Monday, February 24, 2014

Dui Jarrod's Lesson Before Love

Dui Jarrod is the writer and director of Lesson Before Love, a film that premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music or BAM in 2012 for the New Voices in Black Cinema. It played at several festivals where it won a couple of awards. It had a limited theatrical run that year, and after a cooling period it's now getting a DVD release on February 25, 2014. It comes nearly two weeks after Valentine's Day, which is appropriate because the film is inspired by a Valentine's Day that Jarrod celebrated five years ago where instead of spending the day with one particular person whom he loves, Jarrod spent the entire day with his fellow single friends.

Jarrod and his friends had a lot of fun, but they also had a lot of great conversations about life and love, where they were, what they wanted and why they all were still single. The next day, Jarrod got to work writing about the things he and his friends discussed and used that as a jumping off point to craft a screenplay about four characters dealing with similar issues regarding their personal relationships and careers.

Each character in Lesson Before Love has to learn something about themselves in order to move forward in their lives. While writing the script or perhaps prior, Jarrod had to learn something about himself in order to move forward in his life, specifically to move forward romantically. Jarrod couldn't make it work with his past girlfriends because he says he was unfulfilled creatively and artistically.

Yes, Dui Jarrod is an artist. He can now be called a filmmaker, but he's chiefly a writer and mostly a dramatist. He's been a dramatist ever since he was a little kid. He said when he was still a prepubescent boy, he would stage one-man shows for his mother after she got home from her secretarial job and while she was making dinner for him and his five siblings. Jarrod is the fourth child of six total. He has three brothers and two sisters. None of them are artists.

Jarrod said he's always had an extremely vivid imagination. He was born on March 30, 1980, in Little Rock, Arkansas. He grew up in Pine Bluff, which is about a hour or so south of the city and is about an eighth of the size of Little Rock. Even though Jarrod's father worked as an industrial salesman, his family was still very much poor and black, so he didn't have many outlets for his imagination. His summers as a youth was spent watching VHS tapes over and over.

Dui Jarrod and his mother, Gloria
Courtesy: DreamingSince1980.blogspot.com
He said he gravitated toward the characters in those VHS movies. He would then take and put them in silly stories that he invented where they did things as inane as go to the mall. He would actually write these stories as plays and perform them for his mother, sometimes roping his younger siblings into the mix.

Jarrod though was the only creative and artistic person in his family. Growing up in Arkansas, he said he had very few things to feed his creativity. He discovered early that he had to create his own outlets and create his own opportunities, whether it was kitchen plays for mom or whether it was at high school where he sang in choir and did decorations for school dances.

At the age of 15, he was part of his church's Sunday school program learning about the Bible. Jarrod volunteered to write a play for that program. The Sunday school organizers were probably taken slightly aback but let him do it. Jarrod ended up writing about Noah and Noah's Ark but from a different perspective. Not only did he write the play, but he designed and built the sets himself in his family's garage.

Jarrod's father who left for work early and came home late had no idea that his son had done all this. His father was amazed when he went into the garage and saw what Jarrod had built, completely stunned as Jarrod remembers it.

So, Jarrod continued doing shows, mostly through the choir group in high school. Yes, his dad was impressed and his mom was supportive but as Jarrod was getting ready to graduate high school, he knew he wanted to go to college, but his parents pushed him to study something a bit more practical than theater and acting.

Jarrod attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, but he struggled. He changed his majors from pre-med to poli-sci but nothing truly interested him as a career, not like performance and the visual arts. He left LSU in his junior year and moved to New Orleans to pursue acting in 2002.

He continued struggling, but at least he was doing what he loved. He did give an award-winning performance at the Anthony Bean Theater, acting in A Soldier's Story, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Charles Fuller that later went on to become an Academy Award-nominated film in 1984, which had actually been one of Jarrod's favorites as a child.

Unfortunately, Jarrod had to leave New Orleans in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit. He moved north to Shreveport and got a job as an advocate for organ donation where he encouraged families who lost loved ones to tragedy to help save other people's lives. He said this job helped him as a future dramatist in two ways.

First, it showed that regardless of race or culture, all people are the same. Whether it's through the pain of losing someone close to you to illness or accident, or whether it's through the joy of seeing someone close to you survive thanks to organ donation, all people are the same. The same emotions, the same fears and validations he learned, run through everyone. As a writer, Jarrod wanted to tap into that.

