Don’t tell everyone your plans — You will encounter a vast sea of unqualified critics and people ready to tear down your goals simply because you have the courage to pursue them. Only share your plans with people that you trust & value their opinion, and still approach with caution. You don’t have to “prove” you’re an artist to anyone.
As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jesse Randall.
Jesse Randall is a writer, director, & producer based in Los Angeles. His work primarily focuses on creating LGBTQIA content through his company, JR VISION FILMS. His digital series “The Safety Plan” along with entire body of work will premiere on REVRY TV later this year. Previews & updates about his work can be seen at JRVISIONFILMS.COM.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?
I was born and raised in Statesville, North Carolina. It’s not an easy place to grow up when you’re a member of the LGBTQIA community. I grew up far back in the woods away from our rural community, making me feel even further isolated from the world. Even from a young age, I knew I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t a country boy whatsoever. I dreamed of living in New York and working in media. My time in North Carolina seemed to drag on forever, but it helped me develop my imagination & creativity in ways that I don’t think I would have had I grown up elsewhere.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Growing up feeling so isolated in the countryside, films were my escape to a larger world. Nothing changes in Statesville, North Carolina. The same abandoned buildings scattered around town when I was kid remain abandoned today, only now with even more abounded buildings. Films gave me hope that life could be different. Film is also the only language I truly understand. It always has been. Filmmaking was the only option for me.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
This certainly wasn’t funny at the time, but shooting the third episode of my digital series, The Safety Plan, was an absolute disaster. One of the most miserable shoots I’ve ever been on. There was bad energy on set from the moment we arrived, which was so disappointing because it was the episode I was looking forward to shooting the most. I think almost everyone involved left that day feeling the project was ruined. It turned out to be the episode that people like the most. I can’t believe it turned out so well despite what a nightmare it was to shoot it, but I’m grateful I did.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I’m so grateful that I’ve been blessed to work with so many great actors, cinematographers, & other crew members on my projects despite what little resources have been available to me. I got my start making films in New York. I met my first long-term collaborator, Taylor Stanton, on my very first major project after putting out an ad on Craig’s List. In addition to our work together, he has become a life long friend. I met my Los Angeles creative partner, Shannon Morton, on a delayed plane ride coming back from a Film Festival in San Francisco. I’ve been overwhelmed by the hard work and dedication to my vision from almost everyone I’ve ever worked with.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve had a major career boost in the past year thanks to the New Media Film Festival & NewFilmmakers Los Angeles Film Festival featuring my first digital series, The Safety Plan. Thanks to NFMLA, I got a distribution deal with Revry TV to feature my films on their platform. The 12th annual New Media Film Festival continues to be the gift that keeps on giving through various networking opportunities, distribution deals, & more.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The race is long, in the end, it is only with yourself. I’ve had an unorthodox journey & career. It’s been a long, LONG, road to get here with many detours. Learning to trust your journey & believe that good things are going to happen, especially when all hope seems lost, is one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn. It’s a lesson I’m still learning.
I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
The area I grew up in was plagued with racism, misogyny, & homophobia. Despite this, I was fortunate enough to learn prejudice was wrong from a very young age because of the films and television shows I watched. In addition to being an educational tool, storytelling is a window into other people’s lives. Seeing an experience similar to yours on screen is validating, but experiencing the lives of others is imperative to growing as a person and expanding your knowledge of the world around you. 80% of the films I watch don’t even scratch the surface of how many fascinating people I know from all different backgrounds. The civil unrest this past summer that happened as a result of the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, & other countless Black Lives at the hands of the police is a preview of what our world will permanently become if we don’t take drastic measures to diversify EVERYTHING and give EVERYONE equal opportunities across the world. I, along with many others, am absolutely done with hatred, ignorance, & systematic abuse destroying our world.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’ve spent the past few months writing a new film with actress Alyssa Brayboy from The Safety Plan that I’m so excited to shoot very soon with her starring in it. I’m also collaborating with Los Angeles City College to develop a short film about the homeless crisis in Los Angeles thanks to a work force grant given to the college. As an alumni, it’s a full-circle moment to have the opportunity to develop one of my dream projects that I’ve been working on for the past few years. I’m also excited to be developing the Black Women Lead Film Festival with my creative partner Shannon Morton through her non-profit Black Women Lead.
Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?
I’m so proud that I’ve been able to work with so many amazing actors, cinematographers, sound mixers, and other crew members. I’ve been very blessed to work with really talented people who take pride in doing their best work and gave it their all to support my vision.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Don’t work with people who don’t believe in you — This one can be tricky to navigate because we don’t always get to get to control who we work with as budgets get bigger & the more people involved in the project. If someone you’re potentially bringing on for your project doesn’t seem like they’re into it, don’t push it. Do everything in your power to work with people who believe in your vision. If you have to work overtime to convince people of your worthiness, it won’t be worth it in the end. Your energy is better spent with people who want to see your project succeed.
