As a New Orleans movie enthusiast, I’ve been following the goings on of local group Timecode: NOLA ever since their Super 8mm contests a decade ago. I entered one – it didn’t go well. They’ve gone on to produce collective films like Where Y’at? Hello!,and Humidity, but have also worked with individual filmmakers like Jason Affolder.
Jason’s latest, A Quiet Storm, was produced by Timecode’s Jonathan Wood, who I’ve been Facebook friends with for quite some time. His dedication to the industry and the culture is second to none, with a passion few can match. I was inspired by a messenger chat to interview him for Big Easy’s first edition. About being an indie film producer, about making “hard to market” stories and about the city it’s set in, influence and all:
Here’s how our conversation went,
- In the “About” section for aquietstormfilm.com, Director Jason Affolder begins a statement with “I love and hate New Orleans with almost equal passion”. That’s quite the opening line, given that A Quiet Storm was made/set in NOLA. How do you, as producer, help facilitate such an expression? Is it too honest or on the spot?
Wood: “This is a tricky question because leaving my personal views on things out, as a producer I fully support the director and whatever artistically he is trying to portray. I feel in the film, “A Quiet Storm” this exact viewpoint is portrayed through the multiple story arcs of how the main crime affects each party involved. So in his statement, I think he’s giving a good example of what the film tries to tackle. Jason based the film on his experiences as a teacher and a first responder. His intention was to create a film showcasing that there isn’t necessarily any black and white experience in this city. This film, in portraying the victims, culprits, and law enforcement’s points of view of the crime committed, shows many of the reasons you can both equally love and hate many of the things that are ingrained into the city. So in regards to his comments being too honest, I think he’s stating the obvious in that New Orleans, in ALL of its history, is neither black nor white but very, very gray, with events throughout its history coercing both emotions equally, and in Jason’s statement he puts it out there for the world to read. As a producer I think he hits it on the head in what his views and the views portrayed in the film are.”
- The film focuses on the impoverished and often forgotten citizens and sections of the city. While this is technically “Post-Katrina” cinema, it really could’ve taken place prior to the storm, as economic and racial discrimination has always been with us. How difficult was it to showcase a modern New Orleans story that’s more timeless and representative of America than specific or beholden to one moment in history (Katrina)?
Wood: “This question actually hits directly on the head the issue I have with the fact that these citizens/sections of the city ARE forgotten. The fact it translates to modern times but still could be taking place before 2005, I think, shows both his talent as a writer and director to capture that feeling, but also shows that when all is said and done, not that much actually changed in the last nearly 15 years other than the immediate 5 or so years following Katrina. We purposely used many of the residents of the actual community as our actors in the film to address the issue: that they, as people, tend to be forgotten. The opening sequence of the film showing the difference between Aurora’s neighborhood and school involve entirely neighbors of the tire shop or house we were filming in with only one actual actor. Very sadly, Jonathan Dotson, one of the two characters talking that are gunned down in the opening montage, was himself a victim of violence shortly after the completion of filming across the street from where the main house we used is located.”
“His story is all too familiar, as he was a wonderful person taken far too early in life, but his story has been played out again and again since before Katrina, much as the basis of the film’s story has continued to play out since before Katrina as well as after. We also purposely didn’t keep referencing things, like Katrina, to stick us into a specific time period, as by the time people see it themselves it might be 2019 or 2020 but would still fit into that time frame. I will also say that unfortunately, there aren’t more films of its type; showing actual families and actual citizens of urban America and their lives, as there’s such a deep abundance of stories that deserve to be told it’s shocking and so often overlooked.”
- Music and burgeoning talents play a key role in A Quiet Storm, used in equal measures as tragic escapism and potential brilliance from seemingly sad environments. How do you feel about the NOLA school system and the cross-section aligns education, poverty and crime?
Wood: “Very specifically in the film we have Aurora going to a private school and a friend of hers going to a public school to highlight the differences in attitude. That being said, the film was written based upon Jason’s experiences at a public school and the constant bullying and abuse directed at those kids different than the popular cliques. In all honesty, having graduated in 2002 (actually should I say having never graduated as I dropped out of school due to the utter awfulness of the school and the people involved there) I can’t speak to the modern school system and its relations to poverty and crime, but what this film is actually attempting to point out is what happens when life gives you a choice and the repercussions to those choices. The parallels between Lionel and Tyrell, while subtle, are there purposely so that when Lionel’s climatic moment comes about, he’s offered what path to follow, but we never say what’s right or wrong, which is why the ending, not to give anything away, is purposely gray. We’re not stating that because you are A, you have to be B, we’re saying if in your choice between A or B you choose B, only D or E are then options. I feel like when trying to compare all of the cross-sections aligning, you’re stating that there can’t be a choice between A or B, you’re only allowed to be A, and I think that that is simplifying the world WAY too much. Again, film-wise, this movie is all about the grey in life.”
- We’ve shared some Facebook messenger chats about the production and its preview screenings, where you described frustrations with selling a movie that’s mainly about African Americans. I now give you free reign to rave about any and all post-production and distribution problems you’ve encountered. Go.
