Face to Face: JJC welcomes filmmakers for media event

On Nov. 15, JJC’s own Wolf Pack Video Productions Club collaborated with local film company Road 2 Eternity and the digital media production program to host “Face to Face with the Media Industry,” an event with appearances by several filmmakers and actors.

Guest speakers included the Road 2 Eternity president Michael White, actors Kai A. Ealy, Harold Dennis and Lawrence E. Johnson Jr., filmmaker and founder of El-Amin Studios Shad El-Amin, director and producer Gerald Hall, JKBU Productions’ own Cortez Mack, broadcasting engineer T.C. Hill,  and cable talk show host Audrey Kenner. Also making a brief appearance was Chicago filmmaker Will Adams, who has written and directed several short films, including “A 3rd First,” which was shown during the event and featured Johnson Jr. as the male lead.

Kicking off the presentation was a short video about Road 2 Eternity, covering the many films it has produced and its purpose, ending with an influential, appropriate message: “Never despise small beginnings because greatness stems from its roots.”

In an interview with producer Sheila White, who also works at Road 2 Eternity, several weeks before, she promoted the event, calling it a “firsthand opportunity to talk with professional individuals.”

“[They’ll] explore instead of focus… [and] be able to have fortitude and be dogmatic,” she states about the opportunities the event offers.

First to speak was Wolf Pack adviser Sandra “Shelly” LaFevers, who expressed her excitement about the turnout of the event, which at first glance held at least 20 to 30 people.

“It’s a very lucrative career,” Shelly says in a personal interview about filmmaking. “Kids don’t have to move away… There are job opportunities in this area, and it’s [the Chicagoland area] one of the main film industry hubs in this area.”

The speakers at “Face to Face with the Media Industry” would go on to say the same thing in their own public speeches, including Ealy.

“Chicago is booming. There are over six TV shows filming [here],” he proclaims. “Chicago is it right now because L.A. is saturated… Everybody is an actor, editor, writer… your Uber driver is a filmmaker!”

Ealy, who has acted in various films and shows such as “Chicago Fire” and “Fallen” and traveled from Atlanta to Chicago at the beginning of his career, emphasized that the “starving artist” myth is real yet now has contributed much to the media industry.

“It isn’t impossible to do this work in Chicago,” says Dennis. Having spent time in Chicago’s ETA Creative Arts Foundation, an acting troupe, and performed about 171 shows on stage, he has had about 20 years of experience in the business and facilitated acting workshops.

Both actors presented their own film reel during the session, which included shows and movies they were featured in and served as beneficial examples to film students.

Also speaking was El-Amin, who created his own film studio and the film “Girl Assassin.” The process was not an easy one, though. Struggling for years in school and being placed in special-ed classes, he was able to find his voice in film.

It is because of this that he advises to the students, “Express yourself the best way you know how.”

Hall would encourage them similarly. “Once you discover you have a gift, you have to continue to develop it. You have to put the work in.” He also notes, “The best part of this is the people you are going to meet.”

He founded his media company B.A. Blessing Productions in 1993 and has written and produced 34 stage productions.

Following was Mack, who is also a director, producer, and writer. His first film, “What About the Children?” focused on neglected children and was repeatedly rejected by film festivals. It was not until he received a letter of recognition from the President of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences that the film opened doors for him.

He has gone on to make two more short films: “Bobby” which depicts mental illness in the black community and “Dinner Table” which touches on the negative effect of technology on families.

“I do films that deal with reality–or I try my best [to do so],” Mack says.

Next to speak was Hill, who explained the technical side of filmmaking. He has worked for several major television channels, including CBS and Fox, and now works at PBS. His job also involves training photographers and editors, the latter of which he stresses need to know every single editing program, including Final Cut, Adobe Premiere, and Avid.

To motivate his listeners, he summarized his experience in the industry with the remark, “You have to be good at whatever you do.”  

Last to speak were two people very familiar with television: Johnson Jr., who spoke very briefly about his acting career, appearing on popular shows such as “Chicago Med” and “Empire” and Kenner, host of “Today with Audrey Kay.”

Kenner spoke very avidly about passion, saying that following and achieving her dreams–in only five years, no less–was happenstance.

“I like talking to people [and] finding out what their dreams are,” she explains. Her advice to students? Much like the other speakers, she stresses, “Follow your passion because it is going to lead you someplace.”

Finally, the filmmakers gathered onstage for a Q&A where the audience could ask questions about the industry. Several asked about developing and accepting scripts, communication between filmmakers and actors, challenges, intimidation, and being a rookie in the industry, and the writing process.

As Michael White stated in his own speech, the film industry is never a monotonous one. “You’re always going to learn something new, but that’s the fun part.”

And of course, perhaps the most important takeaway from this demonstration was how essential determination is in taking one’s film career to new heights. “We’re all human,” Kai Ealy notes, “but some humans have the keys to your dreams. Find your key.”