Eric Lockley is an award-winning artist and media maker invested in writing, producing, and acting in work that inspires people of color to embrace possibility and move beyond surviving into thriving. Current projects include award-winning inspirational short film The Jump and his comedic solo show about wellness, Asking For More.
Dyllon: Eric, tell us about your background. I know you wear many hats. What compelled you to enter the world of filmmaking?
Eric: As a kid I always admired movie magic – the illusion that’s created in a movie theater with the booming sound & the striking images on screen allows for unlimited possibilities. In film a story can truly take you ANYWHERE and that creates such a visceral sense of excitement and anticipation.
Since I’ve already had a lot of experience producing, writing and acting in the theater world, I decided that it’d be exciting to take this leap into producing and writing in a format that I’d always admired. I knew it’d be different and I knew I’d need to ask a lot of questions and get a lot of advice, but my gut was calling me to it. I knew this was the right story and moment to delve into filmmaking.
D: Why did you feel like this was the “right story”? I noticed that the protagonist’s name is also Eric, Is this autobiographical?
E: Yes. It’s autobiographical. I used to be very anxious at pools and around the water and wasn’t quite sure why. As an adult, I reflected on the fact that an experience of being bullied at a pool by a couple of boys really affected me a lot more than I realized. Making this film was an exercise in acknowledging that fear and dread the childhood experience created within me.
D: Making it into a film, I‘ve reclaimed the story for myself and made it a story of triumph rather than defeat. And this was the “right story” to make into a screenplay primarily because I can’t imagine the story being told in a traditional theatrical format. Eric’s relationship to the water, is most vividly captured utilizing some of the cinematic shots that Director Jamal Hodge and DP Adam Richlin were able to create. Their work helps to build a distinctive look and mood throughout the film that speaks to both the beauty and danger of the water.
D: Congratulations on both reclaiming your story and producing your first film. That’s really incredible!
You mentioned “movie magic” a moment ago, and I also recall magic being a big part of the film and the experience the night of the premiere. You seem to have an interest or, shall I say, obsession with magic. Tell me about that.
E: Yes! I love the idea of magic. It’s why I am an artist. From ages 2-5 the two cultural icons that influenced me most were Michael Jackson and the magician David Copperfield. I had my parents tape record anything they’d do and I would watch those VHS tapes over and over. I studied them both. And while I would try to recreate Michael’s magic by impersonating his dance moves and his voice, I could never figure out David Copperfield’s magic. And I loved that!
I loved that for years and years I didn’t know how MJ did the “Smooth Criminal Lean”. The awe that magic creates allows for our childhood sense of possibility and wonder to take over. I want to be able to create that for my audience in my work. So it was important for me to have a magician at The Jump’s screening event. I wanted people to leave with a sense of wonder; acknowledging the vast scope of possibility.
D: “Possibility”, that’s great. With that in mind, what kind of films do you endeavor to make?
E: I’ve found that a consistent theme in my storytelling is exploring the black boy’s quest to find safe spaces to grow. Life is growth and I find that society often stunts the growth and the opportunities for young black boys to discover themselves, by overwhelming them with societal expectations.
Black boys must be tough because the “streets are hard” or because “we have to be 2x better than our white counterparts” or because “daddy wasn’t around” or because, factually, law enforcement is killing us at an alarmingly disproportionate rate to our white counterparts. The list of reasons go on and on.
But when we have all these reasons why we must grow up fast it means discovering self becomes a rigorous challenge of breaking down the walls we’ve created to protect ourselves, in addition to cutting away the expectations that society and even well-meaning family has attached to us. I want to make films that recognize that we can be free to discover ourselves, to discover joy and to tell our multifaceted, complicated and beautiful stories that don’t fit into any box or expectation set for us.
D: Do you think it’s possible for us to come to a renewed collective understanding of what it means to be a boy or black? Perhaps a more comprehensive understanding? How does film play a role in ushering in that renewed understanding?
E: I’m a hopeful person, so I do think it’s possible to redefine what it means to be a boy or to be black. But I don’t think it’s possible without struggle. Categorization is human – it is a natural safety mechanism. We must be clear on what is sharp vs. what is soft because what is sharp will cause us pain.
However we have prescribed it too rigidly to our own human complexity. As human beings who are fluid and ever-changing the categories that are assumed to be associated with boy-ness and blackness won’t work in every instance. But there are people who find it difficult to shift their perspective. Films can tell the stories of the “misfits”, the people bold enough not to fit into prescribed categories, with the hope of creating more understanding to shift the collective consciousness.
D: Do you feel like you discovered anything about yourself in the process of making this film?
