His Take

Jeff Galfer talks about growing up in Barrington, his first movie,
and life in Hollywood

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story by Lisa stamos | Photo by Paolo Cascio

The self-conscious Barrington elementary school student at North Barrington, and later Station Middle School, went from being a hesitant student to breaking out as “Mr. Cool” thanks to his eighth-grade teacher, Amy Runyon, who pulled together a school play, “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” and cast Galfer in it. The role put Galfer on a life path that he continues to refine today.

Galfer was a successful actor and singer in Barrington High School theater, appearing in plays and musicals from 1994 to 1997. Upon graduation, his pursuit of theater training connected him with the University of Evansville’s highly selective Department of Theatre. There, Galfer says he learned how to access raw emotions in his acting. He also credits the program with teaching him how to produce his own work, a requirement for his degree. After Evansville, Galfer attended the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco to earn his Masters of Fine Arts in acting. This is where Galfer says he learned the true technical craft of becoming an actor.

Based in Los Angeles today, Galfer has three agents to cover all aspects of his career, with one each for TV and film, on-camera commercials, and voice-over work in commercials and animation. Lauren Gibson is Galfer’s lead theatrical agent who specializes in film, TV, and theater opportunities. “Jeff is an incredible talent as a dramatic or character actor, and he is very funny,” Gibson says. “His theater background elevates him, and he can handle anything I throw at him. When the scripts come out during pilot season, and I send Jeff on auditions, the feedback is very positive and people love his aura,” she says. Galfer has had roles on “NCIS”, “Scorpion”, and “Castle”, as well as playing the role of Sammy Kirsch in the TV series, “The River”. Current TV commercial work includes spots for La Quinta and BMW. His original show, “Jeff’s Place”, is being shopped right now by distributors. But his greatest achievement to date is the movie, “Buried Treasure”, which is scheduled to run at the Catlow Theater’s upcoming film festival. Galfer says that having made that, he can now make anything.

Today in Hollywood you are expected to have one job title—actor, or writer, for example—but Galfer doesn’t agree with that. His talents include writing, producing, filmmaking, acting, and photography. For the first time, he says, he is calling himself an artist to validate his many forms of expression. We visited with him at his home in Los Angeles.

QB: In 2010, Marc Parker produced a milestone reunion event with BHS theater alumni. What was your role?

JG: I was invited to co-emcee that production. I arrived about a day before the first audience was to see the show, and I had no idea how big of an event it was going to be. I was living in Los Angeles and had no concept how much work and time had gone into that show. It was incredible. I had to learn my emcee lines and be prepared to sing, “I Am the Very Modern Model of a Modern Major General” with a full orchestra a day later in front of a full audience. In the moment the show ended, I was both so relieved to have done my job without destroying all the hard work everyone else had put into that show to make it as great as it was and I was utterly impressed with both Marc and the entire cast and crew for having such success with such a massive undertaking.  

QB: What are some of your memories of growing up in Barrington?

JG: Well, I lived up in Timberlake. Up until high school, I loved spending time with my best friends in that neighborhood. There were four or so of us (three of us live in Los Angeles now) and we all lived a few blocks from one another and saw each other daily after school. It was an idyllic childhood, the kind you see in movies. In the fall, we would catch leaves off the trees and explore

the woods in the neighborhood and ride dirt bikes and jump on our trampoline in my yard. In winter, we would ice skate on the Timberlake or a friend’s pond or sled on the lawn of the folks who lived on “Danger Hill”, the steepest hill in Timberlake. Summertime was the best. Every day, we went to the beach and swam and played all day long. I remember it all so vividly, smelling of sun tan lotion and always having sand in my shoes and Fourth of July parades and hot, humid, mosquito-laden nights. I miss those times.  

QB: What about your high school years?

JG: I spent most of my time in downtown Barrington. On Monday evenings, it was choir practice with Barrington Children’s Choir. The rest of the week, it was rehearsals for plays and musicals at the school. Almost every waking hour outside of school was spent either singing or acting or hanging out with the other kids that sang and acted. I have incredibly vivid memories of the feeling of an opening night of a concert or play—the smells of young adults wearing their “only on special occasions” perfume/cologne—and the electricity and excitement to perform. That wonderful feeling of knowing we were gonna stay up late and perform for so many people and then, who knows, go to Dairy Queen or some late night diner in Lake Zurich to celebrate!  

QB: Did your training in the theater arts and music within Barrington 220 play a role in defining your career?

JG: A career in entertainment is hard. Very hard. And 99 percent of it is work. And I will spend months working/auditioning/writing to experience one moment of pure bliss, be it from performing in a show, booking a job, or finally finishing a project. Doing theater and singing in Barrington was the opposite. Not that it wasn’t a ton of work, but it was bliss most of the time. And when you are just starting to play around with something you may want to do the rest of your life, you have to experience the fun of it first. Ultimately, the fun times will be less and less as your career and finances and disappointments and expectations become a little more intertwined. So, first, it taught me how to have fun. To love what I was doing. To explore what talent I had and to share them as best I could. I also think I learned that half of my enjoyment of doing art was because of the people and life surrounding the performances/rehearsals. I loved the kids I did plays with in Barrington and I had a great time at rehearsals and nights out after shows and hanging out on the weekends.

QB: What about competition?

JG: There was a competition factor in high school that I think was important, too. A lot of talented kids go to Barrington and we really had to compete to get the roles we wanted. I think it’s good to get a taste of that early on. This business is very competitive.

QB: What is life in Hollywood like for you?

