Making a film of any kind takes some seriously hard work, especially one that pushes boundaries. I’ve never been in an editing booth, although I can imagine the tediousness that comes with putting together a project that can be physically and mentally demanding on its face. Throw in the bread and butter of special visual effects and although your time is your own, you’re ultimately on a whole other battlefield.
It’s an emotion that’s understandable for want of being a creative and to be able to share it with audiences. After all you’ve been through in life until now and investing a heavy portion of your time and energy on a project like Black Lightning: Tobias’s Revenge, actor and filmmaker Choice Skinner is more than qualified on the matter after winning Best Fan Film at the Urban Action Showcase and Expo last November.
“The team and I were honored to have been selected and screened at such a prestigious event.” says Skinner before giving praise to the festival’s founder, who himself is also an actor and filmmaker. “Shout out to Demetrius Angelo! It always feels great when you’ve worked so hard on something and you get the chance to share it with the world. There are only but so many moments in life and for me, getting to see the work that I and so many others have sacrificed and labored so hard to complete up on the big screen is truly an accomplishment.”
In 1998 that Skinner intially moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dreams before taking an evolution thereafter. He took to music with a multi-Platinum R&B artist, Rome who was signed to RCA at this juncture. Skinner’s plan toward music unfortunately soured within two years and landed him at a crossroads. Having kept to background acting to keep the lights on, he then chose to pursue stunt and fight choreography under the tutelage of action cinema mainstays, Art Camacho and Eric Lee.
“Art told me that I was talented and had a promising career in stunts but my acting sucked and suggested that I take an acting class or college course on acting.” Skinner tells us. “I had a friend named Dion Slider who introduced me to acting coach Bobbie Chance over at Expressions Unlimited. I studied with her for some time and eventually started booking television and film roles. Writing, producing and directing my own content eventually followed as the years went by.”
Skinner’s screenfighting notwithstanding, martial arts also served as the bedrock of his younger years following what he described as a “VERY tumultuous” upbringing, growing up in an area of Brooklyn not to far from where Mike Tyson lived, and encountering “extreme violence” first hand during his youth. By 1992, his mother had him inducted in a versatile martial arts program at a local community center under the instruction of Mr. Dyron Jackson, his first stop on a journey that would land him in the throes of greatness in Augusta, Georgia in 1997 upon arriving to Ft. Gordon and meeting Bojuka founder, Tom Schrenk.
“He changed my life.” says Skinner. “Throughout the years I studied many forms of martial arts with many notable people but NONE of those systems gave me the confidence and control that Bojuka has. It’s pure self-defense and prides itself in being a personal and professional form of tactical skill. It is the current form of combat that I continue to study and currently teach.”
Skinner still accredits his intial teacher, Jackson, for instilling his own training years earlier, privy to a versatile regime built on Shotokan, Wing Chun, Jeet Kune Do and Boxing/Kickboxing, and with a sidekick that earned the old-school martial artist and instructor quite the reputation both locally, and in the tournament circuit.
“I would only hope he’s able to still kick the way he did.” says Skinner who attributes his own sidekick to Jackson’s instruction. “He taught me how to fend for myself and pretty much became a surrogate father and mentor to me.” he says.
Skinner’s childhood is also something most young males can relate to, pairing him with a pastime in adorarion for comic books and superheroes. Skinner’s own collection still stands today being an avid patron of mainstream and independent prints, saying “I collected EVERYTHING! From both Marvel and DC as well as some of the indie comic companies. I was mostly drawn to X-Men and GI Joe though. I even collected Rom and Dazzler for a while. I still have well over 400 comic books that I’ve collected. I’m pretty sure they’re worth something! [laughs]”.
His affinity for DC superhero, Black Lightning, was something of an entirely different beast, however, growing up in a broken home and residing his idolatry in a protagonist of the rare kind, much like Steel, Blade and Black Panther.
