We recently talked to Brandon Willis of the Black Cincinnati Cinema Collective, whose short film Big Mike is showing at our “Matinee Noir: Black Speculative Fiction Shorts” event on Oct. 28!
Midwest BSFA: Tell us about yourself.
Willis: I was born and raised in a multicultural family in Cincinnati, Ohio. I graduated from North College Hill High and Diamond Oaks vocational school for computer-aided design. Later, I attended Hocking College for landscape construction.
Midwest BSFA: What were your favorite films growing up?
Willis: I was very into martial arts films so Bruce Lee’s Chinese Connection to Enter the Dragon, and all of Jet Li and Jackie Chan films were my favorites growing up. Those films actually influenced me to train in martial arts and compete in tournaments.
Midwest BSFA: How did I get into filmmaking?
Willis: I started off by making music. I decided to start doing all of my own production, from audio to visuals to editing. Then I started shooting music videos for other artists. My mother really influenced me to start doing that because she used to back in the day. She started, I believe, the first black female band in Cincinnati back in the ’80s. I used to watch her create music videos and short films with the family and her friends.
Once I started shooting music videos, I decided to do a few comedy skits. They were actually a big hit around town. It was funny that I got recognized in a nightclub by someone I didn’t know. He was like, “I know you. You’re the guy with the holes in his socks.” Not the best way to be recognized for your work but hey, I’ll take it. From there, I volunteered to help Atia Anyadiegwu film a web series called Rookies and it made it to Amazon Prime. I started getting really into telling stories with videos.
Midwest BSFA: Was there a turning point for you where you decided to make it a career?
Willis: Honestly, the turning point was when I was introduced to B3C. Atia introduced me to the B3C (founded by Alphonzo Wesson and Vernard Fields), which opened up the doors to collaborate and work on teams with people who like to film create. It opened up opportunities for me and let me know that I can make it doing this. It’s not gonna happen overnight but I am enjoying the climb. Being surrounded by people with the same passions and working with people motivated and still motivates me to keep trying to create. Plus, it’s a good creative outlet when you got a lot going on in your life.
Midwest BSFA: What made you gravitate to films and not other mediums to tell your stories?
Willis: I still use music; however, I feel like films are way more powerful. The cinematics, the audio and visuals can really put you there. For example, In Pursuit To Happyness, when Will Smith (one of my favorite actors) was in the subway with his son, the music was just right. The sound of the people pounding on the door. His acting was amazing. I felt the pain in that scene. That’s the power of film. I try to incorporate the film look and feel in all my projects.
Midwest BSFA: How did I come up with the premise for Big Mike?
Willis: Honestly, in the news all you see is hatred, racism, and prejudices between cultures, mainly black and white. I’m black and white. I wanted to show something other than hate for a second. At the same time, show there are stereotypes but there is humor in it.
Midwest BSFA: What are my favorite types of films and why?
Willis: That’s tough. I really like any movie with a good story. However, I do seem to gravitate towards movies like Troy and 300 mainly because I like the dialogue and the hand-to-hand combat. I guess action adventure would be my choice.
Midwest BSFA: What has filming taught you about life?
Willis: Filming has been teaching me to be patient with people. Still working on that. The main thing it has taught is to not be scared to express yourself or your creative ideas. I directed and acted in my own short films skits and music videos. I also had to coach actors to express their emotions or whatever the scene called for. It is very important not to worry about what others may think of you when you’re trying to show your creativity. After all, not everyone will like your work. However, the people that do helps you appreciate what you do.
Midwest BSFA: What a advice do you have for younger black or brown filmmakers?
Willis: My advice is to go create. Do not worry about messing up or failing. Failing just lets you know how to do something better. Go create and express your creativity. I believe people learn better by experiencing things first hand. Use what you learn from those experiences to get better. After all, knowledge without application is useless. Network with others to enhance what you’re trying to achieve. Most of all enjoy what you are doing.
For more information on the Black Cincinnati Cinema Collective, go to http://www.b3conline.org.