writing screenplays, do you ever envision certain roles for specific actors?
Absolutely. Though many times it’s more of a jumping off point. Often the actor you have in mind when you start writing is totally different from the actor you end up wanting to cast by the end of the film. One writing goal of mine is to develop and write a film for a specific actor after a personal relationship is made. It would be a wonderful challenge and I think having the actor in the process from beginning to end would make for a wonderfully specific and layered character, and ultimately, a good movie! So if anyone knows Jake Gyllenhall, Matthew McConaughey, or Jonathan Tucker, tell them to give me a call!
As an actor and writer, what do you think engages audiences the most in a series or film?
Stakes. Whether it’s physical, psychological, or emotional, the people on screen must have dire stakes and the audience has to care about those stakes. I like action movies as much as the next guy, but if my heart doesn’t care if the character survives or not, I get bored by the action sequences. But if I care, then the action hits so much harder. Spoiler Alert: I still remember watching “Braveheart” for the first time and wanting to scream during the final sequence when the they are about to kill Mel Gibson, “he already lost his dad and his wife, he can’t die!”
What has been one of your most memorable experiences in the industry to date?
Officially booking the BET series I’m on, “The Quad.” I was at a Coffee Bean in Los Angeles and got the call from my manager. He’d stuck with me for almost three years and never wavered even when I wasn’t booking much. So to hear the pride in his voice was pretty damn gratifying. Then on top of that, calling my mom after that is something I’ll never forget. She was trying so so hard not to cry but she just couldn’t hold back. Then of course I started crying too. It was like a movie. I’d had like 7 auditions over a few months so every time I called home, I think she held her breath thinking maybe I finally booked it. So to able to finally actually make that call is a moment I’ll always cherish.
What are you most looking forward to in 2017?
I’m excited for the public to finally watch Season 1 of “The Quad.” The entire cast and crew spent so much hard work and energy and it’s nice to see everyone’s hard work paying off. I’m also very proud that while we are a college drama, we dive into some very serious and topical subjects such as racism, sexual assault, and domestic violence. All of which are topics that absolutely must continue to be addressed in today’s society. To be able to at least play a small part in helping those efforts is something I take very seriously and I know BET, our creators, and the rest of the cast also feel very strongly about. So watch “The Quad,” Wednesdays at 10pm/9c!
PHOTOGRAPHER: Storm Santos @ Wilhelmina Artists
STYLIST: Caitlin Eucker @ Wilhelmina Artists
GROOMER:: Sam Rodriguez @ Wilhelmina Artists
Interviewed by Rebecca Besnos
Post expires at 5:05am on Thursday November 9th, 2017