In the seven years I’ve known Walter James “Jimmy” Humphrey, this was the longest conversation we’ve had. Not because we don’t like each other or have anything to talk about; Jimmy just doesn’t talk much.
Let’s pause right here. Jimmy and I are not brothers. He’s a Humphrey. I’m a Humphreys. But if you don’t pay attention to the letter “s” and are gullible enough, we will lead you to believe that we’re siblings for as long as we can keep the joke running. So far in our fake-brother tenure we’ve established that dad liked me better, mainly because he disapproved of Jimmy’s slick, long, black hair – which Jimmy will tell you isn’t that far from the truth.
Back to the story. I met Jimmy when I was 17 and working at Suncoast in Jefferson Mall, and he was 24 and working at the Hot Topic. We had a few friends in common and I used to see him out but never really spoke to him, mainly because when you put two quiet people together, all you get is silence. I knew that he had something called “I Eat Poop” (we’ll get to that shortly) and was a fan of puppets and Star Wars. Besides those few things, my non-brother was a complete mystery to me. As the years went by we became slightly closer, ending up in the tightly knit group of friends we share now.
Over the last three years, Humphrey has been working on something called “Billy Inaction,” an action-comedy that stars Louisville native Billy Duckett, whom Humphrey has known since he was in fifth grade and Duckett was in third. “Every day, my friend’s brother would beat him up, and he took it so well. It seemed like he enjoyed it and from that time on I always liked Billy,” Humphrey recalled. “I always found something interesting about him. We started doing the public access show and I would always include Billy. I just felt there was something funny about Billy and I hoped that more people would agree … they may not get him at first, (but) they usually do after a few minutes, and enjoy his look at life and his candor and how sort of uncensored and real he is.”
The public access show that Duckett appeared in is the aforementioned “I Eat Poop,” which Humphrey began in 1998. It was a reality show of sorts that starred Humphrey’s band of misfits. “I remember someone said to me, ‘I’ve seen your show, I don’t care for it. If I want to see a group of friends hang out I can just watch my own friends. There’s nothing special about you all.’ And that was the whole point. Anyone can do this, everyone does this, everyone hangs out with their friends – it’s just that we filmed it.”
The show still airs every Saturday morning at 12:30 a.m. While there hasn’t been a new episode since “Billy Inaction” started filming in 2009, the “I Eat Poop” legacy continues – Humphrey now uses the same name for his production company, under which he’s released skits, shorts and his first feature length film, “Gunther Toody’s Happy Time Fun Show,” an adult-humor puppet comedy.
His next film, which will be screened in a private premier on September 30th and in public showings this fall, is loosely based on Duckett’s life. “We took the sort of legends, the stories, that some are half truths, some have been told third party and get back to us, and we ask Billy and the endings are totally different. So there are a lot of truths … but then we kind of take off on that and his life, which is, I wouldn’t say mundane, but he lives with his parents, he doesn’t have a job, he likes to play World of Warcraft – so we sort of extrapolate on the most inaction of characters … and we sort of push him into the hero role.”
Humphrey said that Duckett’s character is based on characters you would find in ’70s sitcoms. Think Archie Bunker and Fred Sandord; characters who are outspoken and might not say what you expect the lead character to say. “I like the idea of introducing a character (that), two minutes into the movie, Billy does things and says things that you don’t have your hero say two minutes into the movie. …It’s sort of a test on the audience. Are you going to follow this guy for an hour and forty minutes?”
If you’ve seen any marketing for the film, you’ve probably seen the line “you will see his (let’s keep this P.C. and say ‘privates’).” When asked about Billy’s bits, Humphrey explained, “you really will. You really will see his (privates). I want you to know what you’re going to get. I want to say right on the poster, (in) the trailer, ‘in case you’re wondering, this is that kind of movie.’ ”
But it’s not just his parts you’ll see in ‘Billy Inaction.’ “It is a day in the life of this guy. We get to know him. We get to know what ambitions he doesn’t have,” explained Humphrey. “He’s not an action hero character. He’s like a character from a different movie that has to live in this realm … You have action cliches and action characters, you have silly explosions and you have this guy who’s completely bemused by it. All he wants is a video game and to sit in his basement and smoke. But we’re forcing him to take part in a movie.
“He can make a difference. You have to make the character who is inactive become proactive, and put things in front of him and see how his life really is. And we have that in the movie, with his relationship with his mother and how she is not exactly proud of him, and he wants his mother’s pride, and how he gets that. And he meets a woman who he falls in love with in this day. And we see how these women in his life kind of change him, which I guess if you want to extrapolate the movie to my real life, that’s probably how that works. How women, certain women, have changed my life. Women will change his life throughout the movie,” said the 33-year-old Louisvillian.
When asked about the filmmaking process, Humphrey explained that “you start with a script and it has a big story and you have big ideas, then you realize you don’t really have any of this. You can’t pull any of this off. So you scale it down. And you scale it down again. And again and again. And now it’s this smaller thing. Something that I can actually pull off.” Along with pulling the film off, Humphrey also learned some things along the way. “…It took three years to make, so I have to have things in it that interest me and I have to kind of become Billy in order to keep interested in it,” he went on. “So you put things in there that are really interesting to you, that you want to see and you want to deal with. And there are things about yourself that come out in these things. That’s just part of it.To keep myself interested, since I’m obviously not the greatest communicator, communicating on film is just a better way for me to show these things.
“I think from the future projects on, I think I’ll have much more dependency … I think I’ve learned with ‘Billy Inaction’ that I’m not God and I can’t do everything. I need people. There are people who are good at things … who can do these things and will help out because they’re in my life and they’re wonderful for that. …And I think that’s the big stepping stone for ‘Billy Inaction,’ ” Humphrey shared. “I think I’m a better communicator. I feel like I can rely on people a little better than I did in the past. And that had nothing to do with people, that had to do with me and what I’ve learned making movies.”
Jimmy Humphrey is quiet about many things, but filmmaking isn’t one of them. He’s not one of those people who think they’re going to make it big just because they made a couple of low-budget, independent films. He is humble about this being a hobby for now. When I brought up making movies as a profession, he explained, “That’s something that, (in) the next few months, I’m going to look into and see how can I take this thing that seemed like, it never seemed like it could possibly be that, but could it be? Could we push it in that direction? I don’t know. If not, this is sort of what I do and I’ve accepted that. That no matter what I’m doing in life there will always be this elephant in the room, this thing that my mind is always on something that I’m working on, so regardless, if that doesn’t happen, I will always continue to do this. It is my gift, it is my curse, it is my dark passenger, I will always make movies, even if I don’t want to. …I like the pressure, I like the juggling, I like the ripping your hair out, it’s a puzzle that I have to solve. It would make a great Chris Nolan movie.”
As the night grew old, Jimmy closed by saying, “Some people make movies and projects with …I think, the goal to constantly impress and show how good they are as far as technicalities and things like that. I have really have no interest in those things – I just like being clever. I like people to get a little chuckle out of what I do. So again, enjoy these things for what they are, don’t take them too seriously. I’m also saying that to myself, not to take them too seriously because they’re just cheeky fun. And you will see his (privates).”
Photos also by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune