NEXT JENERATION NOW:
BY: Tai Perkins
Edited By: Tai Perkins
PHOTOS BY: Rasheed Ingram
"“Find the thing that you really love, don’t take the old time algorithms of what you’re supposed to do. Just go for it young. Go for it quick. “
It’s not every day that you get to meet and speak with an award-winning filmmaker. As smooth and calm as a spring afternoon, Storm Saulter enters the Next Jeneration set. Hailing all the way from Negril, Jamaica, Storm is a multi-disciplinary artist, visual artist, writer, director, and so much more. Saulter’s critically-acclaimed debut film Better Mus Come’ set the tone for not only his career, but the independent film-making through the Caribbean. As the momentum keeps going, Saulter was awarded “Best Director” by the American Black Film Festival for his second film, Sprinter.
Next Jeneration: How did you get into film making?
Storm Saulter: I'm from a large family of creatives. Both my parents were creatives and I was always encouraged to express my creativity, To not step away from it, and to dig into it. So, there was never a barrier where that was concerned and I grew up in Negril which is very free, roaming, bush, and ocean. Me and my younger brother Nyle in particular, we would always just be running around the neighborhood. We would always be getting lost, going on adventures and that kind of help develop my sense of adventure.
Next Jeneration: Awesome! So tell me about the transition from Jamaica to America? Do you still live in Jamaica?
Storm Saulter: I've lived in both and right now I honestly live between both. I kind of have to with where my work is going, but, for me when i was about 16 or so I left Jamaica. My sister had moved to California and I just had to get out. My head was hitting the ceiling. I needed to get out and find myself. Figure out life and figure out my creativity. So, I went to L.A. and it was definitely pretty lonely at first. It's an interesting space to be. I decided that I was going to go to film school. I went to the Los Angeles film school. After awhile i started to find friends, and grow connections. What really made things jump off and made me move to New York is when i met director X. At The time he was "Little X."
Next Jeneration: How old were you when you had to return back to Jamaica?
Storm Saulter: I was like 20 or 21.
Next Jeneration: At age did you feel solidified in your career? Talk about your debut film.
Storm Saulter: I definitely knew I wanted to be a director from when I was about 15 or so. My first feature, 'Better Mus Come' it was such a wild project. It was wildly made and a lot of energy came together for that to happen. The subject matter was talking about a time in Jamaica that I wasn't even born in but had such a major influence on us. In the 1970's when Jamaica was destabilized by the cold war, the CIA, Cuba and all these forces fighting on our soil and using us to fight each other for their ends. It was something i was taught in high school. I knew more about old British wars. Ultimately it was distributed by Ava Duvernay's company.
Next Jeneration: I think that film really solidified you as a force to be reckoned with. Then you followed up with Sprinter.
Storm Saulter: The thing is, track and field is really a vehicle to tell a story about a modern Caribbean family. Obviously sports and athletes are phenomenal. They have to saracfice so much, they're so many talented athletes in Jamaica. The key thing that's coming through in Sprinter is the issue of immigration and the families that are separated because economic opportunities elsewhere and a parent leaves and never comes back because the money they're making and sending home to support a family is too important. That is a super normalized thing in the Caribbean and across the world if we're being honest, everyone is on the move trying to make a better life. I've never seen anything looking at the emotions or effects looking at this type of reality. I would say- most of the kids I knew growing up were 'barrel-picnic.' It's so normalized that both of the lead character in the film, both of his parents left when he was a young boy.
Next Jeneration: I have a friend, she is Haitian. Her story is similar, her mom moved away when she was younger, came to America to build a life for her family, and then she sent for her family. Why was that something important that you wanted to make a film surrounding that?
Storm Saulter: It was important on a few levels. One I think that the story of Caribbean people and how we journey out into the world and how we get there is as much the story of who we are, as what's happening at home. Also, on an emotional level when you're a filmmaker, you're
always putting yourself into the work. So, there's
things about myself that I was processing. One
was losing my mum, she passed. It's been really
rough to deal with from then. I was definitely
dealing with these emotions trying to process
them while developing these characters. I
thought, what if you can create a character
that had lose his mum but if he could only
do something, he could actually get back to her.
That was a big part of my drive for it.
Next Jeneration: That's beautiful. How did you
link up with Will and Jada [Smith]? That's
Storm Saulter: Many things came together
at the right moment. I had been working on
this script for a long time, trying to perfect it,
rewriting it, getting it close, and towards the
end of like 2015, me and a producer on the film
connected. He was very helpful with getting
the script to the right point. By the beginning
of 2016, the script was locked. Rob had been doing some work with
Overbrook, they were looking to put their energy behind it. Rob was able to put the script in front of their team. I believed he gave them the script on a Wednesday and the next day they called.
