MIGHTY MOVIES

Jason Cabell: a profile in passion, courage, and breaking down barriers

Laurence Fishburne, Andrew Ruf, Peter Facinelli and Lauren Craig share their experience working with Cabell- a writer/director and retired Navy SEAL

Joel Searls

Jason Cabell finished his mainstream directorial debut with the film "Running with the Devil," starring Nicolas Cage and Laurence Fishburne. The film is inspired by Cabell's service with the Navy SEALs, dealing with the drug trade.

With completing "Running with the Devil," Cabell becomes a rare breed in Hollywood and the military- a combat veteran Navy SEAL who wrote and directed his own feature film. The cast thoroughly enjoyed working with him; Laurence Fishburne shares details about his experience on RWTD.

Fishburne: [It was] one of the best experiences I have had in recent years, especially with a new director. Jason is incredibly well-organized and beyond enthusiastic. His script was so clever, fun and simplistic. The best things usually are simple and his simplicity brought an elegance to the story. Jason was just incredibly well prepared, which is one of the most important things a director can be. He has incredible leadership abilities because he knows how to follow. Overall, one of the best experiences I have had in recent years.



Cole Hauser, Jason Cabell, Barry Pepper and Laurence Fishburne on set of "Running with the Devil." (Photo courtesy of: Jason Cabell)

Even with his career highlights in special operations and hard earned success as a filmmaker, he is a salt of the earth type of guy. Cabell comes from humble beginnings having been born in Chicago a couple of years after the 1968 Democratic Convention. The riots took place right across the street from where he lived. His father transferred to Colorado to get away from the inner city.

Cabell was born into a mixed family where he came to realize differences among his friends growing up. His father, an African American, was a World War II vet in the Navy as a 20mm gunner on an ammo ship. He served in the battle of Midway and Guadalcanal. After returning from WWII, he played football at Western Michigan University and tried out for the Chicago White Sox but wasn't allowed in the clubhouse at the time due to his race. Cabell's dad met his mom while she was working as a nurse.

Cabell's mother was first generation from Norway. Her family fled Norway when the Nazis invaded. Cabell recalls her kindness and love throughout his childhood. "My mom always encouraged me and said I could be anything I wanted to if I worked hard enough. We always went to the movies together. That was our thing. She loved Dr. Zhivago and from an early age always took me to the Oscar contenders," Cabell said.

Cabell's grandfather was a carpenter and settled the family in Skokie, IL. His grandpa built houses in the Skokie area. When visiting Skokie with his family, Cabell would work for his grandfather and remembers noticing the tattoo on his tenants' arms from concentration camps, as Skokie was a Jewish hub where many Jewish people had relocated from Europe post WWII.

His parents stressed traditional values: be polite, be courteous, always be present for Sunday dinner, have family values, obey the golden rule, be respectful to elders and others and give respect where respect is due. His parents wanted the children to take pride in their appearance and focus on details like not missing belt loops. Cabell recalled that as a military man, "My father wanted us to make our bed and be disciplined in all things."

Cabell said his parents taught him to "Take the hard right over the easy wrong. Do what you say you will do. Be reliable. Don't commit to anything that you can't do. Be honest with yourself and other people. You have to deliver every time and be a man of your word." Cabell was always close to his family. Both of his parents have passed but he continues to model their values with his own two children. Cabell pressed forward from his youth in Colorado to the next big adventure- the Navy SEALs.

Cabell had a call to adventure which led to him to the to the SEALs, where he wanted to explore the world. At the time he joined in the late '80s, no one really knew about the SEALs. He was living in Arizona and saw an Air Show with the U.S. Navy Parachute Team- the Leapfrogs (a group of SEALs). After seeing the Leapfrogs he went to sign up for the Navy SEAL program without knowing how to swim. To learn, he worked with a coach before heading out to the Navy.

Cabell said, "In training you play with your life every day. Things are pretty dynamic, spending 320 days-a-year with your teammates. You constantly ask yourself, would I train and put my life on the line for these people? I got to see and experience the world with these guys."

He went to well over 100 countries and got to experience places like Iwo Jima, Wake Island, and even stopped to see different atolls from WWII. One of his most memorable training events took place in Monashka Bay in Alaska. The team did a maritime training mission in the area where they experienced a really big weather front but still had to go through with the training mission. Cabell got frostbite from the mission and still has a scar from it.

His foray into the filmmaking business may surprise some people, but he believes he is on the right path. "I always seem to end up where I am supposed to be. If you listen to the universe and head in the right direction, then 1,000 hands will push you along," Cabell said.

