Take a look at our convo with Brandon Thomas, who has gone from viral content creator to successful feature film director. He shares his journey and the challenges he faced along the way, as well as his experiences on the festival circuit and the world of financing.
Cinevo Host: We are live once again for a fantastic CVO conversations. Today. We are gonna have a great guest with Brandon Thomas joining us. And thank you to all of our listening audience, either listening live on clubhouse. Hey,
Brandon Thomas: Check, mic check.
Cinevo Host: Brandon’s mic is good.
Brandon Thomas: Mic check, mic Check. Alrighty.
Cinevo Host: Send out a few invites just in case anyone feels like jumping in. We got some listeners on our Discord channel as well. We’ve got a great, great guest today. I’m super excited to talk to Brandon Thomas about his journey from viral sensation to feature film director. First of course, I do want to make sure that everyone in our listening audience knows all about our grant contest for 2023. This is a really great opportunity for any independent creator, any student creator. We really value our contribution to the independent filmmaker community. And to that end, we are doing $20,000 in grant applications, uh, across five projects. So one will be an $8,000 grand prize open to anyone. One will be a $3,000 grant for a student non-fiction project, a $3,000 grant for a professional non-fiction project, and then a $3,000 grant for a fiction project for student exclusive and for, uh, professional or student as well.
So all in all, $20,000 in rental grants that we will be giving out. And we want to, uh, make sure that you are aware of the process. So you can visit our website at cinevo.com. There’s a link directly on the homepage to get all the information about that, to send us your, uh, your link to your short film. We’re taking submissions between now and July 1st, and we will be announcing our finalists later on in the year with an open house to come, uh, around November. So stay tuned for more information on all of that. But right now, let’s get to the man of the hour, Mr. Brandon Thomas. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Brandon Thomas: Yeah, thanks man. I’m happy to be here.
Cinevo Host: So I guess yours and my journey goes back a little bit, uh, before even now. We met at, uh, when I was working with a script consultancy team called Open Gate Entertainment
Cinevo Host: So, you know, the project that that we first connected on was called One Michelin Star
Brandon Thomas: Yeah. So I haven’t finished the feature film, but it, so first is a, it is a short film now that’s going through the film festival circuit
And so I said, well, for a short, I don’t wanna make the mistake and think that the things we’re talking about is gonna be crazy interesting. So I decided to up the annte, and I had two couples who were, who were really at each other’s throats and really arguing, you know, and really being honest, but you could still feel the love. They weren’t like crazy, but they, they were still so much love for each other. And it talks about that. My actual son, Quentin, is in the film. Um, and, and it went through the film festival circuit. It was great. But now, now I’m in the process of trying to make this a feature film, getting money grants, producers, I’m doing the whole nine. So, um, it’s, it’s an interesting journey.
Cinevo Host: So, you know, 2016, you’ve got, uh, I think you mentioned one of your most popular, uh, projects was called the Idiocy of Mumble Rap.
Brandon Thomas: Oh my gosh.
Cinevo Host: 25 million views! Can can you talk a little bit about how do you, how do you make that transition? I mean, you know, you and I worked in that script consultancy team, uh, together, and there were a couple of other elements like that along the way. But as far as, you know, landing those, when you have those first financing conversations, uh, or when you have those first festival entrants, how, what was the journey like in terms of sort of redefining yourself as a creator?
Cinevo Host: Yeah, so it, it’s, it’s extremely hard and I, I more so mentally than actually doing the work because you get a really quick dopamine fix when, you know, when I did that video, I was really expressing my views on hip hop at the time. And, you know, when you get those views, you know, you really get excited. You see people of your content, you see people agreeing, you see people disagreeing with you, and it starts conversations. And you’re, and it gives this, this false feeling that you have made it to a place that’s not real. Um, when you, when you kind of get into this influencer space, you see a video gets 25 million views and it gets millions of views, and your followers go up and you think that you’re in a place that you’re actually not, you know? And so you have to hold back from one putting out content like that and going a different route and saying, if I want to be a filmmaker and be known for that, I have to put content out in a different way.
So the journey going through the film festival circuit is, is not as, uh, filled with so much dopamine because you have to wait for so long, right. You have to wait, you know, you, you, you submit to a project, you know, if I’m submitting the Cinequest or I’m submitting to the Martha’s Vineyard, African American Film Festival, both film festivals I went to, which are great.
Brandon Thomas: Yeah, yeah, for sure. So the, the easy way, first of all, is always, you know, filmfreeway.com is a, is a place that everyone, you know, most people know about. It’s create your account, put your headshot, get your things on there, and get your information bio, and you submit from there. But when it comes to film festivals, you know, not just willy-nilly submitting just because it’s a film festival, uh, reach out to programmers, especially when you have things in common with them. You know, especially if you may be from the same place, let’s just say you meet some in different areas, you know, like for example, when I submitted through Cinequest, I got a chance to, uh, I, I knew, uh, one of the people who have worked there a year previously, and I told him I had this short film coming out.
He says, whoa, let’s, let’s get in there and let’s talk and let’s see what we can do to help you get there. And then it helped me to kind of, for other people, other people in the program team to hear it, to actually give it a chance, because thousands of people submit to film festivals.
Cinevo Host: Right. Um, so, uh, and if we can talk about this, there’s a particular, uh, financier conversation that you had at one of these kind of a kind of a V.I.P. Um, I’m curious if you can talk about that a little bit, and if you can tell us a little bit about, you know, what, if somebody were to find themselves in a similar situation, how do you navigate those financing conversations, especially as a first time creator where you can’t necessarily point to a, you know, a successful feature film in the past? How do, do you set yourself apart from maybe the other things they’re considering?
Brandon Thomas: Are, are you referring to the Martha’s Vineyard one that happened there?
Cinevo Host: Or, I’m, I’m referring to a particular mayor of Sacramento.
Brandon Thomas: Oh,
Cinevo Host: Can we, can we put that name out?
Brandon Thomas: A little bit? Okay. Cause I, I don’t want, I don’t wanna put ’em on.
Cinevo Host: We won’t put ’em on blast, but, but yeah. I don’t want just say thank you, sir.
Brandon Thomas: Yeah. I’ll, I’ll say thank you. And you know, far as what he has done, he doesn’t owe me anything else. But, um, my film, it went through the Martha’s Vineyard, African-American Film Festival. His, the mayor of Sacramento, Kevin Johnson, UHS wife, saw my film there.
And he, he offered that and said that as he get more money, you know, let, let me help you so we can get this feature film, you know, on the road. So that was a great thing. So big shots out to Kevin Johnson, um, really great guy. Shouts out to Oak Park Black Film Festival, which he invited me out to. And, uh, for filmmakers who may be in those type of situations, the best thing you can do is to one, be genuine and to be, to be yourself. I mean, I knew who he was, but I’m not asking this man for anything, you know, that’s not really, but, you know, my style, unless it was an event where it catered to that, but he invited me out. I’m generally happy just to show my film. And I think when you’re in a situation, like when you’re in a situation like that, I think the best thing is to actually build relationships.
Brandon Thomas: I almost hate the word networking sometimes,
Cinevo Host: Good advice. Yeah. Um, and so also being on set in general, as a, as a director is kind of a new experience for you. Can you talk a little bit about the processes that you have developed, leading actors, uh, and, and kind of coordinating that entire onset experience and, and any advice to new filmmakers in that direction?
Brandon Thomas: Yeah, for sure. The best way to learn something is just to do it
And he knows what I want. I’ll still look at the, I’ll still look at the screen, I’ll, you know, make sure things are okay. But we have gone and do that prep, so I have to trust him. I have to trust that he’s gonna make my vision look what what it is. And, and he knows what he’s doing. So I put my trust in him after we talked. And then on top of that, I had an acting coach who was my assistant director, Michelle Romeo Claire, who is a director and playwright in her own right. Mostly theater. So this is kind of her first rodeo with, with onscreen. I said, you know what? I want you to be able to be with the actors as well, because I don’t know it all, and I want to have a great performance since I’m acting in it.
Cinevo Host: Fantastic. Yeah. What, what advice would you give to the direct, uh, director of photography out there who is engaging with a, a first or second time director? You know, what, what are the elements that they can do or explain, um, that can really, really help you in those moments on set when you’re kind of a, in that journeyman stage?
Brandon Thomas: Yeah, yeah. No, for sure. That’s, that’s a really good question. I, I would definitely say the simple, regular human things are a top priority. Please be kind
Cinevo Host: I’ve been here long enough to, to see it happen.