Next Jeneration: How amazing is that? That's awesome. Did you expect for it to do as well as it's doing? With all of these accolades and awards?
Storm Saulter: I don't know if "expect" is the right word. You work for it, and you hope for it. You definitely always question going through post production- is this really going to connect the way I hope it does? Sometimes you're so close to it as a film-maker, you don't really know. It's what I hoped for and I'm just really grateful that it happened and it's happening. People are finding things in the film that i didn't even know they would've found. The goal of the film is to open conversation, get you talking.
Next Jeneration: We are Next Jeneration, so it's so perfect that this story is of a 17-year old boy and his coming of age and finding himself. Do you have any advice for someone his age or the "next jeneration" trying to transition into adulthood?
Storm Saulter: My advice and my thoughts are, you have to kind of adventure around, figure things out and be a little crazy. If you can figure out what you really want to go for, not what you think you should go for but what you really want- that thing that makes you feel good. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s too small or it’s too “artsy,” it’s not going to make money. Those days of ‘you’re supposed to be a doctor or lawyer’ are over. A lot of film makers take a while to get back to film, when they hit a certain point, they’re like ‘this is what I want to do. Now I’m going to do it.’ So if you feel the need to be creative, and do it- just go after it now. Don’t wait, don’t say you’ll do it when you’re a little older. Figure out a way to do it because the world is moving and changing so fast you never know when you’re going to slip in and if you can get going early, then when you’re 23/24 you’ll be so far ahead of the game. I would say, find the thing that you really love, don’t take the old time algorithms of what you’re supposed to do and just go for it. Go for it young, go for it quick.
Next Jeneration: Go for it young! That’s great advice. How was it creating for Beyonce and the On The run Tour?
Storm Saulter: It was super fun. It’s cool, I’m come on- It’s Jay-Z and Beyonce. We got to shoot some really dope stuff of them riding bikes on the coast line. So that was great, and it was really amazing to see it on the massive screens on tour.
Next Jeneration: How was that? How was the tour?
Storm Saulter: It’s great because it’s a different way to show my work. It was cool.
Next Jeneration: You’re attached to so many big names. Like Ava DuVernay, Will and Jada, Beyonce and Jay-Z. Does it feel surreal to you?
Storm Saulter:: Sometimes it does, but I know the work that it takes to be in the position for folks to even want to connect with you or align with you. So, I know the work. You see- when you know the work you get it more. It’s not like it popped up out of nowhere. But, it’s a great blessing and I’m glad that they are playing attention to the emerging cinematic voices and giving us opportunities. It’s going to have major repercussions and it’s going to have major impact for the development of emerging Caribbean cinema. I think that’s their intent, and it’s great to see them put it to action.
Next Jeneration: Awesome! Did you see ‘When They See Us?’
Storm Saulter: I started watching it. I watched the documentary as well and I’m very aware of the case and I just kept going through and it was so powerful, I found I wasn’t in an emotional space at that moment to continue, but I knew what they were going through. I know what happened. It’s beautiful work and Ava is in addition to being a powerhouse and a great human being, she is a great filmmaker and I love to see as her works develops and how it gets better.
Next Jeneration: That’s very true, it was a great film! What are you working on next, after Sprinter?
Storm Saulter: Another thing about this is, once you’re in the middle of this- someone is going to ask, ‘what’s next?’ and you have to be able to put something in their hands. So I’ve been working on stuff, I am adapting a novel by Marlon James it’s called John Crow’s Devil. It’s a story I’ve loved for a long time, so I’m adapting that right now and developing a number of series. So yeah, we’ve written pilot episodes, I’ve written bibles- literally in the middle of those meetings now.
Next Jeneration: You’re working, just working and working.
Storm Saulter: *Laughs* The time is now. You have to strike while the iron is hot!
Next Jeneration: You're absolutely right! Congrats on all of your success.
Storm Saulter is setting the tone for many Caribbean young filmmakers! His ability to push forward and tell the untold story of many Caribbean and people all over is admirable. As a young successful man, Storm inspires and represents Caribbean men and women in the film and TV industry. He reminds everyone to put yourself out there, be fearless, do what you love and most importantly -- be you.
Next Jeneration will continue to keep up with all the amazing projects Storm Saulter creates.