Jalen Blot Debuts "The Light" and Discusses His Inspiration Behind It And Filmmaking
Jalen Blot is a budding filmmaker who got his start by writing stories to help him get through his daily struggles and understand the experiences of others around him. When his stories became more intricate, he decided to start producing his own content. With the exception of the actual filming, Jalen writes, casts, directs, edits, and produces his own content. To date, Jalen has two public shorts (“Love in the Pool” and “The Light”). His focus for this summer is to produce three more shorts, a music video, and continue working on a documentary. While his post-summer plans are ambiguous, he hopes to continue creating content and collaborate with other artists to bring their visions to life.
KM: Can you tell me at what point you decided to put your dreams into reality and what inspired you?
JB: So there were two pivotal moments that I decided was the time to put my dreams into reality. One of those moments was work dissatisfaction. That pushed me to write about my experience to feel better in a written format because I was always writing to get through the things I was going through personally. I realized this is kind of cool. Like, I have a knack for this, you know? For me I was like, I want people to see this, but no one is going to read my work, I should probably produce some of it. So that pushed me to write, direct, and then shoot some of the things that I’m writing and that kind of segued into the second point that pushed me into chasing this. As a joke, I said, “oh if Moonlight wins the Oscar I’m going to move to LA and try to do filmmaking.” So fast-forward as we all saw, like, La La Land won so I’m like oh whatever, I don’t have to be held accountable because Moonlight didn’t win, but God was like “you sleeping on me, huh?”
KM: What was your reaction when Moonlight won?
JB: When Moonlight won I was like, “what?” and I was really confused because that’s how jaded I was toward the selecting process. I just knew they were gonna choose La La land so I was like, “okay, this is not a surprise to me.” Part of me felt, not salty, but I felt some type of way because I said if Moonlight wins I’ll pursue this and at that moment I was like “oh, it’s not in the cards for me to be doing this.” Then all the commotion was happening and the guy was holding up the card and it said Moonlight. Actually, I made that moment of the guy holding up the card as my profile picture on Twitter. So the very next day I wrote the two shorts that are now produced, Love in the Pool and then The Light. And that was off of the adrenaline that was like, “yo, you needed to start yesterday.” I had to pursue that. So now I’m in this mindset where it’s like “okay, you can’t make it, whatever that means, if you’re not putting in that work or consistency.” I was in LA a couple weeks ago and when I got there I thought, “if you do one good thing you’re gonna be good, you’re gonna be set” and that’s not true. Someone was like “don’t pray for fame, pray for consistency.” For example, Chadwick Boseman has an amazing discography, but he can’t release one project and be like “I’m good.” You can’t sit back, you have to figure out what your next gig is gonna be. So would I rather be known for my name or known for having consistency and have my pockets be fed? I’d rather be consistent and have work to do rather than just having a famous name. At the end of the day, it’s just important to work hard and put in that work. Those two perspectives are examples of me at work and then the Moonlight scenario where there are the things that push you like, you have to start doing it now. So that’s my mindset right now.
KM: Did you ever think you’d be doing this as a child?
JB: No. As a kid, I had three life goals. They’ve changed since then, but as a kid I wanted to do three things: obviously be a basketball player, but we’re gonna cut that out. So the three things were: I wanted to be an actor. that’s not too crazy, but I wanted to be an actor because of Denzel Washington and because my aunt and my mom said “you could be Denzel” gassing me up so I thought later on in life I’d be an actor. That’s changed now, I have zero interest in being an actor, but if anybody wanted me to be in a feature film, I’d do it, but I have no interest in being in front of the camera. The second thing is, I wanted to be a flight attendant. I don’t know why, but that’s changed now because during travel my ears pop in and out, so I was like why would I want to put myself through this torture? And the third life goal: Don’t laugh, I wanted to be a Red Lobster waiter; Because I have so many birthday memories at Red Lobster and the cheddar biscuits are incredible but I was like no, you need to work here. In my mind I was gonna work there when I retire and be a good waiter and entertain people, that’s what I wanted to do. Later on in life after I graduated college, I didn’t have a job for a variety of reasons so I thought this was my moment. There was a Red Lobster maybe two or so miles away from me so I was gonna apply. I applied, I interviewed, and they didn’t give me the job. They said I was overqualified and I was so upset and I was so heartbroken. So it’s interesting, I had three goals as a kid and all of them had either changed or been crushed. But that’s not to say that in the future, if I have the time and the energy, that I’ll apply again to be a Red Lobster waiter and it’d be humbling.
KM: So after you’ve become THE Jalen Blot, you’ll go back to work at Red Lobster?
JB: Yeah! I hope and pray that if fame and notoriety comes, I want to remember where I came from. A title shouldn’t change who you are. All a title should do is announce who you’ve been. Which means, I already know who I am. It’s going to take some work for others to know without me introducing them. So like I have to announce I’m a filmmaker a lot before people realize I am one. It’s a mental game that starts with you first. So I have to be like “alright I am this” but it’s hard to straddle the line of arrogance and confidence.
