From Howard to Hollywood: Filmmaker Dallas Jackson brings his skills to Netflix!
Updated: Nov 13, 2020
“I’ve got passion, and for people who don’t, I make them see how trite their lives are.”
For filmmaker Dallas Jackson, passion was never an issue. So much so, that John Singleton himself was actually a mentor to him. They even officially worked together as producers on the TV series ‘Rebel’. Jackson has worked with numerous industry legends, gaining priceless knowledge along the way on top of his HBCU education. We caught up with Dallas and had a nice chat with him, discussing his career, and other related topics.
Black Action Stars: What inspired you to get into filmmaking?
Dallas Jackson: My father took me to go see the Robert Townsend movie, 'Hollywood Shuffle'. I was definitely inspired by seeing someone who looks like me on the big screen, and on top of that I knew the story behind how he independently financed the film by maxing out his credit cards. So when I saw it in theaters, the mystery of how a film actually gets made was known to me. Around the same time filmmakers like Keenan Ivory Wayans and Spike Lee were emerging. The Spike Lee movie, 'School Daze' even inspired me to go to Howard University. Another filmmaker who inspired me as a filmmaker is definitely Steven Spielberg, specifically his movie, 'E.T.'
BAS: Any notable early career experiences that helped you for the better?
DJ: For sure, I would have to say hooking up with Master P and doing a few projects with him. “P” for me was like filmmaking grad school. Instead of only selling a script, I did that and also was shown the path of how to make a movie, and how to do so on a budget. I wrote the movie, 'Still Bout It for Master P', then I wrote the movie, 'Uncle P' which was the bigger project. On ‘Uncle’, I was also a producer. I was very involved with the making of that movie, from the script, casting, location scouting, and I was on set everyday during filming. And before that while still in college, I did some intern work for BET under Bille Woodruff, trying to get as much hands on experience as possible.
BAS: How did your directorial debut, the slasher horror movie ‘Thriller’ come about?
DJ: That project was definitely a blessing. I had written a script treatment for the 'Last Dragon' remake, that ultimately didn't get picked up. But it got me a meeting at Blumhouse Productions. They had a movie that they had just finished filming called 'Get Out', and were looking to expand their catalog of movies starring people of color. Cooper Samuelson who runs Blumhouse asked me if I had any horror related projects in the works. I was working on a script named homecoming, and after some notes from the studio which were cool with me, we were in business.
BAS: So of course you wrote the script for Homecoming, now Thriller. Were you always going to direct the movie?
DJ: Actually, no. I originally wanted Benny Boom to direct. But he had just got the Tupac movie 'All Eyez on Me'. So he couldn't do it. So after another meeting with Blum house, they suggested that I take the job. I was kind of unsure at first, but my mentor John Singleton told me, “You better go direct that movie! What are you following me around for?”. And he was right.
BAS: We usually don't see a predominant black and brown cast in the slasher genre.
DJ: Exactly. I definitely wanted to show that teenagers of color are just as diverse as suburban white teenagers. We have the jocks, nerds, the good girl, the bad boy, and so on.
BAS: How did your 2nd directorial feature ‘Welcome to Sudden Death’ come about?
DJ: This also goes back to ‘The Last Dragon’ remake script that I wrote. When it started floating around, as I mentioned earlier Blumhouse read it. Another studio also took a look at it, which was Universal. So I took a meeting with them, where they told me they were considering remaking the van Damme movie 'Sudden Death'. They asked me what my spin would be on it if they wanted to hire me as a writer, and my take was to have a black man star in it. Because we haven't seen a brother in a diehard style movie in a long while. That along with a few other suggestions, I was hired. Then the studio saw 'Thriller' and asked me if I wanted to direct. Of course, I said yes.
BAS: Was Michael Jai Whte your first choice to star in the movie?
DJ: One of my last conversations with John Singleton before he passed, was me talking to him about who I should cast in the lead role. Because I was considering Tyrese for the part. Singleton immediately suggested Michael Jai White, telling me that he was “that guy”. I was already good friends with Gillian White (Michael Jai’s wife), so she introduced us and we moved forward from there.
BAS: There is some awesome talent in this movie. One person in particular I wanted to mention is Marrese Crump, Who plays the lead henchmen. I could've easily seen him as the main villain, and definitely can't wait to see him be the lead himself in a movie. He’s awesome!