Brandon Thomas: Yeah. You know, so it’s like, you never know where people are going are going to be in life, this, you know, so be kind for one. And then as they’re on this journey, um, with them, if they are humble as well, show them the ropes of, of what it takes and of what to do. And after that experience, they’re only gonna be better cuz they’re gonna remember everything that happened. Right. And, um, my friend Kyle, when he was with me on the journey, he simply guided me, uh, through it and he kind of let me do my thing. You know, very gorilla-style filmmaking was my first one, you know, we just want to get it done.
Cinevo Host: So this has been an interesting time period to be taking this journey. Starting in 2016 when you were mostly doing viral video. Obviously between 2016 and 2023, there has been a lot of social conversation, uh, and, and things like that. Reggie and June, like you mentioned, really leans into those types of conversations about race dynamics and things like that. One Michelin Star kind of deals with it as a subtext. Have you seen any sort of win changes in the festival circuit? Or is it, is it easier, is it more challenging to have these conversations? Or are audiences for these conversations in multiple places or in particular places? If I’m a writer who is kind of trying to take that same journey where my script deals with these types of themes, any particular advice or guidance for, for somebody in that position?
Cinevo Host: Yeah. Um, the best thing to do it, well, one, the festival circuit, they’re definitely more open than ever before than I have seen. Even just from seeing the films that have been selected, they’re definitely more open and people are listening a little more and they’re considering other directors and people of color
Cinevo Host: And you’ve got one other project that you’re working on right now that deals with substance abuse and addiction, uh, Lunge. Yeah. Can you, can you tell us a little bit about that? Yeah,
Brandon Thomas: Yeah. Yeah. So Lunge is definitely in the, I won’t wanna say, back burner. But it’s more like I have O
Brandon Thomas: So yeah. So sorta, and, and it, well I’ll say it’s definitely illegal in the Olympics. You know, I’m, I’m trying not to give the story too much away over here
Brandon Thomas: Oh, oh, you know, it, you know it
Cinevo Host: If it’s a good antagonist, I think that that’s very true. At, at least for me, when I, when I watch a, a superhero movie for sure. I more often than not find myself, uh, putting myself in the role of, of the, of the heavy of the bad guy. Just, I don’t know, it seems more fun or more relatable.
Brandon Thomas: Yeah, no, for sure. Yeah. And it’s funny, I I even though I didn’t get into those specific film festivals, you said, but submitting to those are important. You gotta shoot your big shots like South by Southwest Tribecca, you know, things like that. Um, but the Academy World qualifying festivals I did get into, it’s extremely, extremely, extremely, extremely helpful with that. And definitely as you’re looking for your festival and where you should go, I tell people all the time, you go where you’re wanted
Like, I’m from Maryland, you know, I want to, I wanna shoot, I wanna a film festival in Maryland cuz I have a lot of friends and family who live in Maryland, so it’ll be really nice if I can pack out the theater and that film festival will remember you and they know other programmers and they may recommend you to another film festival. Like this one filmmaker, he got like, he got like 70 people in the audience.
Cinevo Host: You know, and the reason you’re joining us in LA this week, you’ve actually taken another step in, in your career with a fantastic team at Macro Studios. Uh, as much as you can mention, what’s it been like, uh, having that work experience with them? And I’m kind of curious, um, how do you, you know, follow through with, with your work with that team while at the same time, you know, respectfully introducing your projects and trying to continue those networking approaches as you, as you continue to elevate your own work, uh, as well.
Brandon Thomas: Yeah, so I mean, I have the opportunity, you know, maybe in a few weeks or months to possibly pitch something, but I, I generally just love Macro so much
Cinevo Host: Well they’re a fantastic team. Judas in the Black Messiah was one of my favorite films when it came out. I think that is just so incredibly poignant and at least, you know, for somebody who was born in 1986, it it seems like it’s pretty accurate. I would have to ask somebody a few years older than me if that’s really the case. But yeah, for me it was very, very impactful. Uh, so yeah, I mean that’s, that’s the run of it. You can check out Brandon’s social media handles and that’s how it be doe. D-o-e. Where else can we find your work right now, Brandon?
Brandon Thomas: Yeah, so at the moment everything is so much under wraps, but Reggie and June, the short film will be public this year. We’ll be public this year, so I have to find a date for that soon. But I want to be able to make it pub, make it, you know, out to the public cuz it’s been exclusively for film festivals and programmers that, you know, they put their password to be able to check it out and watch it. But very soon I would love to share Reggie and June with everyone and I’ll put it on different platforms and I’ll submit it out. Um, but as of right now, I
Brandon Thomas: Yeah, call me. Yeah, please gimme a call. I will happily, happily accept anything.