KM: How do you think you’ll handle the filmmaking market?
JB: It’s gonna be tough. It’s gonna be tough because being humble these days, I don’t know what that looks like for other people but I just focus on creating the art and letting it speak for itself. I think the way I’m gonna handle it is, I’m gonna have to read books and need the training to know how to market myself to learn how to be a more likable person in addition to being black. But it goes back to who you already are, who you are whether or not you have the title for the most part because you have to be confident. Like Kanye West, people laughed when he talked about fashion in school but people now buy his sneakers for $400. People ascribe to that kind of thing. Like, you need the confidence to make it.
KM: What’s the most important thing when it comes to producing, filming or writing?
JB: The most important thing with producing for me personally is writing it. Like, I could have an idea, but what is it gonna look like? What are people gonna be saying? So like if there’s no script, there’s no production period.
KM: Is there a particular message you’re trying to convey through each one?
JB: In terms of the message I want to convey to people, it varies. Love In The Pool is kinda like, for me personally, the message of the importance of being confident. Like if you don’t shoot, you can’t make a shot so it’s the importance of getting over any type of social fear like speaking to strangers or being confident in what you see. In it we see a woman taking the lead and shooting her shot versus the man and it pans out for the woman and that works out, so it’s like be bold in who you are whoever that is.
KM: What’s shooting your shot? Because in my mind liking a few tweets consistently is shooting your shot.
JB: I saw this on Twitter, a women said “If I’m favoriting your tweet consistently, I’m in your vicinity to shoot your shot.” For women, you being around is shooting your shot. NO! In my mind shooting your shot is being consistent and saying I’d like to get to know you more and grab food, drinks, whatever the case may be and not favoriting tweets online. In short, be direct, be open, and say what it is you want. People respond to boldness. So Love in the Pool is about shooting your shot, but The Light spanned a lot of themes. One is perspective. We’re seeing The Light and it starts off with the perspective of babies who we don’t even know. You don’t always see what people are going through and know what it is they’re thinking and whether or not you know something, anything and everything you do affect something in someone so that was the first thing I wanted to convey. Two, I wanted to convey the theme of like a dilemma so like I wanted to keep her at a time where she thought was it her child or not? Third, kind of how to deal with experiences you don’t agree with so Quincy was very upset when Monica decided to do what she did. But it was her choice and so a line I wrote when they were getting ice cream was when she said “what about me? It’s my body.” It’s very subtle but I wanted that to ring true. Whatever you decided to do, whether you agree or not, was her choice. I touch on a few things that I could’ve expanded on. Like, you’ll see her writing a suicide note, but she stops because the baby kicks and she realizes that, that was her reason to live. A very personal and transparent look at what it’s like to be in the womb and what it’s like to go through certain experiences in your pregnancy.
KM: What inspired you to do this story?
JB: Good question. There are stories that I hear via friend groups or social media that interest me. The topic that interested me was abortion. It was talked about a lot during the election, especially when discussing Planned Parenthood. There are people who I know personally who experienced that. I thought it was dope to talk about, but I didn’t know how exactly because it’s always talked about. So, I thought to talk about it from the perspective of the babies. I called it The Light because in Spanish, to give birth means “dar a luz” and that means to give light. That’s a comprehensive view on why I created this and the meaning behind The Light put the bow on it.
KM: The Light has a lot of controversial topics like depression, pro-choice or pro-life. Do you feel you have to limit your judgments when it comes to your screen write?
JB: I’m a big proponent on not telling experiences that I haven’t lived. If I hadn’t experienced it, then I need to make sure I’m consulting those who have experienced that or have people in the room with me writing that experience. I don’t want to miss that mark. So, for me that was researching, talking to people and using that to influence the writing. Because, if I haven’t experienced it and I’m trying to tell a story, it has to be from that person.
If I haven’t experienced it, I can’t properly direct and write, so it’s very personal to me.
KM: Do you have a team?
JB: Yeah, Jalen, Jalen and Jalen Blot. That’s been interesting too. For me, I’m learning and I’m growing. And I feel like it’s hard for me to lead if I don’t know how it’s operated. So, the only thing I don’t do is hold the camera. Izzy Gaymon shot Love in the Pool and The Light, and I’m forever grateful for him. That in my mind is the team, but the team changes with each cast for the short. So, it’s usually me, Izzy and whoever the cast is. Everything else I handle. Like, producing. So securing location and actors. I edit and direct. Hopefully, in the future, I have a team because it’s very stressful to do everything on your own.
KM: What’s your process in picking your cast members?
JB: I pretty much use my social media network. I put an ask out on Twitter that I’m looking to cast a certain type of person. Then people would reach out to me and I’m like cool. I’ll send them a script and I’ll ask them to read it and tell me what they liked about it, didn’t like and what they would change. I don’t care about any of those things. I only ask that so I can make sure that the actors have read the script. Because if you read the script and tell me your feedback, I know that you’re thinking about it and putting yourself in thecharacter’s shoes. From there, I have them send me their reels and move on from there.
