Filmmakers Stefon Bristol & Fredrica Bailey On ‘See You Yesterday,’ Spike’s Secret Love Of Superheroes & More [Interview]
SB: [Laughs] Yes! We shot right on Jefferson Avenue. Jefferson and Marcus Garvey Boulevard. We shot at the two bodegas there. That day was crazy! We had a robbery scene happening at the bodega and actors in cop uniforms sprinting across a busy street to stop the robbery. That was cool! Thank God we had the NYPD TV unit there. Some folks that lived on that block thought the robbery was real. Yikes!
Initially, I wanted to shoot in East Flatbush, but we found Bed-Stuy to be the best backdrop at the time. I grew up in Brooklyn before I moved out to Long Island when I was 14. When I came back to New York for grad school, I came right back to Brooklyn. All my films so far have been shot in Brooklyn.
Both our lead actors are from Brooklyn. Eden Duncan-Smith who plays C.J. is from Bed-Stuy, and Dante Crichlow who plays Sebastian lives in Crown Heights. It was vital for me to cast local actors because I want the authenticity of Brooklyn to come from the performance. Eden and Dante did a great job regarding that.
The inspiration for this film happened during the summer of 2014. That’s the summer when Eric Garner and Mike Brown got murdered by those cops. Also, it was not too long ago when George Zimmerman got acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin. While I was working on the first version of the feature, these murders bled into my script. One of my professors saw that in my script and inspired me to make police brutality the main focus of the film. At first, it was about a genius kid who builds a time machine to stop his grandfather from being a drunk driver. The grandfather killed his best friend in an accident. The murder of Mike Brown and Eric Garner changed that. It’s an incredibly unfavorable influence on a piece of art. A lot of solid artwork is coming out today from grueling inspiration from atrocities, especially after President Agent Orange was elected.
OKP: You both are able to craft characters that have a rich and authentic way of being without needed too much exposition to frame them. What tricks or tips have you learned / shared with one another when it comes to screenwriting? Also, may you talk about how each other’s writing style balances out the other?
FB: I’ve learned from Stefon how to look at a story from all points of view and to be open to flipping a scene and tackling it from different angles. I’ve also learned from Stefon how to be less precious with cutting and throwing away what you don’t need. All very important lessons from my homie, Stefon!!
And style-wise, Stefon and I have so much in common. We both, of course, enjoy the same genres. We’re both very descriptive and visual writers with a style that really pops and brings characters and places to life off the page.
SB: I learned a lot from Fredrica about building characters and knowing how to write dialogue. I still need a few lessons from time to time. But, the biggest advice or insight that Fredrica and I often give to budding writers is that you should let your characters manipulate the story by their actions and motivations. Never through how you want the story to go.
The story must move forward by the actions of your characters. Before you set out to write your script, know who your characters are. Front and back! You need to know how they eat, what they eat, even how they take a dump in the john! Not saying we have to see all that. Just know your characters. The story moves forward based on character.
OKP: It appears that we’re in the throes of a black cinematic renaissance. A shift can be visibly seen and is reflected in the box office. As a young filmmaker, what does this moment mean to you and how do you feel others looking to break in the industry can leverage it to make an impact?
SB: FINALLY! I saw Black Panther three times already, and I am incredibly hopeful of living my dream to make sci-fi, action-adventure movies with a leading black cast. It is starting. With the success of Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time, there will be much more of these movies coming out. I’m confident of it.
The idea of AfroFuturism and diversity in high concept movies are not new! The concept is not new! Black folks have been trying to get this done for years! It took the #OscarSoWhite campaign to really shake things up finally. Having a movie like Black Panther coming out is long overdue. Long overdue!
FB: There’s definitely a movement taking place. My advice to aspiring filmmakers would be to join it! Join us! Now is the time. Your stories are valuable and the world wants to hear them! So put in the work, make the sacrifices, stretch yourself, challenge yourself and let’s move this movement forward!
OKP: Ms. Bailey, you are looking forward to a long career as a dramatic writer, correct? May you update us on the progress of your short, Da Jump, and hip us to where you see yourself in 2020?
FB: Actually “Da Jump” was one of the working titles of “See You Yesterday”, so they’re both the same short. In regards to 2020, can I first say how crazy it is that that’s literally around the corner?! Wow! But in any case, by 2020 I hope I will have sold a feature and hopefully a pilot as well! Also [I’m] hoping to have collaborated with Stefon again by then!
SB: Of course! We will.
OKP: Mr. Bristol, you both have made an impact with See You Yesterday, as Spike Lee is looking to make it into a feature length film. Do you both have any other collaborative projects in the works? Also, can you talk about if you think you and Fredrica inspired Spike to get into more genre-bending projects (Nightwatch, See You Yesterday)?