Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Jesse Randall of JR VISION FILMS Is Helping To Change Our World

I’m glad to see my work has reminded people of how empowering it can be when you’re on your own, and that people have let me know that my work has made them feel less alone in the world.

As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jesse Randall.

Jesse Randall is a writer, filmmaker, & producer that focuses on creating LGBTQIA+ content. His digital series, The Safety Plan, is now streaming on REVRY TV along with his short film collection. His upcoming film, Shadow Self, will be released in film festivals and streaming later this year.

Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?

I was born and raised in Statesville, North Carolina. It’s not an easy place to grow up when you’re a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, or at least when I was growing up. I hope it’s changed since then. I grew up far back in the woods away from our rural community, making me feel even further isolated from the world. Even from a young age, I knew I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t a country boy whatsoever. I dreamed of living in New York or LA and working in media. My time in North Carolina seemed to drag on forever, but it helped me develop my imagination & creativity in ways that I don’t think I would have had I grown up elsewhere. I know it’s corny to say, but films were really my salvation growing up. There was no other choice for me.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?

Every film shoot is interesting in its own way because every project is so different. But I will say there’s a consistent thread through my personal filmmaking experiences: the more difficult the shoot is, the better the footage turns out. I have no idea why this is. My most successful films were an absolute nightmare to shoot. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. The project that definitely changed my career for the better was my digital series, The Safety Plan. We shot three ten-minute episodes, and an additional shoot for the therapy scenes, over the course of a year because we didn’t have the budget to shoot it all at once. This worked out well for the project since the story takes place over a duration of time. The first two shoots were very hard and stressful, as most shoots are, but there was still an ease to them. By the time we got to the third episode, I was certain we would knock this one out of the park without question.

To my surprise, the shoot for the third episode fell apart very quickly. That shoot felt cursed from the moment everyone arrived on set. I think every single person working on it felt let down, and that the footage would end up being terrible. To our surprise, that episode turned out to be the one everyone loves the most, and it changed the trajectory of my career. Since The Safety Plan, I’ve shot three new projects. All of them were excruciatingly hard. Shooting low-budget projects is challenging enough, but I shot three back-to-back projects during COVID, further complicating matters. However, my upcoming film that is about to hit the film festival circuit, Shadow Self, was the absolute worst. I created and produced this project with the star of the third episode of The Safety Plan, Alyssa Brayboy. The first day of shooting was such a mess that neither of us were sure if this project was going to make it. Both of us were very worried. Since she plays two characters in the film, we had to shoot it block style: we shot as many scenes as we could as one character the first day, she shot the other half of the scenes as the other character the next day, etc. The shoot got more intense as each day passed. I know our cinematographer was shooting great material and Alyssa was great, but there were so many obstacles happening during filming we had no idea how this project would turn out.

Now that the film is finished, I think it’s hands down the best thing I’ve ever made. Why shooting had to be such a nightmare, I don’t know. But I guess the lesson here is to just keep going when everything seems impossible. When I first studied acting, writing, and directing at HB Studios in New York with Tony nominee Lorraine Serabian, she would always say “Go for the action, don’t go for the result” when people were forcing a scene that wasn’t working. I think that’s a motto to apply to everything in life. Focus on the intention and don’t worry about the end result. I think too often people romanticize the potential of a situation, and we fall apart when unexpected obstacles happen. I know I’ve been prone to this. What I’ve learned is to prepare as much as possible and do the best you can in the moment, and don’t think about anything else. That’s the best anyone can do in life.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

I’ve been really blessed to collaborate with really passionate people who take a lot of pride in their work, and come from a variety of interesting backgrounds. I have a unique connection with everyone I’ve ever worked with, even when our relationship was limited to the time we were working on the project. Everything I’ve ever made was extremely low-budget and mostly self-produced. When I was auditioning actors or hiring crew, I never got an overwhelming number of great options to choose from because people aren’t eager to work on low-budget projects, but there was always ONE person who was exactly the right person. That one person, whether talent or crew, had such a strong grasp of the project or had a strong connection to the material. Films are so hard to put together, and it’s a miracle when a film turns out to be remotely watchable. It always feels very serendipitous when the right person comes along to fill a role. It feels like a sign from the universe that’s reassuring to me that I’m on the right path. I’m very grateful to every single person I’ve ever worked with. My work wouldn’t have succeeded without them.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

I’m most inspired by people who carve their own lanes in spaces where they weren’t welcomed, like Missy Elliott, Dolly Parton, & Bjork. I think of those three as my holy trinity. All three of them are game-changers and their work means so much to so many people, including myself. I know I’m not as innovative or brilliant as those three icons, but I relate to them in terms of hearing a lot of “no’s” from industry gatekeepers. My holy trinity inspires me to continue creating work on my own terms and reminds me that my experience is enough, even if my experience is uncomfortable or challenging for people to digest. I remember seeing Missy Elliott on the cover of one of her early albums when I was a kid and it felt like being struck by lightning. Even before I heard her music, I knew she was a distinctive artist just from the album cover. I hope people feel that way when they see my work.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

In addition to focusing on LGBTQIA+ content, I want to help marginalized groups within our community develop content to tell their stories as well. The majority of queer content focuses solely on the ideals and interests of wealthy, white, gay men, because that’s historically who have operated LGBTQIA+ media. White supremacy infiltrates every aspect of our society, even within the queer community. There has been progress in the last couple of years thanks to great shows like Pose that prove there’s a huge audience for diverse representation. I’ve previously always been a believer of people staying in their lanes, and still am to a degree. I focused on my perspective in my work because I didn’t feel like I had the agency to tell a story about being trans, or being a person of color, etc (which, I still don’t). But I realized by doing that, I was inadvertently part of the problem by only telling stories about people similar to myself. Since my last project, I’ve decided to recalibrate my focus on helping marginalized groups within the LGBTQIA+ community tell their stories. I recently collaborated with one of the stars of The Safety Plan, Alyssa Brayboy, to create a project about how COVID-19 has impacted the mental health of queer-women-of-color. We created an original story together, wrote the script together, as well as both of us producing it.

I’ve always been wary of collaborating with a partner on a project we both created because I’ve had some bad experiences in the past where I ended up doing the majority of the work and my partner took credit for it, or the project turned into an absolute nightmare because my partner was completely irresponsible and untrustworthy. Once, a partner I collaborated with tried to manipulate me into paying a $10,000 tax debt they were responsible for because they secretly mishandled budget funds assigned to them! Needless to say, I’ve been pretty cautious about who I’ve collaborated with since then. I’m glad my bad past experiences didn’t deter me from future creative partnerships. Working with Alyssa has been my first truly successful collaboration. I’m so proud of the project we created together, Shadow Self, which will premiere in film festivals and on streaming later this year. We combined our personal life experiences to create something that feels authentic and honest. There’s a great need for more female POC queer stories, and I’m so excited that Alyssa and I get to contribute to that.

I am also wrapping up post-production on a new short film about the homeless epidemic. This has been one of my dream projects for a long time. I was approached by Los Angeles City College to develop a short film for their film department, funded by a work force grant allotted to the university. It was an honor to be one of five LACC alumni chosen for this historic project that was a collaboration with a multitude of different departments within the university. I’ve been really horrified by the homeless epidemic since I moved to Los Angeles. The homeless epidemic speaks volumes about the failures of this country and our leaders who have allowed this tragedy to happen. Despite the horrors of the homeless epidemic, I’m continuously inspired by the resilience and hope of unhoused residents. I wanted to create a project that educates people about the homeless crisis but also humanizes those experiencing homelessness as well. I hear so much appalling propaganda against the unhoused, and so much blame is put on them as if they chose this life. I hope my project illustrates the complexity of this crisis. I was also honored to work with my amazing lead actor, Asha Doucet. When writing this project, it was important to stay true to the fact that the Transgender POC community is drastically impacted by homelessness more than any other demographic. As I mentioned, I’m a big believer in folks staying in their lane. So, I was very nervous about making the lead character in the film as authentic as possible. Asha’s contributions to the project made the lead character so authentic, and I cannot thank him enough for that. In addition to being an extremely talented actor and charismatic on-screen presence, he was a great consultant as well. My ultimate goal for this project is to develop a television series about the homeless crisis. I’m excited to finish writing the pilot with Asha, who will contribute his life experiences to the story as well.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

Honestly, my life was so bleak growing up in North Carolina, I felt like I had absolutely nothing to lose by taking a risk to follow my passion. Even if I failed at becoming a filmmaker, I still ventured out into the world and got some major life experiences that I wouldn’t have had I stayed in my home state. I think I was more afraid of not experiencing life outside my hometown than I was of failing to achieve my dreams. Almost everyone I knew growing up never left where they were born. For most of them, their small world was all they knew, and they became very small-minded because of it. There’s a lot of bigotry in the community I grew up in. Most people I grew up with were simply products of their environments, for better or worse. Growing up gay in an environment like that wasn’t easy, and people weren’t shy about letting me know I wasn’t welcome there. But most of them feared the unknown because they didn’t have to deal with adversity. Whereas they feared the unknown, I was afraid of the familiar. Becoming like them was my greatest fear. I haven’t lived there in over twelve years. So, I don’t know what it’s like to live there now, but I hope it’s changed. I also know amazing, progressive, intelligent people who I grew up with in North Carolina as well that still live there. So, I hope the quality of life in my hometown has improved. No matter what becomes of my career going forward, I can say I lived a life I’m proud of. My life certainly isn’t perfect, but I set out to do everything I originally intended. I’m forever grateful for the adversity I experienced that pushed me out into the world. It’s been an adventure beyond my wildest imagination. But I hope life is easier for the younger generation.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

