Director’s Statement

It all started when…

As police shootings and the 2016 primary campaigns were filling my consciousness and news feed, several racially-motivated violent campus assaults left me scared and angry. Until then, the dangerous realities of being a person of color were not a part of my experience. This context was the inspiration for Jimmy Keene.

That was just over 3 years ago. I am a 21 year old, Culver City, California native. I took the rest of my tuition savings, left school, wrote a story and made a pilot episode capturing personal themes of confusion regarding African American racial identity within the context of my mixed race family. It’s Not About Jimmy Keene is my first professional production and I look forward to developing the pilot episode of It’s Not About Jimmy Keene into a full series.

I started “writing” stories (dictating to my teachers)  before I  knew how to write. I started making films with friends before I could read. Throughout my formative years, I had the good fortune to attend schools where I was given the space, permission and freedom to execute my creative projects with friends and adults alike. 

I used my family structure, black mom, white dad, 2 half-sisters, and put them in historical West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles. Writing It’s Not About Jimmy Keene was an attempt to observe my character’s conflict between his responsibility to himself and his communities — family included.

Over the last three years, as more people offered their support and expertise, our own creative community was formed:

At a screening of Blueline Express, a short film I made at New Roads High School, I met two people who would become my friends and mentors, the husband and wife producing team of Jim Frohna and Diana Kunce.  Jim, the accomplished cinematographer of Transparent and Big Little Lies among others, expressed his appreciation for the film, and offered his friendship and a camera department internship. When I started writing Jimmy Keene, they were there every step of the way.

Joel Cohen, a screenwriter and another mentor, also coached me through the writing of Jimmy Keene. He  encouraged  me to relish the journey, take risks, and to  trust myself.

Fellow New Roads alums Noble Gray and Sofia Frohna as well as PMP mates Xochi Ong, and Charlie Smith  jumped aboard, exploring the feel and look of our story as, respectively, DP, Composer, Art Director, and Assistant Editor/DIT. 

The casting of the older sisters came next. Gabby Maiden, the effervescent actress, skater and snowboarder and Okwui Okpokwasili, artist/choreographer/writer and newly awarded MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, joined our cast. I asked my English teacher and dear friend Ayana Peters to play the mother, Odessa, because I knew she would bring her unique warmth and sensitivity to the role. 

I met Roger Guenveur Smith, the Peabody Award winner and longtime Spike Lee colleague and collaborator, in a performance of Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit, Red Rabbit; I composed a letter asking Mr. Smith to play the street preacher/poet in our pilot. We sent him the script, and graciously, generously, Roger agreed to play Bukka La Rocke.

And then David Warshofsky, the 40-year veteran actor of films such as The Future, There Will be Blood, Lincoln, and more agreed to join us. He has been a valuable mentor on set and off, guiding me through the production process, as an actor and an educator with an astute sense of how performers work and function.

So much gratitude for so many people:

– Our experienced 1st and 2nd AD Justin Hogan and Lexi Kirsch, showed tremendous patience and skill during the shoestring five day shoot. They are wonderfully playful and charismatic, and their support on set and off made this process wonderous and fun. Lexi is now a great friend. Since the completion of the project, Lexi Kirsch has invited me as a special guest (DJ Coil) on her Instagram page @djsynthia where she pokes fun at DJ culture.

– Or writer and producer Loren Segan who spent weeks with me in the edit bay helping shape the story. 

– Friends like Jeff, Sonja and Charlie Smith who lent their home to be the Roistacher’s house, a place of artists and designers — a location that was perfect in providing a sense of home. 

– Or Script Supervisor Lucia, who stood up on our onset morning “Box” ritual, fighting tears (oh, did I mention that our first day of shooting was the day of the Charlottesville white nationalist rally?) honoring our work with renewed gratitude and earnestness as the violence of our times challenges us to engage.

Thank you to all my friends and colleagues who were there at every moment whether you worked as a PA or came for blocking, or brought us food or offered one of the thousand things that created this community. I am indebted.

Caleb Jaffe