“…He was a character I gravitated to due to his being a school teacher/principal and mentor.” he says. “As a young black male coming from the projects, characters like Jefferson Pierce was one of the people in comics I respected highly, so getting the opportunity to portray him in the short was a dream come true! Shout out to Tony Isabella and Trevor Von Eeden for creating this amazing character!”
The CW’s announcement of a serial Black Lightning adaptation didn’t hinder Skinner. Instead, it perpetuated him to apply his craft to a timely project having developed it with fellow actor and screenwriter, James Moten-Black, challenges be damned, and of which there were plenty.
Thankfully, the production’s casting process proved less-problematic given Skinner’s own accessibility to pupils and willing participants at the Breakingthrough Acting Workshop in Sherman Oaks, California where he also teaches drama. Work ethic was also a factor in the project’s delivery, telling us of their involvement and pro-activity over costume and overall production design, as well as with camera equipment and logistics, including efforts by Jay Hunter who not only plays Gangbuster in the two-part short, but also aided in finding necessary locations for shooting.
The cast itself is also not one with its own appeal. Relatability, here, was also important for the audience in Skinner’s view, speaking highly of the pivotal role diversity plays in movies.
“I believe diversity grounds a film, makes it real world and gives a film much more weight.” he says. “It also gets people to relate easier to the story.”
It further helped to have a partner that Skinner could gel with. The potential for something to falter due to financing and other constraints were ever-present, as well as on-set audio and post-production – something Skinner illustrates as “…an ongoing battle throughout the entire production…”. Their shared insight on quality, however remained unwaning despite certain shortfalls.
“…[Black] is one of the most extremely talented and hardworking young men that I know.” says Skinner who invokes strong approval for his fellow cohort likening him to a “brother-in-arms” and “Samurai in battle watching out for each other’s back.” Skinner also graces Moten-Black’s mother, Joan, describing her as a “tremendous supporter”.
“I was truly fortunate to have James on this project as co-writer, VFX supervisor and playing the best version of Static in live action and I’m blessed to have him as a business partner, mentee and
friend.” he says. “Hopefully our team will get bigger budgeted projects down the road so we can do more of what we’ve done with Black Lightning – Tobias’s Revenge on a grander scale. We’d definitely be interested in doing the feature of Static or Black Lightning if a studio offered a sizable budget.”
The film multi-hyphenate also talked of his vision as a director at one point, aiming at his occupation as a director is to move people, be it emotionally or physically – something he attributes to Ryan Coogler’s latest theatrical adaptation of Marvel’s Black Panther, now playing in theaters as of this article, as well as the cadre of titles from the pantheon of memorable cinema like Terminator and Ghostbusters. His vision, paired with Moten-Black for Black Lightning: Tobias’s Revenge, is also something he highlights in his role as a filmmaker in raising the bar for the future of action and storytelling.
“.. I believe that a renaissance for the film world is on the horizon.” he says, emphazing things such as environment and STORY when embracing the forefront of cinema, adding “I recently watched Black Lightning – Tobias’s Revenge on the big screen as an official selection at the Inaugural Mammoth Film Festival in DCP. It gave me goosebumps.”
He adds“…I know it’s possible to make amazing stuff. I just think studios need to stop making the agendas so obvious and give guys like James and I a chance to entertain people and make them FEEL something!”
Having already won several awards, Skinner’s next stop on the mile will be the Cannes Short Film Corner for the 72nd installation of the fest this May. Undoubtedly, Black Lightning: Tobias’s Revenge will serve as a “calling card” to showcase for potential film financiers and investors alike on future projects, including untitled drama with actor/writer Mychal Thompson, Nicholas Alexander’s We Are Family, sci-fi pic Mark Of The Dragon and Alysia Joy Powell’s latest comedy, Big & Beautiful.
He’s also assuring a path to production for another sci-fi thriller titled Alexus with Tony Germinario and Call Me King star Amin Joseph, while currently in post production for faith based crime drama, Keep The Faith, also starring Moten-Black.
“Everyone keeps telling me that Cannes can be overwhelming but I’ll be doing my best to get my pitches and presentations together.” he says. “It’s all business for me!”
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Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.