Interview: 195 LEWIS pt. 1
Upcoming screenings of 195 Lewis:
Harlem Arts Alliance Presents: 195 Lewis Workshop + Screening // June 15, 2017 6:00pm - 8:00pm
Allied Media Conference // Saturday June 17, 2017 4:00pm - 5:30pm State Hall: Room 117
Frameline 41 (San Francisco) // Saturday, June 17, Roxie Theater, 6:30PM
Reel Affirmations (Washington D.C.) // Friday, July 28, HRC Equality Center, 7:30-11:30PM
Chanelle Aponte Pearson, Director of the new web series 195 Lewis chatted with Got a Girl Crush to discuss all things film-making, background on the series, and how she finds creative inspiration throughout the day. As a new director, her storytelling experience is personal, stemming from previous experiences navigating the world as a multi-racial, queer person of color, seeking a platform to share relatable content. Peep her interview with Lauren Murray, a blogger based out of Houston, Texas, for the rundown on how she thinks 195 Lewis is breaking creative ground while also highlighting queer people of color.
Lauren Murray: So, what exactly is 195 Lewis? Where did the name come from? How did you get involved? Give me a little bit of background info.
Chanelle Aponte Pearson: 195 Lewis is a dramatic comedy series about a group of friends navigating what it’s like to be black, queer, and poly in NYC. It’s very specifically Bed-Stuy. I’m a film maker but I’ve been producing for the most part for about 10 years now. My partner and I, Terrence Stance, we have a film production company called MVMT. So, most of my background is in producing. The two creators of 195 Lewis are Rae Leon Allen and Yaani Supreme. They created this show and crafted these characters and these experiences and had a preliminary script and actually approached Terrence to direct. Terrence and I had been a producer/director team for about a decade. So, they initially approached him, and he looked at the script and said, "This is about queer women of color…” so he clearly pushed it over to me. He thought that I should do this. Of course, I had never directed before, but I’ve had ideas for some short films, so it just made sense. So, I had a conversation with Yaani and we talked for hours about some poly experiences, the queer community here in Brooklyn, and a lot of other random stuff. Even after the conversation I was still like "Oh I don't know... This is so special," I turned it down. I didn’t think I had enough experience. And she just wasn’t taking the rejection. She was like “No, I think you are the right person to do it. I think you would bring a lot to the show. We vibe really well. I think you should do it. Just. Because it’s your first time doing a thing doesn’t mean that it’s not going to be the most amazing thing of all time.” She really had a lot of confidence in me and my vision.”
Lauren: That’s cool! So, is 195 Lewis, is that an address?
Chanelle: Yes! In the time, it was written they actually lived at 195 Macon, which is an avenue in the Bedford-Stuyvesant part of Brooklyn. But I guess they didn’t want to put their whole address on blast.
Chanelle: So, they were just like oh let’s just change the avenue! My friend asked me if that address was even real so I googled it and it is, but I don't know who lives there. I hope people aren’t going by there trying to check it out.
Lauren: With this being your first foray in directing, I was checking out your LinkedIn page and I saw that there’s some creative things you’ve done in the past and I was of wondering is there anything that you do to prepare to create or what gets you in the state of mind you have to be in?
Chanelle: Yeah. As a producer, I’ve seen all the different type of moving parts. and I’ve worked with a number of people to make it happen. Also in a completely other life I used to be a program manager at a financial services company. So, it was really interesting to take the skill as a program manager and juggling different parts and working with so many different people in different departments. Really at the end of the day the goal is to just make the end product happen. Program managing, the end result was a leadership class but in film it was coming on set and the final product was this film. I wasn’t so close to the creative parts of it so I learned as I went. Terrence was really helpful. He provided a lot of guidance and support. That’s also my Virgo-ness. I like to write out lists’. like to be as prepared as possible. That when I feel my most confident. When I know I’m prepared? I want to know everything that I need to know when I’m on set so that process is as smooth as possible. That’s how I approach it. I just love lists.
Lauren: You’re just really methodical!
Chanelle: With the creative process, I just take a lot of time with myself. Just take at the whole picture and break everything down. And really just try to draw from any creative inspiration and try to organize that so that I can move forward.
It’s interesting too because I’m still developing my own creative practice. That’s still something I’m learning. Even knowing how to take time for creative work. Like taking time and saying, “I’m just going to write to day” even taking time to just consume creative work. ‘Alright I’m going to watch these shows or watch this film to pull references. To make time for that is a practice that I’m still developing.
Lauren: You got asked to direct it, and you’re doing this now. So, for your vision and how you want to produce the web series and how you wanting people to take it in, did you pull from any inspiration from your personal experiences? Where did your inspiration stem from?
Chanelle: For this project, I really wanted to rely on the producers to produce and for me to direct, and talking to the production designer and what I want to the location to look for (Storyboards, et cetera) I really wanted to focus on that and really let the producers produce. Which is really hard because that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the last decade. Because also at the same time it’s an ADHD situation. I really pulled from my experience as a program manager and a producer to really buckle down and get it done. As far as content, Yaani and Rae, they already developed these characters and already wrote the script and then when I came on as director and Terrence as creative advisor, the 4 of us co-wrote and developed the script to where it was ready to be shot. I’ve been navigating polyamory for the past 10 years, so a few lines and experiences in my life helped developed the story and some of the characters’ experiences. I’ve also been living in BedStuy for the last 7 years and working with a really dope community of artists and advocates, which is sort of a loose word, but so many people are advocating for social justice in a lot of different ways. So that’s also reflected. I’m a native New Yorker, from the Bronx. But I have a lot of friends coming from a lot of different places so we make a very special community that makes it really special.