E: I discovered that there’s so much possibility on the other side of facing your fears. I wrote the film in a moment when I was feeling down and re-imagining a personal story was a big step in assuring myself that I have the ability to take control over my life. The whole process of making the film was an exercise in facing my fears so that I could discover the vast possibilities that lie ahead.
This was my first time producing a film and, in order to play the role I’d written, I was going to need to learn how to swim. I’d written a role that “technically” I was unprepared to play, but I did this knowing that it would force me to learn. I placed these intimidating tasks ahead of me, knowing that I wouldn’t lose; trusting in God, the Universe and myself, that my aspirations were placed in me to be completed and to be successful.
Doubt can be a motherfucker and through this process I discovered that doubt has no purpose. Each moment we embrace possibility we make more room for our dreams and for the future we imagine for ourselves.
D: So, the jump we saw you make in the film, was that a dive you had practiced many times for the film or was that the capture of another new experience for you?
E: There was no practicing that. It was a new experience and it was captured for the film. It was my first time jumping off a diving board that high, so my anxiety, nervousness, excitement, determination and more were coming from a real place.
D: What was that moment like when you finally surrendered in the water and you realized you were actually swimming? Was there a feeling of victory for you?
E: I distinctly remember hitting the water and being surrounded by what seemed to be an endless amount of blue. I took that moment in: feeling unstoppable; feeling otherworldly; feeling truly free.
Then I thought, “Well, now I’ve got to actually swim”. And as the blue surrounding me began to lighten up and I broke the water’s surface to take in air, I was back to work.
The crew was applauding thanks to a successful leap off the diving board, but we were still filming and still needed to capture me swimming. So for me, this was not the moment to celebrate, instead this was the moment to truly put in the work. This was my moment to be intentional about my breathing, my kicking, my stroke, the position of my head, the angle of my feet, cupping my hands correctly etc. When I stopped swimming after that first take, there was an overwhelming sense of accomplishment on many levels. The celebration and encouraging words from the crew meant a lot, but more than anything that first jump off that board and the successful free-style stroke across the pool stood as a testament to my own power and my own willingness to face a fear, learn something new, and be triumphant.
D: So the film has recently been featured in a couple of film festivals. Tell us a little bit about those victories and what it was like making The Jump into the festival circuit.
E: A few weeks ago I attended my first film festival as a filmmaker and it was really an awesome experience. Getting to see other films that come from so many varied perspectives, as well as being able to fellowship with other folks in the industry made for a really great time.
Anything in addition to that is icing on the cake and thankfully the film has had some icing on the cake moments. The talkbacks we’ve had after the screenings have been really passionate. People have shared their stories of facing their fear or experiencing racism in the water. People excitedly pushed for us to get the film to schools and swimming organizations, and people were really thrilled by the opportunity to experience a film that deals with themes of self-empowerment, bullying, racism and magic from such a unique lens.
Additionally, at Philly BlackStar Film Festival The Jump received the “Best Audience Award for Short Narrative”, which is really incredible. Of all the Narrative Shorts in the whole festival we won!
Then at the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival both my director Jamal Hodge and I were so grateful for the cultural experience of being on Martha’s Vineyard. Not only did we get to experience the festival and the dedicated, inquisitive audiences of the festival, but we also experienced the Inkwell, a historically black area of the beach in Martha’s Vineyard, and got to know some of the community that lived there. Being able to explore a new place and feel a part of a community, as well as being able to check out some of the other really incredible sites on the island, were highlights.
D: What’s next for the film and for you?
E: The Jump will be screening next at Urbanworld Film Festival, September 24th at noon in New York City at the AMC Theatre in Times Square, which is really exciting! Most of the cast and crew are New Yorkers, so it’s an opportunity for all of us to invite the many friends who couldn’t see other places to watch it on the big screen in Times Square. We will be hearing back from other festivals within a few weeks and hopefully we’ll be accepted into a few more national and international fests in 2017.
I want to begin to have screenings and speaking engagements with schools and with organizations that focus on teaching underserved communities the value of swimming. I’m really passionate about shifting the societal view that Black people don’t swim. The diversity within and the success of this year’s Olympic swimmers is aiding in shifting that. And now I think it requires a real intentional campaign that encourages conversations about racism in America being historically tied to pools and bodies of water. A campaign that highlights that learning to swim as a black person in America is both a radical act and also a necessary act of survival. I would like to speak, write and create more around these issues.
And beyond all that . . . I have a solo show about fitness and nutrition entitled Asking For More, that I’m looking to book performances of and I’m continuing to write and develop new projects for stage and screen. My next film project that I’m developing (in very early stages) is a darkly comedic examination of a black man who unwittingly receives super powers.
Curated by Dyllon Burnside: