At just 21 years old, Jake Topkis is well on his way to doing what we all hope to do some day: developing a passion into a profession. Inspired by comic books and his love of telling stories, Topkis founded Heart-Beat Productions, an independent film company that has created multiple award-winning short films, in 2004.
Yes, your math is correct: Topkis founded his company in the eighth grade.
As a kid, Topkis wanted to be a comic book artist -- “The construction of a comic book page is not unlike the way a movie scene is put together, and I've always had a sense of visual storytelling ingrained in me because of that,” he said -- but after a school project required him to create a short film, the current Emerson senior decided filmmaking was his thing.
“I ended up making Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart, and the experience triggered something in me that has kept me going ever since,” he said. "I really enjoyed showing it to people and having people react to the story, and I kept wanting to get that reaction from people."
Living in Park City, Utah, home of the Sundance Film Festival, helped inspire him, too. Heart-Beat’s original team hailed entirely from that area, but after Topkis started at Emerson, “it just expanded because I was networking with a ton of people here,” he said. The company, which began as a group of students who simply liked to make fun projects together, now has people all over the U.S. working towards the goal of cultivating successful filmmaking careers.
“The fact that I've been able to build a team that will consistently work with me is something I don't take for granted,” Topkis said. “It keeps me inspired to tell strong stories. We're all trying to do the same thing: to continue doing the work we love.”
Since Topkis began college -- “when the films [got] more well-put together,” he said -- Heart-Beat has produced six short films that have won everything from an EVVY to various awards at the Southeast New England (SENE) Film, Music, and Art Festival in Rhode Island. Their latest short film, “Ties,” recently won Best Dramatic Short at the New York City International Film Festival.
“We weren’t expecting that kind of award because it’s such a big film festival, and we were clearly the youngest people there,” Topkis said. “Just getting into that film festival was enough to make us happy.”
The ambitious Topkis is always working to reach a higher level in his work. Most recently, he’s set his mind to creating feature-length movies, to show audiences Heart-Beat can do more than just short narratives. In Searching, an adaptation of their short film “Night Wore On,” already has a completed screenplay; Premium Unleaded, which builds off of “Ties,” has a finished treatment.
“It would be unrealistic for me to try and make both of them right now, [so I’m] going to pick which concept I think is stronger and fully devote myself to making that feature film,” said Topkis. “I plan to shop one of the ideas around and try to raise support and enlist some other producers to help me get the film off the ground.”
Additional reporting by Noor Hakeem
Photos courtesy of Heart-Beat Productions
About Angela -- It's "Ang," if you please -- or, alternately, Bill, Penny Lane, or (begrudgingly) Angus to some. I've been with TNGG since the site started and am now the TNGG Boston editor for Boston.com. I graduated from Boston University's College of Communication in 2009 and am a huge fan of live music, hockey, and Thai food. I'm also a bit of a klutz, but that's only because my mind and body are always going in approximately a zillion separate directions. Twitter: @amstefano988
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