Picture Perfect: An Interview with Harold Jackson III

Photos Courtesy of Harold Jackson III

This is a very exciting time for filmmaker Harold Jackson, III. To date, he has made several films including The Afterword, Seemless, The Gift, Toy Soldiers, Under the Bourbon Moon, and BURN: The Evolution of an American City. BURN is a documentary about the 1921 race riots of Tulsa, Oklahoma. It won Best Documentary at the Hollywood Black Film Festival and Arizona Black Film Showcase.

Under the Bourbon Moon follows a group of friends and the secrets, drama and love that keeps them.  In August 2013, it screened at the Reel Independent Film Extravaganza in Washington DC.  It was nominated for three awards:  Best Short, Best Male Supporting Actor, and Best Female Supporting Actor. Actors Danny Gavigan and Devin Nikki Thomas won Best Supporting actors.

Jackson was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. He earned a bachelor’s in Television Production from Kutztown University and a master’s degree in Film and Video Production from American University. He served in the United States Marine Corps for about four years.  Later, he moved to the National Guard, where he began his decade long career as a combat photographer.

PrideIndex sat down and talked with Jackson about among others how he’s fulfilling his childhood dream.

PRIDEINDEX (PI): Tell me about yourself and how did you get started in the film and entertainment industry?

HAROLD JACKSON (HJ):   I am originally from Los Angeles, California, but I live in Washington, DC.  Film was always something that I wanted to do, but I cannot say that I am in the industry per se.  I specifically wanted to be a director ever since I was a kid. Being a writer and producer and all that other stuff just came along with it.

PI: Is there one thing you like doing more than some of the others?

HJ: If I had to give myself a title I would say that I am a director.  I like to direct. I’ve learned to like writing and producing, [which] is one of those necessary evils for me.  I am learning to put the right team together and work with the right producers.

PI:  Where did you attend film school? Were you professionally trained?

HJ:  I went to a small university in Pennsylvania for my undergrad called Kutztown University in Amish country.    I was one of the few brothers and African American persons up there period. It was pretty cool especially since I came from South Central Los Angeles.  I got my Master at American University here in Washington, DC.  I was a combat camera man for the military for about ten years.  My formal training was in the news and documentary style of filmmaking. I’ve trained myself on the other creative stuff.

PI:  Let’s talk about your military career. What branch were you in? How did you get started in combat filmmaking?

HJ:  I started my career in the Marine Corp in 1996.  I was a kid back then.   I did not do anything video wise for the first four years.  Then I asked for a transfer out of the job I was doing into more of a video role.  And I got a little kick back on that.  I transitioned into the National Guard where I got into a combat camera unit in Pennsylvania. They sent me to a videographer and documentary school in Maryland.  I combined that experience with what I’d learned in undergrad and ended up in television news then later got into filmmaking.  At that time, everything was transitioning over to video.  It was the early stage of 24P video stuff which was where video started to mimic film, so  it was a very exciting time for me and everyone who was around me trying to transition to the film game, but who really could not afford to buy film stuff and get a film camera and that sort of stuff.  It was pretty good.

PI: What does a combat filmmaker do? Does that mean, for lack of a better word, just shooting propaganda film?

HJ: Combat filmmakers are attached to a unit which they follow around and shoot a military exercise or stock footage like what you might see on CNN.   Combat filmmakers typically shoot two videos: classified video that gets shipped up the chain of command for the big boys to see. They also do the other stuff that is meant to build morale. The morally lifting video will includes high energy music.

PI:  Which news organizations did you worked for?

HJ:  I worked for an independent television station that was the sister station of NBC News in a small town 30 minutes outside of Philadelphia.  I did a lot of those daily reports that you see. I was a photo journalist.

PI:  You have two short films as well as a documentary the most current being Under The Bourbon Moon. Tell me more about that.

Under The Bourbon Moon

HJ: Under The Bourbon Moon was a real nice piece that I did it was in the vein of those 1980s brat pack movies like The Breakfast Club.  The movie was about a group of friends that get together every year at this lake front house, and for this particular year, all of their secrets and issues come out.  It is not a film that gets wrapped up neatly.  It is a film about exploring relationships and how people feel.  It is funny at times, and it is real dark at times.  It’s beginning its film festival run right now which is interesting I’d like to see how it does.  This is the most diverse cast that I have ever worked with.  This is going to interesting to see how that pans out.

PI: Where and which film festivals will Under The Bourbon Moon screen?

HJ: Right now, I’ve just begun to submit the film into festivals.  It has played at the Reel Independent Film festival Extravaganza here in Washington, DC. .It was nominated for three awards: Best Short, Best Male Supporting Actor and Best Female Supporting Actor.   Actors Danny Gavigan and Devin Nikki Thomas both won awards for their performances in Under The Bourbon Moon. It was a good way to start that film.