It’s been exciting to see people responding to my work now that it’s reached a wider audience on Revry TV. The most audience interaction I ever experienced before was when my projects screened at film festivals. My digital series, The Safety Plan, debuted near the beginning of the pandemic in June 2020. I didn’t get to experience it with an audience because all the film festivals were virtual at that time. Watching your film online with a ZOOM audience is not the same. With my short films, I only got to experience them with a handful of audiences when they were at film festivals. Film festival audiences are usually comprised mostly of filmmakers and industry people. Sometimes it can be a positive environment where everyone is happy to support each other’s work, but other times it can feel a bit competitive. It’s unpredictable. Either way, it’s not the same as an audience who isn’t there to advance their film careers and network. Since my work has been on Revry TV, people have reached out to me through social media to let me know how it impacted them in positive ways. The Safety Plan was the most polarizing project I’ve ever done. People either loved it or went out of their way to let me know how much they hated it and found it offensive. There’s also a lot of identity politics around LGBTQIA+ content. Some from the LGBTQIA+ community feel an obligation to make sure heteronormative audiences don’t have any more reasons to ridicule us. Others feel like the LGBTQIA+ community shouldn’t have to tone down our stories to prove anything to anyone. I’m sure you can tell where I stand once you see my work. Before it was on Revry TV, I think The Safety Plan was a little misunderstood by the audiences who saw it at festivals, and that was the only feedback I got about the project at the time. Now that it’s streaming, I think more people understand the message I wanted to convey about learning to be okay on your own, even if you identify as a member of a marginalized demographic where the community is integral to advancing social progress. The greatest relationship you’ll ever have is with yourself. I’ve lived a very nomadic life because of my dedication to filmmaking, and I know many others who have lived a nomadic life as well for various reasons. Learning to be okay on your own is imperative to being your best self and loving your life. It’s easy to be influenced by the fear of being alone, which is usually the primary reason behind why people invest in unhealthy situations and circumstances. We are at our most desperate when we’re afraid of being alone. I know this from first-hand experience. I’m glad to see my work has reminded people of how empowering it can be when you’re on your own, and that people have let me know that my work has made them feel less alone in the world.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

1. Vote in LOCAL ELECTIONS and get involved in local activism. Voting at a federal level isn’t nearly enough to overcome the challenges our society faces. Local elections are imperative to reshaping society to live in a world where everyone truly has a fair shot. It’s shocking how many people don’t vote in local elections, and I’ve been guilty of this as well. Sometimes we get so caught up trying to survive on a day-to-day basis that we don’t have time to think about anything else. This is how the systems that are harming our society continue to stay in place. People truly do have the power, but so often we forget that. We have the power to change things through getting involved in local elections, and voting for truly progressive leaders. Also, get involved in local homelessness outreach groups around the city, and Black Lives Matter groups. There are so many great organizations around Los Angeles, but I’m sure there are other great groups around the country.

2. Support marginalized artists. In order to level the playing field of equality for marginalized groups, it’s going to take a conscious effort from the gatekeepers AND audiences. The gatekeepers of the Entertainment Industry rely on what audiences respond to. If audiences come out in large numbers to support the work of marginalized groups, there will be more original content produced by marginalized artists. The success of Black Panther and Squid Game is proof of this.

3. Watch Revry TV, the world’s first streaming LGBTQIA+ platform to support queer artists! They’ve had an incredibly successful launch, but they still need support from audiences to grow as a platform. This isn’t just about entertainment. Being the first global LGBTQIA+ streaming platform is a movement that is diversifying and leveling the playing field of equality. Revry TV has a wide variety of content, and I can guarantee you’ll find something you like.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. When people show you their true colors, believe them. Don’t fall for the potential of what a person or situation could be, and accept the truth at face value. I’m embarrassed to say that it’s taken me a long time to learn this lesson. Too often I fell for the potential of a person or a situation because I was feeling vulnerable. I had a bad habit of seeing red flags and painting them green because I was scared of being alone. After getting burned way too many times, I feel like I’ve finally absorbed this lesson. There’s a difference between choosing to see the best in people, and being delusional because you’re too afraid to face the truth. It’s better to just cut your losses and move on. Though it feels like a loss at the time, you’ll be grateful you moved on as time passes. Once they’re out of your life or the situation is over, you make room for the right people and the right opportunities to come into your life. Be careful who you invest your time in. Life is short.

