About Arceneaux: An Interview with Jason Buch

A streaming TV series after my own heart.

Now on Amazon Prime (free for subscribers) is the locally shot and set detective procedural series, aptly titled Arceneaux. Starring a great cast including Lance Nichols, the series can only be claimed as a victory for the truly independent filmmakers of Hollywood South, who continue to persevere in making their stories and getting them seen. 

I spoke with the director of this series, Jason Buch, about streaming services, struggles, future plans and, of course, the title.

After all, it’s quite a coincidence:

Bill Arceneaux: To kick things off with the obvious, what made you land on the title of Arceneaux?

Jason Buch: Somehow I knew you’d ask this. I wanted something short that quickly got across the regional focus of the series and that was catchy enough for people to remember it. I was scouting for a different project in New Iberia, and I saw the name on a sign on the side of a building. It clicked. It’s just Louisiana enough without feeling exaggerated or cliché. I knew each season would have a subtitle, and that the detective would be the main character tying them all together, so naming the series after him seemed natural.

BA: What were your stylistic intentions with merging detective drama with this region in particular? (It’s a combo made in heaven, honestly)

JB: I think Louisiana has a sense of mystery about it that’s inherent in the culture, so it was an easy pairing to make. Detective fiction also has a long history in the state, both on-screen and on the page. Writers like James Lee Burke with his Dave Robicheaux novels, Bill Loehfelm with the Maureen Coughlin series, and many others have been writing crime and detective fiction from the region about the region, and they are authors whom I admire for the way they capture the magic and the tragedy of this place without trying to write a tourism ad.

The decision also came from settling on the format of the show. I knew that I wanted to do something more streamlined, with simpler settings and scenes, focused on the dialogue and the characters. A detective series was a natural fit since so much of that is talking to people to get more information. From there, I settled on a few rules for myself as a writer. I could only have scenes that were in the interview room or that were pieces of evidence that Arceneaux would eventually uncover. All of the things that you expect out of a typical detective show still happen — discovery of evidence, tracking down leads, etc. — but they happen off-screen, and what’s presented is about Arceneaux and how he chooses to use that information when dealing with the people who were closest to the victim in order to find the truth.

And, I knew that I wanted to write something about the city. A lot of my past work is set in Louisiana or set in New Orleans, but I hadn’t really written anything that was trying to say something about the city. What I hope I’ve done here is reflect on the changes I’ve seen New Orleans going through over the almost decade and a half since Katrina, while trying to remain true to the people who are experiencing them. Approaching it as an investigation into a single crime gave me the freedom to bring in elements of the larger story of the city as needed and as they fit into the themes.

BA: Please explain your thoughts on independent productions getting on streaming services at the moment. Do you personally prefer streaming or physical media? 

JB: Streaming offers a lot of fantastic opportunities for independent productions, but it can also be a difficult path to pursue. In just the five years since we began this project, streaming has changed so much. When we began pre-production, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon had only released three original series each. So the landscape is very different, and streaming is no longer viewed as a secondary release strategy. You can get your series or film onto the same platforms where people are already watching content, and you can do so with the hope of recovering your production costs. That’s a huge thing for an independent production.

For us, Prime Video was a great fit, because it puts us alongside similar productions. We knew that the series would work best as 4 episodes, so being on a platform where binge-watching is the norm is great, and I think ultimately we’ll find more viewers presenting the series this way instead of as a single film. Finding the viewers is the challenge, as you are largely responsible for your own marketing and publicity.

As for what I prefer, it depends on the situation. I watch more content streaming now than I do on physical media. It’s an easier way for me to access it, and any loss in image quality is something I’m willing to accept. Blu-ray still has its place, and I don’t think physical media should stop being produced. There are films that I would prefer to watch that way. But much like the digital production workflow has overtaken shooting on film, I think convenience will win out in the long run.

BA: Might there be a feature film project coming soon from you and your team?

JB: I have a couple of feature scripts that I’m working on, but neither are close to production yet. The next project I’m likely to release is an interactive VR narrative series, which hopefully should see the first chapter out by the end of the year. Neutral Ground Films, which is Sean Donnelly, Jason Waggenspack, and myself, always has several projects in process. The True Don Quixote, a feature film starring Tim Blake Nelson and Jacob Batalon, which Jason Waggenspack produced, will release this Fall. Waggenspack and Donnelly are also working on a documentary called Abby’s Joy about the use of medical cannabis in the treatment of autism, and an unscripted comedy series, Two Magicians Walk Into a Bar, with New Orleans magician/comedian Michael Dardant. We believe strongly in the local film industry and in promoting projects that originate in the state. There are so many talented actors and filmmakers here, and we’re excited to be a small part of that community.

BA: Mike Scott wrote on NOLA.com that “Buch and company have accomplished something important, and something many regional filmmakers have for the past couple of decades struggled with: They have secured a way to ensure their work will be seen.” What advice would you give other filmmakers (local and beyond) who want their stories to be seen?

JB: This really was our focus. Too many projects don’t make it to their audience, even when they are fantastic and do everything else right. We wanted to do what we could to make sure that people can see the series if they want to. Prime Video was, again, a good fit for that, as it allows anyone who subscribes to Amazon Prime to watch the series for no additional cost. That means we don’t have to convince someone to spend $15, $10, or even $5 to get them to watch the series, but unlike other services that give that kind of accessibility, Prime Video also offers us an opportunity to recover our production budget in the process and, with enough views, continue on to season 2.

The advice that I would give to other filmmakers is to research the different options and to figure out what the best outlet is going to be for your project. There are so many niche streaming services now, and if you fit into one of those, then you may find more viewers than on one of the larger sites. The tools are out there to get your work onto a platform where it can be seen, but with so much content available now, catching your audience’s attention is harder than ever. There are a lot of benefits to aiming for a narrower group who might love your project instead of a wider audience that might only like it, or worse, never even know it exists. I hope that we’ve been able to do that.

Bill Arceneaux has been an independent writer and film critic in the New Orleans area since 2011, working with outlets like Film Threat, DIG Baton Rouge, Crosstown Conversations, and Occupy. He is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association and is Rotten Tomatoes approved. Follow him on Twitter: @billreviews

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