Secondly, that Shreveport job taught him that he couldn't wait. If he wanted to pursue a career in writing and acting, he would have to do it himself and he would have to do it now. The Shreveport job taught him this because obviously it was a job that literally dealt with life and death on a daily basis, so obviously one learns to appreciate every second you are alive and healthy, but also the job taught him this because ultimately he was fired from it.

Jarrod said, had he not been fired, a decade or so later, he might still be at that job today. Looking back, he perhaps sees his firing as a blessing in disguise, or the kick in the ass he needed to get him writing and acting again, which always was his passion. He then returned to New Orleans and started screenwriting. He penned a short film and used money he had saved in Shreveport to buy a house to instead finance the production of the short film in 2007.

Jarrod never formally studied filmmaking. Aside from watching his parents' VHS tapes and reading a few books on his own, he had no idea how to produce and direct a film, be it short or not. While going to church in New Orleans, he met Tyler Dixon, a cinematographer who did have experience with film production, particularly post production. Jarrod decided to get Dixon to be what's referred to as the Director of Photography.

Dixon would also help produce and edit the film, but Jarrod perhaps thought Director of Photography meant Dixon would direct everything. Jarrod had planned to be one of the lead actors in the short film titled Nothing More, Nothing Less, so he was surprised when Dixon told him right before they got on set that, no, he wasn't directing everything and that Jarrod should be the official director.

Jarrod never expected to be doing it, but he said when he yelled, "Action," for the first time, he knew that being the official director was what he was meant to do. He went on to produce and direct a few more short films. Some were a part of a web series that he posted on YouTube.

Kenneth Brown, Jr. and Shamea Morton
in a scene from "Lesson Before Love"
At the same time, he was still doing stage plays. In fact, in 2008, his first, produced play called Between You and Me went on tour in five cities. The play was not profitable and it practically bankrupt him, but, in the wake of that, Jarrod celebrated that all-singles Valentine's Day in 2009 that inspired him to write Lesson Before Love.

He was able to get investors whom he met at film festivals for his short films to pony up money to produce Lesson Before Love. He moved to Atlanta with Dixon who had been his roommate since his stage play ended, and directed Lesson Before Love in March 2011.

Jarrod has a cameo appearance in this his feature debut, but he had four main actors this time. Two of which, Kenneth Brown Jr. and Reece Odum, were two actors he had employed previously. The other two, Peyton Coles and Shamea Morton, had to audition, but Coles was the brother of a Facebook friend.

Beyond just being a romantic comedy, Jarrod sees the movie as a character study of four individuals, driven mainly by dialogue. The individuals have trouble in relationships because they're unfulfilled in other ways like in their jobs. For Jarrod, this was semi-autobiographical because he knew that his personal life would not be what he wanted it to be until he became fulfilled in his career. Ironically, he said that would not happen until he directed his first feature, which ended up being this exact picture.

He submitted the film to film festivals. He nearly hit the roof when he got the acceptance letter from New Voices in Black Cinema. He had visited New York City back in 2006 as a tourist and fell in love with the place, knowing it was where he was always supposed to be. When he read that letter, it was the sign he needed. He decided to leave Atlanta then and there and move to the New York area.

Dui Jarrod
Courtesy: Shadow and Act
He roomed with a friend in Jersey until a lady from church was able to help him move into a place in Brooklyn, in the Fort Greene neighborhood. He was surprised when he realized that his apartment was only a couple of blocks away from BAM, the very theater where his feature would premiere. He honestly had no plan to live in the exact spot. It just happened that way.

Yes, he had help and good luck, but getting to where he is now, he did by himself, a lot of it with just hope and faith. It was a long road getting from Arkansas to New York, but he did it. Whereas he was limited in Arkansas, in New York he can flourish, but he hasn't forgotten about his home state.

Jarrod has an upcoming one-man show in June back in Arkansas. He hopes to do a book of essays and hopefully more films. He's only 33-going-on-34. He's still very young and has a lot of potential ahead of him with the spirit and drive to make anything his mind can imagine come true.

Courtesy: DuiJarrod.com
Lesson Before Love will be released on DVD on Tuesday, February 25, 2014. It will be available through Breaking Glass Pictures, Amazon and other video outlets.

For more information, go to: http://www.lessonbeforelove.com/

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