Lauren: Well I can’t wait to watch it. I’ve watched the trailer so many times. I was actually just online the other day and saw a link I pinned a long time ago which was a post that one of my friends in Atlanta put up saying that "I really can’t wait for this show to come out. I’m excited about this” and the link was this show and I’m all like I KNEW I HEARD OF THIS BEFORE! So yeah, y’all have people everywhere that can’t wait for this to come out
Chanelle: I’m really not the biggest social media person ever so sometimes I ask, "do people even know about this?” So, it’s really hard to gauge. One of my friends said she went on a date and she said her date was like “Omg are you gonna go to this screening? It’s called 195 Lewis.” And she was like "omg that’s my friend!” So when she told me that I was like oh, that’s great, that’s really good!
Lauren: Yeah, I even have a friend in Arkansas that asked me about the show and said they couldn’t wait for it to premier!
Chanelle: Yeah! It’s coming!
Lauren: I don't know if this is too invasive, but what do you identify as…if you want to put that out there.
Chanelle: I am an Afro-Puerto Rican queer…I’ve always identified as a queer, but I’ve really been working on myself becoming more comfortable with my gender queerness. As far as pronouns I respond to she/her, they/them and he/him.
Lauren: Do you think there are any glass ceilings for the queer community in the film industry or creative industry that needs to be shattered?
Chanelle: I never really look at it as a glass ceiling. When I think of that, I think of white women trying to get certain corporate positions. I don't know why I think about it in that way
Lauren: No I think that’s how it’s been portrayed…
Chanelle: I think having access to different opportunities and resources. As a person of color and an independent film maker, I think that’s still a challenge. I think it’s getting better but we still have a long way to go. I was just speaking with a film-maker and they were like “We already have this particular community being represented.” But I don’t agree because that’s only one particular experience. We have all of these truly diverse perspectives and ways of thinking. That’s another thing, when we think of relationships, just being able to show the diversity of how we relate to each other whether its romantic or platonic relationships, within the community. I know that the content is there, it’s just a matter of what platforms and what spaces can make the content available.
Lauren: I think it’s also with Insecure and Atlanta, even when you take it back to Issa Rae’s The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl, we still needed those shows out there. It’s like a breath of fresh air to see more relatable content on television.
Chanelle: The web continues to be an incredible space and platform to get content out there. To reach the folks in Arkansas. Y’know?! I acknowledge the significance of that space while still challenging the mainstream distributors and the major platforms. We need them both.
Lauren: Say the people in Arkansas or smaller towns want to get into film or get into something creative. What words of advice would you give to help motivate them?
Chanelle: People are making stuff! I mean, I don’t have a full background in film. I don’t have a major in it. I went to school for public policy. Writing policy for research advocacy organizations. I was applying the skills I had learned in a completely different field and then taking them and applying it to film making. And collaborating and with the support of such a strong community. With 195 Lewis, 95% of the staff were queer women of color who had no film experience but they were so excited and invested in the project and we got on social media and pooled our resources and we made it work. Those are two examples right there of people relying on their resources and using those things to manifest something.
Lauren: I just got into writing myself and I was also one of those kids constantly messing up their carpet from just doing things they shouldn’t have been doing. Making things. I never really knew quite how to express myself. And lately I’ve been looking into film and I don't know if enjoy watching it more or making it. I keep saying that 2017 will be the year of the creative glo-up. Ha-ha!
Chanelle: Creative Glo Up!! I love that! I’m so grateful for the community of people I have. I call them my tribe. My friend Ryan for example I’ve always known has a really good ear for music. For artists that most people don’t know about. She was the person I went to for the show and I’m so glad that I did. She was like “Music? Super! I’ve never done that before but ok!” Your tribe is important because you can’t do it all by yourself!
Lauren: Lol, so this question is from my personal agenda. What was it like filming and directing in a neighborhood constantly influenced by gentrification and being in a changing environment?
Chanelle: It took a while to even get the 5 episodes that we’re in right now for financial reasons and that so many team members were working on a million diff things. Even with the span of starting a project now, there’s a scene where our character Chris gets off a subway and she’s walking to a party, and she goes to ask for directions at a bodega in the neighborhood that isn’t even there anymore.
Chanelle: Yeah, it’s gone. And it’s true. The neighborhood is changing. That’s still the authenticity of the show though. The neighborhood is changing throughout the show and that’s the reality of these characters and it’s the reality of the neighborhood we’re living in now. We try to highlight businesses and establishments that are here now and all so serve as some sort of preservation for the work that’s here now
Lauren: So, last question; who would you say is your girl crush at the moment? If you could take them to dinner, where would y’all go and what would you talk about?
Chanelle: Can it be anyone?
Chanelle: I am just so crushing on Jada Rodriguez. Really all the women on Jane the Virgin I’m so in love with. It’s just a familiarity. I was just saying, “There’s something about Andrea!”, you know the mother of the show. Like there’s something about her. So familiar! And she Puerto Rican. And she’s from the BX.
Lauren: There it is!
Chanelle: Like Aunty! She reminds me so much of my Aunt and Gin is so amazing. Who plays the grandmother on the show? First of all, I love the show and it cracks me up everything I think the acting and the writing is amazing. I’m crushing on all three of those women. I would take them all to lunch just butter them up.
Lauren: What would y’all eat though? Because that’s important.
Chanelle: Uummm I mean some arroz con frijoles. Lol I could eat rice and beans every day. Hahahaha
Lauren: Hahaha, I mean, it’s a good combination. Thank you for talking with me about 195 Lewis though! Can you shout out your social media handles so the people can find you?
Chanelle: Yeah! People can Go to 195Lewis.com and also follow us on Facebook to be in the loop for all of our updates. We are hoping to launch online soon, and also our Instagram @195Lewis to follow our launch! I love Got a Girl Crush, and I loved this interview, so thank you for doing this!