Prof. shots: @blakematic / Candid shots: John Jackson
Interviewing Independent filmmaker, Joe Jennings was such an inspiration! A Morehouse College graduate, who dreamt of becoming a storyteller from childhood, turned that dream into a reality. While interviewing this talented man, he shared with me many of helpful tools and nuggets that he used that helped him power through the rough terranes of the entertainment business. Here's what he told me.
Hi Joe, how you doing today?
Pretty good, thank you!
You’re welcome. You know Joe, being a filmmaker myself, I have a spot in my heart for film makers.
Glad to be here Gina.
Joe, was it always your dream to become a filmmaker or was it something that came later in life?
Growing up, I had a knack for creative writing. So, when I went to college, I sought after becoming a novelist. Later, I became interested in screen writing which morphed into screenwriting. Once that happened, I never looked back.
Did you very away from screenwriting?
No, I still am a screenwriter I just wanted to Take things a step forward and explore filmmaking.
What sparked your curiosity in filmmaking?
I think it's because sometimes people don't want to make the time to read scripts, so I decided to make my own films. But I still consider myself a screenwriter.
Awesome. Is becoming a filmmaker something that you wanted to do from childhood?
Yes, I would say so. When you're young, you kind of have a curious mind about things and how things work. So, when I was a kid, I was a huge “John Hughes” fan. I enjoyed watching the coming-of-age stories. I think watching those movies also come help me to want to tell my own stories.
I remember having those awkward moments in life where, I couldn't figure certain things out. I seemed to me like all the other kids had it figured out, but I didn't. Because of this I wanted to express myself creatively.
How have those childhood experiences translated into your filmmaking?
Presently, many of the stories that I create are taken from the experiences of my childhood, teen and preteen years. My work is heavily inspired by those milestones. So yeah, those are those bumpers were heavily, you know, they've heavily inspired my work so.
That's wonderful. Our childhood experiences are very important because they shape our adulthood. On another note, Congratulations for graduating Morehouse College.
You're welcome. You received a degree in English. As we discussed previously, you wanted to pursue journalism. Why did you choose to tell your story on screen as opposed to writing it in a book?
As English major I had to read a lot of books. You're required to read a lot of Shakespeare and other writings of the kind. So, I was constantly reading books but, the excitement of watching and seeing images on film, stuck with me.
Was there any apprehension regarding your ability to effectively create an amazing film?
Yes, I didn't think I could do it. In fact, at one point, I didn't think I could be a screenwriter or a filmmaker. I just didn't think that it was possible, but my curiosity caused me to pursue it. The desire was stronger than my apprehension. It just wouldn't go away. On the contrary, my curiosity increased.
I believe that was God shaping you into the destiny that he created for you. So, you acted on it?
Yes, I researched filmmaking, then I set out to pursue it. so, that's how it happened.
What was your first film about?
My first screenplay was called “Minimum Wages.” It was about a kid who gets his first job at a theme park.
That sounds like a coming-of-age film.
Yes, it was a coming of age, comedy about this kid who starts a new job at a theme park like, Disneyland. It's an awkward experience for him because, he's never had friends before. Basically, he’s in this new world of being a teenager. Before entering this new world of being a teenager, he was a bookworm and sheltered. So, in this film he learns how to make friends, talk to girls, and handle adversity. The movie is about the transformation that takes place when you enter your teens. You know all those things that you know teenagers would you know.
That's awesome! As far as genres, what types of films do you enjoy making?
I love to make dramatic films. From my experience, I find that most people find dramas more relatable. I enjoy creating films that depict real life experiences. I like the gritty stuff. I want to create films that resonate with the people and cause them to remember what they saw after leaving the theater.
I agree, I tend to enjoy older movies and music above the new. In my opinion, a lot of the new movies and music, doesn't move me like the times of old.
Yes, I feel as though movies should spawn discussions and social commentary.
Tell me about some of your other films?
My first two films were movies that spawned discussions and social commentary, but my 3rd film was a romantic comedy about love and dating. Just like the coming-of-age films, I enjoy writing movies about love and dating as well. I find that when it comes to these things, people never get tired of talking about it or watching Movies about these issues on film.
Do you write mostly shorts or feature films?
I've written a dozen feature films, but recently I've done more short films. Three to be exact. Before then, we primarily wrote feature films
In 2021, you won a film award at the “Indie Short Fest “. Can you Tell me about that?
Thank you. We won one award for my films at The Indie Short Fest and two others at the INDIEX Film Fest. We won the award for “best ensemble cast in a comedy.” I'm extremely happy about this because it was a challenging task casting talented actors that would work well with the other cast members.
In the end, we had a cohesive group of talent that worked well with each other, both cast and crew. The chemistry was amazing! We also had an amazing time promoting the film. One of the best things about creating this film is we became like a family. Solid friendships came out of this project. In the end, all the hard work that we put into this project paid off.
We just found out some other good news, we're now nominated for the same award for another Film Festival in Austin, TX.
Congratulations! You worked in a mailroom at CBS, then you went on to becoming a production assistant. What doors open as a result of that experience?
I've met a lot of industry professionals. Some were further along in their filmmaking journey than me. But I did form some friendships with people who I would like to work with in the future.
Did you meet any cinematographers and actors?
Yes, I met and cinematographers, directors and actors. As a matter of fact, I was invited to work on a Film Festival that I was formerly affiliated with. That was a huge honor because it created opportunities for networking and being invited to be a part of various film projects and events. This is quite a prestigious platform for film makers because being a part of this causes people to look at you as a legitimate filmmaker.
That must have been a very exciting experience!
Yes, because when you're first starting off, people look at you as an inexperienced filmmaker, but this opportunity put me on the map of recognition. At this level people start writing about your works and making mention of you on a bigger platform. Now, it seems like doors are opening everywhere. I must say, that's an amazing feeling!
That's wonderful. I’m so proud of you and happy for what God is doing in your life. How has COVID been a barrier to the way you usually film as opposed to now, how do you navigate around that?
The biggest barrier is that we haven't had a premiere for my latest film. I wanted to do a film premiere last year for my film that came out in March of 2021 called, #IFSJ.
OK, what does that stand for?
ISFJ is a personality trait. There are 16 personality traits that exist and one of the characters in this film had that personality trait.
Is it a drama?
It's a romantic comedy that deals with online dating. ISFJ is used as a personality trait in one of the characters dating profiles.
what's funny is that in the film everyone is trying to figure out what is ISFJ, so still explains that. But, going back to the restrictions that COVID has created, it was an inconvenience because it blocked our ability to have a film premiere. It's nothing like having people come out to watch it and experience it in person. I enjoy that that because at those premiers, I'm able table to experience a personal connection with my audience and get feedback on their thoughts. it's also a great networking opportunity. I would say, that has been my biggest barrier.
Have you had any problems with cast and crew being apprehensive of being on the set with other actors in fear of catching COVID?
I haven't attempted to get everyone together because of COVID. I was I was planning on reaching out to people once the cases dropped but then Delta and Omicron happened and thwarted that plan. Hopefully we can resume business as usual by the end of this year. At least that’s the goal.
After putting loads of work in a film project, then pitching it, how do you handle the rejection? What advice would you give to upcoming filmmakers regarding the no’s?
From my experience, we've been rejected from quite a few film festivals, but then we've also been accepted in many. It's all a part of the game. In many cases, it’s hard to understand why your film is being rejected but you must tell yourself to keep going and just focus on the wins. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and just keep going. Approach your career with the same tenacity that you have from the beginning. I understand the feeling of rejection because when I first started, when I got rejected, my spirit would be down for about a week. I would take it personal and say to myself, “they didn't like it” but I had to learn to not take it personal. That’s a skill you must learn to master if you're to survive in this business. Just keep moving forward.
If you keep putting yourself out there and if your work is good, eventually, you’ll get those favorable responses. Always keep in mind that everyone’s not going to be in love with your film.
The person you're submitting your project to may be looking for a certain type of film or maybe yours just got overlooked. Maybe you felt like your movie was amazing, but the person wasn't viewing it, didn’t share your views. It could many reasons.
There were times that I summited a project that was not initially chosen but was the following year. In fact, one film festival invited me to their festival that thought hated my film. I found out that the reason they reject it was because they didn't have enough room to screen it, so they invited me to screen it that following year. So, just go for it! You never know. Just keep going.
If you can say something to up-and-coming filmmakers about the lessons that you've learned in this business, what would you say?
Be relentless and be your own cheerleader. You must believe in yourself. I know we hear that a lot, but that statement needs to get inside you and allow it to resonate. You must believe in yourself and make the best project that you possibly can. Once you create it, share it with the world. And try not to be so sensitive. Everyone’s not going to love it but if you do, keep pushing and be fearless!
Awesome, very well said! I am so grateful that you allowed me to do this interview. I'm so proud of you! I'm going to use some of the same words taken from your own mouth. Keep it moving! God bless you and I pray that God will bless you with success be it done according to His will. Stay safe and healthy.
Thank you so much!
When you get your first Oscar, don’t act like you don’t know me.
(laughs) I won't.
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