An Interview with Andre Owens...
From comic books to movies to shooting music videos, it is safe to say Andre Owens has done more than his fair share in the industry. With projects taking off left and right, I am very lucky to have the opportunity to interview Mr. Owens. There aren't a lot of amateur journalists that get to interview such people, especially as they find massive success in an industry very few people find success in. Here is the story of Andre Owens from he himself:
Where are you from? Where were you born?
I was born in Hagerstown, Maryland, a small town in Western Maryland. In fact, I grew up outside of Hagerstown, closer to a tiny heavily Mennonite community called Maugansville. We were 3 miles south of the Mason/Dixon line, literally on the wrong side of the freedom tracks.
What was your childhood like? When did you get interested in movies?
My childhood was both good and bad. It was good because I was raised by my Grandparents in the 1970’s in a loving extended family household. I shared a bedroom with my Uncle Craig, who was a late in life baby, and is only three years older than me. We were more like brothers. At home, life was good from my childhood perspective. I never wanted for anything.
The bad was that Craig and I were the only Black kids in our neighborhood, so we caught hell. I can’t speak for him, but even the kids that I called friends used to use demeaning language to refer to me. For instance, the called me “Chuck”, short for spear-chucker. Now, they knew it was wrong because they wouldn’t say it in front of my grandparents or their own parents.
Because of my circumstances, I spent a lot of time alone reading books (That were way over my head. Das Kapital at 11 is a little intimidating) and watching movies. Back then, there was an Afternoon movie on every day on one of the more obscure stations in my area, where I would see tons of old movies from the 1930’s through the 1970’s. I saw everything from Angels with Dirty Faces to My Fair Lady. My earliest theater experience was seeing Song of the South (of all movies) in downtown Hagerstown. One of my strongest movie memories was my hippie Aunt and Uncle taking me to see 2001: A Space Odyssey at the Drive Inn theater. It was mind blowing. But, the film that made me love cinema was West Side Story, which is my favorite musical to this day.
Did you always know that you’d be on this path?
I was given a Super 8 camera when I was a kid, and I used to make all of these little films. A lot of stop motion stories using Playdoh, and adventures of my friends. But I never really thought I’d be in the film industry as a kid. I mean, I lived 3000 miles away from Hollywood, so it never even seemed a possibility when I was young. I thought I’d be a Sports Journalist.
Where did you go to school?
I, first, went to Hagerstown Junior College, where I first got the first taste of Cinema as art and a possible career. I transferred to Towson State University and studied Mass Communication concentrating on Film. By circumstances, I got tagged with being good with a camera and lighting, so I started shooting everyone’s college films. In those days, we shot on 16mm film and edited on Flatbeds, where you literally cut your film and don’t get me started on cutting your negative.
What was the first project you were involved in? Was it your first time doing industry work?
Well, the first project I worked on as a Director of Photography where I got paid, was a music video for a song called “Party! All over the World!” I was still in college and a guy that I had been a roadie with offered me the gig. It was a terrific learning experience.
What came next? Where did you go from there?
The next move that happened to advance my career as a Cinematographer was a low budget film that my friend Russell was directing called Permanent Damage. It was written by my current writing partner, Jeff Howard, although I didn’t write on this film. After PD came out, I became a little in demand as a DP, and I ended up shooting and sometimes directing a myriad of music videos, a political commercial or two, and a couple other low budget films. Having outgrown Baltimore, I moved to Los Angeles to further pursue my film career.
When did you publish your first comic book?
Well, like many of my peers and others, I started making my own comics as a kid and dreamed of becoming a comic creator but had no idea of how. To be fair, all credit for my writing career both in comics and cinema is due to a book my ex-wife gave me. It’s called “Creating a Life Worth Living” by Carol Lloyd. It’s a book that helps creative people find what they should actually do with their life. It was a life changer for me. I decided to start making my own comics. This was 1998, and it was a different internet, but I was able to contract artist to work on what eventually became Force Galaxia. Although, the first issue didn’t debut until 2006. Making comics is expensive.
What did you think of your time doing that?
