An intelligent, white-washed black youth adopted by a Caucasian family has a crisis of ethnic identity while growing up in white suburbia with his urban culture obsessed, white best friend in the film, You People. In this deadCenter Q&A session about the feature film, we hear from writer/director, Laron Chapman; cinematographer, Jacob Burns; James Austin Kerr, a principal actor; and lead actress, Gabrielle Reyes.
Tell me a bit about yourself and your role in the film.
LARON: I’m an OU graduate with a Bachelors’ degree in film and media studies. I’m a film aficionado. Film has always been an art form that has fascinated and molded my perspective of the people, the culture, and the world I inhabit. For my first feature film, “You People,” I served as writer and director. I birthed the concept for this project from my own personal life experience and assembled a talented team that helped bring my vision to life. Motivated to create change, alter perspectives, and celebrate diversity, I made it a priority to see it through to the end.
JACOB: My name is Jacob Leighton Burns. I am a local filmmaker and co-founder of Planet Thunder Productions. On You People, I was the cinematographer, so my job was to translate Laron’s vision through the use of camera and lighting. It was an honor to be a part of such a cool project that promotes diversity, identity, and love.
GABRIELLE: I’m a Dallas-based actress/singer and vegan chef! I got to be a part of YOU people after working with Larron on a previous short film in college. I play Melony, a fierce powerhouse of a woman who stands up for what she believes in.
How do you personally describe the movie to people?
LARON: I describe it as a satirical dramedy about identity and contemporary stereotypes toward minority groups. It’s funny and confessional with an emotional center about the importance of self-discovery.
JAMES: A dramedy about fitting in that pokes fun at cliches and stereotypes while still having the heart of a coming of age film but bluntness to recognize the todays issues on race, gender, sex, and inequality.
Why should one see it?
LARON: Audiences should see the film to get a candid, personal insight into a life experience not regularly depicted on screen. It is my hope that after viewing it they will empathize with the colorful array of perspectives showcased and become closer to their own.
GABRIELLE: People should see YOU PEOPLE because the world is not black and white. Humanity is in this grey area where we need to start looking at how our assumptions about race, religion, and sexuality are morphing.
What are your thoughts on the deadCenter Film Festival?
LARON: The deadCENTER Film Festival is an excellent platform for the wealth of Oklahoma filmmaking talent. They have excellent programming, exciting panels, and a one of a kind film community whose emphasis is on creating beautiful, unique works.
JACOB: deadCenter is always one of my most anticipated events of the year. I’ve been attending since around 2006, and it just continues to grow and get better every year. It’s awesome to be surrounded by other filmmakers and film fans, and the chance to see a wide range of independent cinema is always a delight. And as a filmmaker, the opportunity to showcase my own work in such an encouraging and supportive environment is a big source of inspiration for me. I look forward to seeing You People on the big screen, I think the crowds are going to love it.
What was the most challenging aspect you had during production?
LARON: The production of the film went smoother than I could have ever imagined. It helped that I surrounded myself with a passionate, professional team that made it look effortless. As with any production, staying on schedule and within budget, while still getting all the coverage needed to make the best product, was a daily struggle that was taken with stride. Ensuring that we captured the best work of everyone involved was of paramount importance to me.
JAMES: Probably the weather mixed with having a terrible cold throughout filming. Most of the cast/crew was sick but and the weather/odd hours never help. But we all power through because we love it and believe in the story… Also, my character was the literal opposite of me in almost every way so it was a difficult task conjuring up a believable character that was so foreign to me.
What was the best part about filming in Oklahoma?
LARON: Three things: The sense of community, the incredible talent, and the affordable and accessible locations. The community here is very inviting and eager to accommodate and the wide range of talent here is unmatched.
What were some particular scenes or moments that were enjoyable to film?
LARON: My favorite scene to shoot was a date scene between the two leads. It was set in an LGBT night club that we had full access to. It had snowed something wicked the night before, so we had what felt like a two-story metal cabin—with disco lights, techno music, and vibrantly dressed characters—all to ourselves. It made the experience unique and fun. There was also a comedic set piece that was shot in my house that makes smile everytime I’m in my kitchen, because I can’t help but play out the action in my head.
JACOB: It’s hard to choose, because the entire shoot was so much fun! I loved filming the night club scene. I was worried about it at first, because it was a big shoot day and I was actually getting over being sick at the time. But with all the cool strobe lights, flashy costumes, and goofy dancing, I was exhausted but there was no place I would have rather been. I’m also proud of the cop scene. The main character gets pulled over, and the scene is loosely based on Laron’s own experiences, I really wanted to make sure we got it right. Thanks to a combination of performances, planning, and a bit of luck, I think Laron put together a really powerful scene.
JAMES: I’d have to say the house party scene was definitely the most fun. I feel like that was the day everyone really grew on each other and all the characters felt really alive. It was a blast to shoot and everyone was relaxed and having fun.
I also really enjoyed the scenes involving the police car/man. They were very dramatic and raw and I feel like all involved were on there A game. It was very moving but also very gratifying to see such a raw, real scene come together.
GABRIELLE: I LOVE the club scene! It’s colorful and fun and sexy and just all around playful!
What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
LARON: I spend time quality time with my friends or hit up the local movie theatre to escape into a new world.
What do you think should be placed as a marker for the dead center of the universe?
LARON: A mural or a monument featuring a diverse (ethnic, gender, or otherwise) sea of faces that encompass this beautiful state.
Anything else you wish to add?
LARON: I wrote this film to give minority representation, to showcase diversity, and to shine a light on voices seldom heard. I hope I’ve done so with humor and skill and I hope the love and passion that went into it inspires more films of its kind in the future.
You People deadCenter Schedule:
Thursday, June 7th, 8:30 PM @ MidFirst Bank Theater at Harkins Bricktown Cinema
Sunday, June 10th, 6:00 PM @ MidFirst Bank Theater at Harkins Bricktown Cinema
The 2018 deadCenter Film Festivals runs from June 7-10. Read more Question and Answer sessions with other deadCenter filmmakers, past and present, here.