by The Minister of Information JR
“Saltz” is hands down one of my favorite films in the San Francisco Black Film Festival, partly because it is half a Black horror film and half a “this can really happen” film. The film is a futuristic look at the coming drug saltz epidemic, in the midst of today’s opioid epidemic.
It is also a look at our own attitudes on race where the story is told twice, once with a Black cast and one with a white cast, which allows the viewer to see if there is a change in attitude towards a drug addict based on race. It is a genius critique on race and the effects of racist media in the Trump era. Check out first time director Dominique McClellan as he discusses his film, “Saltz.”
M.O.I. JR: What inspired you to write the script for the film “Saltz”? Where did you get the idea to tell the story in the way that you did?
Dominique McClellan: “Saltz” is my first film as a writer-director-filmmaker, so I wanted to follow the normal first-time filmmaker trend and shoot a quasi-zombie film. That said, being a Black filmmaker, I’ve never seen people who look like me in a zombie film as the focal point. I often wondered what kind of effect the Black experience would have on this beloved genre.
Then I wondered why the market for this genre has been cornered by one ethnic group. So I figured I’d conduct an experiment to appease my queries. Take a genre that is typically (in my opinion) reserved for white people and tell the story though the interpretation of both white and Black actors.
As a director, I wanted to see what’s different about the actor’s approach as a whole and individually. I set out to see if “race” would play a factor on any aspect for the actors on either side of the camera. I also wanted to extend awareness to the synthetic drug epidemic and the real lives associated with it.
I also wanted to see how viewers would react to it. Which ethnic group would they identify with most? Which would they prefer to see made into a full length film? I also have the full version of each film. I screened all three and the responses were unbelievable. “Saltz” is a really good case study on race in film.
M.O.I. JR: In looking at today’s opioid epidemic and the possible coming saltz epidemic, what do you see in the future as far as in the future of drugs?
Dominique McClellan: Now that this drug epidemic is affecting more of white population, I see more programs being created around treating drug use and addiction as a health and mental health issue and not as much as a criminal issue like it was when drugs ravaged the African American neighborhoods in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
M.O.I. JR: How did you cast for this film? Where?
Dominique McClellan: I held a general casting call in New Orleans, where I live. None of the actors knew that “Saltz” was going to be one film made with two different casts. I casted equally as far as talent and experience because I didn’t want either group to have an edge.
M.O.I. JR: Have you had any personal interactions with hard drugs?
Dominique McClellan: No, I’ve never done drugs, but so many people in my neighborhood have lost so much due to drugs. I’ve seen the consequences of addiction. I’ve seen the communities it has destroyed.
M.O.I. JR: Who is the target audience? And what is the overall message that you are trying to convey with “Saltz”?
Dominique McClellan: I would have to say that the millennials are my target audience. They are the group that would be most capable of sharing the message or just simply talking about the film. Social media is the reason so many are familiar with how synthetic drugs can make some people lose complete control and do unthinkable things such as experience cannibalistic behavior. Also, the Black vs. white aspect of the film is good social media conversation and can be included in the trending conversation on representation in Hollywood, among other things.
From a social aspect, I want people – parents especially – to be aware this drug or type of drug is out there and that it’s real. And from a filmmaker’s aspect, I want people to challenge the norms of what they see represented in the media – television and movies especially. The tide is already shifting where more people of color are receiving more opportunities that are not rooted in the stereotypical roles and stories – but we have so much more and so far to go.
M.O.I. JR: What was important about the policeman in the story getting turned out on saltz?
Dominique McClellan: The policeman is there to convey that they are no more human than we are. There has been so much controversy in the media about law enforcement officers failing to measure how they respond to perceived threats, and the waters surrounding how the officers are prosecuted is always muddy.
I wanted to show that they are capable of making the same mistakes we make as civilians. Their fate or consequences should be no different. If a civilian kills someone unjustifiably and is sent to prison, a police officer who kills someone unjustifiably should be dealt the same blow.
M.O.I. JR: Do you plan to make this a feature film? Why?
Dominique McClellan: Yes, I plan to make “Saltz” a feature – the script is ready, just need some fundraising – because the world loves, loves, loves a good zombie flick. But almost all zombie flicks are rooted in a world of “probably ain’t gonna happen.” “Saltz,” however, is actually possible.
There are so many isolated instances where people have experimented with synthetic drugs and have experienced cannibalistic behavior, super strength and other zombie-like behaviors – literally walking dead. So I think it’s the most possible – though it might not be probable – zombie concept when compared to what has been done already. And every movie can also serve as a low-key awareness piece, especially to parents who don’t know much about the synthetic drug epidemic.
M.O.I. JR: Why did you apply to the SF Black Film Fest? How did you feel when “Saltz” was selected to screen this year?
Dominique McClellan: Like I said, this is my first film, so I’m a newbie to all of this. Still wet behind the ears. But I did a ton of research and really felt like SFBFF was one to try and land no matter what just because of the scale and the caliber of attendees. The possibility of being able to come out and rub elbows with great filmmakers of color was also a huge plus.
When I found out my film was selected I was on set working on another production and yelled out “Hell yeah!” so loud that we had to cut and reshoot the scene we were shooting. Needless to say, I felt great and validated. It really gave me the confidence to push harder with my work as a writer-director.
M.O.I. JR: How do people stay online with your work?
Dominique McClellan: My Instagram is the most efficient way. I do have a website and Facebook. Just simply plug my name into either or all and I’ll pop right up. So it’s dominiquemcclellan on both Instagram and Facebook, and my website is www.dominiquemcclellan.com and email is email@example.com.
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey, journalist, author and filmmaker, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook. And tune in to BlockReportRadio.com. The 2017 San Francisco Black Film Festival runs June 15-18; learn more at SFBFF.org.