You ever think what the trailer of your life would be like? Where would it begin? What would you leave out? What would you include? Who are the important characters that directly influenced you? It’s the thought I always have as I reach a new milestone in my life. How the hell did I get here and who was apart of that journey? (The picture above will start to make more sense as I explain.)
My journey began before I knew it did. My mother was a former cinematographer/photographer and her father was a film buff. The “pretty picture book” I used to flip through was a professional storyboarding textbook and the “kid movies” I used to demand to see were from cinema’s Golden Age. If I wasn’t going to be a filmmaker, I was going to be a professional bootlegger for sure.
My mother had long given up on the artist’s dream. A caribbean child from the 60’s, she was encouraged to work and have kids and tend to her husband. Nothing more. For the most part, she bought into that. I only knew of her film background because of my knack for rummaging through her personal things and asking a million and one questions. It was a sore subject. One that was hard to escape when you had a kid who steered towards that lifestyle.
I was a bad fucking kid. I’m not even going to sugarcoat it. I hated authority, I enjoyed pranks and I rarely spoke. For awhile, my mother thought I was autistic because I wouldn’t talk to anyone. I wouldn’t talk, but I would write. As much as I loved to watch movies, I loved to read, which made me love to write. When my mother used to leave me at her job, I would write letters and forge her name. Her co-workers thought she wrote them and she would get into trouble. To balance this, my mother made sure my afternoon was booked with enough karate, cello and writing classes to keep me out of trouble. Of course this only worked when I went.
Her saving grace came when I was 9. I wrote my first screenplay (at the time I didn’t know it was a screenplay) and she bought me a camera. I would take my camera to school and film the screenplay (these movies are so bad, but if requested I could put one or two on the site!). Film became something physical. I was no longer just watching or writing them, I was making them. It was like taking a long awaited breath after having come up from a large body of water. My confidence came into fold. While most of the kids my age were going through the motions of growing up and realizing the world. I wrote about it and filmed it. I was teased a lot, but I never once thought to stop doing what I was doing. I felt powerful and when you hit that feeling who can tell you anything otherwise?
My English teacher suggested that I enroll into a film program named The Ghetto Film School in the South Bronx. I was excited for it because I had never been around people who not only enjoyed film, but made them. The program lasted a year and half, but it opened me up to a career in cinema, which at that time I didn’t know was possible. The first film I made on my own was the poster overhead. Throughout my middle school years, I had created a fictional world with my classmates with the title characters being a superhero goat named Cleatus and half-bird, half-man villain named Craven. These characters represented two halves of me at the time and they were really the first introduction of my style.
The films did two things: it made me realize that my writing needed to be less technical and more personable and two that I had to make more films. These two things led me to the end of my college career and the beginning of The Cynical Owl. When I was 15, I got my first film job working with Lee Daniels. My eye for detail, confidence and mouth made him take me in as more than an intern. I became his “Grasshopper” or “Grass!” as he used to (and still) calls me. I wasn’t making films during this time, I was watching how films were made from inception to distribution. I had came at the end of Shadowboxer and the beginning of Precious. I got to see the in and outs from getting the script finalized to being invited to the editing sessions. It came to a point where I HAD to make a film. I turned in my resignation at 20 and told CCNY that I needed a break.
For a year, I didn’t make a single film. I was in Jersey doing nothing but reading and writing. I read over 20 screenplays a week and wrote and wrote and wrote. I had a stack of screenplays that I never intended to see the light of day. One thing that I wanted to was learn my craft. That to me was more important than anything. I was doing freelance jobs in the meantime doing stints for Hershey’s and Jordan. I did smaller films because I felt moved to do so, but The Cynical Owl didn’t come to fruititon until I went back to work for Lee while he was in between films. Even after the success of Precious, he couldn’t seem to get people on board for his next film. It was a nightmare to watch because this man has much more under his belt than me and it was a struggle. It scared me. But it didn’t scare me into hiding, it scared me into being more visible than I had ever been.
I wanted to make films that represented me and films that featured a multicultural crew and cast. I started The Cynical Owl in 2012. It’s still so new and has so much more growth, but I’ve never been more proud of the company and my team. The strategy isn’t to make “black films,” it’s to push cinema, push storytelling and be visible. People get scared when I say what my intent is with the company. They tell me there’s no money in that. Since I don’t have money now, it wouldn’t be like I’m losing anything anyway. But having a legacy long after I’m gone with a budding young black actress who can see people who look like her on television or in a film and say I want to be that….well I think that’s worth it. Creating that type of impact will always be worth it to me.