Good work takes time. — People will always try to rush what they don’t — or can’t — understand. That does not mean you oblige them. And that does not mean you ignore or belittle. You have to know how to measure expectations. See the world through your clients’ eyes — know when it’s time to break down how something works, or when it’s time to keep things simple and stop showing how the sausage is made. Every client is different when it comes to giving them what they need, in order for you to have enough space and tools to do your job.
As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul A. Notice II.
Paul A. Notice II is an Emmy Award Winning Producer, Director and Writer. Paul currently runs The Notice Foundation (aka The Notice Blog), a non-profit production company that develops narratives and documentary work from perspectives & people from marginalized communities. Right now, Paul is crowdfunding for their first feature film, an Afrofuturist thriller called Willow.
Katrina Reid is a first generation Carribean-American director and performing artist, as well as a producer at The Notice Blog. They collaborate with a range of artists, who explore performance at the center and edges of dance, theater, ritual, and film.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/f2554ec9ae542a3aed25d81be316d0b9
Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
I remember walking for hours through the northern part of Ghana, just to get a sunrise shot in a documentary for Elite Daily. I was arguing with my senior producer that Ghana was a highly educated society, which he didn’t believe because he didn’t see any schools. Then a gym class of a hundred or so private school children ran by. We ended up visiting, and meeting the principal — this AMAZING nun, named Sister Mercy. It’s one of my fondest filmmaking memories.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I met the artist couple Tobe and Fat Nwigwe, when I was the Video Director of OkayAfrica. Back then, they were still somewhat underground — if you could call it that… I mean they were still being interviewed at OkayAfrica. The interview was less about their amazing musical productions that they’re known for now, and more about their design work on the Nigerian Olympic team’s uniforms. They are just utterly brilliant in unconventional ways — and the specificity in terms of how they navigate projects as a team — just inspired me.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
In August, I directed a wild psychedelic music video out in Chicago, with barbershop posters that come alive for Mykal Kilgore’s “Pass Me That (Vaporizer).”
KATRINA: What an incredible experience! We had both been self-quarantining since mid-March, and then I came on board as the 1st AD. Due to Covid-19, we had to organize the entire production crew over Zoom. Navigating how to make a music video with all the required Covid-19 safety precautions was a continual lesson.
PAUL: But then we switched to Willow — it’s a 7-year mammoth of a project! Why’d it take so long? I’ll answer that cliche question with a matching but honest answer: Willow was ahead of its time.
KATRINA: Well, great art takes time.
PAUL: True that — and let’s not forget you’re talking about an Afrofuturist, Anti-Capitalist, Womanist horror film — that takes place in an alternate reality where people feed on each other to survive. That by itself is a heady concept.
Are they zombies? Cannibals? Vampires?
And then you’re adding an all-Black principal cast that’s 90% female? There were too many production companies and theaters that couldn’t accept the cast, or the concept — or both. On top of that, the characters in Willow are increasingly complex.
I mean “duh” it was written as a protest play. I wrote Willow, after a professor in grad school
wondered out loud to the classroom, why one of the protagonists in my play “had to be Black.” Just like Us, Bad Hair, and Lovecraft Country — Willow quintessentially seeks to posit the same undeniable truth: that Black stories are also American stories. That creating stories with Black folx existing outside of the plantation and the ghetto — isn’t a risk, but a boon for everyone.
KATRINA: Right, we are a part of a larger conversation. There’s this wonderful renaissance of several Black filmmakers using the horror genre as a vehicle to explore social justice and political issues. I’m seeing more films take on the question, “how can we create more nuanced depictions of Black and Brown lives?” And for me the answer is “More.” We need more of our individual voices to become fully realized projects, and in doing so, we will be creating a community that can challenge and encourage each other.
PAUL: True — and honestly the biggest surprise to me over the years was how much time it would take to get to this point. I’d hear about different arthouse/indie films taking nearly a decade to produce, but I never thought Willow would be one of them.
I set about making that script over seven years ago, and in 2013 — we finally had that script go on its feet at New York Theatre Workshop. But it would be years until I would be able to have enough experience as a producer, director, editor and cinematographer; to produce this film independently. I knew that in order to get this right, I had to learn every facet of production from gaffing and set design, to cinematography and video editing.
That doesn’t mean I’m doing it alone though. In addition to working with Katrina, over the past year and a half, I also worked with my other producers Suswana Chowdhury and Pierre Jean Gonzalez. We drafted an outline for fundraising, scheduled a shoot date for the proof of concept, and prepared to shoot.
Then the Pandemic happened.
Though the citywide shutdown stalled things — I actually planned on producing another film that could be shot during quarantine, but I felt the script was too rushed for me to really be proud of it. Luckily, I got approved from the SBA Disaster loan for my non-profit, and ironically enough — because of the Pandemic — rates were historically so low. I’ve been wanting to find enough capital to at least show a proof of concept, and it landed in my lap in the form of one of the worst public health crises to hit my community in 20 years.
I took it as a sign. Shot the proof of concept / featurette, after a crash course in SAG-AFTRA COVID guidelines — then got to work fundraising, and building an audience.
Now, we’re currently running a crowdfunding campaign on Seed & Spark.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
Honestly, I love Patrice Lumumba, Franz Fanon, Medgar Evers, Nina Simone, Nikki Giovani, Octavia Butler, George C. Wolfe, James Baldwin, and Ed Bradley. I’m deeply inspired by people who are guided by their values in liberation rather than in power. AND the courage to speak true to power.
It was their words — my god, their words are what entranced me to follow their lead.
Patrice Lumbaba’s speech at the formal ceremony marking the end to Belgium colonial rule over the Congo was perhaps my first encounter with recorded anti-colonial resistance in sub saharan Africa. It broadened my then-19 year-old college kid mind to a bigger understanding of history, and of the West:
“…We have not forgotten that in the cities the mansions were for the whites and the tumbledown huts for the Blacks; that a Black was not admitted to the cinemas, restaurants and shops set aside for “Europeans”; that a Black travelled in the holds, under the feet of the whites in their luxury cabins. Who will ever forget the shootings which killed so many of our brothers, or the cells into which were mercilessly thrown those who no longer wished to submit to the regime of injustice, oppression and exploitation used by the colonialists as a tool of their domination?
All that, my brothers, brought us untold suffering.
But we, who were elected by the votes of your representatives, representatives of the people, to guide our native land, we, who have suffered in body and soul from the colonial oppression, we tell you that henceforth all that is finished with.
[…] We shall show the world what the Black man can do when working in liberty, and we shall make the Congo the pride of Africa.”
Patrice Lumumba, June 30, 1960
Both Congolese and Belgian dignitaries, including King Baudouin were present when Prime Minister Lumumba gave this impromptu speech. Before that moment, it was assumed the ceremony was intended to mark the harmonious end of Belgian rule.
But King Baudouin’s speech argued that the end of colonial rule in the Congo was the culmination of the Belgian “civilising mission” begun by Leopold II in the Congo Free State. This is the same Leopold II who ordered Belgian colonial soldiers to dismember the hands and feet of hundreds of thousands of Congolese subjects during his reign.
Lumumba’s speech, broadcast live on the radio across the world, denounced colonialism without any regard to the Respectability Politics of his day. While it was well-received within the Congo, it was widely condemned internationally as unnecessarily confrontational and for showing “ingratitude.” He would later be killed less than a year later — and, like many civil rights leaders in the West, Lumumba knew that his defiance would eventually lead to that end. And yet, he chose to still speak.
This to me, was pure courage. Not the perverse kind often fed to me as a young person growing up — the kind that exults men of violence at war or in the streets — but the kind that speaks truth to power regardless of the consequences.
And so it was with my first encounter with Nina Simone, who’s existential somber cover of the ballad “Stars” was introduced with an unflinching rebuke to the lone audience member, who attempted to walk out on her performance.
She commands the unseen theater goer.
An applause swells. And it swells, until whatever Nina’s seeing in the audience is satisfying enough to continue. This is 1976. Commanding this sort of space, even then was dangerous. And yet, she waited until she was satisfied. And then she casts her spell of chaudage and reflection:
“Stars, they come and go, they’re coming fast — they come slow.
They go like the last light of the sun, all in a blaze –
..And all you see is glory.
But most have seen it all,
who live their lives in sad cafes and music halls
And we always have a story…”
There are countless other examples of defiance, compassion and understanding that I can name, but few as real and endearing to me as those two.
Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?
Willow is actually bigger than just a movie.
This is an initiative sponsored by a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, The Notice Foundation, Inc. — with the sole aim of helping end racial injustice in Film & Media by developing and supporting narratives from marginalized communities. That’s not just through furthering representation of BIPOC folx in “White spaces,” but by continuing to encourage their employment in positions of power throughout the filmmaking process.
That’s why we’re requiring that the production hire at least 90% BIPOC folx, as well as hire locally, work safely (according to SAG-AFTRA safety guidelines), AND host an ongoing series of panel discussions/workshops for BIPOC/Queer/Marginalized folx in Media.
We’re also manifesting that same intent into the world of Willow, by employing an All-Black principal cast, made up of over 80% women — and that’s an intentional radical act for the genre of horror films. Black women introduced me to Horror/SciFi, and yet were barely present on screen. I wasn’t satisfied with one — or even two! Black folx surviving until the end. I wanted to push the Overton window.”
This project is meant to serve as a guide point, a Green New Deal for Hollywood’s problem with “Race.” By the way, when people say “I don’t like talking about Race,” in that context — they really mean they don’t like talking about “White Supremacy.” Hollywood has a problem with White Supremacy.
Oops. I said that outloud…
But let’s not mince words. Chauvinism, Homophobia, Transphobia and White Supremacy are the reasons why mainstream depictions of marginalized groups are often disguised attempts at cultural violence. To ridicule, to mock, to “Other.” Willow, and films like Willow, are meant to challenge that.
That’s why we’re fundraising right now for 69,000 dollars to carry us through to the next phase of our project.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?
I think the final trigger to start this leg of the project came during the middle of the summer. I say this leg of the project, because it’s changed from a stage play into a feature film. There were countless table-reads, living room rehearsals, and workshops. What led me to start crowdfunding for the movie during COVID, was an “aha” moment that happened in the midst of me working through the budget.
I realized that I had enough connections, equipment and talent to bring into this project — that I could actually make this movie out-of-pocket — albeit at glacial pace, with half of vision. What I needed was to be able to finance the BEST version of it. Immediately, the stress and pressure that had been building up since then was released. It was just following destiny at that particular moment onward. The film will be made, it’s just up to me to decide how. Then the SBA Disaster Loan came in, and we were off the races.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause
I met Sharon Richardson while producing a documentary about formerly incarcerated women performing the Vagina Monologues in prison. Sharon was just beginning her catering company aimed at employing and empowering formerly incarcerated Women of Color. I saw that she’d need some support in creating commercials and videos showing her company’s work. Through a series of documentaries we produced together, she was able to secure more funding for her nonprofit. Eventually, due to that company’s success, she later went on to become President of ReEntry Rocks, which specializes in entrepreneurship among formerly incarcerated people. I’m happy to know we supported in that journey.
Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
PAUL: Individuals can contribute immediately by making a tax deductible contribution to our movie’s fundraiser: www.seedandspark.com/fund/willowhorror. Be sure to follow us there for updates.
Society can support, by normalizing Blackness, Queerness and Women in Power. Also, we need to end Rape Culture on college campuses and military bases.
The Government can help, by reinstating Section 15 of the Voting Rights Act, eliminating Qualified Immunity, Banning ICE, Abolishing the Police, creating Community Banks at selected Post Offices — And Establishing: Universal Healthcare, Universal Mail-In Voting, Universal Basic Income, Universal Housing and Free Universal College Education.
KATRINA: Individuals, please share our Willow crowdfunding campaign with your friends and family. An easy link for Twitter and Instagram is: bit.ly/willowhorror.
Fellow members of society, let’s give up the amnesia around our history. Acknowledging the good and bad in our collective past will help us to chart new futures, instead of repeating cycles of harm.
In our government, there’s this new trend of blaming individuals for not adjusting to stay-at-home orders/suggestions due to the ongoing pandemic. Instead of condemnation, try compassion: everyone can’t make the same sacrifices. We are in a public health crisis. We need our politicians and policymakers to push for comprehensive support, and financial relief for struggling Americans.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Good work takes time.
People will always try to rush what they don’t — or can’t — understand. That does not mean you oblige them. And that does not mean you ignore or belittle. You have to know how to measure expectations. See the world through your clients’ eyes — know when it’s time to break down how something works, or when it’s time to keep things simple and stop showing how the sausage is made. Every client is different when it comes to giving them what they need, in order for you to have enough space and tools to do your job.
You can’t do everything alone.
I thought I could do this back in the day. And in fact, I did a lot of things on my own when I started out. I still do — but for the most part.. If you want you and your client to be less stressed, and more satisfied at the end of a BIG project: Don’t cut corners until you have to.
If they ask for a budget, figure out what you need to get the best result. Don’t overestimate your abilities or speed to get something done. Instead, give yourself cushion to fail, and still succeed. Hire people who are well-versed in the field you need help in — avoid just recruiting your friends for every project, if they’re novices. Yes, you can shoot, and do audio, and light, and all that other stuff… But if you only have a window of three hours to set up and shoot a 10-page scene — you’re better off calling in more hands to help.
You’re going to have to consistently state your boundaries.
People are people. And they’ll never know if they’re asking for too much, until you tell them. That does not diminish your value, nor render you incapable of making a quality product. But you have to know, and voice, what is reasonable — and what is not. One hundred and eighty hours of editing for 650 dollars is not reasonable. In fact, that reminds me of another thing….