Wood: “Let me correct this by stating that it’s not frustrations about selling a movie that’s a mainly minority film, it’s about the INDUSTRY’S ineptness with minority films. While we’ve been doing fairly well internationally as far as distribution goes, we’ve had many issues with domestic distributors telling us that, “Minority films don’t sell.” I get enraged by this thought process and have been fighting tooth and nail breaking down the average cost of films featuring a mainly minority cast versus their constant over performance theatrically, and no better example, which will (hopefully) change opinions is the success of Black Panther. It has sort of forced studios to sit up and take notice, but if you are an independent film producer, it’s utterly absurd, the views of the higher ups in distribution companies towards what they think is actually sellable. The talents of people in this film like Terence Rosemore, Martin Bradford, Samantha Beaulieu, Rhonda Dents, Sam Malone, Nicole Lovince, and new names like Morgan Glover and Lawrence Bierra, are beyond description. You can regularly see their work in roles on film, television, and stage, but try to talk to a distributor about it and they’ll literally tell you that if the name isn’t Denzel Washington above the marquee, nobody cares. I’ve literally heard this. It’s disgraceful. There are some indy films that get pushed because of the companies behind them like Cinereach leading to Sundance, but a true New Orleans independent film, by and starring people born and raised in New Orleans, will get overlooked because you can’t even get a second look without a household name as your lead. I’m THRILLED at the success at films like Get Out, which really gave the middle finger to the established mindset, but even that film had a tiny budget because those in positions of power (Marvel excluded) just REALLY don’t think that there’s an audience for these films. All I can say to that is that they need to go to the theater and actually see the audience. The second that the industry starts realizing that an exorbitant amount of its audience is made up of a small percentage of the population, maybe they won’t have Oscar nominated films and Film festival darlings hemorrhaging the studios money that flicks like Get Out, Breaking In, Black Panther, Acrimony, etc. have to make up for. “
- A Quiet Storm was a crowdfunded project, gaining not just a budget but word of mouth. With the success of Black Panther and Get Out, you’d think that a movie with a talented black cast and social media recognition would go over easily with studios. How will the team overcome such odd obstacles?
Wood: “I’ve kind of answered this question in my ramblings earlier but I will say that a crowd funded movie this wasn’t. We TRIED to get funding, and I think topped out at 5k, which did definitely help, but the film in total was around 100k so it wasn’t fully crowdfunded. As for the word of mouth and social media recognition that should help it out, we basically ran into a wall film festival wise and got passed over for flicks with bigger names involved (BIG shout of the New Orleans Film Festival and Cinema on the Bayou though for helping out locals and accepting our our film) and the longer you go without a distribution deal the more it sort of fades into the shadows. Not to go into details, but one of the festivals we were supposed to be in, that would have given us a huge boost, got postponed for a full year and a half, so it’s just been one more added obstacle after another. I do also have to add that when we shot this film, Black Panther and Get Out hadn’t been shot yet, and the fact that their success has caused more studios to sit up and take notice DOES give us hope that it will change the view of our film and that will give us a boost as to our ultimate destination. All that being said, we should be able to announce this year where we’re winding up, and when that happens I’ll unload more on the ones that passed on us for the reasons I’ve griped about earlier. So in the meantime, we’re waiting for our sales agent to give us the ok to talk about it.”
- Filmmaker Jason Affolder is a veteran of the New Orleans Fire Department and subsequently must’ve seen many heartbreaking scenarios. This puts him at a unique advantage in understanding and articulating the conflicts his characters face. I almost want to argue that just being from the area gives any filmmaker this same advantage, but I acknowledge that the privileged, the elite and the gentrified are all quartered off from each other in many places. If A Quiet Storm is, like most films, a mirror to our real world, what does it reveal about New Orleans?
Wood: “I think, and thus don’t want to say I’m speaking for Jason as I’m not sure, but I think that what this film is attempting to mirror is the many things he’s dealt with as more than just as a firefighter but as a first responder, and many of the frustrations that come along with it from every angle. As a member of law enforcement there’s frustrations to deal with (and in a scene that I’m very upset was deleted we deal more with this), as the victim, there’s frustrations, as the offending party, there’s consequences and in many cases unexpectedly so, and as a community as a whole we deal with many of these same frustrations and consequences. The day before we started shooting the house we were setting up to film in was hit by multiple bullets from two cars shooting at one another while driving. Luckily everyone in the house hit the ground and no one was injured. That really brought the point and purpose of the film home for us, and could have just as easily gone much, much worse. It was life imitating art. These types of occurrences happen every day in New Orleans, which is exactly what this film is about. In the film the crime that sets all of the events in motion happens because a first time offender gets spooked and shoots, so a robbery turns into a murder, and it escalates from there. Had any of our crew been hit by a bullet that day, an intense event would have instead been a murder, a mother and father would have lost a child, a child would have lost their mother or father, and that family would have been set on a much different path than they are luckily on now. This is the mirror we tried to look into with the film, as it’s about the choices we make in life, and that every choice has a consequence, be it right or wrong.”