Kirk Shannon-Butts, known as boi WONDA to his friends, is a producer, director and writer from Baltimore. His company Flickeria.com has produced 3 films since 2000.
Shannon-Butts received a Master of Fine Arts in Film and Television production from Chapman University. According to his website he, “finds himself influenced by film work itself rather than by a particular director or genre.”
PrideIndex had a chance to speak with this gifted filmmaker about one of our new favorite black gay films “Blueprint” and get his inspiration behind his filmmaking career.
PRIDEINDEX: What do you hope moviegoers will take away from “Blueprint?”
KIRK: How you live your life is decided by you. You get to choose, design and live your own blueprint. It is not about breaking the rules, but rather making choices, setting goals and achieving them.
PRIDEINDEX: Where did you find the inspiration for the movie?
KIRK: There was a Black gay man, Marvin Johnson, who was born in 1875 and he died in 1960. Marvin never saw a movie with someone like himself in it. My inspiration is the faceless, nameless and countless 1,000,000s of Black gay men and lesbians who passed away before the birth of Black gay cinema. They are my inspiration. And the men of present day, who are still largely transparent.
PRIDEINDEX: Is “Blueprint” pure fiction or is it based on events that took place in your own life or the lives of others you know?
KIRK: Pure fiction triggered by a healthy imagination.
PRIDEINDEX: Tell us about any notable challenges you faced during the production of “Blueprint” and what you did to overcome them.
KIRK: Casting was a bit of a challenge. There was a guy who had a rap CD coming out – he walked out of the audition, stating he could not kiss another dude. The original Keith we had cast, dropped out because he was in a very successful Broadway production. Also there was some rain – so I had to re-write and change scene locations. I am very resourceful and quick. I always give myself a back up.
PRIDEINDEX: What were some of the thought processes used to cast the lead characters Nate and Keith?
KIRK: I wanted Keith and Nathan to not be polar opposites. However, I wanted Keith and Nathan to see other personality traits they overlooked in themselves in each other’s behavior and actions. The part they have not yet tapped into or have shied away from being. As they get closer and closer you see who they really are.
PRIDEINDEX: Some might consider “Blueprint” to be an art house film. Was that your intention? If so do you believe the average moviegoer will be able to relate it?
KIRK: The irony and ambiguity in the “art house” label often placed onto “Blueprint” is largely because it steers clear of clichés and stereotypes in regards to Black, gay people and cinema, thus this makes “Blueprint” easy to pigeonhole as only an art house film. The fact is, stripping away all of that nonsense really makes “Blueprint” accessible to all. When you strip down – if you take it all off – we basically are all the same. Blueprint screenings were extremely diverse. Many came because they wanted to see a film about themselves – Black, gay — while others read about “Blueprint” and wanted to see a good intelligent entertaining movie.
PRIDEINDEX: What were some of the film festivals “Blueprint” played?
KIRK: “Blueprint” made it’s premiere in 2007 at the London Gay & Lesbian Film Festival; it played at FESPACO in Burkina Faso, Africa where it was a nominee for “Best Film from the African Diaspora,” Frameline “Best First Feature” Nominee. It was shown at Pan African, Hollywood Black, Reeling, OUTFest, NewFest, and at Cannes – in the film market. “Blueprint’ has screened aboard in countries across Asia, Africa, Europe, North and South America.
PRIDEINDEX: Do you have intentions to produce a feature length film that will play beyond the film festival circuit?
KIRK: Yes. The film festival circuit is really to generate buzz, gain media attention and quite possibly land a distribution deal. “Blueprint” proved to be a challenge as even the big distributors who secure gay content films passed on “Blueprint” largely because it was Black and gay. They said, reaching the Black gay market is nearly impossible. Obviously the Black gay market exists, however tapping into it and making it profitable, viable and visible is admittedly tough. I don’t want to be an invisible man. This is why I started Flickeria. I truly believe the internet is the future of film viewing. With Flickeria.com, I can have an audience in Nigeria, China, Poland and Brazil all at the same time.
PRIDEINDEX: Where did you receive your formal training?
KIRK: I attended Chapman University in Orange, California and graduated with an MFA in Film & Television Production. My graduate thesis film is called “Complete Abandon.” It is included on the “Blueprint” DVD.
PRIDEINDEX: How did you become interested in filmmaking?
KIRK: Music videos. I did not go to the cinema very often growing up, but I watched all of the Michael Jackson’s videos. Madonna made great cinematic videos and Duran Duran’s videos were so much fun. I love the images, the stories and the wardrobe. That’s what triggered my interest.
PRIDEINDEX: Name at least 3 artists that have most affected your artistic style.
KIRK: (1) Michael Jackson – because he gave 150% more than he ever received. He studied everyone. He did his homework to make his own gift, talent, strengths, vision and artistry better. Michael Jackson’s work was always about giving the public the best of himself. He was devoted to his public – the fans.
(2) Kai Wai Wong is a filmmaker who explores a situation rather than simply telling a story through film. He makes the most inorganic situations real, relatable and personal – like watching yourself in a dream.
(3) Aaron Douglas – an artist from the Harlem Renaissance era who is largely credited as the first Western artist to incorporate Africa images into his work in a modern and graphic way. His work draws you in.
PRIDEINDEX: Share with our readers the background story regarding the creation of boi WONDA Philmz and your company Flickeria?
KIRK: boi WONDA was the name I give to my productions during film school. When I moved to New York it developed into Flickeria. Flickeria is a real company. We produced the #1 MTVMUSIC.com music video, “Love” from Nhojj, “Blueprint,” my new film “Julien’s Bed” and the upcoming film “The Day Eazy E Died” based on the James Earl Hardy novel.
PRIDEINDEX: What projects are you currently working on?
KIRK: Editing the follow up to “Blueprint”, “Julien’s Bed.” We are premiering “Julien’s Bed” on the upcoming 14th Annual BGL Cruise in November, “The Day Eazy E Died” based on the James Earl Hardy novel, a new Nhojj music video for his own rendition of “Amazing Grace,” and promoting Flickeria.
PRIDEINDEX: Have you ever considered distributing films or content other than your own via Flickeria?
KIRK: Yes, that is the long term goal. Flickeria was established to produce and distribute films.
PRIDEINDEX: What advice would you offer to aspiring filmmakers?
KIRK: Shoot and edit films from your cell phones, digital cameras, Flip Cameras – any way you can. Formal education is key too. However being a Production Assistant is the best hands on and you will gain insight to all of the crew positions and really figure out what it is you like in terms of a career position in filmmaking.
PRIDEINDEX: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
KIRK: Be sure to stream “Blueprint” at TLAGAY.COM and get the “Blueprint” DVD at Flickeria.com. There’s a variety of Black gay cinema out there. Google: black gay films. Your support is vital to the growth and success of the genre.