Director, screenwriter, and creative consultant, Vashmere Valentine has quickly made a name for Atlanta filmmakers – globally showing the industry that amazing talent can grow and thrive in the peach state.
With an extensive work history including writing several pilots for major TV networks, directing music videos, and a short film making it to three of the biggest comic conferences (and more), the world is in for a treat when it comes to the fantasy, sci-fi, and horror projects he has in store:
KB: What inspired you to begin work in the entertainment industry and how are you creating your space as a black nerd?
VV: My mom was a big old-school mom who read fairytales and sat me in front of the TV before bed. She was really against violence so it had to be television-friendly, sci-fi, and fantasy type stories. Growing up that was what I was constantly exposed to and that’s the type of work I am fortunately obsessed with doing – the same works I was read to as a child. When I started in the industry, I began as a script reader, but me being the arrogant person I was, I would constantly see things wrong with them and I would write the writers back and say, ‘hey, if you did this or that it would probably work for you.’
KB: Well that’s really nice of you…
VV: And those wound up being the successful ones. My boss told me you should probably do that instead of what you’re doing now because I’m only paying you like fifty cents a script. So you can imagine how many scripts I had to read a day to make a good living. That’s what got me into creative consulting.
I realized that I was using a lot of the history that I had accumulated over the years watching and studying TV to actually make other people’s work successful. That’s when I decided maybe I can make my own projects successful. That’s what really started my screenwriting career, which also led to my directing career.
KB: Your fantasy short, The Wish and the Wisp has won 12 awards to date and it’s going to DragonCon! What went into your preparation and why was this an important story for you to tell?
VV: The Wish and the Wisp was actually a student film out of AIU (American Intercontinental University) and they had never won a film award. It’s a for-profit, pre-dominantly black school so there’s no government help there. It was a straight passion project. Our equipment was old and we only had $300 for the budget. I’m proud that it’s standing up next to films with $10,000 budgets for senior projects. And it’s global too with recognition in Nigeria, Russia, to London. I’m proud of that as well. What’s interesting to me is that we oddly get turned down by a lot of African-American festivals.
KB: Why do you think that is?
VV: Unfortunately, because they are AA festivals, I feel that the people who run them believe that all the characters need to be AA in them. I don’t know if that’s necessarily true or not, but my film has a blended family and I didn’t think anything of it. The other reason I think is because we as a community tend to lean more on the past as these warriors that came out of slavery and rose above it.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but we’re getting lost and further away from the stories that might have been told by our ancestors: other things like mystical, mythical creatures. So I think our people that are in the older generation more so look down on fantasy and sci-fi while the millenials and 80s kids are making a lot of shows centered around that like Stranger Things or Lost. We love these things. We love anime. We love comic books. The MCU universe. Star Wars. This stuff is making a huge wave for us.
VV: The millenials and the nerds that used to be made fun of back in the day, who kept their gothic style hidden – they’re happy with who they are and they’re proud of it. They’re on the internet finding each other, going to cosplays, competitions, and blogging. They’re the ones spending money right now. The industry only makes movies that make money, so if we as artists continue to be close-minded about it, we’re going to close ourselves out of it.
KB: Anime! What’s your favorite?
VV: Of all time? Yu Yu Hakusho. It’s an oldie, but if you watch it, you will fall in love with it. Everything else in anime has spawned from that.
KB: What’s your favorite Film/TV show right now?
VV: I have a favorite anime that I’m watching right now. My Hero Academia. I’m really a fan of it. It’s funny how easily Japanese artists and storytellers can take something so dear to us like [American] superhero, comic book characters and make it better than ours. To continuously expand on one idea to the point that it’s better than the last? Most people have multiple ideas, but it’s never as good as the first, but they just continue to exceed expectations creatively. They’re geniuses.
Anime is a whole other outlet that hasn’t been tapped into yet. It’s been played with in films like The Matrix, Pacific Rim, etc. I feel like we still as a community haven’t dived into it the way other people have and we need to because there’s a hell of a fortune to be made from originality. Netflix will prove that to you.
