Meet The N.J. Director Of 'Patti Cake$,' The Movie That Blew The Roof Off Sundance BestsellerMagazine.com - CATEGORY Report update: TITLE NJ.com You are signed in as Edit Public Profile Sign Out Email newsletters The Star-Ledger The Times of Trenton The Jersey Journal South Jersey Times Hunterdon County Democrat >Meet the N.J. director of 'Patti Cake$,' the movie that blew the roof off Sundance Updated on August 14, 2017 at 1:15 AMPosted on August 13, 2017 at 8:38 AM 'Patti Cake$': N.J. director behind movie about aspiring Jersey rapper > 8 Gallery: 'Patti Cake$': N.J. director behind movie about aspiring Jersey rapper By Amy Kuperinsky firstname.lastname@example.org, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com Geremy Jasper anxiously searched the audience for some kind of reaction -- a laugh, a smile, anything -- but the scene was grim. The director from Hillsdale turned to his wife and whispered that he feared his movie was bombing. It was the Sundance Film Festival premiere of his first feature film, "Patti Cake$," a movie about an aspiring rapper from New Jersey. Yet as the big musical scenes began to kick in, a wave of relief washed over the nervous director. His hands shook. "It was like a rock concert," he says of the Utah crowd. "The audience erupted." A standing ovation greeted Danielle Macdonald, the actress who plays Patti, as she walked onstage after the screening. Variety called Jasper's creation "a cross between Dawn Weiner and Precious," other characters first championed at the festival. The ultimate prize arrived in the form of a studio bidding war that produced a $9.5 million deal with Fox Searchlight. "What happened is bigger than anything I could dream," says Jasper, 41, whose film, a coming-of-age movie in the spirit of Eminem's "8 Mile," with a more intimate, Jersey-flavored sense of humor, opens on August 18 in New York and New Jersey. Since Sundance, the accolades have been plentiful: In March, Manohla Dargis of The New York Times, in highlighting Jasper as a director to watch, said that while Patti's story sounded like "the ultimate bad Sundance movie," the film proved to be "an unambiguous joy." In May, "Patti Cake$" received a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival and a warm reception at the Montclair Film Festival back home in Jersey. PATTI CAKE$ | Official Trailer | FOX Searchlight It's only his first feature film, but Jasper is being talked about with the kind of enthusiasm that propelled another local, Princeton's Damien Chazelle, who this year became the youngest person to win the Oscar for best director, for "La La Land." Critics have heaped praise on Macdonald, the film's star, who hails from Australia but plays Patricia Dombrowski, aka Killa P, a 23-year-old resident of North Jersey who has a knack for writing rap lyrics. Jasper, who penned Patti's bars, calls her style a mix of Missy Elliott, Big Pun, Action Bronson, Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown ... with a sprinkling of Ghostface Killah and Jay-Z. >Geremy Jasper, director of 'Patti Cake$.' (Sundance Institute) "I'm in my own trap as I flip the world a birdie/My verses full of curses 'cause I'm stuck in dirty Jersey," Patti rhymes. She daydreams of music video glory, but is confined to bartending and catering gigs under the weight of her chain-smoking grandmother's mounting medical bills. For Jasper, Patti is a kind of hip-hop alter ego. Growing up in Hillsdale, he wrote lyrics for Earl's Loaf, his rap group at Pascack Valley High School. In the early aughts, after graduating from Wesleyan University, he became the lead singer of indie rock band The Fever. (Jasper wrote the original songs on the "Patti Cake$" soundtrack being released by Republic Records.) Another passion Jasper shares with Patti? Getting the hell out of Jersey. Or, in her words, "F**k this f***in' place." "It felt like it could come straight out of my own life," says Jasper, who lived in his parents' basement after college. "My family's been in Jersey for multiple generations," the director says. Jasper spoke with NJ Advance Media by phone during a break from working on the "Patti Cake$" soundtrack. "I've been the only member of my family that's had the deep desire to go out and do something else," he says. "I've always been the black sheep in that sense." And much like Patti, in his pre-band days, Jasper experienced a major rejection, when a music executive panned his CD. "He basically told me my music was way too weird and that I would never find an audience with what I was doing," he says. "That moment in my life was a major turning point," he says, one that reinforced his faith in his approach -- "Kind of like 'F this guy,'" he says. Jasper now lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Georgie Greville, and their young son. As Geremy & Georgie, the pair -- co-founders of Legs Media, a production studio in New York -- have directed music videos for pop songs like Florence + The Machine's "Dog Days are Over," in 2010, and Selena Gomez's "Love You Like a Love Song," in 2011. >Patti (Danielle Macdonald) and Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) in 'Patti Cake$.' (Fox Searchlight) Returning to Hillsdale to help with cleanup after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Jasper was transported back to those days in the basement, when Eminem dominated radio and he (like Patti) was fired from a catering job. Once, at the dawn of YouTube, he had played with the idea of a female rapper from Jersey in music videos for MTV that star the cartoonish Chunky Pam, who performed his lyrics, chock full of tongue-in-cheek local references, with the help of an actress and a vocalist. Back in Hillsdale, he realized a more three-dimensional character could inhabit a full-length film. "You can't see it for what it is until you've left and come back with fresh eyes," Jasper says of his home state. "Everything became cinematic. Just driving down the street, I saw everything in a new light." To write the script, Jasper spent time at a hotel on Route 17, lunching at a diner. ("I would be very, very depressed if that was my life and I was just stuck there," he now says.) He'd been heartened by the success of college friend Benh Zeitlin -- Jasper starred in his short film "Glory at Sea" -- whose movie, "Beasts of the Southern Wild," had been nominated for several Oscars in 2013. At the Sundance Screenwriters Lab in 2014, Jasper found a mentor in Quentin Tarantino. His first draft, which had a rapper living in an Atlantic City casino, could've cost $50 million to make, he says. Tarantino advised him to turn down the glitz and focus on the human element. "He just said, 'Only one person can write and make this movie, and that's you,'" Jasper says. "That was a very special moment for me." "Patti Cake$," still punctuated by fantasy sequences -- at one point, Patti levitates over a street -- became a small-town story, one where she could win an impromptu rap battle but also encounter her rap idol in his tony (Alpine) home, only to have him label her a "culture vulture." Jasper found Macdonald, his Patti, at the Sundance Institute Directors Lab, also in 2014. The actress, now 26 and living in Los Angeles, says she related to Patti's heart. "I wanted to be an actor in an industry where I'm not the norm," says Macdonald, currently filming "Dumplin'," a movie based on a 2015 young adult novel, with Jennifer Aniston. She perfected her rap delivery with the help of Brooklyn emcee Skyzoo. "Half of the battle is just having the confidence to do it," she says. The ultimate test came when she performed in front of hip-hop legend MC Lyte, who has a small role as DJ French Tips. Siddharth Dhananjay, who plays Patti's friend, Jheri, arrived at the film through the video blog World Star Hip Hop, where he's known as Dhananjay the First. The first-time actor, who came to the United States from India for college, impressed Jasper with his smooth penchant for reworking popular songs. "Whenever it came to the music scenes, he was way more comfortable," Macdonald says. But just seeing Jersey locals in their native habitat -- diners and bowling alleys -- grounded Patti's story in reality. "It felt like a very different version of home," says Macdonald, who grew up in the beach town of Clareville, an hour outside Sydney. PATTI CAKE$ | Lyric Video | FOX Searchlight As Jersey movies go, "Patti Cake$" is more "Garden State" than "Harold & Kumar go to White Castle" when it comes to the actual local places seen and referenced in the film, tending to hover in the North Jersey area, including towns afforded a view of the New York skyline. Though Jasper originally envisioned Patti as being from Lodi, when production began in 2015, he placed her in a Lodi-Paramus-Linden-Hillsdale super town to expand the film's visuals. Clifton's "Gates of Hell" -- the graffiti-covered storm drain haunt of urban legend -- plays an important role (though a Long Island spot subbed in for most scenes). The place acts as a symbolic portal to another dimension, Jasper says, a passage to the forest shack of death metal enthusiast Basterd, the Antichrist (Mamoudou Athie, who played Grandmaster Flash in Netflix's "The Get Down"), a Bergen Catholic alum who makes the "fire beats" Jheri and Patti crave. Cabaret comedian Bridget Everett ("Inside Amy Schumer"), plays Patti's mother, Barb, former lead singer of '80s hair metal band Barbwire (Jasper relished writing for her "banshee-esque" vocal). Cathy Moriarty, an Oscar nominee for 1980's "Raging Bull," is Nana, Patti's pill-popping charmer of a grandmother whose rasp is hilariously sampled in one of the songs. Barb, who gave up her music career when she got pregnant, mocks her daughter's rap dreams. Yet Nana calls her a "superstar." Jasper says their dynamic is another reason why the film is so Jersey. "I've seen those things played out over and over again in those sort of intimate New Jersey kitchens," he says. "Those heady jealousies that can happen. Or someone feeling like they have regrets in their life and taking it out on someone that they love so much." "Patti Cake$" opens on August 18 in New York and Paramus before opening wide on Labor Day weekend. The film can also be seen 8 p.m. August 17 at a special advance screening at the Williams Center in Rutherford. To check the availability of free tickets, see williamscenter.org Amy Kuperinsky may be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmyKup or on Facebook.