Premiering in competition at Sundance, Jasper’s crowd-pleasing debut “Patti Cake$”follows a girl from New Jersey with big dreams of hip-hop stardom — a character close to the writer-director’s heart: “I was a chubby, blond Jersey kid writing raps and making an ass of myself at talent shows,” he says.
Coming from a feature-film rookie best-known for such music videos as Florence + the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over,” it’s an ambitiously eclectic story, for which he also wrote some 15 songs, from hip-hop to hair metal, as well as the score. Although he studied film history at Wesleyan (where he met Benh Zeitlin, who went on to direct “Beasts of the Southern Wild”), Jasper initially imagined himself as a musician. But stints in a series of bands, including New York City group the Fever, and a New Orleans gig working with the nonprofit arts collective Court 13 (collaborating on Zeitlin’s 2008 short “Glory at Sea”) made him realize film could unite his enthusiasms for visual art, storytelling, and music, all in one go.
“They had this pirate-ship mentality that I found really intoxicating,” recalls Jasper, who worked on the “Patti Cake$” script over two years and 10 drafts, developing it as part of Sundance’s 2014 Directors Lab — during which he found his Patti, Australian actress Danielle Macdonald, a rap newbie whom he introduced to the Jersey locales of his youth and coached through hip-hop history, from Run DMC to Kendrick Lamar.
The stylistic mix of “Patti Cake$” draws on the same impulse for collage that defines a lot of hip-hop. “I feel like at the core, that’s who I am as an artist and a writer, and that’s what we were trying to do visually,” he says. One shot might be handheld, the next on a dolly, followed by a tight wide-angle close-up. “Those might seem like four different movies, but if they’re sewn together with the right vibe, it can all work.”