Novice filmmaker Roberta Jones has a new feature film, Animator, a cross between live-action and animation that tells the story of a man who can draw the future - deciding the fate of others and his own. Animator is part of the 24th annual Black Harvest Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center and will screen on August 21 (producer/writer Roberta Jones and director Logan Hall are scheduled to appear).
Jones spoke with FF2 Media about the film, which won the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Award, and the three-year process of putting it together.
Stephanie A. Taylor (SAT): Tell me about the inspiration for Animator.
Roberta Jones (RJ): Animator came about actually after a trial in my life. I was very sick, I had cancer and it was a very long process. When it became clear to me that I was going to be okay, I was wondering why God would allow me to be healed when they’re are other people that just don't make it through. I was praying about that and it became clear to me that I had work to do. He gave me a purpose. That was Animator. During that time the idea came to me to have an artist draw the future and erase the past. I knew it was from Him because I’ve never came up with anything like that before. Once I knew what I was supposed to do He also gave me the means and the ability to do it.
SAT: How did you go about organizing your team?
RJ: It’s kind of interesting how it started. I have an adult son who, at the time, was in the advertising industry. He was making a commercial. And one of the commercials he was making at the time was with a gentleman by the mane of Logan Hall. I said, “I have this great idea and I want to make it in to a movie but the first thing I need is to find somebody who’ll work with me.” I asked my son to recommend any of the directors, and to think of one person in general who is super talented. He came back to me about a week later. And Logan and I and my son had a meeting. He seen the script and really liked it and said he’d love to work with me. Once he got on board he brought a team. Then I found my producer, Dana Scott who was a recommendation. God put this together, because I didn’t know anyone to call on. My former job was in a television station. Before that I worked in radio. But I never worked in film before.
SAT: The film was quite emotional. Did it evoke any feelings for you?
RJ: I was just taking dictation. I was getting this inspiration, writing down whatever came out. You can't write out anything decent without doing a lot of work. I probably did 15 drafts. One of these things about writing is that you have so many details about life. But, you can’t put them down on paper. You have to whittle it down. That’s what makes a movie exciting to watch to the end.
SAT: I was pretty much glued to the screen.
RJ: Thank you so much! I really appreciate that. I have a spiritual approach to writing. What I want to do is touch people’s spirits in my work. If you said that you have an emotional response, then I touched you the way I was hoping to. If everybody has a similar response that would be beyond my wildest dreams.
SAT: Any advice for aspiring filmmakers, particularly women of color?
RJ: I think you have to know what your calling is. I’m an older woman. I came into this field at an age when some people think about retiring. I don’t think it’s a matter of the time in your life that you approach it, but you have to know what you’re supposed to do. You have to really be a storyteller at heart. You have to be an observer of people and situations. And you have to have something to tell the audience.
SAT: Do you have any future projects?
RJ: I just finished another script that I want to develop. This season has been busy with film festivals. After we settle down into the Fall I want to start the developing process for my new film. It’s the story of a young girl on a magical adventure. She’s grieving the death of her mother and God answers her prayer and it sparks a battle of good and evil. So it’s very different movie from Animator, but it’s a spiritual movie like Animator. And I think that’s what connects all of my work.
SAT: Do you plan on directing?
RJ: I’ve been thinking about that. I think a writer thinks like a director in the first place. You invision everything that winds up on screen. That is something that I could see myself doing. Not immediately, I want to feel really comfortable with the filmmaking process. I would not say that it’s off of the table. It’s definitely something that I plan to get to. I believe I have a lot to learn first. I’ve been a writer for 20 years so I feel very comfortable with that process. But I don’t have 20 years to learn how to direct, so I do want to know what I’m doing when I get there.
Jones will also be a part of the Black Harvest Film Festival panel Action! The Real Deal About Filmmaking on August 25. For more information, visit the Gene Siskel Center website: https://www.siskelfilmcenter.org/action-panel-2018
© Stephanie A. Taylor (8/21/18) FF2 Media
Photo credits: Animator