PI:  As I continue to scroll through resume looking at some of the projects that you have worked on I see that you have worked on The Gift, and you have documentary called BURN: The Evolution of an American City.  Where did you find your muse for each film?

HJ:  For The Gift, which was the film I did a year before Under the Bourbon Moon, was a personal film that had a spiritual undertone to it.  I was searching for myself and searching the world.

BURN: The Evolution of an American City was based on the Black Wall Street that once flourished in the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma.  I stumbled onto the Tulsa Race Riot after graduating and already having earned my degree. When I did some research, I found out that it was the end of the most affluent black community that had ever existed in America. It occurred in 1921 and the patrons tried to rebuild, but it never got back to what it was.  At the time, it was a unique place because of segregation.  I discovered that there were black millionaires, yes millionaires in 1921, which I found to be really interesting.  And that’s what started me off on this journey.

When I arrived in Tulsa and started to interview people, I quickly learned the city never quite recovered from what they went through.  Even today a proper reconciliation has never occurred; the city is still literally divided by a railroad track that divides the white side of town from the black side.  It is the most important film that I have made in my life.  It won the Best Documentary award twice and it won the Best Audience award three or four times.  It has done well.

BURN: The Evolution of an American City

PI: Where can I find a copy of BURN: The Evolution of an American City?

HJ:   There are a few copies left on Amazon.com, but once they go into university sales they become a specialty item, so the price is going to go up.    I am trying to get that to be a curriculum at universities across the country.

The film is about the worst race riot in the country.  It is hard to say how many people were really killed, but the official count was 321 people – all killed within twenty one hours.  The New York Times sent a reporter to do a story about the race riot of Tulsa.  The reporter mentioned how they saw bodies being dumped in the river.

What’s even more troubling about this event is that we will never know how many other black Wall Streets could have rose up around the country had this event not happened. This black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma, could have changed how black people looked at entrepreneurship in America. It could have changed how your great grandparents raised your grandparents and how they raised your parents and how your parents raised you. It could have literally changed the dynamic of black America.

PI:   Tell me about some of your influences?

HJ:  I kind of bounce back and forth against a few people, but my first person as a filmmaker who I kind of wanted to mimic was Michael Mann.  He did a lot of good stuff such as the original movie that started the Hannibal Lecter character called Manhunter.  He also created Miami Vice.  I like his innovation. Another one of my favorite directors is Sidney Lumet; he did The Wiz and Dog Day Afternoon.  He likes melodramatic dramas, which is the kind of stuff that I like.  I grew up being influenced by action films like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon, etc. –the late 1980s stuff.  One of my influences styles wise was Spike Lee because he looked like me and he was out there making the kinds of movies I wanted to make.

PI:  What are you working on right now?

The Gift

HJ: Right now, I am trying to get Burn into universities, I hope make it part of their curriculum’s.   Under the Bourbon Moon is starting its film festival lives.  The Gift is starting to be inducted into churches and religious organizations, that’s something to watch. But the biggest thing I am doing next is starting a feature film called Jericho Road which is a gritty, noir dark kind of film.  It’s about a group of criminals who set out to rob someone and they end up kidnapping him and bringing him back to their house and tying him up in the basement.  From there, all kinds of things come out.  It’s really about questioning are your brother’s keeper? It is a really interesting film, so if you are out there and you are reading this article look me up and keep an eye out for that film.  I think it’s going to be the best film I have ever done.  I am super nervous and excited about that.

PI:   What is your ultimate goal as a filmmaker?

HJ: For me personally I would be happy to be part of the conversation when you talk about the  great filmmakers.  If 20 or 30 years down the line, you were to talk about the great filmmakers and my name were to come up as one of them,  I could die if that happens.  (Laughs) I would just be done.  That’s my personal kind of love that I have for film.  A less selfish kind of goal would be to change the way that films views black actors and filmmakers.  What I mean by that is that the moment that you have a black person other than Will Smith or Denzel Washington as your lead you have officially committed yourself to making a black film.  I think that is a bit unfair and a bit wrong.  The films are already segregated enough within genres, right? Once you say that you are making a drama, you’ve already segregated against the comedies.  Then once you say that you are making a horror film, you have already sliced out your part of the pie to appeal only to people who like horror films.  I think it is unfair.  It’s something that we need to work on.  I hope that I can help usher in a time, or spark the mind of the person of the person who changes all of that.

For more information visit Haroldjackson3.com and burntheeveloution.com.