"I am passionate about telling this story because, in many ways, I am Norma Ann Waters– struggling to survive in an oversaturated [film] industry where being a minority stacks the odds against me."
“Norma” is a short film that navigates the turbulent waters of a Louisiana blues singer’s struggle to crossover to a mainstream audience. Our protagonist, Norma, fights to survive in an ever-changing, oversaturated music industry constantly evolving and being influenced by the trends and fads that come and go. In Norma’s case, it’s an industry that has turned its back on her because of past transgressions. She’s what the industry considers outdated and washed-up, which in turn produces many insecurities and internal conflicts. To complicate matters more, Norma actively works to regain her relevancy while enduring racism, capitalist greed, and a looming economic downturn throughout the 1930s. Somehow through it all, Norma stands firm in who she is. This film is about finding your voice and grasping your destiny, even when society tries to silence you and make you feel irrelevant.
I am passionate about telling this story because, in many ways, I am Norma Ann Waters– struggling to survive in an oversaturated [film] industry where being a minority stacks the odds against me. It’s a reality that I know many viewers can relate to, to believe in something so passionately, but be constantly told no, to have a vision so clear, but never given the opportunity to execute it. When viewers watch “Norma” they will see themselves. I also want viewers to be rejuvenated by Eugene Butler– to be reinspired by his wide-eyed ambition and hopeful for the impact he could make. Just as Norma saw a little of herself in Eugene, I want viewers to see how he, too, took control of his destiny. I want to tell this story in its truest, rawest form while staying authentic to the time period causing it to feel like a biopic.
Visually, this film will follow the same cinematic style as “Ray” (2004), “Bessie” (2015), and “Dreamgirls” (2006). The way “Ray” captures Ray Charle’s (Jamie Foxx) larger-than-life persona, the way “Bessie” captures Bessie Smith’s (Queen Latifah) uncensored toughness while also shining light on her often overlooked tenderness, and the way “Dreamgirls” captures the duel-action of onstage and backstage chaos. I want to convince my audience that they are in a new time period while using modern film techniques to tell my story. In my directorial debut, “Pearl Motel,” a micro-budget period piece set in the 1930s and 1950s, my team and I were able to seamlessly submerge our audience into a different time period. “Pearl Motel” is set in a similar time period as “Norma.” During the production, we were able to film exterior shots with authentic cars while being sure not to reveal the advancements of modern-day society, dress a cast of 10 along with 20+ extras in period-appropriate wardrobe, decorate multiple locations with authentic furniture and art, and fill a bar with people to film a party scene. With significantly less money, $3,000 to be exact, we proved just how resourceful and effective we could be while still producing quality content. These are all experiences from “Pearl Motel” that will aid my team and me while executing “Norma.”
From a technical standpoint, I want the camera to be steady, but never static. Handheld shots with a modest amount of shake will be used to fit the tone and spirit of the film. This enables the audience to feel as though they are a part of the story with the characters. A great example of this is in the film “Selma” (2014) when Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and his partners have breakfast in Richie Jean Jackson’s (Niecy Nash) home. I want to preserve the quick cuts and fast camera movements for the musical numbers, adding to the energy of the music and giving life and zest to the chemistry of Norma and Eugene. A great example of this is the scene in “Get On Up” (2014) where James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) and his bandmates take advantage of Little Richard’s (Brandon Mychal Smith) intermission and introduce themselves as “The Famous Flames” for the first time.
Lastly, my vision for the soundtrack is to partner with local musicians to compose original music for the fictional band that is authentic to the time period. I plan to tackle this early during pre-production, allowing the music and the script to build the structure of the narrative. I plan to use the experience I gained producing period music for “Pearl Motel” as a blueprint for tackling this task. The “Pearl Motel” soundtrack embodied great collaboration with local artists and musicians, using lyrics and instrumentation to poetically tell the story of the film. It is a great example of what can be done with a small budget. The music will also serve as a great tool to market the film after production has wrapped, helping to reach a new demographic.
The goal of this film is to honor Louisiana music, the vast and multifaceted culture of music venues, like juke joints, tent shows, and the chitlin circuit, and the artists who used their talents to help move many communities through turbulent times. This film will also preserve the sound that is the root of Louisiana’s heritage. This film features jazz and blues music, a sound that was birthed in Louisiana and highlights the influence Louisiana has had on the industry at large. It is also a salute to Louisiana artists like Irma Thomas, Slim Harpo, and “Rockin” Tabby Thomas who helped shape and mold what we celebrate today. Most importantly, this film displays the power that Louisiana music has to break down barriers of race, oppression, and classism.