I loved it. It was exciting times. Nothing is quite like seeing a vision you have in your mind fulfilled on a page or on the screen. When I published the first issue of Force Galaxia it coincided with my first year vending at San Diego Comic Con, the granddaddy of them all. I was part of a collective called The Antidote Trust, a group that combined resources so that we could afford tables at shows. So, 2006 Comic Con was one of the best experiences that I’ve ever had. It was a kick selling comics and meeting so many fans and folks who I only knew through the internet. Our booth was like a Black family cookout, we had a couch, a table for interviews, plus tons of books from multiple creators. It was a good time.
When did you meet Jeff Howard?
Like I said earlier, Jeff and I met at Towson State University through our mutual friend, Russell Farmarco (who is a big time post sound guy now) who Jeff approached to Direct. So, over the course of shooting the film, I got to know Jeff. But after the hoopla surrounding the release of our film, I lost track of him. After my divorce, through serendipity, Jeff contacted me. We started hanging out, going to the movies, and chilling. He was writing with a young guy, Mike Flanagan, who you now know as the best horror director of his generation. At the time, he was just a wannabe filmmaker. Mike is younger than us, but he too went to Towson.
When did you get your first sit down with Sony? How did you go about getting it?
Our first meeting at Sony was in November of 2018, and it was surreal as we met with high level executives who had read our pitch for Reparations. They had a few questions, we answered them to the best of our abilities. They said thank you, and we left. I dropped Jeff off at The Grove and headed home. Not more than 10 minutes later, Jeff called. They bought the script (which we hadn’t written) based on our pitch. Totally NOT the way it usually works in Hollywood.
We got the Sony meeting through our Producer. But we had had the project over at Paramount for about 6 months and was getting note after note with nothing to advance the project. So, when we had the opportunity to go elsewhere we jumped at it.
Which do you like more: the movie industry or working in comics?
Well, I spent much of my career as a camera man in the industry, so-called Below the Line, so I have a view of it from that perspective. Its long hours and hard work, but the camaraderie is unmatched outside of my experience with stage theatre. Now that I’m writing and trying to get stuff made, it’s a different animal. One that is much more to my liking. Plus, screenwriting pays better than cinematography and I’m not destroying my knees.
But I simply love working in Indie Comics. It's so fulfilling. I love to see my imagination realized in dazzling colors on the comic page. Its thrilling. If comics paid what Screenwriting does, I’d probably gravitate to the paneled page full time. So, yeah, I love working in comics a little more. Not much, though. Its really six of one, half dozen of the other.
How would you say the industry has changed since you were younger?
With the advent of digital photography and editing, the bar is now low enough for anyone with some gumption to make their film. When I was young, it was cost prohibitive to make anything more than a 5 minute silent black and white film. But now, anyone with a great idea can do it. Now distribution is a different thing, but again, today there are tons of streaming services that need content.
Making indie comics has also become easier and more accessible. There are tons of Facebook groups connecting artists and writers. Now, if you have an idea and some cash either from yourself or through some Crowdfunding site, you can get your comic made. Again distribution is an issue, but I’ve recently started a solution to that for indie creators, Black Indie Comics Distribution or BICDistro.com.
If you could write or direct any comic book movie, what would it be?
Well, besides one of my own creations, I’ll go mainstream. At Marvel is would be The Invaders. The Invaders features Capt. America, The Sub-Mariner, The Human Torch, Bucky, and Toro all fighting the Axis powers in WW2. It was one of my favorite comic book series.
For DC, its really easy. It would be The Legion of Super-Heroes, which is my all time favorite Comic book series. There’s so much potential with a Legion TV show or series of films.
What is your favorite movie and comic book series?
My favorite film is a different bird than what I would consider the best films of all time. The would be The Godfather. My favorite film is Richard Linklaters love letter to the 70’s, Dazed and Confused. I simply love that film. A movie essentially about nothing that has a distinct three act story structure, and just terrific performances from a stellar cast. And throw in a truly great soundtrack, you’ve got wonderful film-making.
I said earlier that the Legion is my favorite comic. Its because representation matters. The first superhero comic I bought was Superboy and the Legion #216, the first appearance of Tyroc. On the cover stood this strong Jim Brown looking brother shaking a fist as Superboy and these other characters and telling them that they’re not wanted. It jumped off the rack. And I immediately became a lifetime fan. Long Live the Legion!
What would you recommend an aspiring storyteller do if he or she is looking to get into comics or movies?