2. Don’t tell everyone your plans — You will encounter a vast sea of unqualified critics and people ready to tear down your goals simply because you have the courage to pursue them. Only share your plans with people that you trust & value their opinion, and still approach with caution. You don’t have to “prove” you’re an artist to anyone. Pull a Beyonce and Lemonade them: honor your vision and release it on your own terms. In the end, the race is long, but it is only with yourself.

3. You don’t have to react to everything that happens to you. Another lesson that took me way too long to learn, and I embarrassed myself quite a bit along the way. Do people act like absolute garbage at times? Absolutely! But that doesn’t mean you have to respond to them. In my early years, when people treated me poorly or betrayed me, I felt like I had to respond to prove that I wasn’t going to let them get the best of me. But I didn’t realize that by reacting to their bad behavior, I had already let them get the best of me. Your energy and time are valuable. If you waste it reacting to people’s bad behavior, you won’t have any energy or time left for what’s really important. Besides, the best revenge is living your best life and being your best self. You’re not at your best self when you’re reacting to other people’s nonsense. Rise above it and move on. You won’t regret it.

4. Learn to love discipline — Inspiration isn’t enough to succeed. You have to discipline yourself to achieve your goals. I think writing is rewarding, but I don’t think it's fun. It definitely feels like work and it’s very emotionally draining. Every time I write something I feel like it’s crap, and sometimes it is, but it always leads me to getting closer to the truth of what I’m trying to say. Don’t worry about making something “good”, worry about making it honest. If you discipline yourself to make your work honest, it will always be worth it, no matter what the end result of the project is. If you’re waiting around for inspiration to hit you, you’ll be waiting forever. Stay curious about the world and stay disciplined, and you’ll never have to worry about inspiration.

5. Learn to want things for the right reasons. There was a time in my career where I only wanted to succeed as a filmmaker to prove my haters wrong, become famous, or some other egotistical reason. I never got what I wanted. Then I drove myself insane trying to force something to happen that wasn’t ready at the time, and for good reason. I went through a couple of years where it seemed like everything I did hit a dead end no matter how hard I tried or prepared I was. I finally got so exhausted swimming against the tide, I had to sit back and be honest with myself about why I was even pursing my goals despite the setbacks. Things didn’t turn around for me until I accepted the truth that I had lost sight of why I loved filmmaking to begin with, because I was too caught up in pain from various disappointments. Before I got my distribution deal with The Safety Plan following a film festival run, I was at a major crossroads where I was deciding if I should even pursue this anymore. I worked on that project for so many years, and the process of getting into a film festival is so long. There’s no guarantee the film will even go anywhere. The film festival circuit was completely disrupted by COVID, and I felt like the opportunity I was hoping for escaped me. Once I accepted that I would find a career in film, no matter if I became a big shot director or not, I finally got a distribution offer from Revry TV. It was a major spiritual breakthrough for me. I still struggle with the unknown, especially as I’m wrapping up two new films and preparing them for the festival circuit. But I know how to want things for the right reasons now, and it has definitely paid off.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

This message is for everyone: everything you put out into the world comes right back to you. If you want to succeed, help others succeed. If you want to be appreciated, appreciate other people. If you want to live in a better world, do your part to make it better. We live in a society ruled by capitalism and individualism where we’re taught to only look after ourselves because it’s a “dog eat dog” world. That’s what our oppressive institutions want us to believe, for their own gain. There is more than enough room for everyone to succeed. Does that mean we’re all going to become Steven Spielberg? Of course not. But you’ll find your place doing what you’re best at if you focus on pursing your goals for the right reasons instead of being ruled by your ego and insecurities.

We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)

I’m open to working with whoever the universe sends my way. As I mentioned, I’ve been very blessed that the universe sent me the right people to work with. I’m along for the journey. However, if Missy Elliott, Dolly Parton, and Bjork are open to a Charlie’s Angels style, blockbuster franchise, have their people call my people.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Having vision is no solution. It all depends on the execution,” by the great Stephen Sondheim. You can have the greatest idea in the world, but if you don’t know how to execute it effectively, it won’t matter. I’ve learned the truth of this quote the hard way. Too often in my early career, I was more consumed by the potential of what a project could be, and the end result, to make sure it was being executed properly. After many disappointments and breakdowns, I’ve learned to make sure I focus on the execution of a project. Do it correctly the first time, or don’t do it at all. If not, you’ll pay for it later.

How can our readers follow you online?

Check out updates about my work at JRVISIONFILMS.COM and on Instagram and Twitter at @JRVISIONFILMS

This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!

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Edward Sylvan CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group
Authority Magazine

Edward Sylvan is the Founder and CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc. He is committed to telling stories that speak to equity, diversity, and inclusion.