DJ: I've known about Marrese for a while. The idea was suggested for him to be the main villain , but Universal (studios) didn't want to take that gamble on somebody who was still kind of in the building stage of his career. Marrese is actually the guy who trained Chadwick Boseman for the role of Black Panther. The three of us were working on something before Chadwick passed away, which Marrese and I are still working on. Continuing that legacy for Chadwick it's going to introduce Marrese in the hero role.
‘Welcome to Sudden Death’ upon its release was one of the most-watched movies on Netflix. Reaching number three on the top 10 most viewed movies list, holding that spot for multiple days, and staying in the top 10 for close to a week.
BAS: 2020 has been a roller coaster of a year up to this point with the coronavirus, quarantine, election year, etc. but something that has happened during all of this, is a big spotlight has been shined on anti-black racism. With the numerous unjustified murders by police, for example. It has even exposed the entertainment industry to a large degree. I wanted to get your take on anything you've ever experienced within the industry as far as racism, and your thoughts on the changes that Hollywood is trying to make for inclusion.
DJ: What I have experienced as racism is what I call “cooked into the business”. There's a certain way of thinking when it comes to the Hollywood system that movies with people of color don't do well internationally unless you're Will Smith, or a back in the day example, Eddie Murphy. And because of this type of mentality, minority actors get lower pay, and lower budgets, and overall less support from production companies and movie studios. I have personally heard that myself, that there's no international appeal when I have shopped numerous scripts because I always write from the perspective of having a cast of color. And that right there is an example of systemic racism within the industry. And the overall lack of people of color in high positions in studio systems is a major problem too. There's more than enough talented POC to fill those positions, but they just aren't given the opportunities.
BAS: A major problem indeed. I'm glad there are a lot of minority filmmakers that are not only speaking out on these issues but doing something about it, like putting programs in place to help up-and-coming filmmakers of color to succeed.
DJ: Yes. Something I'm trying to do myself is to create an agency intern program between Howard University and the current agency I'm at. So we can get kids who are in college to intern at agencies and give them a good idea of what fair representation and diversity is all about. So yeah, I'm trying to do my part to rid the entertainment industry of that old way of thinking. Because we know black movie stars and characters do well internationally. The Black Panther movie proves that. ‘Get Out’ did great internationally. Kevin Hart goes overseas and sells out everywhere he goes. Dwayne Johnson, who is a black man, is the biggest movie star in the world.
BAS: It's crazy the amount of resistance this attempt to bring more equality within the industry is getting. For example, the Academy is changing quite a few eligibility rules to foster more inclusivity, and a lot of industry folk of a certain color (white) are upset about this.
DJ: And that's what I mean about this cooked in mentality. They don't want to change because it's comfortable for them. The only way to get change is to do things differently. And sometimes there has to be a mandate. They had to mandate civil rights. They had to mandate voting rights. And sometimes in entertainment, you do have some mandate for certain things. For example, there should be a mandate for an inclusive writer, so everybody behind the camera won't be one race. It’s being chipped away, but the change for the better is happening.
BAS: For sure. One more thing I wanted to ask before you go… years from now when you decide to put down the screenwriting pen and fold up the director’s chair what would you like your legacy to be?
DJ: I haven't thought that far ahead, because I'm still pretty early into my career. But there are a few things I would like to have follow my name when I'm talked about, like being a filmmaker that was of good service to the industry. Being a filmmaker who entertained, while giving the audience a good message to take with them. And of course helping people along the way, for example Jessica Allain who was the star of 'Thriller', that was her first movie. Now she's gone to star in four more movies since then, including one for filmmaker Steven Soderbergh. Another example Danielle Truitt, had her first starring role in the TV show that I produced with John Singleton, ‘Rebel’. I would like to look back and have a string of people that I could say I helped out along the way. And going back to my movies having a meaningful message for people to take away from them, 'Welcome to Sudden Death' outside of being an action movie has a very important message about family, more specifically the importance of being a good father. It's always a good thing to get those positive images of black men out into the world.
BAS: Well, Mr. Jackson. I definitely want to thank you for your time. And congrats and good luck with your career.
DJ: Thank you, brother. I appreciate you all for having me.
Even in the middle of a pandemic, Dallas Jackson shows no signs of slowing down. With numerous projects in the works, The aforementioned project with Marrese Crump, and also a project with T.I. and 50 Cent are in the works. Both of Jackson’s written/directed movies (‘Thriller’ & ‘Welcome to Sudden Death) are available on Netflix. Before we finished our interview, Dallas Jackson left some very inspirational words:
"Especially in these times now, I think the best thing for us to do in our free time is to read, create, and appreciate what we have."
- Dallas Jackson