KB: Speaking of Netflix, where do you see the industry going as far as the next technological feat?
VV: The next stage is people making their own content. It’ll be reality TV times two. Instead of it being a group of people and scripted work that’s supposed to look and sound real, it will actually be just everyday people living their lives and you watching it – admiring it (or not admiring it).
Those people will have their own mini-networks composed of them doing their own daily activities, whether it be at work or at home. I think the popularity of no-namers that we’ve seen boost in the last ten years is one of the things that proves that. “Cash Me Outside” girl – any internet craze that you can think of with a lot of views from an average person that worked at RaceTrac… That’s where it’s going. People love these people and they are becoming their own superstars. It will be people on cell phones all day watching people on cell phones.
KB: Marvel or DC?
KB: Who’s your favorite fictional hero?
VV: I hate saying Peter Pan because it’s so…
KB: Don’t! Own it.
VV: Ok, well Peter Pan because he really started it all. I was a kid when I heard it and he stuck with me ever since. And because James Matthew Barrie created it. There was a movie about it. He was a single guy that lived across the street from a woman who had these kids. The father died and James started playing with them and wrote a story about it. When he died he gave the rights to an orphanage because he knew they would make money from that. The fact that he gave them the rights… I just like him as a person. He’s just an amazing dude. The only person I love more than him is Jim Henson. He’s my idol.
KB: Why Jim Henson?
VV: Aside from the fact that he had to tell his wife that he was quitting school in order to make sock puppets with his best friend, it would be that he decided to come up with ‘Sesame Street’. He and Frank Oz drove up and down the streets of New York City and they wrote down everything they saw. The reason he did that is because he wanted people of culture to watch his show. He wanted the streets and the characters to resemble that of real neighborhoods and I don’t know too many people in that time that would have done that.
If you look back at Sesame Street it does look like a New York street. There’s a corner store that’s owned by a Puerto Rican. There’s a mailman and he’s black. What you would think is a stereotype is realistic and I think he did that because he knew that kids on NYC streets, in small neighborhoods, and bad blocks across the world would be able to go, ‘oh, that’s my block.’ He gets so many kudos for that.
VV: Dr. Octopus from Spider-Man 2. He was so nuanced.
KB: What superpower do you have in real life? What’s a fictional one you’d have?
VV: Photographic memory. That definitely helps with consulting. A fictional one would be flight.
KB: Who are some more of your inspirations?
VV: John Hughes – a really popular 80s director: Dutch, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club…classics. Steven Spielberg, of course. Spielberg more so in the sense that he’s one of the few directors that can hop genres. He can do The Color Purple and then do Jurassic Park. He’s the only director that I know who’s able to hop genres so easily and be successful at it. It’s extremely hard to do.
KB: What are some projects you are currently working on?
VV: One that I can talk about is Monster Con and it’s going to change how you view the horror genre. We know there’s a fan base there and it’s our take on the MCU universe. It’s going to finally merge the comic fans and the horror fans. There’s always been a separation of the two and this is definitely the year of the comic with all of Marvel’s success and horror has kind of taken a plunge. If you go to any horror convention, you always have your Jasons, Freddies, etc. It’s treated the same as MomoCon or anything like that. So, for them not to have any new work and not seeing any films that fans can sink their teeth into is horrible for us. So we want to revamp the horror scene and give it a new sense and value for those fans once and for all.
There’s a series called, The Black Widow, which is on my instagram. She’s Atlanta’s newest detective from NYC and she is definitely going to kick ass and ask questions later. I wanted to create an African-American woman that was empowered, but she was empowered because she chose to be – not because something happened to her. Don’t call her ‘bae’ or you’ll eat a fist.
I think that whole “bad bitch” thing is so confused with being spoiled or rich and walking around with some attitude and it’s not. She’s just a bad-ass chick that wants to be the best. So that’s one of the series we’re working on in the Atlanta area.
KB: What else can you tell me?
VV: I can tell you that The Matrix series we have will definitely compete with other popular sci-fi series right now. We believe that The Matrix fans have been dying to see something else after the last installment. It will take off from the last installment of the trilogy and fans won’t feel like they missed years and years of information. There will be new characters and new ideals explaining more about what the matrix is.
KB: Are you going to have an open mind to Zak Penn’s version?
VV: Absolutely! 100% I always watch films objectively and learn from them. In my personal opinion though, I think the only successful way to go about is to go with what we did and I don’t believe it was done that way. We’re going to be able to push the anime side a little bit more now and there will be a lot of cool things that will shock them so I’m excited for that.
KB: Me too!!!
VV: We’re also focused on re-booting a lot of things: Back to the Future. I think it’s about time we have an African-American Marty McFly. The one that I’m most known for that we’re working on is the Gremlins remake. There’s some hidden gems around the internet that I dare you to find.
KB: What do you feel is the most prevalent issue in the industry today? What would you like to see change?
VV: I think people are dying for original content. That’s going to continue to explode. But I think the biggest issue right now, honestly, is a lot of independent filmmakers making horrible products. That’s an issue because a lot of people are spending a lot of money on projects that don’t have the knowledge behind it.
Please stop making web series and these films without gathering a solid history of film. Learn your history, please. There’s nothing worse than seeing so much money and so many people dive into something they know nothing about because they think it’s easy. It’s not. I know you want to see what you come up with on Netflix but if you lack the knowledge, seek the people that do. Atlanta’s a lot like that.
KB: I was going to ask you about that. ATL has developed a reputation for diving in first, develop later – if at all.
VV: I feel so bad for this state sometimes. They have the money, but they just don’t work together. There’s not enough knowledge behind filming to make it successful. The ideas are there, but the execution a lot of the time is lacking.
KB: Why did you choose ATL as your base and what do you think must happen in order to bring us up to that next level?
VV: I made the move to Atlanta to extensively study directing, much like a martial artist would seek a temple to perfect his craft. Lucky for me I was able to learn under one of the most amazing mentors – a filmmaker by the name of Jason Rodgers aka “The Dude”, who taught me everything I know about true filmmaking and directing.
To get to the next level, people need to seek people that have the professional experience or get used to working together. There’s like 100 small studios out here and there should only be like 10. None of them are producing anything that’s Hollywood-credible and that’s a problem. Hollywood is about teamwork. You can’t be successful if you feel like you can’t ask for help from another studio.
KB: I would think it would be the opposite when it comes to collaboration – Atlanta vs. Hollywood.
VV: No and we need to because there’s too much competition. Once you narrow down the avenue that the work is coming out of, you have a platform like Netflix. It’s like a small garden with all these amazing flowers coming out, but if you just have all these smaller gardens that have just OK flowers, no one’s going to go through that field because it’s just OK.
KB: What does it mean to you to see projects such as Black Panther come to life in the mainstream?
VV: It’s opening the eyes of the older generation. A lot of works like that didn’t get past the marker because of the older influences that grew up on Do the Right Thing or Dead Presidents, and really didn’t appreciate that type of work. It was all about black people getting out of or fighting the system. Now because I feel like it’s more acceptable to see ourselves in these kinds of things, we can put ourselves in positions to be seen as pirates, play ship captains…things we haven’t seen us play before.
KB: What advice can you give for young artists of color hoping to break in the industry?
VV: Don’t try to do everything. Jack of all trades – master of none. In our industry, you only work with masters and they’re called ‘above-the-line’. If you’re not a master that typically means, you’re below-the-line.
Don’t just make a film. Don’t just make a TV series. Make something that has a heart in it that tells something. It can be done. The best films have two things. Some people get both. Some people get one. A is what makes your story cool and grabs your attention. B would be the story that reaches deep down to the heart of your audience. That’s the REAL story that your audience can relate to that makes your film real. If you don’t have both, you don’t have something worthy of cinema.
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