The Shadow & Act Filmmaker Diary Series returns with Dear White People, the debut feature from L.A.-based filmmaker Justin Simien. Recall that Justin released the concept trailer for the film last year, causing quite a stir and kicking off widespread media coverage, a successful Indiegogo campaign, and many more developments on the road to making a movie that takes a satirical look at black life on a predominately white Ivy League campus.
Here, he and his team share the first in a series of diary entries following the making of their film:
“WHEN THE HELL IS ‘DEAR WHITE PEOPLE’ COMING OUT?”
It’s a fair
question and one I get often. I’m thankful for this. It’s been one year
to the day since I debuted the concept trailer for ‘Dear White People’
here on Shadow & Act and the passion with which people ask that
question is an encouragement. I may not have a terribly satisfying
answer to give, but at least I’m not getting “What the hell is ‘Dear
White People?'” or “Who the hell are you and why are you drinking all my
gin?” I enjoy a nice Gimlet.
I’m going to tell you something you already know. It’s hard
making movies ya’ll. Harder still if the movie in question stars Black
folks or endeavors to tell a story about the experience of any minority.
Mine does both. And while I’m flattered that people who see our concept
trailer think the film is done, the truth is that three minutes of
trailer is all my tax return and two hurried days of shooting in LA sans
permits could afford.
I’ll be honest. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. However, when I
found out that a potential financing deal fell through after months of
negotiations, budget crunching, (and caffeine fueled rewrites graciously
hosted by Graffiti on La Brea) I was devastated. For real. Oprah’s
Lifeclass was on a twenty-four hour loop. Incense was being lit. Church
attendance went up considerably. As did Gimlet consumption. I had a
The truth is that it can take years to get a movie off the
ground. I’ve been working to make the film since 2005, when the sum of
my college experiences collided with my thirst for something funny and
profound starring people that looked like me at the movie theater. Since
then the idea for ‘Dear White People’ has been met with a variety of
responses, from polite indifference to downright insult, and most
recently enthusiasm from the internet and more than a few industry
professionals. And seven years later, I still can’t answer the question:
“When is it coming out?” However, I can now say that it is coming.
As Saint Kanye remarked in a handout at one of his concerts I think, “If Everybody thinks it’s right…you’re doing something
wrong.” Amen. And for anybody who’s hoping to make a movie with and/or
about any of the people responsible for President Obama’s recent
re-election (thank God), you better make it your mantra. Because Idris
Elba and ‘Attack The Block’ be damned, everyone will tell you that the
Foreign Pre-sales used to fund most Indie movies is not an option for
you. They will look at you like you’re crazy when you say the most
recent comp for your movie was sometime in the early nineties (unless
your film is based on a book by Steve Harvey or TD Jakes or stars a thin
man as an undercover fat woman). And they will really start to squirm
when you pull out a budget that shows you actually hope to spend what
you think the movie will cost. Good luck with that one!
But if there’s one thing Oprah, Kanye West, and the feeling of
euphoria common with the amount of caffeine in a Graffiti espresso have
taught me, it’s that if you’ve got a story in your heart that you
absolutely, no questions asked, HAVE to tell, it will get told as long
it you don’t give up. It must. That’s why it’s in your heart.
After countless pitches and meetings with financiers, studio heads,
and production companies, we still don’t have a release date. What we do
have finally, is a financial path to make the movie. I can go into the
production process knowing that our concept trailer already proves we
have an audience. I’ve got a script that folks are loving. I have
a vibrant team of producers including the legendary Stephanie Allian,
Effie Brown, Lena Waithe, Ann Le, and Angel Lopez. And I’ve got the
space to tell the story behind the story of ‘Dear White People’ every step
of the way.
tuned to Shadow & Act and to our new “Making of“ docu-series as we
push this movie past the finish line. I’ll tell you truth and take you
through my journey of getting this controversial indie from computer
screens to movie screens. It‘s bound to be quite a ride!