Andre Jackson is an accomplished and award-winning actor, as well as a gifted writer who has been making some noise as of late with his film and TV projects. This Los Angeles-NY-Memphis talent is the recent Overall Winner of the Season 5 Filmmatic TV Pilot Awards, and we're happy to report also a recent signee of the Smith-Young Talent Agency! Andre was kind enough to enlighten us regarding his writing and historical and societally-relevant pilot "Boley U.S.A.".
1) How long have you been writing Andre?
About four years: I co-wrote a script with an exceptionally talented writer/director friend of mine and that was it. I was hooked. The learning curve was steep but the process was relatively painless – due, in large part, to my partner’s understanding of my strengths and weaknesses as a new screenwriter. A week after we completed that script I started writing on my own and, for the most part, haven’t stopped.
2) What screenwriting training have you received?
I’ve never had any formal training as a screenwriter. To be honest, I had no idea what screenwriting actually was until I started my career as an actor nearly 18 years ago. Since then, my education has come primarily from reading tons of scripts and continually writing. I read somewhere in the neighborhood of two to three scripts a week which, I think, comes to somewhere around 1,800 scripts, to date. In the early days of my acting career I used to go to this little bookstore on San Fernando Blvd. in Burbank (California) where they sold Hollywood stuff – memorabilia, posters, autographed headshots, etc. I would buy an old script, watch the movie, and compare what was written on the page with what eventually made it to the screen. It all fascinated me and introduced me to the creative power of screenwriting.
There are definitely books I find myself going back to from time to time (Story by Robert McKee, On Writing by Stephen King, Screenplay by Syd Field, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder) but the best lessons still come from simply reading and writing screenplays.
3) What genres do you lean towards? Are all of your works dramas?
My Netflix list would suggest a strong preference for romantic comedies. But, when it comes to writing, I definitely lean toward dark dramas. That world feels familiar to me and I love exploring the complexities of the characters who exist within it. I can’t constantly live in that space, though. The writing often requires going to places in my mind that are violent, painful or terrifyingly vulnerable. And those emotions don’t turn off and on like a light switch so that’s when I go to my rom-com que – when I’m purging myself of all that heaviness to live my actual life.
I’ve also written comedy scripts and really enjoy it. A mockumentary-style pilot I wrote, Miracle Mile, is about an organization running two residential group homes for children in Los Angeles. Before the Broadway shutdown, I had the good fortune of recruiting my Lion King castmates for a reading of the script one weekend between our matinee and evening performances. The 37-page reading lasted nearly two hours because they couldn’t stop laughing. Even now several of them will repeat lines and reenact scenes from the script! It doesn’t matter whether it’s comedy, drama, sci-fi, or horror; the goal for me is always to do more than just entertain. When the story is right, you can really move people.
4) Our judges loved "Boley", how would you describe the pilot to our readers?
Based on actual events, Boley is the story of an all-Black town fighting for its existence deep within the unforgiving Oklahoma Indian Territory at the dawn of the 20th Century. In the pilot, I wanted to not only introduce setting, characters, relationships, conflict, etc. but also convey how the brutal circumstances existing in post-emancipation America have taken deep emotional and mental tolls on millions of its Black citizens. It is against this backdrop that we meet the first collection of characters: the story begins as conditions approach a boiling point for a community of Black sharecroppers in Alabama’s violent “Black Belt”.
Concurrently, in a remote area of the Oklahoma frontier, another ensemble of characters fights to establish themselves in the heart of the Wild West. With the Indian territory newly opened for settlement, a railroad baron uses his position and power to seize vast amounts of land from vulnerable tribes and Freedmen.
These two groups are separated by hundreds of miles but have a shared vision of prosperity. Unknowingly, they have both placed their fates in the same section of land and plot courses destined for a dramatic collision.
It was particularly important to me for the pilot to have the same feel as a “normal” episode of the intended series and not simply be about setting up the characters and/or world. In addition, I wanted the introductory episode of Boley U.S.A. to place the focus on something happening that marks the pilot as the beginning.
5) "Boley" touches on some important historical and societal issues. What are they, and how does Boley provide a unique POV therefore?
Boley U.S.A. is as unique to the television landscape as the actual town of Boley is to the story of America. When I first heard the legend of Boley fifteen years ago, my initial reaction was “if even half of this were true, I’d have heard of it by now.” I was intrigued and decided to dig a bit deeper.
What I discovered from dozens of interviews, archived literature, and various corners of the internet is a chapter of American history as important and fascinating as the arrival of the Mayflower or the impact of The Great Depression
The more I learned, the more I understood why the creation of the “Black Towns” like Boley have been omitted from textbooks, only recently entering mainstream discussions about America’s settlement. Their existence is contrary to the cowboy & Indian fairytale wherein, save a token field hand or outlaw minion, the Negro’s presence is almost entirely absent. In reality, their contribution on the frontier was vast, varied, and critical to westward expansion.
From New York to Oklahoma to Alaska, many surviving landmarks of African American culture and heritage have been lost or are in deep disrepair. Due to a lack of recognition and funding, these spaces are disappearing from the American landscape before their full stories can be told. Narratives such as Boley U.S.A. reveal long-hidden examples of Black resilience, activism and excellence. The fact-based retelling of the Boley story within a fictional television series amplifies the living legacy of the still-existent town — elevating the historic landscape to shine light on an underrecognized and unappreciated chapter in American history.
Black experiences are often stereotypically defined through the lens of slavery. Boley U.S.A. is constructed from a totally different POV – one not just told from the places of bondage, terrorism and extreme violence. While those elements do exist in the world of Boley, the pilot is the introduction to a series that highlights the resilience, humanity, and ability of Black people in America to weather 250-plus years of structural racism.
The Boley U.S.A. pilot is rooted in truth. In truth, I’ve learned, there is always power.
6) What writing habits work for you? Do you write in short or long shifts, binge writing or scheduled sessions?
I’m a routine guy. I’ve been an early riser since enlisting in the Marine Corps at 17 so I’m usually awake by 6:30 am. I’m in the gym no later than 7:30 am. After a shower and cup of coffee, I’m writing by 10:00 am.
In the early stages I write everything by hand. There’s something comforting about being able to just let my thoughts flow freely from my fine-tipped .3mm LePen ink pen. If something doesn’t work I cross it out but can easily flip back to it later if I need to revisit the idea or change my mind for any reason. I don’t type anything into my computer until at least the second draft.
I start with the basics. What is the movie or series about? What is the main idea of the story? Who are the main characters? From whose POV will the story be told? Why must that person be the center of the story and how does the meaning of the story relate to that character’s persona?
From there, I start to outline the rough shape of the film. Once I have that, I try and get a basic scene-by-scene sense. I’m not dogmatic about it; once I start writing, I always have license to stray if need be.
I do find that actually writing a detailed outline will often generate good ideas for the script that I otherwise might not have found. The simple act of putting words on the page is usually more productive than sitting around thinking about them. Though my writing is mostly sequential, having an overall structure allows me to skip around to any point in the story without fear of losing the main thread.
Every script I write involves in-depth research; even if it’s not based on real events- as is the case with Boley- I always include realistic elements. As a Marine, I’ve read so many combat scripts that had no grasp on the realism of war, weaponry, tactics, or the true nature of military service. Trust me: it matters.
I don’t try to write for a certain period of time or a set number of pages. There are days when my creative muse inspires ten pages of quality writing; other days, the well is dry. On those days I may spend hours doing research or revising pages. In the end, it’s all part of the process. Forcing five new pages of garbage writing simply to meet a self-imposed quota is a waste of time, in my humble opinion.
7) What are you working on now? Where would you like to be career-wise in 36 months?
Right now I’m working on a medical drama series. A prominent Medical Director retires to revive a shuttered community hospital in the inner-city neighborhood where he grew up in Memphis, Tennessee.
Before attending The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, I was pre-med at The University of Memphis. My degree is in Biology. As the saying goes, “write what you know.”
Thirty-six months from now I’d like to be writing and starring in a series that I created and wrapping production on my first feature.
8) Any advice for those about to write their first TV pilot or feature?
As I’ve found to be the case with most screenwriters, I’m most creative and energized at the very initial stages of a project. It’s that first blush of love, when you can’t stop thinking about it. I’ve learned to respect that, to follow it, but to also remember that a month from now there will be new ideas that appear to be more attractive, largely because I haven’t seen their flaws and challenges- yet. One of the frustrations with screenwriting can be that the process just takes so long: sit on an idea for an extended length of time and it’s easy to become disenchanted. For that reason, make sure that you are completely in love with the story you want to tell. Your passion for the project will sustain you on those days when there’s a lull in the excitement.
Congratulations once again to Andre Jackson, the Season 5 Filmmatic TV Pilot Awards Winner. All contact requests for Mr. Jackson will be forwarded to his attention.