I’ve made over a dozen short films and worked on several more. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but I’m sure it probably is. I’ve done this amidst working full-time as a teacher, running a boutique production company and doing freelance work. This explains better the feeling of exhaustion than the equally palatable feeling of not getting enough done. Back to shorts, as much as I want to make features, and the feature scripts I have completed or am working on; I just can’t get away from the short form. Let’s be practical here, part of that is because I can afford to make a short film here and there whereas a feature budget has been elusive. But, more importantly I like the snack of a story that the short form gives us. It can be, if done right, a knockout punch as opposed to the steady beating that a good feature can be. The short can be just enough to ignite a conversation, to promote targeted change that can often be lost by the time the credits roll on a feature or worse yet after a weekend binge of our latest favorite show. And from the production side, at the end of the day (or two or three) we have the film in the can. “Before You Woke” is no different.
I have been wanting to make an action film for some time and some of the scripts I’ve been tinkering away at are of the same genre. I set out to write a piece I could shoot in a day and only have to spend a few grand on while still setting up a situation to tell a story. So with those parameters in mind, I sat down to write. I banged out some clunky dialogue and some action beats. The beats worked more than the dialogue did, but that was largely because the story hadn’t yet told itself to me. This isn’t always how it works but in this case it did. I sat with the story and reread the dialogue. I had no story, just an interesting (if only to me) action sequence. But the story told itself to me.
I come from a mixed family. I myself am not mixed (at least as far as I have been able to tell), but my family is. From a very young age I learned how race itself is only skin deep, but culture is learned or birthed or embedded in our core. I learned that our acceptance of things is not the universal acceptance of things and that though some don’t respond to the colors they see others most definitely do. This, to the surprise of far too many plays out most often in race and gender. And this has been the heritage our nation has tried to repeatedly force upon its people– both the ideology and the consequences.
Back to the story itself, I had the action arc and something of a narrative. I knew the story was of an African-American woman and a White man. He had captured her and had held her hostage and was going to beat her. Their paths crossed more by happenstance than purpose. He was sent to retrieve something she had. He got it but was looking for payback for the amount of work he had to do to get it. She needed to, as a matter of survival, escape. Whereas he is out for revenge, she is out for survival. The opportunity to survive is what is driving her.
For so many of us, we wait. There are times when there is wisdom in the “wait and see” approach, but often it just an elaborate and arrogant justification to sit around and do nothing, or even worse to wait until we can blame others for our circumstances.
Moments we decide to act, to wrestle our destiny away from the control of others back to where it belongs–with us–those moments change the potential power of our lives into a kinetic energy that effects change.
Often our inaction is our demise. This is a story about that. This is a story about a moment in one woman’s journey to become. It is one moment in our journey of becoming.
“I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. “ MLK