by The People’s Minister of Information JR
The San Francisco Black Film Festival is one of two film festivals in the Bay – the other being The Oakland International Film Festival – that give Black filmmakers a chance to display their work to the cinema-loving world. This year’s festival is from June 12-15, and all screening time and location information is located at sfbff.org.
“Fingerprints,” by LA-based filmmaker Robyn Charles, is one of the official selections in this year’s festival. We wanted to give the Bay View readers a little bit of a preview of what is to come with this Q&A with one of the outstanding filmmakers who will be highlighted this year. Check out Robyn Charles in her own words.
M.O.I. JR: Can you tell our readers how and when did you get into filmmaking? When did you decide that you wanted to make it a career?
Robyn: Whether my creativity has expressed itself through poetry, songwriting (ASCAP), fiction, screenplays or drawings, the arts have always been great passions of mine. Despite being among the few of my time raised without television, film for me became the ultimate canvas.
I started writing poetry for spoken-word performance and was working with local indie singers and music studios in San Diego when I relocated there at the age of 19. At the same time, I also wanted to write a novel.
Point being, I was writing all the time. I kept a book (before my laptop days) under my bed called “The Brain Storm,” because I never knew when it was going to hit; the need to write something – a melody, a phrase, a poem, an opening to a story at 2, 3 or 4 in the morning – and I had to get it down on paper before it was lost. A friend of mine had me show my writing to a writer on Moesha named Norman Vance.
Well, after reading a draft of my novel, “Girlfriends,” he convinced me to turn it into a script. I did not, however, know the first thing about writing a screenplay or had ever thought of writing for the screen, but I did my research and wrote my first complete script. That was all it took; I was addicted.
The visual arts, the poetry, the characters, storytelling – all of it synthesized for me in screenwriting and I was determined to learn as much as I can. I enrolled in San Diego Community College District and then transferred to UCLA after being admitted into the film program.
I went with the intention of becoming a screenwriter only, but the beauty of the undergraduate program at UCLA is that you have to do everything before you can concentrate in your senior year. When I saw my first short-film project on the big screen, I became addicted and could not fathom writing without directing.
What I fell in love with is working with the actors. So for my senior year, I completed the production track, stayed an additional year to complete the screenwriting track and immediately applied to the Graduate Directing Program at UCLA. I felt that at this point in my education – or should I say my journey – I was on the cusp of “becoming,” for lack of a better word, and if I did not continue my education, my growth as an artist would be stunted.
Thankfully, I was admitted and while completing the directing program also completed (unofficially) the screenwriting program writing several features and television projects as well as producing and directing several short films, with “Fingerprints” being my feature debut.
M.O.I. JR: Can you tell us a little about your new film that is scheduled to be in the SF Black Film Fest this year? What is the name of it? What is it about?
Robyn: “Fingerprints” draws us into a world in which an individual is faced with battling demons that only arise from the most opaque recesses of the human mind – the outward manifestation of an internal war that is profoundly human. Gregory Marks is a comedian on the rise who does not realize his comedy is a defense mechanism that masks a dark side he unleashes when pursuing an Oscar-worthy performance in a dramatic role that sends him spiraling into madness.
As a Juvenalian satire, “Fingerprints” blurs the line between comedy and tragedy and, like “Black Swan” and “The Fighter,” it will catch you off guard as a psychodrama but with an urban twist anchored in the competitive world of the entertainment industry.
M.O.I. JR: Why did you choose to look at the tumultuous life of a comedian as the plot? That is a rather unique storyline.
Robyn: The idea of “Fingerprints” began with me wanting to explore the vulnerability of comedians and what caused them to implode under pressure. At the time I began writing the story, almost every major comedian we all knew and loved had had some type public breakdown and, by the time I was in post, Kevin Hart had his Laugh at My Pain tour and Katt Williams was struggling.
For me, the script was a great vehicle to explore the fragility of human nature by placing it in the superficial world of entertainment. So I created this world based on popular misconceptions of what it means to work in Hollywood and be famous.
I adore actors – the fragility, the vulnerability, the process. Watching a great performance is like watching someone exposed – no skin, nerves raw – and I am often time frustrated with those who do not respect “the process,” arbitrarily assigning themselves the title of actor with absolutely no training or understanding of the psychological toll it takes to become great at the craft.
What better way to explore the fragility of someone who hides behind his defense mechanisms as a comedian than to force him to delve into what he has suppressed while placing a level of trust in someone else’s hands (i.e. the director, acting coach, etc.)? That for most is way too much to ask.
M.O.I. JR: How did you get the crew and cast together to shoot the film?
Robyn: It was a combination of starting with a core group and then expanding from there when it came to crew, but for the most part the crew began with my UCLA peers. I also had referrals to some very good key people on set that were outside of UCLA. Myself and my co-producer, Mayon Denton, are the ones who really worked hard to get the script into the right hands.
M.O.I. JR: Have you been selected to be in other film festivals?
Robyn: I am still waiting to hear back from other festivals. SBFF is the first festival to accept “Fingerprints.”
M.O.I. JR: You also have a project called indiesole.com. Can you tell people about that?
Robyn: Being an artist, working with artists, the passion, the struggle, the collaboration, the raw talent is like air; without it I cannot breathe. I wanted to create a constant resource for me to tap into that energy, no matter what stage of my career I am in, and really celebrate the talent that’s out there.
I created IndieSole as a way to both develop a new media marketing and distribution arm of my company, FILMama Productions, but to also advocate for the independent spirit. So we travel the unbeaten path in search of indie music, film and culture to spotlight on IndieSole.
On our site, you will find the latest in film (actor and filmmaker spotlights as well as webisode reviews), music (a renaissance of independent music, bands and undiscovered talent), culture (profiling emerging designers, artists and community activists) and innovative entrepreneurs. We also feature special events, mom-and-pop shops and of course food and dining. All things indie!
FILMama Productions, LLC (FILMama), is a film and television production company with feature film and new media divisions dedicated to putting women behind the camera. FILMama, the parent company, owns IndieSole subsidiaries. An online video lifestyle and entertainment magazine where we produce all of our own content: Film & Music, Beauty& Fashion and About Town. FILMama videos are not only featured in our online magazine, www.indiesole.com, but also we push them out through all the other online channels – YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
M.O.I. JR: What else are you working on?
Robyn: Well, I currently have 15 feature screenplays and two television scripts under development. For FILMama Productions, I am working on a slate of eight films, with one tent-pole and two franchise scripts. My next feature script that will go into production is “The Sum of Days”:
A 6-year-old boy is in his living room with his mother, a 22-year-old model-thin beauty who has a shotgun. She’s just blown a man away who lies in a pool of blood and the Los Angeles Police Department has the house surrounded. She wakes up from this nightmare and goes throughout her normal day only to realize she’s on a collision course toward the police stand-off.
I’m really excited about this project. It’s edgy, it’s raw and I can’t wait to start filming.
M.O.I. JR: Can you talk a little bit about how you have been collaborating with the very talented LA-based filmmaker Lela Nicole? What do you two have in the works?
Robyn: Yes! I love Miss Lela! She has been an inspiration! I met her in my Organization of Black Screenwriting (OBS) writers’ group. We immediately clicked, and she is now the chief creative director of IndieSole. We were working on strategizing next steps to take IndieSole.com out of beta testing and she turned to me and said, “Let’s do a film festival.”
Then the heavens opened up and the doves flew around her head as light shone down upon her. Just kidding, but it was that brilliant! I always saw a festival in the future for IndieSole but anticipated moving forward within two-three years after the official launch.
But in Los Angeles, we just lost a major Black film festival, and it seemed like I had the best team player sitting in front of me saying now’s the time, and I agreed. Now this ain’t your mama’s film festival. The IndieSole Film and Music Festival is an intimate celebration of filmmakers and music artists.
Not only do we attract the industry, but the goal of this festival is to match indie filmmakers with both renowned and indie music artists. There are several people in the music industry who want to break into film, but need that first indie project to get their feet wet. What better venue to vet indie filmmakers than at the IndieSole Film and Music Festival, where film and music professionals can merge for three days to congratulate each other on all the hard work that went into the film and music we will present?
We want music videos, scoring, soundtracks and even indie features to be born every year out of collaborations that result from this union. Most importantly, we want exposure for the filmmakers and music flying under the radar. Now, because of Miss Lela, IndieSole not only offers audiences a virtual marketplace where they can find independent products that otherwise cannot promote themselves effectively while independent of each other, we are bringing the industry to them in our first annual three-day festival dedicated to showcasing quality products by and about people of African descent.
M.O.I. JR: Are you looking forward to coming to the SF Black Film Fest this year?
Robyn: I am! I don’t only want to attend the San Francisco Black Film Festival, I don’t only want to screen at the San Francisco Black Film Festival, I want IndieSole on the scene to interview those behind the great feature film projects shown at SBFF! I would like to highlight the festival and really show the great work of those who put it together every year.
I think it’s important to draw as much attention as possible to ALL the Black film festivals that give filmmakers, like myself, a chance and a stage – oftentimes for the very first time to such a large audience. It’s what IndieSole is all about.
Check out screening time and locations for the SF Black Film Fest at sfbff.org.
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and the newly released “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.