Filmmakers Stefon Bristol & Fredrica Bailey On ‘See You Yesterday,’ Spike’s Secret Love Of Superheroes & More [Interview]
We got some time with filmmakers Stefon Bristol and Frederica Bailey, whose HBO project See You Yesterday, promises a great future for these two.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a nerd about all things music, pop culture, black and cinematic. When I was a kid I would watch films with my parents and here I am at eight, nine-years-old telling them who Steven Spielberg is (“He adapted Batteries Not Included into a film”). Or being a pre-teen telling them why Wesley Snipes is cool and how New Jack City is a certified classic (I was an opinionated kid with a mom who put TVs in every room). I am part of a whole generation that lived like that: hours upon hours reading books, comics; playing video games; watching movies; and talking about it ad nauseum.
Fast forward now to my old, washed negus phase, and I still hold the same traits that I did as a kid. So, imagine my surprise when one day I was scouring through my HBO GO account, and stumbled upon a short film that not only piqued my interest—I had to make sure the good folks at Okayplayer knew about it. The project was See You Yesterday, a short film directed by Stefon Bristol, and written by both he and co-writer Fredrica Bailey. A pure sci-fi tale told with a black flair, See You Yesterday, finds an inventive friend duo (starring Eden Duncan-Smith and Dante Crichlow) traveling back in time to stop the police from shooting the former’s brother, who is unarmed.
It’s less than 20 minutes, but the film is littered with creativity, beautiful images and sets locations (shout-out to Jefferson Ave. in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn). You admire the main characters for their will and ingenuity to stop a crime from happening. You feel the pangs of the reasons behind why they must go back in time in the first place. Lastly, without spoiling the film for anyone who wants to watch, you are torn apart by See You Yesterday’s impactful ending. All this is thanks to Stefon and Fredrica. Bristol, an alumni of NYU’s Tisch Graduate Film Program and Bailey is an alumni of NYU’s Dramatic Writing Program, both have sincere skills behind the camera. With specialties in action and science fiction, these two fresh faces in the indie film word are giving us more reason to say that we’re in the midst of a black cinematic renaissance.
Stefon and Fredrica are what I would like to say are “blue chippers” at NYU. The former won the Cine Golden Eagle Award for The Bodega, while the latter earned the Charles Purpura Award for Special Screenwriting. Their projects have been adored by some heavy hitters such as Spike Lee (who would become a mentor to Stefon) and Final Draft. These two are poised to become the next generation of screenwriting-directors that give us all the feels, the adventures and the romances that we have yet to see on the big screen.
As the two continue working on the feature adaptation of See You Yesterday (with Spike Lee involved) — we were able to carve out some time with Stefon and Fredrica to talk about working on See You Yesterday together, Spike Lee’s hidden love of superhero movies and any advice for other up-and-coming filmmaker-screenwriters.
Okayplayer: You both met at NYU’s Tisch Graduate Program, correct? May you talk about how that initial meeting went? What was the film, project or class assignment that connected you two? Also, speak on what similarities you share when it comes to developing a film together.
Stefon Bristol: See You Yesterday was our first project together actually. I asked Fredrica [Bailey] to join me as my co-writer in later stages. When I first started out writing See You Yesterday for my thesis, it was first a feature film project. But, my professors expressed to me that I wasn’t ready to make a feature yet. Instead, they advise that I write and direct a short and use it as a proof-of-concept for a feature.
I got to work on it, and I wasn’t happy with the script. The script had so many production issues and story flaws that I couldn’t ignore. And on top of that, I had producers who were terrible! They were hardly doing anything I asked them to do. I felt like I wasn’t prepared to shoot this movie. Two weeks before principal photography, I had to postpone the production and fire my producers. That was probably the worst time I had in film school. But, the best decision I made for this film. I cried for about a week, prayed on it, and went back to work.
Firing my producers and postponing my thesis production gave me an opportunity to do more work on the script and to make it tighter. As mentioned, I needed help. So I contacted the Chair of the Dramatic Writing Department at NYU to see if there would be any screenwriting students who would be interested in being my co-writer. I was going to make this film for sure, so I was confident someone would be interested.
The chair gave me a list of names. I interviewed everyone on that list and read all their scripts. I liked Fredrica the most because her writing skills are gangster! She’s very visual with her writing, which is a must for me. And her dialogue is killer! She likes to write action movies, which is my genre. Being able to work with her was amazing! Now, she’s my co-writer for the feature. I’m very blessed to have her!
Fredrica Bailey: Stefon was in the Graduate Film program and I was in the Graduate Dramatic Writing program at NYU. These departments are located on two different floors so we don’t cross paths that often. Lucky for me, Stefon was looking for a co-writer to help tighten up the script for his thesis short. The screenwriting chair of my department and a mutual friend of both Stefon and myself suggested me. So, Stefon called me in for an interview and we met. I was nervous but it went really well and then I got the call back from Stefon welcoming me to be his co-writer!!
I was so excited! I instantly connected to the idea because it perfectly incorporates the genres that both Stefon and I love: action-adventure and sci-fi. But more importantly the short touches on the truly critical issue of police brutality in the black community. Stefon has a wonderful mind for incorporating important social issues into genres that you might not expect them to appear in. It’s been an absolute BLAST working with him! And now we get to do it again on the feature!
OKP: You both as creatives and filmmakers have been awarded for your respective work. Ms. Bailey, your feature film The Expat was even a action-adventure semi-finalist in Final Draft’s Big Break Contest, while Mr. Bristol you won a Cine Golden Eagle award. What were some obstacles that you both overcame along your journey as filmmakers? Also, speak on how those obstacles helped to shape your respective styles.
SB: NYU film school was the best years of my life! I made sure I took in everything that I could learn as quickly as possible. One of my biggest obstacles was learning how to find my voice. I love my professors, but sometimes they can get very heavy on what they firmly believe would be best for my projects and what I should do with my projects. Very early, I wanted to make action and sci-fi movies. They discourage me from doing that. I understood why because they drilled into me the importance of just learning how to tell a good story and learning how to direct actors well.
I remember Spike [Lee] telling me that one of my films was very unoriginal. He gave me a very harsh critic of my work. He called it unoriginal. I was like wow! I realize that then and there I was trying to please people. I was trying to please my professors to make a decent “NYU film.” Whatever that was. And then I followed my instinct again. I wanted to make the movies that I wanted to make. And that was sci-fi and action adventure. I stuck to my guns and created See You Yesterday. I knew I had the resources to pull it off. So I stuck to my guns and did not concern myself what others would think. If this was going to be my thesis film, I better like it for myself. Otherwise, no one is going to like it.
FB: First, can I say how I love that Stefon wants to make sci-fi and action films! That’s why we vibe so well. Those are the films I love to write!
Now regarding obstacles, one of the biggest for me was the decision to apply to NYU Tisch’s Graduate Department of Dramatic Writing. I didn’t study writing in undergrad at Syracuse University (Go Orange!), so it was really a big decision and a step of faith for me to pursue writing. But my first step in the right direction was attending NYU. Once there it was a lot of prayer and hard work to keep up and soak in as much as I could during the two years of my program. It was scary and challenging but so well worth it. The lessons I’ve learned about structure, characters, and the craft have truly deepened my writing.
OKP: I discovered your work while combing through my HBO Go, actually, and I was taken in by the premise of See You Yesterday. What was that brainstorming session like when you guys were coming up with the short? Walk us through how Spike Lee eventually came to be a part of the project as well.
FB: Stefon actually had this concept prior to my coming on board. This was his thesis project that he had been working on as a feature and then turned into a short. And I believe as a Professor in NYU’s Film Department, Spike Lee was always involved with Stefon’s thesis project. But I’m sure Stefon can give more details.
SB: When I brought Fredrica on we started from scratch! Literally! The script that I was about to shoot had about eight or nine drafts done. But, I wasn’t in love with the direction or the story. There were too many flaws. So we started from scratch and Fredrica help me simplify the story. I think my earlier drafts had about eight-time jumps! In the version we have now, we got it down to just two. And it worked beautifully!
Spike has been my mentor for about eight years now. When he read an early draft of the script that Fredrica and I did, he said it was the best thing I’ve ever done. I would go to his advisement meetings that he would hold for thesis students and keep getting his advice on how to write the next draft and how to prepare for my shoot.
On my birthday, January 8th of 2016, I got a call from the Dean’s Office saying that Spike awarded me the Spike Lee Production Grant! Like wow! What a birthday present, huh?! That funding was the last piece of money I needed to go into production. This time, I had a better team of producers, and I felt much more prepared.
Oh! And just an FYI: See You Yesterday was part of the HBO Short Film competition at 2017’s American Black Film Festival. So because of that competition, we were able to license our film with HBO. So shout out to ABFF and HBO!
OKP: Throughout the film I am noticing that you guys filmed extensively and exclusively in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. In and around Jefferson Avenue it seemed like, correct? As a longtime resident of that particular neighborhood, it was good to see the area reflected in such a telling story about what goes on but never really makes the national news. What were your intentions behind See You Yesterday and was it inspired by any real life situations?