The main thing is to remember that there are two elements which make up a good tale: Story and Plot. They are two separate things. Take Hamlet. The story is this cat can’s make up his mind. The plot is this same dude thinks his Uncle killed his Father. One fulfills the other.
And always keep the Production Triangle in mind. There are three sides to the triangle: Fast, Good, and Cheap. You can only have two of these three things. So it can be fast and good, but it wont be cheap. Or it can be cheap and fast, but it wont be good.
Have you ever acted in any productions?
Yes, I’ve made a guest appearance here or there in a film or two. Nothing notable. But I did act in three plays, and quickly realized that I’m not an actor. I was too worried about screwing my lines up that I didn’t emote at all. So, yeah, I’ve tried, and it did help in learning what actors need from directors.
What things are essential to a Hollywood pitch?
It’s essential to create Outlines. Do a 3 pager, then expand that to a 9 page outline. Combine that with a rationale to why you’d be the ideal person to tell whatever story you’re trying to sell. You’re almost selling yourself along with your actual script. If you’re pitching a TV series, it behooves you to have the pilot idea ready, plus a detailed outline for the rest of the first season, as well as an idea where the series will go in future seasons.
When writing a script, what tips would you give an amateur looking to create a decent script?
The one thing that distinguishes an amateur script from a professional is formatting. If your script gets passed an initial reader and sent up to an Exec to read, they’ll immediately turn it down if its not formatted properly. You should really invest in Final Draft, even though it’s a little pricey.
What are your thoughts on story structure? What do you think are key things to consider when writing a story?
This is a bit long, but I use the Four Quadrant System.
Based on the idea that every script is about a hundred pages, or made of four equal parts.
Introduce the main character(s) and make us care about them.
Introduce the main character(s) “personal problem” by which we mean their flaw, that thing about themselves that needs to change, can be a trait or a life problem.
Introduce the “world problem” by which we don’t mean a global crisis, but the bigger “plot device” of the movie, the problem the main character(s) will have to tackle to win.
At the end of quadrant one, there is a big event which draws the main character into the world problem, just at the time when they are focused on their personal problem.
The main character needs to tackle the global problem, and faces failure at first.
Because the main character is still too caught up in their personal problem to truly face the world problem.
A big showdown with the global problem builds to -
A giant piece in the middle which steals five pages from quadrant two and five pages from quadrant three, at which the main character faces a loss because they are too caught up in their personal problem.
The main character puts aside the personal problem for good, in order to rise from the ashes and go after the global problem.
All previous character flaws and hubris are put aside, as the main character attack and attacks the world problem, inadvertently resolving their own personal problem, the villain is on the ropes, until:
“Second Act Curtain”:
The big disastrous event three quarters of the way through the movie that sets the world problem up for pure victory, sets the main character up for pure defeat.
The main character rises from the ashes, pursues the world problem, and having resolved the crisis of their personal problem without even having realized it, can now tackle the world problem wholeheartedly.
Into a Bittersweet Ending, where the main character wins and loses. The main character will always only receive a mix of success in the end with the personal problem and world problem. (For example, at the end of Raiders, Indiana Jones is still outside the system, angry at the bureaucracy, and he got the Ark but loses it to the govt warehouse. He resolved his personal problem by being part of the “good cause” of pursuing the Ark for the govt, then reverts slightly back to where he was before as an outsider despite having changed.)
Also, regarding character, most often in movies characters are doing one of two things as their “arc”, they are either:
Gaining confidence, or
Learning To Care
If you have two main characters, each is doing one of those.
How do you stand out as a camera man? What do people look for in cameramen that gets attention?
Being a good Cinematographer involves the ability to basically paint with light on a set. The better artist you are, (understanding the relationship between Light and Color) the better Cameraperson you’ll be. You’ve got to learn the ability to look at any real-life situation and think about how a room is lit, and how you would mimic that. Now, all that being said, the great Cinematographers create a sense of hyper reality, where each image in each scene affects the next to create a whole. There’s a great German film, Zucker Baby, that is lit with so many colored gels, it transform into an abstract fairy tale.
What are your thoughts on your current future?
Man, I’m a hopeless optimist, so I see nothing but good things in my future. I’ve put years of work into creating a body of work. Now, I just plan to keep being creative in any way I can. As far as the Hollywood game goes, I’m just riding the surf for as a long as I can. The future is unknown which makes the possibilities endless.