Twenties Unscripted Takeover is a special week-long feature series highlighting twenty-somethings who are “taking over the world” in music, art, film, social activism and business. Today’s feature chronicles Chaédria LaBouvier’s journey through the world of film. When I mentioned Twenties Unscripted Takeover a few weeks ago on Twitter, Chaédria expressed interest in participating. I had the chance to chat with her on the phone and learn about the extensive history, thought and passion she brings to her projects, including a pilot presentation she’s working on. Meet Chaédria.
Tell us a bit more about what attracted you to the world of film.
Well, I really wanted to be a novelist. I read a Tale of Two Cities when I was eight and knew that telling stories was what I wanted to do. And I loved movies. I was the kid that could re-watch a movie over and over again. I spent a lot of time as a child writing plays for my cousins, directing neighborhood kids, that sort of thing. When I got to college, traditional publishing was dying and journalism options weren’t there, but film was. And if you grow up never feeling that you fit in, you’re fiercely loyal to the things that help you pull through and that give you inspiration.
Film got me through an, at times, very difficult college experience. That’s how I knew. My first job out of college was working on the set of Law and Order and working in downtown theaters across New York. Film was still viable and you could get opportunities and I had dreams of being the female Francis Ford Coppola. (laughs.) Then the Golden Age of Television happened and I knew that I had to get to the West Coast. That’s how I ended up at UCLA’s film school, from which I just graduated. It had the best screenwriting program, it was in LA and Coppola had gone there. Done and done.
You recently finished shooting The Maroon Colony and have opted to make it a pilot presentation instead of a web series. What sparked your change of heart?
No one tells you how ridiculously difficult and grueling it is to write and produce a web series. And you have to have a lot of stamina. I’ve written two at this point and just to get the script right, it takes months. Coordinating shoots, talent, favors all takes months. And the web world is become increasingly more crowded. I had to get back to what was important to me – which was to tell this story of this mixed race family of former child prodigies – and hopefully sell it to a network so that we can tell it fully. I feel that a pilot would accomplish that the most efficiently, leaving me more energy and resources to focus on shooting the pilot, releasing the short stories the family is based on and really creating a community around the Maroon family.
What are some of the messages you hope to portray in The Maroon Colony? How has your own family influenced those messages?
I draw a huge amount of inspiration from my family. My family is mixed; my parents are biracial and multiracial and I have family everywhere from the Cuban communities in Coral Gables, the Creole communities in Dallas and South Texas to the native reservations in East Tennessee. I have family that has never gone to college to graduates of the Ivy League, the Catholics to the Baptists, the snobs, etc. and I wanted to create something that looked like me and reflected what it’s like to have that many influences to process through.
I would sometimes just leave parts out. It was a lot, even for me, to understand. It wasn’t until recently that I felt that I knew how to express that or talk about it all in a cohesive way that didn’t take away from my identification and pride in being Black. Visually, I had to make one parent Black and one parent White (Jewish), because it’s easier than writing parents that are Black/Cuban Jew/Creole/Native American. Last year for Hanukkah, my mother called me while she was driving around Dallas to ask, “Where in the hell can I find some Hanukkah candles?” I died laughing. She was serious; my grandfather was a Cuban Jew and we celebrate some of the high Holy days (heavy emphasis on some). I felt like I had to create something that made that kind of experience “normal”.
You’ve had the opportunity to work with many film giants, including Tracy Oliver, the
producer of Awkward Black Girl. What role are web series playing in the overall trajectory of what we consider television? What is the biggest misconception people have about producing a web series?
Tracy is a great writer and I think she’d say that ABG helped launch her current career as a television writer. I know a lot of great writers, including my friend and classmate Amy Aniobi who created a web series and is now a writer on Silicon Valley. For a television writer, it’s a great way to get started, in addition to being a good writer and networking.
A lot of execs are looking at the web world to inform what people want to see and what people are watching. There are a lot of shows being bought or pitched that came from the web. The same goes for pilot presentations.
The biggest misconception about producing a web series is that it’s easy or “cheap”. Cheap for a web series with six episodes is still going to be about $5,000 – and that’s with a lot of favors. No, you can’t produce it all on your own. Find a friend who is the savviest, most capable and organized person that you know to produce for you.
You mentioned that there is a “YouTube culture”, particularly when it comes to web series. How would you describe that culture? People have a tendency to be absolutely savage online. Internet trolls made Robin Williams’s daughter walk away indefinitely from social media. People forget that there’s a human being on the other side of that content, no matter how bad the production quality is. Someone’s putting their dream out there, which is far more than you, the anonymous commenter, are doing. It’s almost as if people expect that they need to be ruthless to have an opinion or to be thought of as intelligent. I think it’s far more sophisticated and more of a challenge to give constructive yet compassionate feedback, if there’s any to give.
What advice would you offer to up-and-coming filmmakers?
Am I the right person for this question? I’d say network, write – the power is really in the script – and read. Do anything that you can to really sharpen your tastes. A lot of filmmaking and writing is about taste. The technical and the heart of the craft. Read Lolita. Read White Teeth. Watch The Godfather with director’s commentary. Be able to talk about the intellectual brilliance of Clueless. Practice looking at paintings and imagine that it’s a scene in a movie and create what’s next for the subjects. Try your hand at theatre – writing, acting, stage managing, directing. Disconnect the Internet when writing at all costs.
What is coming up next for you?
Well, first, we’re going to edit what we’ve shot so far for the web series, so that it can be a reference and a playbook. I’m working with my team on our next shoot, which will hopefully be late October, early November for Maroon Colony and working on resurrecting a t-shirt line that I had when I lived in New York. I also work a lot with my mother’s organization, Mothers Against Police Brutality and a lot of the coalition building there, especially in the wake of the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. I’ll be busy telling stories, to say the very least.
Chaédria LaBouvier is a recent Screenwriting MFA graduate of UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film and Television. She lives in Los Angeles, where she is re-writing the Maroon family’s chronicles, launching her t-shirt line, Roebexar LaBouvier and contesting parking tickets. She previously co-created the YouTube webseries, The Valley. You can find her closely following the situation in Ferguson @chaedria.