Pride On Film: The Black Harvest Film Festival Part 3 of 8
Photos Courtesy of Darkan Entertainment, LLC
Actor, writer and filmmaker Choice Skinner was born and raised in Brooklyn, but currently lives in Los Angeles. Skinner is the CEO of Darkan Entertainment an independent film company founded in 2010. Skinner wrote “Brotherly Love” as a one act play used as a teaching tool for actors to develop their acting skills. Due to the overwhelmingly positive reception and urging of those who saw the piece, Skinner became convinced to make it into a short film. “Brotherly Love” follows the dramatic story of three brothers who are confronted with the horrible act committed by the youngest due to pressure and bullying from a local gang.
Earlier this year Skinner received the Best Actor award at the San Diego Black Film Festival; “Brotherly Love” also took home the honor for Best Short Film. PrideIndex talked to Skinner about teen bullying, the biblical connection and obstacles he overcame to make this “little film that could.”
PRIDEINDEX: Tell us about your background as an actor and when did you become interested in working behind the camera?
CHOICE SKINNER: I first started acting back in 2000. I was studying fight choreography under Art Camacho and Eric Lee. Art took me aside and told me that although I was talented, I would need to expand my knowledge as an actor if I wanted to become successful in the industry. That following month I met Bobbie Chance coach of Expressions Unlimited in Sherman Oaks and studied with her for six years consecutively. I booked my first television role on a television show called Arrest & Trial during my first year I have been acting ever since. Directing was a necessity for an actor of my type. After the last writer’s strike things changed dramatically and I wasn’t going out on any auditions. The industry wasn’t hiring too many black actors and a lot of the casting directors that were familiar with my acting work were no longer in the business so it was like I was starting over. I started my acting class the “Breakin Through Acting Workshop” there I got the experience to direct and coach actors. Directing was the most obvious step. I figured “If I could direct and felt like acting, I could always cast myself in the film if the role is right.”
PI: Why did make the film “Brotherly Love?”
CS: Initially, “Brotherly Love” was written as a one act play/ scene for class. I never had an intention on making a short out of it. Years later as I started coaching actors I blew the dust off of it and used it to help several actors in my class to grow in their acting skill. Due to the response people had when watching the scene being performed onstage for a showcase, several people gave me the advice to turn it into a film. Digital technology made it possible to film on a low budget and since it all took place in one location that made it possible for us to move on the chance to make the film. One of the main reasons I did it was because firstly I knew that there wasn’t a story like this one ever told also, it’s very rare for black male actors to have the opportunity to stretch and play characters with the emotional range that is presented in this piece.
PI: Who do you hope to reach?
CS: The masses! “Brotherly Love” was made to present black males in a light that hasn’t been seen before. Although there are some violent themes, it shows that black men are able to have a bond of love and care that is not normally seen in the media. I specifically wanted to reach the youth out there who are pushed to extenuating circumstances due to bullying from their peers and family. I wanted them to know that they are not alone. I was bullied as a child and a teen until I started learning martial arts to build my confidence. Sometimes in order to deal with a problem, the best thing is to prevent it. That’s what martial arts taught me. The film is universal and normally has a very profound effect on all who view it despite their upbringing and culture.
PI: What do you want your target audience to take away from it?
CS: I want them to know that bullying is not always outside the home but inside as well. That violence is not always the answer to problems and that we all are hypocrites in some regards even if our initial intentions are what we think are for the good of others.
PI: Briefly tell us about any notable challenges that took place during the filming “Brotherly Love” and what did you do to overcome those challenges?
CS: Originally we had another actor signed on to play Abraham but he dropped out due to personal life issues, so I stepped in for the role. How ironic that was. Because of that I received Best Actor in a film back at the San Diego Black Film Festival. It was a complete shock and a tremendous blessing and honor. “Brotherly Love” took Best Short Film. My nickname for “Brotherly Love” is “the little engine that could.” Despite things that happened during the shoot like, sound problems, black outs and editing issues in post this little film kept chugging along. It was providence. God definitely was in control but from what I experienced it definitely made me a better director indeed.
PI: How long did it take you to make “Brotherly Love” and approximately how much did it cost to finish it?
CS: The film took approximately 3-4 months to complete. The total budget was $5,000 although I did shoot another short named “Torment” on the same weekend that I have yet been able to finish editing. Hopefully I’ll get to that one soon though.
PI: “Brotherly Love” touches on themes of bullying, teen peer pressure and gang violence; all hot topics taken from the headlines of the evening news, how come you did not make it as a full length feature?
CS: The thought never occurred to me to make it into a feature. At that time due to budget constraints and lack of resources doing a short seemed more plausible. I also was recovering from the disaster of another film that never got completed because of a phony investor who never came through with his part of the money. Besides, dramatic features starring an all-black cast are a tough sell in the industry unfortunately. It’s hard enough for the films that have all black casts with names to get distribution or financing. Crew members in LA treat shorts like features so the amount of money to do a feature “properly” and with true integrity is very tough to attain.
PI: If you were given the chance to make “Brotherly Love” as a full length what would you do differently?
CS: Well, it would be a different film altogether. I think it would show more of the dealings outside of the house and tell the story of three different lives rather than one moment in time when things fall apart. I would make sure that everyone watching would see a bit of themselves in each character but would also be able to fully relate with one character more than the other.
PI: The characters in “Brotherly Love” are named Abraham, Isaac and Elijah, did you draw upon the scriptures in the bible as the inspiration of this film?
CS: Yes, great that you caught that! In the bible, Abraham is the patriarch/leader of the family aka the father of many nations, Isaac is the son of Abraham and is forced into a violent situation beyond his control and Elijah is a prophet who speaks the truth as in the film. Elijah is indicative of the audience. He’s stuck in the middle of all of the insanity but he’s also the voice of reason. Very rarely do you see that type of character. Farley Jackson did a tremendous job of being still when needed and doing a lot when necessary.
PI: You cast yourself in the role of “Abraham” the eldest of three brothers who is faced with morality issues when you discover that your younger brother was involved in a crime. Have you ever faced a difficult situation that involved a younger (or older sibling)? If so how did you handle it?
CS: Actually as much as me and my brothers argued and disagreed in our younger years, I never had any major issues like that with them. If anything, we always had to find a way to help each other through trying times while growing up in the projects but thanks to Jesus, nothing to the degree of what young Isaac goes through in “Brotherly Love.”
PI: Where else do you plan on showing “Brotherly Love?”
CS: We still have several film festivals that we are waiting to hear back from to see if we’ve made their lineups. In the next couple of months we will more than likely have an internet world premiere and then finally offer the film out to organizations and agencies that would like to screen the film for young persons or people who can benefit from a possible life change and promote thoughtful dialogue due to the film.
PI: What’s your ultimate goal for Darkan Entertainment? What’s next for you on the horizon?
CS: My ultimate objective, and the reason why I created Darkan Inc., was to make films that affect people emotionally. Be it a comedy, action, sci-fi or drama I’m always on the path to tell stories that have integrity with redemptive themes. As far as what’s on the horizon, I’m finishing the festival run on Brotherly Love for 2012, being considered for the lead in a feature film that I can’t speak on right now and directing two feature films of my own, a science fiction/action film called “Alexus” in September and a romantic comedy called “Wingman Inc.” both written and co-produced with Tony Germinario owner of Vincenzo Productions.
“Brotherly Love” will be shown at the 18th Annual Black Harvest Film along with other shorts films on Tuesday August 21 and Wednesday August 22 at 8:30PM. For more information on Darkan Entertainment visit darkanent.com