Nicolas Cage and Jason Cabell on set of "Running with the Devil" (Photo courtesy of: Jason Cabell)

There were not any barriers for him in transitioning from the SEALs to being a filmmaker despite having no film school education. Throughout his journey, Cabell has gained many fans and industry professionals that appreciate his work. One is Andrew Ruf, managing partner at Paradigm Talent Agency, who shares this on working with Cabell:

Ruf: Having exceptional rapport is a two-way street that requires constant collaboration to build a strong, positive relationship. When Jason and I first met, we bonded over shared personal experiences and a mutual passion for actors and storytelling. Jason is a down to earth guy who genuinely has great instincts for the work we do and has an incredibly focused drive. His work ethic is unparalleled.

Cabell led a 77-person combat assault force in Baghdad during the height of the war, which helped him tremendously in life and leadership. His leadership experiences prepared him for leading on set. On the set of "Running with the Devil" in Colombia, they had a 250-person crew, which beckons for a person that knows how to get things done.

He said, "You have to possess extreme discipline to be the best." Cabell read over 1,000 scripts, studying both the good and bad examples, to get the beat pattern down. His experiences on a SEAL team taught him to learn quickly and taught military skills like, skydiving, flying an airplane, calling for fire, calculus and dive physics. Cabell thinks the military education system is the best education system in the world. Actor, writer, director Peter Facinelli worked with Jason on RWTD and shared his thoughts on the experience.

Facinelli: Jason's military background was apparent; he is a commander on-set and you are part of his troop. I felt protected and that he would have my back, due to his confidence under stress. I never saw a lack of confidence at any point. Jason won't let people see him sweat. He is efficient and keeps things moving like clockwork. He keeps the "troops" informed and lets the actors know what is expected from them- a well-run set. I have worked with a lot of directors and he has earned my respect.

Facinelli and Cabell on the set of "Running with the Devil." (Photo courtesy of: Jason Cabell)

Cabell got his start on the creative side of the industry by writing scripts. He started small by directing an $100,000 movie, "Smoke Filled Lungs." He produced a TV movie for MarVista titled "2020," and just kept learning and moving.

He said, "My father always taught me you can do anything you want if you are willing to sacrifice and put the work in." He made a lot of sacrifices to begin a new career where reinventing oneself is tough and becomes harder as age increases.

"One of the things nowadays is making excuses and being a victim," said Cabell. "People fetishize being a victim in our culture as opposed to being a success. No one will give you anything. You have to work for it. You have to work beyond exhaustion and failure, or you will never succeed."

He believes there are many people that are victims from societal pressures. He said, "To succeed you need to stay away from negative people that crap on your dreams. If you have the talent and are doing the right things, then keep doing it." Cabell has never been the fastest or strongest but has found a way to grind it out.

Producer and executive Lauren Craig also experienced working on set with Cabell.

Craig: I worked with him from the beginning to the end of production. He was professional, open to ideas and it was easy to follow through on what he wanted because he was so direct with his vision. Jason found a way to separate who he is as a SEAL and who he is as a filmmaker, which greatly benefited the production. He focused on his vision and story and tried to make it as universal as possible... Jason was always trying to boost the morale of everyone on set. We were in the snow, desert, and urban areas. No matter the situation, he was always encouraging and trying to bring everyone up. Jason is the consummate professional; we were all on a team together even though he was the director. He made us feel like we were a part of something bigger.

Jason Cabell on set in the Sandia Mountains (NM) with Nicolas Cage, Laurence Fishburne and AP Lauren Craig. (Photo courtesy of: Jason Cabell)

Fishburne had positive insights into Cabell's directing abilities.

Fishburne: A little bit of Eastwood comes through in Jason's directing. His enthusiasm is similar to John Singleton's enthusiasm. John was a first-time director when I worked with him. Jason's experience as a veteran plays into his abilities as a director. He has a young man's spirit with an older man's wisdom. Jason is the kind of guy that will tell you he was afraid of something and he is also wise enough not to show it. Showing fear will not get you through it; moving through your fear is what truly helps you.

Fishburne provides a final thought on Cabell's trajectory within the next 5 years. He said, "I will see Jason on set working somewhere and calling "Action," saying "Very good, Mr. Fishburne, can we do another one?"

With the success of the film that has such a high level cast, the continued work ethic of Cabell and the agency behind him, Ruf is highly positive on Cabell's upward trajectory.

Ruf: Jason is a very promising artist in Hollywood. I can see him being one of the highly sought after directors/writers in this industry in both film and television and running his own production company. His adaptability and leadership abilities will allow him to reach new heights in whichever field he decides to pursue but his passion for entertainment is certain and this is where I see him scoring. He is incredibly talented and knowledgeable when it comes to what the audience wants to see on screen, and we, here at Paradigm, look forward to what he has in store next.

This article originally appeared on Annenberg Media. Follow @AnnenbergMedia on Twitter.