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 moment.
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.
Stay 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!