Filmmaker and MTV Star Andrew Jenks Puts His World into Words
What he is: Andrew Jenks is a filmmaker, a thinker, a dreamer with his feet firmly planted on the ground. He is young, driven, good looking and well-spoken. At twenty-seven, he has written, directed and starred on television and in film. His new book, Andrew Jenks: My Adventures as a Young Filmmaker, chronicles these experiences in words and photographs.
What he is not: Andrew Jenks is not a snappy dresser, a red carpet regular, or a fan of the Kardashians. He is neither pretentious nor loud. His signature is a scribble and he never wins at Bingo.
Most often Andrew wields a camera rather than a pen. His work is reminiscent of author George Plimpton, yet there are important differences.
Mr. Plimpton was a writer and an editor who believed strongly in the value of “participatory journalism”. During the 1960s he was known for his immersion in professional sports, adventures that were later captured in print and presented with considerable charm and wit.
Plimpton was an amateur athlete drawn to the aura of professional sports. In 1963 he pretended to be a college quarterback and a candidate for the NFL. Only the coaching staff was aware of the ruse when he arrived at the Detroit Lions’ training camp, but the truth became clear when play began. Plimpton played quarterback for the annual intra-squad scrimmage and took the first several snaps from center, losing yardage on every play. The story of his experience became first the book, and then the hit 1968 movie Paper Lion starring Alan Alda. His bestseller was among the first to go behind the scenes to reveal player personalities and off-the-field drama.
Andrew Jenks also believes in the power of participatory journalism, but his interest lies not with the elite athlete, the rich or the famous. Mr. Jenks is interested in what he can learn from people whose “lives and stories wouldn’t otherwise get mainstream attention.” His participation is not a secret; he lives side by side with the stars of his documentaries to better understand their issues and opportunities.
When he was nineteen and a college freshman, Andrew realized that he and his grandfather faced similar challenges, but on opposite ends of the life spectrum. His grandfather suffered from dementia and lived in a nursing home. The 300 other nursing home residents were strangers to him. Andrew was a poor fit for the college dormitory where he also lived with 300 strangers. To understand and document the kinds of challenges facing his grandfather, Jenks decided to spend his freshman summer as a nursing home resident. With cameras purchased on eBay, borrowed audio equipment and good intentions, Andrew drove to Port St. Lucie, Florida where he checked into room 335 of the Harbor Place assisted living facility. He and two friends spent five weeks getting to know Tammy, age 96, Libby, age 84, and Bill, age 80. The experience went smoothly once the students learned the importance of being on time for dinner at 4:00 pm, and of playing a competitive game of Bingo. In the end, 240 hours of film became an award winning 90 minute HBO documentary that makes clear the importance of friendship, compassion and trust both early and near the end of life.
The success of Andrew Jenks, Room 335 was followed by another documentary project. Jenks spent seven months in Japan with baseball manager Bobby Valentine who became the “most famous guy in Japan” after winning the Asian version of the World Series. The budget for this ESPN project was $1 million, “about $1 million more than I had for my first movie,” says the filmmaker. When The Zen of Bobby V was also well received, Andrew’s phone and email erupted. It was MTV, interested in working with the young talent.
Now in its second season, the MTV show “World of Jenks” follows three young people. Chad is a young man with autism planning life after high school graduation; D-Real has lost his brother and best friend to violence and releases the stress through dance. Kaylin is a young fashion designer with two types of cancer who lives with the constant fear that one or both tumors will recur. Andrew lives life with all three in front of the camera. It’s important, he says, that they see that he is willing to be vulnerable, too, to share his emotions, his successes and mistakes.
Jenks describes his television program as a “docuseries” rather than a reality show. The stars are people whose interest and emphasis lies not on their fifteen minutes of television fame, but on the challenges that life presents and on the friendships that develop during filming. Andrew carries those friendships forward; he maintains contact with many, including a young homeless woman in San Francisco with whom he spent several days pounding the sidewalks, sleeping in parks or in laundromats at night.
At the end of their ten days together, Andrew was conflicted. How could he leave Danielle as he had found her, poor and homeless? Ultimately he offered the young woman a gift consistent with the empathy and understanding that Jenks has for the people whose lives he shares. He gave her a cellphone and promised to call. To a woman who had never known love, he offered friendship and an open line of communication.
His new book follows Andrew Jenks from home movies to the big screen with stories that are sometimes touching and often amusing, and with photographs from youth to adulthood. It’s a story of success through perseverance, hard work and caring. Published by Scholastic, the book is available everywhere.
To win a signed copy of Andrew Jenks: My Adventures as a Young Filmmaker, leave a comment below by end of day Tuesday, April 2. We’ll select one reader at random as our prize winner. That winner will be posted here and notified by email on Wednesday, April 3.
Congratulations to Priscilla King, our book winner!! Thanks to all for reading and commenting.