Joslyn Rose Lyons has directed and produced a diverse range of content for more than a decade in film and television, including work with HBO, MTV, BET, Vh1 Soul, PBS, Discovery, NBC, ABC, Oprah Winfrey Network, Uninterrupted/Warner Bros., and Apple Music Beats 1. In her creative treatment for the video campaign Beautiful, Joslyn directed an in-studio performance with RCA recording artist Mali Music, that featured appearances from ‘The Game’'s Wendy Raquel Robinson, ‘Being Mary Jane's’ Brely Evans, and casting director Robi Reed, who were enlisted to represent such a positive message, as noted in Rolling Stone Magazine, the video defined 'What it means to be beautiful'.
It was our pleasure to interview Joslyn Rose Lyons regarding her latest film.
What draws you to filmmaking and the cinematic language?
Cinema speaks that universal language, it surpasses time and just like music, cinema makes you feel things. To me, the job of a great storyteller, or artist of any kind, is to help us feel something. Even if it's just remembering what it's like to feel, or getting us in touch with a thought, or an emotion that is may be uncomfortable, or unfamiliar. I have always been drawn to expressing myself in the language of cinema. Directing allows me to let my imagination run free like a wild horse, and in that process, I find a sense of freedom. I think we are drawn to things that allow us to feel freedom. For me that's what cinema does, it gives me a sense of freedom. It is a form of creative play, and when we are playing, that's often when the most inspiring ideas can come. Cinema allows me to play in my own shadows and inspires me to keep searching for the light.
Do you believe in film schools or does making a film teach you more than a film school?
I did study film production and film theory in school at CCA and UC Berkeley, but I learn best when I am actually doing. I'm more of a learn as you go type of person. Intellectualizing something that you want to do can only take your vision so far. It's similar to when you are at the beach and just looking at the ocean, you're sitting there wondering how the water will feel, this vast body of water. Fear and doubt are always present when you are at the brink of taking a big leap, but at some point, you just have to dive in.
What makes cinema stand out more than the arts for you?
I have enjoyed photography, painting, writing, I'm passionate about music. What has always drawn me to the cinema is that it combines all of it, the visual and conceptual together. In the narrative, we can bend the rules of the worlds, in Verite documentaries we can capture moments, like a sunset that will never again be exactly the same color as when we filmed it that day at golden hour. Cinema allows us to see worlds within worlds, explore concepts and emotions such as time or love, and see them in new ways. I love the infinite and timeless quality that cinema offers as a medium. Cinema is like the ocean, a perfect portrait comes to life, vast and full of emotions, fluid and infinite.
Did you choose a certain directing style for making "Looking Glass" based on the script?
"Looking Glass" was in some ways my love letter to time. I wanted to take the audience on a journey through time, and in doing so I tried to create a world that had very specific rules, such as portals to the past. This gave me the inspiration to direct a short film that would feel much like a series of portraits come to life. I tried to create characters that would also embody concepts and themes such as hopes and dreams, fear, and doubt.
How did you choose the cast and the crew of your film?
‘Looking Glass’ stars Los Angeles based rapper/actor Jallal, and features an ensemble cast of amazing friends and artists from the Bay including DJ Umami, Ryan Nicole-Peters, Tierney Highfill, and DJ Ambush, and embraces the struggle to overcome complacency, while visually embodying the spirit of Oakland’s creative community. I met Jallal while attending an art opening at the MOMA, the seeds were planted for us to create something together. When we got a chance to film "Looking Glass" at Bardo, a 1930’s inspired supper club in Oakland, we invited many Oakland based artists and friends to appear in the short film. The concept of taking that leap from your ‘excellence zone’ to your ‘genius zone’ is something that Jallal naturally exudes as an artist. I wanted to create characters in "Looking Glass" that would embody a different part of the creative journey, fear, and doubt/hopes and dreams. I wrote the narration with the idea that it would be read like poetry, to evoke a feeling, spark a thought. Jallal brought that depth, and pulled the words off the page, he brought the words to life, like Visual Poetry.
At the time of conceptualizing this piece, I had just finished reading a book called ‘The Big Leap’ which explores the concept of taking that courageous leap from your ‘excellence zone’ to your ‘genius zone’ so this was a concept also present when I wrote the short.
How did you fund your film and what were some of the challenges of making this film?
It was challenging to make a film that explored concepts that aren’t easily associated with visuals, such as fear and doubt, hopes, and dreams. They are abstract visually, so I tried to create characters that would embody these ideas. I leaned into unique techniques to tell this story, for example using narration and not having a dialogue, or props, and even editing choices that bent the rules of this world, I have always been drawn to magical realism so it was fun to play with that technique.
Do you consider yourself an indie filmmaker and what would most be the most difficult thing about being an independent artist?
I definitely consider myself an indie filmmaker. One of the most difficult things about being an independent artist to me is that you often get discouraged by having to hear the word "no" more than "yes". That's where doubt can creep in. You can easily question your vision, your talent. But you just have to keep believing in your vision, your calling. There's a book "The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles" and I love this quote: “The more resistance you experience, the more important your unmanifested art/project/enterprise is to you - and the more gratification you will feel when you finally do it.” So you just have to keep pushing forward, especially when you encounter that resistance.
Also, being on set, it's challenging when you feel like you're always running out of time. But pressure also makes the diamond, and friction forms the pearl. So it's all needed in order to make great work. Having a great crew is also key, I’ve been super lucky to work with amazing talent. Before Rafael Casal (Blindspotting) was a superstar, we were producing partners on many of my projects, since as far back as I can remember he's been in and/or worked on most of my productions, he just gets everything about creativity and the process. I've also been lucky to have great DP's like Boson Wang, producing partners like Matt Smith, ADs like Hilton Day, and Armin Houshmandi, they always help to hold the creative vision.
What is the distribution plan for your film?
I plan to continue to keep sharing it in the online film festival circuit and see what other opportunities come through for the piece from there. I shared the short with Sundance Collabs and Trey Ellis (HBO's Tuskegee Airmen, True Justice) happened to see it, and next thing I knew Sundance London was inviting me to premiere the short. So that was an honor. It was Sundance London's first virtual film festival, and it was an exciting opportunity.
What is your cinematic goal in life and what would you like to achieve as a filmmaker?
I am in the polishing stage with my team on a script for my first narrative feature. It’s a drama, don't want to give too much away, but it definitely has a strong presence of magical realism. One of my cinematic goals would be to make this film one day.
What kind of impact would your films have in the world and who is your audience?
Cinema can address real issues in a way that allows people to relate to a make-believe world, it's less personal so we can connect without as much justice to the story or characters, while still digesting messages. The film has a way of opening up our senses and allowing us to see things in new ways. Some of my close friends in the Bay Area have made some incredible films this past few years that have done just that, Boots Riley made “Sorry to Bother You” Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs made “Blindspotting”, these types of films can spark change by opening up conversations we might not have had. Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, and seeing things in a new light. I love this quote by 2PAC: “I'm not saying I'm gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.' That's what I would want my films to do, create that spark that ignites an inner fire, and that fire can be a guiding light on your journey.