This is not a post about race. This is a post about independent filmmakers bringing a “non-commercial,” “non-mainstream,” labor of love into the national spotlight. As a filmmaker on the outskirts of the studio system, one must be entrepreneurial, innovative and have a lot of faith in their project. Justin Simien (Writer/Director), Lena Waithe (Producer), Ann Le (Producer), and Angel Lopez (Producer) have done just that with Dear White People. The idea for the feature grew from Simien’s satirical tumblr and twitter @DearWhitePeople. For the last two years he’s used the handle to comedically address varying issues of being a minority, or as he explains “a Black face in a White place.” After gaining a steady following, he decided to write a feature length script, with the hopes of providing a Tyler Perry alternative to Black audiences. The film follows a group of African American students at a prestigious and predominantly White University (See the trailer below).
Since the launch of their IndieGoGo campaign they’ve raised $38,245 of their $25,000 ask (this will serve as seed money for their $1 million budget). They’ve gotten press from outlets including but not limited to: Washington Post, IndieWire, Huffington Post, Racialicious, TV One Online, The Grio, and had a recent interview with radio station, KPFK. Press has been crucial to the momentum of this film. And, if the filmmakers weren’t already certain that audiences were craving a new voice, this solidified that fact.
Thankfully, I got the chance to ask Producer, Lena Waithe a few questions about DWP, collaborating and becoming a successful DIY filmmaker.
The title “Dear White People,” may immediately cue some to balk away from the project. What would you say to engage those who are apprehensive about the film?
In our experience it’s been the opposite. When we mention the title most people laugh and are really intrigued. Particularly, white people. If someone is apprehensive about the film, I would probably suggest they watch the ‘concept’ trailer. That would give them a true sense of the kind of film we intend to make. It’s satire. And if they don’t feel like watching the trailer I’d just tell them, “Hey if you dig shows like THE BOONDOCKS and THE DAVE CHAPPELLE SHOW you’ll probably like our movie.
How did your collaboration with Justin begin and how has it evolved?
I first met Justin three years ago in a writer’s group. Which is basically when a bunch of writers meet at someone’s house once a week and give each other notes on their scripts. At the time he was developing DWP as a TV show, and back then it was called “2%” (because the black student body only made up for 2% of the population) I was so impressed with his work and his unique voice we became fast friends. Justin has edited all three of my short films, we don’t send out scripts without getting each other’s stamp of approval first, and I hope to produce his second feature which is really going to take the world by storm. Justin and I are best friends who are passionate about the same things so our relationship will always be half work, half play.
What did you anticipate being your biggest challenge in completing DWP?
The thing I thought would be most challenging is the script. Most scripts have simple stories, with only a few characters talking at them. DWP is an ensemble piece in every sense of the word. There’s a small group of characters the reader has to follow, every storyline is layered, and the jokes are extremely smart. So we always knew we would have to ‘show’ people the potential this film had. Lucky for us Justin is such a talented writer/director he was able to get his vision across in our concept trailer, and the trailer was so enticing people actually wanted to read the script.
Your fundraising effort has been epic. In Hollywood, filmmakers can wait around forever for a studio greenlight. How do you advise DIY filmmakers infuse momentum into their projects?
Yes, we’ve been very lucky with the overwhelming response the film has gotten. You can’t buy this kind of buzz. It’s been nothing short of amazing. My advice to DIY filmmakers would really be to sit down with your producing team and figure out what the basic theme of your film is, and then once you have that answer start basing your marketing campaign around that. We’re not experts, we just knew who our audience was. Everyone can’t just start making trailers and expect for their films to get noticed. Filmmakers have to think outside the box and create a marketing tool that’s specific to the type of film they want to make. Whatever you do it has to really grab your audience’s attention, but you’re more likely to grab someone’s attention with undeniable talent rather than just shock value.
What do you hope the “Dear White People” audience will take away from the film? What do you hope the industry will take away?
I hope people will come away feeling like they’re not alone. We all struggle with identity. All of us. So I hope people can watch the film and see themselves and I hope they walk away knowing that the only person that can define you is you. Who knows what the ‘industry’ will take away from it. Our dream is they’ll look at our film and make a conscious decision to make more like it. But folks like me have had that dream for a long time. Maybe it’ll finally come true.
How should those interested in donating, after the end of your IndieGoGo (7/13), do so?
Well, they’ve got a few more days left, but after that the best donation is really ‘word of mouth.’ The more you talk about our film the better it will do. The biggest problem black films face is lack of attention. We need people to tweet about us, post links to our trailer on their Facebook walls, email their friends about the movie. The best thing people can do for our film is to keep the conversation going. You can’t put a price on being the most talked about film that hasn’t even been made yet. Help us make it a movement. And they can do that by purchasing a DEAR WHITE PEOPLE t-shirt.
I’m thankful for Justin Simien’s brilliance. Without his talent, vision, and unique point of view I wouldn’t be doing this interview right now. I’m thankful for Ann Le (DWP producer) who was one of the first people to say DWP is a movie that needs to be made. I’m thankful for Angel Lopez (DWP producer) who always knows exactly what to say and the best way to say it. And I’m thankful for all of the people that have supported the DWP movement. You’ve donated, you’ve tweeted, you’ve Facebooked, you’ve bought t-shirts, you’ve left heart-warming comments on our YouTube page, you’ve pinned us to your Pinterest walls. From the bottom of our hearts, we’d like to say, “Thank you.”
Thank you, Lena for being so candid, and thank you to the entire team for taking a chance on something fresh and providing an inspiration for other young filmmakers!
Check out their trailer below.
Also, If you’d like to keep up with DWP’s progress you can check out the following sites:
IndieGoGo (Last day is Friday, July 13th): http://www.indiegogo.com/dearwhitepeople