2. Trust your instincts & your journey — If something doesn’t feel right, it’s because something isn’t right. If you’ve lost interest in that screenplay you’ve been writing for three years, and you’re forcing yourself to finish because you don’t want your time to be “wasted”, you’ll end up wasting your time. If you’re bored writing it, the audience will be bored watching it. If that producer that’s interested in bringing your project to life seems like a creep, they’re probably a creep. When people show you their true colors, BELIEVE THEM! Also, don’t freak out if you haven’t “made it” yet. Your journey is your own. Trust it. If you want it for the right reasons, good things will happen. Don’t make desperate decisions to get your film made that you’ll wind up regretting later because you compromised your vision to get it made in hurry.
3. Make opportunities happen — If you’re waiting for someone to hire you, they’ll never come. There is not a dire need for filmmakers with the sense of urgency for teachers, doctors, nurses, etc. Keep creating stuff, even if you don’t have a budget. The only person putting a limit on your creativity is you. College is important, but you’re not going to become an established filmmaker just because you have a degree. You have to keep developing your craft & working at it. Just because you love what you do doesn’t mean it isn’t work.
4. Don’t tell everyone your plans — You will encounter a vast sea of unqualified critics and people ready to tear down your goals simply because you have the courage to pursue them. Only share your plans with people that you trust & value their opinion, and still approach with caution. You don’t have to “prove” you’re an artist to anyone. Pull a Beyonce and Lemonade them: honor your vision and release it on your own terms. In the end, the race is long, but it is only with yourself.
5. Great art is about getting closer to the truth — Make the film YOU want to see. Even if you’re hired to work on a project that you don’t necessarily love, find a way to bring your truth to it. When someone says, “I love that character so much” or tells you about their favorite movie, what they’re really saying is it resonated with their experience in some capacity. No matter if it’s Get Out or Legally Blonde, every successful movie is rooted in the artist’s truth, and they’re sharing their experience with you. Learn to be authentic & vulnerable as an artist, and stop worrying about becoming the next Steven Spielberg. There’s only one Steven Spielberg & there’s only one you. Work toward becoming the most authentic version of yourself so you can tell honest stories that get closer to the truth of what life is about.
When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?
I think for me, the viewers have the biggest impact on my creative choices. Every filmmaker wants an audience. You have to find the balance between creating something you’re happy with and what the public is interested in. A lot of films that I love are older and probably wouldn’t even get made today because of the state of mainstream cinema. Trying to incorporate an old-fashioned style of storytelling that resonates with me into something more modern without completely selling out and fully catering to the masses is my biggest challenge.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would find a home for every single homeless person. There are more than enough resources to accomplish this. Housing instability is where racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia & classism intersect because the homeless epidemic is a direct result of these issues. Homelessness predominately affects marginalized people who have been systemically deprived of basic resources by the status quo.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I’m a lifelong Oprah fan. Growing up, my mom ran a home daycare, and I would watch Oprah’s show every afternoon. I learned so much about the world through her show. I still love watching old interviews, and keeping up with her current endeavors. I continue to be amazed and inspired by all she does for the world, and how she uses her platform to create enlightening content.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Updates about my work can be seen at JRVISIONFILMS.COM but I love Instagram. You can follow me on IG & Twitter at @JRVISIONFILMS for previews of my work and more!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
About The Interviewer: Growing up in Canada, Edward Sylvan was an unlikely candidate to make a mark on the high-powered film industry based in Hollywood. But as CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc, (SEGI) Sylvan is among a select group of less than ten Black executives who have founded, own and control a publicly traded company. Now, deeply involved in the movie business, he is providing opportunities for people of color.
In 2020, he was appointed president of the Monaco International Film Festival, and was encouraged to take the festival in a new digital direction.
Raised in Toronto, he attended York University where he studied Economics and Political Science, then went to work in finance on Bay Street, (the city’s equivalent of Wall Street). After years of handling equities trading, film tax credits, options trading and mergers and acquisitions for the film, mining and technology industries, in 2008 he decided to reorient his career fully towards the entertainment business.
With the aim of helping Los Angeles filmmakers of color who were struggling to understand how to raise capital, Sylvan wanted to provide them with ways to finance their creative endeavors.
At Sycamore Entertainment he specializes in print and advertising financing, marketing, acquisition and worldwide distribution of quality feature-length motion pictures, and is concerned with acquiring, producing and promoting films about equality, diversity and other thought provoking subject matter which will also include nonviolent storytelling.
Also in 2020, Sylvan launched SEGI TV, a free OTT streaming network built on the pillars of equality, sustainability and community which is scheduled to reach 100 million U.S household televisions and 200 million mobile devices across Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Samsung Smart TV and others.
He sits on the Board of Directors of Uplay Canada, (United Public Leadership Academy for Youth), which prepares youth to be citizen leaders and provides opportunities for Canadian high school basketball players to advance to Division 1 schools as well as the NBA.
A former competitive go kart racer with Checkered Flag Racing Ltd, he also enjoys traveling to exotic locales. Sylvan resides in Vancouver and has two adult daughters. Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc is headquartered in Seattle, with offices in Los Angeles and Vancouver.