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An Interview with Joel Jay Blacker, Director of "Who You Are" at the Atlanta Film Festival!

This past week Atlanta Film and TV had the opportunity to screen Who You Are, a series apart of the episodic showcase of the Atlanta Film Festival, written by Sam Roots, and directed by Joel Jay Blacker. Who You Are is also an official selection of Academy Award Winning festivals, SXSW, Atlanta, Cinequest, and Santa Barbara.

1. Atlanta Film and TV: Tell us a little about your experience here at the Atlanta Film Festival.

Joel Jay Blacker: I’m now obsessed with Atlanta. I’m so grateful to have had the time to check out the city and be apart of the festival. I spent a lot of time at San Francisco Coffee Roasting and Criminal Records. Whoever the bartender is at Sweet Auburn BBQ, bless him, he makes incredible cocktails. And I could spend every evening at the Plaza Theater.

2. Atlanta Film and TV: What was the inspiration behind Who You Are?

Joel Jay Blacker: Sam Roots (writer) and I have been friends since middle school. We’ve made various short films together in the last few years that we’ve taken on the festival circuit. ‘Who You Are’ was based on a short script Sam wrote in college that I absolutely fell in love with. Sam would say that at the time he wrote it, he was taking one too many religious studies courses and was inspired by a panic attack he had because of them. Since then, Sam and I have been refining the concept and constantly trying to find a way to execute it on a small budget. We realized the concept lent itself more to an episodic format where we could grow and tell more of the story and so we created the short series (5x 5-minute episodes) to give people a nugget of the world we want to create.

3. Atlanta Film and TV: How did you get started making films?

Joel Jay Blacker: When I was a kid I shot movies with Legos based on storylines I stole from Star Wars movies. I got lucky that my parents moved me to California when I was twelve. Living a couple of hours north of LA allowed me the opportunity to work as a production assistant on sets during high school in the summer.

4. Atlanta Film and TV: How did you fund this project?

Joel Jay Blacker: It’s self-funded between Sam and I. We wanted to keep it that way initially because we knew this would be a risky venture.

5. Atlanta Film and TV: What advice can you give filmmakers that are working with a tight budget?

Joel Jay Blacker: Work with what you have access to, but don’t be afraid to ask for something you don’t. If you know someone has a great location at their disposal or a great camera, chances are they’re willing to let you use it for a weekend. The worst thing to come of asking is that person says ‘no’. So then you ask someone else. This is why being an asshole in this industry gets you nothing. If you’re nice enough, people are willing to help you out.

6. Atlanta Film and TV: What is the end game for this project?

Joel Jay Blacker: I want everyone and their grandma to see it. Mainly because your grandma will hate it. Ideally, we’re looking to build a fan base for our series that will support us as we make more of the show. Currently, we’re pitching the concept as a long-form series. But if nothing comes of that, we’re still going to make more of the series ourselves and I’m excited for people to see it. Follow the show at @WhoYouAreSeries as we’ll be releasing the short series online very soon!

7. Atlanta Film and TV: From what I’ve seen this project seems to be a commentary on how invasive technology can be. Without giving too much away, could you speak on a couple of themes you hope to touch on with this project?

So many stories on tech lean into the ‘Doomsday’ narrative. As technology evolves and advances, it’s not necessarily making our lives any better. It’s just different variations of crap. With AI, the fear is that it will become self-aware and want to destroy all humans. But what if it were just depressed like us?

I like that you picked up on it being invasive, that’s definitely the intention. Like, cool, we can access millions of videos from around the world all at once, but we’ll still be forced to watch some lame commercial selling us viagra at the beginning. With the show, we want to pervert the narratives out there that tech is going to make our lives great, but rather shed a laugh on how stupid it can be.

8. Atlanta Film and TV: How did you get into directing and what advice directors just starting out?

Joel Jay Blacker: I’d say make films for yourself. I lied to myself initially and attempted to make very serious dramas because I thought those would be the kind of stories I tell. It was when I made a comedy that I found my voice. In making some really dumb stuff, I fell in love with directing.

For more information on Joel Jay Blacker, be sure to check out his website!

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