A Leg Up: An interview with Joe Jennings Jr.



Your films have social, political and racial themes. What was the inspiration behind working on these themes about society?

I wanted to start the discussion of where the black community goes from where we are. Our issues are often discussed but never addressed. There's so much pain and despair in the black community, especially with tensions being heightened within a chaotic 2020. Black people are fed up and are constantly looking for change....or some sort of relief. And to be honest, everyone has different opinions on what "change" or "relief" is needed, and how it should be implemented. So I wrote "A Leg Up" to offer a perspective of where we go from here, which is to establish wealth (financial literacy) and reinstate community values in our neighborhoods.


When did you make your first film and what was the motivation for working on your first film project?

Back in 2008 when I still lived in L.A., my production partner, Sean Freelon, myself and another writer co-wrote an indie feature film, titled 'Trapped,' which was more of a neo-noir drama. The three of us were in a writers group back then, and wrote three different stories from different character perspectives. We just wanted to tell a great story. We believed in it so much that we decided to shoot it independently with the help of some of our "industry friends." Even though we told an amazing story on film, we did not score a distribution deal. However, we learned a LOT about filmmaking in the process. It was a very expensive lesson, though! (laughs)


What kind of films inspired you as a director?

Kurasawa's 'Seven Samurai' is one of my all-time favorites. Cinematically superior. After seeing that film, I instantly knew how important it was to seek the best cinematographers we can afford, and not try to shoot it myself. (laughs) As far as content goes, I always knew that if I made a film, it would have to be as grasping and unapologetic as 'Do The Right Thing.' I use those two films as blueprints for inspiration.


What genre of filmmaking are you trying to create in your work?

My first two films are dramas and my latest film will be a comedy, of sorts. I'm not necessarily married to a single genre. I would like to do at least one film in most of the filmmaking genres...maybe horror, next?


Please name three of your most favorite directors?

I would say, Spike Lee, John Hughes and Quentin Tarantino. Spike Lee brought the African-American experience to mainstream cinema, and spoke from his heart on the behalf of Black America, long before it was accepted. John Hughes was the master of the "coming-of-age" genre. His films were fun and also very honest about the growing pains of being a teenager back then. Very well-rounded storytelling. And no one makes films like Quentin Tarantino as well as writes dialogue like him. Because of him, I write my dialogue as real and gritty as possible.


What were some of the challenges of making an independent film for you?

Films are expensive to make! (laughs) When you're financing it yourself, that's always a challenge. Another challenge is getting everything done on a tight schedule: sometimes you have to cram a fifteen, sixteen page script into a two-day shoot, working ten hour days. You need a top-tier, dedicated cast and crew to pull that off to get the results you want.



Do you plan to continue working on indie films?

Lord willing...because I absolutely love making films and telling stories.


How challenging is it to distribute indie films and find an audience for indie films?

It can be very tough. An indie filmmaker must be willing to send their projects out to any and everyone that they can. You have to use every resource possible (festivals, social media, screenings, etc.) to get your work out there, even years after your project comes out. It's more work promoting your film than actually making it.


What is your next film project?

My next film is titled, #ISFJ. It's a comedy revolving around four friends who discover a huge secret via social media, and they must decide to protect or expose that secret.


Can cinema change the way people live and think?

Absolutely! There is unlimited power in cinema!


Why do you make films?

I make films to inspire, educate and entertain. I'm a screenwriter at heart. It's what I like to do and I'm fascinated by it.

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© Toronto Film Mag I 2020