Charge Hourly for edits.
I can’t tell you how much this saves you in the long run. Use an app like Clockify for starters, there are better programs out there. Make notes, and track your time. The right way: accurately, truthfully, and with a paper trail. I guarantee you, once a client understands that each minute is a labor that must be compensated — it will save you and everyone else involved a lot of headaches.
Always have a contract. Always check before adding Hours.
Number one rule in this industry, and a lot of others is: never trust the money, if there’s nothing signed on the dotted line. Period. People will still try you, but… a good contract will not only spell out the scope of work, but also provide address information should you need to pursue legal remedies. If you’re working for a friend? Use a contract, write out and agree upon your scope of work before starting. You will keep that friendship.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
PAUL: Consider Imanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative: if you apply this action universally — would the world be better off, or worse off? Sometimes, it’s that simple.
KATRINA: Wherever you are in your life, you have something essential to offer. When I was a student in graduate school, a renowned director invited us to look for opportunities to be generous with our time. He explained that we had to cultivate a practice of generosity, even though we were busy figuring out our next steps. As a creative professional I can often be consumed with all the necessary energy it takes to realize an idea, from concept to execution. Carving out the time to give back, offers me a chance to ground myself and connect with my community.
This year especially has left so many of us with widespread hardships, and I’ve been fortunate to receive help and resources. I’m happy to continue the circle, pay it forward and do things like donate items to my local food pantry.
Some other ways my colleagues have gotten involved:
Buying and delivering groceries to elderly folks in their local neighborhood
Becoming a virtual reading buddy with children who need help practicing a new language.
Signing up to be a poll worker, and filling in the gap for individuals who couldn’t do that job this year
Don’t believe the hype that you need to get to a certain place in your career before you can be of service to others. We need your contributions big and small, and we need them while you’re a work-in-progress.
We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
PAUL: Barack Obama! I’ve followed his career as journalist/filmmaker since its beginning in Chicago against Alan Keyes. Back then, it was the first All Black Senate race in Illinois in history — I covered it as a high school reporter. Then during his presidency, I wrote “Leaves, Trees, Forest” — a stage play about an intern who creates Obamacare, only to have it stolen away by his Congressman boss. I covered his post election work with Eric Holder to combat gerrymandering through the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, in a documentary back in 2017. And now, there’s Willow, which features the granddaughter of Sasha Obama as one of the story’s protagonists. Now that he and Michelle are producing documentaries — I’d definitely love to collaborate with them on a documentary, or movie based on an important social issue.
KATRINA: Lena Waithe. She operates in so many spaces as a producer, writer and actor. I’m amazed at how she continues to create opportunities for herself and others — take the Netflix film, The Forty-Year-Old Version by Radha Blank for example. I was fortunate enough to meet Radha as a special guest in a screenwriting class I took last year. She shared how Waithe’s Hillman Grad Productions stepped up to executive produce and support her vision for TFYOV when most in the industry wouldn’t. That story just cemented the admiration I have for Lena and her commitment to making sure that other creative voices are also uplifted and I would love to witness her and her team in action.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
PAUL: It’s the motto of my production company: “Always Question. Always Explore.” It comes from the overall lesson I’ve learned in filmmaking and journalism. We should always question what we think we know, and explore the possibility of a “third” answer. I brought that sort of thinking into my writing, especially in Willow.
KATRINA: “Courage is not the absence of fear.” This quote reminds me that acting in a brave way doesn’t mean that fear is not in the room. Oftentimes, my initial impulse is to wait for the perfect conditions, before I launch a new project, or have a tough phone call. And while it is important to prepare, have a plan, and get clear on your intentions; I’ve also learned that the right time to go for it, will rarely feel perfect.
Every time, it feels like jumping off a cliff into a sea of unknowns — and thanks to my trip to Rick’s Cafe in Jamaica, I know exactly what that jump feels like! I put it on my itinerary weeks ahead of the trip, and before I even boarded the plane: I was having panicked dreams about what I might encounter on the ocean floor. Of course, logic and my friends told me I’d be fine, but I still felt a constant anxiety about the jump.
Now, I do think it’s important to pay attention to our fears, because it can be a signal that lets us know something is off, or not in our best interest. But we can also get hijacked, and end up making decisions from a fearful place instead of being driven by our desires. So, that’s all a part of my internal compass: apprehension, desire, and a discernment of what’s really motivating me. In the end, I remind myself to acknowledge the fear and then take the leap anyway.
How can our readers follow you online?
Instagram: @WillowHorror & @TheNoticeBlog
Twitter: @WillowHorrow & @TheNoticeBlog
This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!