JG: Life in Hollywood is different for everyone. Some days I have an audition or two or three, or none at all. Some days I’m writing. Some days I’m managing a project for my production company. Some days I have nothing to do and I get to watch an episode of “Game of Thrones”. Some days I have a voice-over audition followed by a TV audition followed by a photo session followed by a production meeting. Whatever I’m doing, it’s work and focus. My life is not one big party all time with celebrities. I don’t care about celebrities. I want to be known for being a great artist, someone that worked their ass off to break down doors—an industry renegade.

QB: What are your strategies to earn a living?

JG: As far as work and focus concerned, I learned early on that in order to navigate the industry, you have to be diversified. TV for working actors is not what it used to be. Celebrities do TV now and that means there are fewer jobs for everyone else and those jobs that exist are going to pay less. To survive as a working professional, you have to be good at multiple things. 

I make my money doing episodes of TV shows, voice-overs (commercials/animation/computer games), on camera commercials, and photography. In fact, I learned how to design websites and edit video simply so I didn’t have to worry about spending money to pay other people to do these things for me. Any skill I can learn that will help me either get more work or allow me to do busy work for myself is useful to me.

QB: What are your secrets to success?

JG: Outside of diversification, I have had to learn to stay positive. You can waste an awful lot of time comparing yourself and your career to the careers of those around you. You cannot do this. Ever. I wasted far too much of my career doing this and I have vowed to never do it again. The fact is, your career has nothing to do with anyone but you. And for each person whose career you wish you had, there is another person who wishes they had your career. Finding a way to love MY path has exponentially improved my career and more importantly, my life. I’m happier and more grateful for each bit of success and for the life I have created that surrounds that success.   

QB: You’re in a tough business. How do you survive?

JG: At the end of the day, the entertainment industry is highly unstable. You never know when something will happen or something won’t happen. In order to counteract this, I have learned to create my own work. It is the single most important lesson I have learned. Creating my own work consistently leverages stability for myself. I have found great power from dreaming big and working as hard as I can to achieve whatever it is I can dream up. And because I have learned this skill, I no longer have to rely on the industry for anything. Of course, I still have a relationship with the industry and I work in the industry, but I can now open my own doors, make my own movies, make my own TV shows, make my own web series—whatever I put my mind to. My career is indeed in my hands. And because of this fact, my confidence level and level of desperation has shifted. I walk into auditions unafraid and inspired. People look at me differently. And the industry has responded by becoming more stable: I work more consistently and I worry less about when my next job is.  

QB: What filmmaking lessons did you take away from making “Buried Treasure”?

JG: It was probably akin to four years of film school compacted into one year of movie making. We had a cast and crew of roughly 60-70 people that worked for free. Over 200 people donated roughly $25,000 to help me make the movie. That’s roughly 300 people who donated both time and money for me. That’s incredible!

The biggest lesson I learned was how to make a film. From start to finish, from writing to color correction and sound design, I learned how a film was made. I learned how many people are necessary, how any mistake along the way can derail the entire movie, and how much time and dedication it takes. I learned what each crew member does. I learned how to manage a crew.

And even after all of that, it was still a lonely and expensive process. You start writing the movie alone. You end the movie 15 months later sitting alone in your apartment printing labels for the DVDs. Lots of people join you along the way to completion, but at the end of the day, when you make an indie film, it is an unrelenting amount of work that can leave you feeling very lonely. I never thought making a movie could feel lonely.  

Lastly, I learned that if I could make “Buried Treasure”, I could make anything. “Buried Treasure” was the template. And once you know the template, you can make anything. For all the money and time and help that was donated to that process, the best gift those almost 300 people gave me was the knowledge of how to make a movie. I will forever be grateful to everyone for that.

QB: What about the cost of making your movie?

JG: I spent way more money than I should have spent. I think the movie ended up costing closer to $35,000 and most of the rest of that money came from my credit card. That’s a dangerous financial position to be in. Short films don’t usually make any money and any money you spend is gone. That debt is yours alone to clean up. So I learned how to not overspend. I learned how to limit locations or cast or production design to keep it within my means. Looking back, I never should have spent so much money. But, I didn’t know how not to. Thank goodness I learned because now I can make things for a quarter of the price. My latest endeavor, “Jeff’s Place”, was 30 minutes of material. We spent almost 75 percent less on that entire series than I did on “Buried Treasure”. This was because I knew how not to spend money I didn’t have. 

QB: How are you distributing your content?

JG: I have “Buried Treasure” listed on demand for 99 cents through Vimeo. In the last week, I was approached by the Shorts TV station on Direct TV and they have asked me to license the movie to them for the next three years. This is incredibly exciting as it is the first film I have been able to license out. I don’t know exactly when, but it will air sometime after July on Shorts TV and will air on and off for the next three years after that. 

Our current show “Jeff’s Place” also has an offer to be distributed on Shorts TV, but we are currently in talks with another production company to have it shopped to other networks and digital channels. We will know more about its future in the next few months. In the meantime, “Jeff’s Place” is free to watch online so we can garner a following. Our dream with that show is that someone buys us up so we can make many more episodes and continue to build a larger audience. The bigger the audience for our work, the more freedom we have in this industry, and the more we can accomplish on our own.

With “Date-A-Max” (a web show I co-created with fellow Barrington alum Mitch Bisschop), we were able to license the show to a web distribution company called Fullscreen. That was my first ever “sale” from self-generated work.

However, it’s not about the money. For the most part, there is very little money in short film/web series sales. My team and I love to get the work out to as many people as possible so that we generate a wider audience. The more audience we get, the easier it is to find folks to help us finance future work, and the better chance we have at getting our work produced in bigger and better ways. 

Jeff Galfer’s movie and other shows can be seen through these website: “Buried Treasure” can be seen here: www.buriedtreasurethemovie.com, “Jeff’s Place” can be seen here: www.jeffsplaceshow.com, and “Date-A-Max” can be seen here at www.angrykingproductions.com/date-max.