Uptown Stories, Joe Hobson: From Tech Director to Director’s Chair

Late on a Friday afternoon, as the member-crowd filters off into their weekends, Joe Hobson sits across from me in our glass and steel framed meeting room in Uptown. Around COCO he is known as a frequenter of our Thursday happy hour, a keeper of his dedicated desk, an educational technology wizard, and a Halloween enthusiast (he was a red panda this year). The more I learned about Joe, the more eager I was to hear the rest of his story.

A few weeks ago at COCO, he asked if he could film an interview in our space after hours. “Wait, for what?” I asked him. He answered something like, “Oh just making a documentary on my life and family, growing up as part of a religious movement in Alabama.”

Typical Joe, so predictable.

Madelin Snyder: So you went to Film School at USC.

Joe Hobson: Yes. I showed up in ’94 as an undeclared major, and missed the application deadline. I was so naive! I figured, ‘Oh, when I get there I’ll apply! It’ll be easy!’ When I got there, I learned they let in 30 people a year out of like 500 applicants. It was a little overwhelming, but it was still what I wanted to do, so I just started working on films as a grunt PA [production assistant]. Two years in, after all of my generals, I did a big push, and got into the film program.

M: You’re working on a documentary now, about the environment you grew up in in the South. How long have you been at it?

J: We started production with a Kickstarter about 2 1/2 years ago.

M: Was it a commune type of place?

J: No, it was more of a religious movement. It wasn’t super cult-y by any means. It was very centered on church– Evangelical. It wasn’t like Church in the midwest, which is fairly relaxed from what I can tell. In the South, in many cases Church is your whole life. You go 3 times a week, it’s your community. It was the lifestyle, it’s how you know everyone you know.

M: Was it a positive experience?

J: Yeah, I don’t see it as a totally negative thing. I do realize it had a lot of long term consequences for a lot of people in many different ways. Once you get outside of  that closed culture, it’s harder to figure out what the rules are in the larger society, and how to relate to people.

M: It seems like being in a community like that when you were young would make things easier, make you more socialized.

J: Well, one of the things they say about a community like that, is friends come fairly easily. You are part of the same group with all the same values. You don’t have to negotiate a lot with people who are different than you. Especially with families and small groups, who are very close to other families. So I was just friends instantly with all of the people that I grew up with. You lack the like, ‘How do you know if you can trust someone?’ since you grew up in a way where you implicitly trust people. You just don’t have the skills [to identify those things]. I’ve only come to realize this in the last couple years. I had no concept of it, and now it kind of makes sense. I’m not great at it. And that’s…one reason. (laughs) I have an excuse now!

M: Many times at COCO, I think of building community by linking similar members. ex. ‘You’re not alone!’ ‘Here are other members who are just like you!’ But hearing what you just said, i’m reminded it’s equally as important to show people how they are different, and how vital that is to maintaining a diverse and growing community.

J: One of the things I’ve really liked here is that there are so many different kinds of people. You’re not working in tech, with the same people, same programmers; that gets old. There’s no diversity in it. I also think, and I hate to say this, but I don’t work with any of these people (pointing around COCO). I can really enjoy hanging out with them because we don’t have to negotiate work, I don’t have to worry if they show up or not. So it’s easier to socialize with them, and be in that professional mode, but since we don’t depend on each other in the same way, the connections are more relaxed.

Our conversation trailed into New Age journalism, Hunter S. Thompson, and finding the ‘truest’ version of a story in relation to his documentary.

M: Well, the truth isn’t attainable regardless. Is there an ultimate “version” of things that have happened? Or just accounts?

J: No. there’s no such thing as absolute truth. Scientists say that the more you remember a memory, the more you’re actually transforming that memory.

M: Interesting. So you’re just slowly carving out the story you want to tell out of all of this material.

J: Yeah, we’ve got like, 70 hours of footage, trying to narrow down the pieces. My wife is in the editing stage of it now, and i’m like, “Man, can we move onto the next project now?!”

Next time you see Joe in the space, make sure to convince him that screening his documentary in our Theatre is the best idea ever.

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Thank you for sharing part of your story, Joe Hobson!

On Deck: Theo Jolosky on authoring a man’s life story, finding his voice, and creative doubt.