KM: How do you approach a table read?
JB: My table reads happen the day of because typically the schedule is crazy. So I do a quick read through and read, but with the actors actually acting. So I shoot out of order due to importance. I also don’t want to waste people’s time so it depends on schedules.
KM: What challenges have you faced while producing?
JB: For The Light, securing a hospital to shoot it in was a struggle because there were a lot of “yes’” and “no’s.” Filming that weekend was hard because it was the NFL Draft, Penn Relays and the Global Warming march. We were delayed 40 minutes between a few sets, but we persevered. In the car, while we were waiting, we thought of ways to change the story in case we couldn’t get the shot. While waiting, we got to know the team too but we did get all the scenes. Looking back I should’ve scheduled the whole day.
KM: Dream cast?
JB: Depends on the story. If it’s a romantic comedy inspired by La La Land with an aspiring singer and an aspiring model. They’re in LA. My lead male would be Michael B. Jordan. He’s an aspiring singer, but his father wants him to be a doctor. He’s Nigerian (laughs). I’d love for Denzel to be his father telling him to be a doctor, but I don’t think he can pull off a Nigerian accent. So I would cast the father to Idris Elba. So, there’s a conflict between father and son. Michael meets an aspiring female model but she has her own struggles. The person I would cast to be her,well, there would be a lot of people. I’ll cast Rihanna, Gabrielle Union, Tessa Thompson. I mean Lupita Nyong’o, but I’m trying to come up with someone who’s not too well known. But, I’d have pretty much the whole cast from Black Panther. It’ll be a dream to work with people in their prime. I’d cast Rosario Dawson and it’s good that I’m struggling because there’s an abundance of awesome, dope actors of color.
If I ever win an Oscar, hopefully in 2018, I’m gonna shout out my Love in the Pool crew and The Light crew. I wouldn’t have been there without them. If they didn’t believe in me, I wouldn’t have the tools or the resources that I need.
KM: In your bio, you’ve mentioned that you wanted to do music videos. Which artist would you love to work with?
JB: That’s a hard question. I feel like music videos are dying. But, J.Cole would be dope to do a music video for. Recently, people have been on their Afrobeats vibe. Omarion, Privacy, French Montana and Wale have been coming out with their afrobeats and Soca influenced music. I would work with up and coming artists like Maleek Berry and Mr. Eazi. Skin Tight transforms me every time I listen to it. Artist that are more so intertwining American beats with Afrobeats and Soca. The purpose of that is to show the birth of what I do. If I grow, I can lean on different experiences that help me in different moments. If I learn something in producing music videos, I can apply that to my films.
KM: Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
JB: Definitely in LA. I’m definitely only writing and directing, which is what I’m doing now. I have a TV show that I’m show running. I’d want to test the waters in writing a feature length. Its taboo in the industry because they usually stay in their lane. For me, I don’t want to do that. I want to be like “I did it.”
KM: What do you do to stay motivated?
JB: I watch my friends. Before, I had an issue with comparing myself to people. I would mess with my psyche and think “Why haven’t I done that?” “Why are you behind?” So, I changed my thinking and cheered for my friends and used them as motivation by saying “they did it, so can you!”The motivation also comes from people’s reaction to my products. I haven’t made anything that touched someone, but the motivation comes from making a film that someone can connect with deeply.
KM: Have you ever had a creative block? How do you get out of it?
JB: Yeah, I’m in one right now. I’m inspired to write, then I get discouraged. So, I take a step back and recognize all that I’ve done so far and patt myself on the back for it. Then go back to what I know. So that’s where I’m at now. Me being [in Philadelphia] serves as a reset button. I’m gonna go back to D.C. refreshed and I’ll be able to write my next short. I want to produce 7 videos by the end of the summer and that requires me to write them. It’s hard to be motivated because even if you do a good job, you have to do the best job. The next short is about forgiveness and love. I think I’m gonna hit the mark, but this has potential to hit a lot of people. I introduce a few themes. I interviewed a few people for this. There’s a big twist towards the end. I want my audience to think, feel, and commend the characters for what they did and apply it to their lives.
KM: What were your thoughts on the Black Panther Trailer? From a filmmaker perspective, what were your critiques? If any.
JB: My mind wasn’t completely there because of the game, but from what I saw, it was DOPE! There wasn’t a speck of white in there! I don’t really know what the plot is about, but I love the shots though. Even though I haven’t seen it, the acting looks good. The costume was great. They paid tribute to the African culture.
I don’t think it’ll win best picture because Marvel movies usually don’t win that accolade. To this date there hasn’t been a movie nominated for an Oscar.
KM: What’s one necessary thing people should know about you?
JB: I’m a jelly bean. I appear to be hard on the exterior, but I’m actually a softie on the inside. I’m pretty sensitive.
Watch "The Light" here: