CALIFORNIA STREET DREAMIN’: A Word With Actor And Filmmaker Jordan Cann
Actor and artist multi-hyphenate Jordan Cann and I have a few things in common. I surprisingly learned this during our latest interview in the days since he debuted the official trailer for his second feature film, Street Dreams: Los Angeles.
It turns out that both of us were born and raised in the borough of Queens in New York City. I actually reside near the area he grew up in for eight years which, at the time, dealt with its own share of crime – enough to upend the Cann household for a move to Hampton, Virginia where would begin cultivate himself in the arts.
“Around this time I really started getting heavy into the martial arts due to the popularity of TMNT and the action/martial arts boom in the 80s – 90s.” he says. “After begging for classes my family finally gave in and I took formal lessons for a month before I quit. I didn’t have the discipline to focus and learn the katas.”
That didn’t stop Cann from finding his angle in martial arts, and not for nothing either. His influences in everything popular at the time from Hollywood and TV to Asian crossover stars like Jet Li would then embody his pursuits in drama at school and church.
“Other than the 5 lines I had in a school play my acting talent was discovered by Stephanie Thomas.” he says. “She was the first to really believe in me when she gave me a lead role in a church play, and encouraged me in all of my arts (even singing)…”
With this, Cann grew more and more pertinent when it came to dance. As Cann tells it “it was dancing that stood out”, imploring regular four-to-six hour dance routines in his room and doing up to two hours of acrobatics in the backyard. This also brought on an interest in music as it became increasingly essential in many ways for his own work.
“Dancing was more spiritual for me. It was my outlet for everything as a teen and it was the center of my life,” Cann tells us, adding on the result of his passion and the numerous awards he garnered for every local talent show, and even teaching dance for several years in North America and abroad. “It opened up the door for everything that I do now. I was heavily influenced by the great Michael Jackson, Usher, Ginuwine, Janet Jackson, Aaliyah, SisQo, Omarion, Darrin Henson and Turbo.”
2009 saw Cann moving to Los Angeles, a burgeoning artist with a goal in mind since his teen years: To succeed as a professional dancer and break into action films. The usual inaugural struggles that come with the pursuit of career fruition lasted about two-and-a-half years for Cann until he was finally able to break into the industry going into his adult years. He was exposed, and he began learning all he could, paying close attention to directors and the crew, and asking questions where and when he could – an approach that proved useful upon getting to work with F. Gary Gray ahead of the release of Straight Outta Compton.
“He was so calm cool and collect. He would pull me to the side and we’d talk about old school hip-hop.” says Cann in discussing his several influences at this point in time, the others being a How-To book on writing treatments, and the work of Transformers franchise shepherd Michael Bay, adding “His eye for cinematography, action and sound just blow me away.”
2014 was the year I discovered Cann for myself as he was crowdfunding an action horror project called Vampire’s Rage. It was the first of my own coverage of his work knowing and seeing the trailer in which he showcased an acumen for directing performing action. Prior to this point in his life and after taking initiative with writing his own shorts being the creative type that he is, he also partook in the editing process and despite not having explicit resources at his disposal, he did what he could and made well with what he had:
“I discovered I was REALLY good at editing. It was like dancing to me because editing has a lot to do with rhythm. After a few short films and feeling frustrated from not getting the type of roles that showcased all of me, I decided that I will have to create my own content. I enrolled in film school and they polished everything that I already knew and gave me the right equipment to make high quality films. Jordan the filmmaker and performer was a go!”
That same year was also when Cann and fellow background dancer-cum-filmmaker Aaron “Stylez” Thompson formed J&S Film Productions, currently proliferating through a variety of music videos and shortfilms, as well as more complex feature projects through a wide range of genres. One such project being Street Dreams: Los Angeles, was birthed just as Cann went to Atlanta to broaden his industry experience.
“I reconnected with a cousin of mine, Malik Delaigle, who loved what I was doing and wanted in, but as an executive producer.” says Cann who also reveals Thompson’s own passion in car racing, discussing the film’s vision and the creative pursuits. “I wanted to create something different than what we had done. Something more grown up and relatable…I wanted a police drama.”
Cann’s creative process is a robust one, shared in-house with Thompson and those among the crew. It’s also not without its share of challenges therein, one being the writing on which Cann took the mantle after being unable to secure a screenwriter. Another was a matter of location and logistics, which also comprised of a number of issues in and of themselves.
“It was originally called Street Dreams: Atlanta, although we had to film it in L.A. due to but due to the budget and our connections out here.” says Cann who later dove even further on some of the more concurrent hurdles, including one arose as a result of not fully scoping the area.
“While shooting, we were rolled up on some Mexican gang members.” he says. “They pulled out a shotgun on us and chased us out the neighborhood. We were close to death. It was scary. We laugh about it now though. Too much to fit in a paragraph. More like a mini novel, I’d say.”
Joined by Romane Simon of Lucky Strike Film Studios following rewrites and further casting, Cann initially set his sights on filming within a week with the hopes of flying back to New York City in time for last year’s Urban Action Showcase and Expo for the screening of the Blade-inspired Vampire’s Rage. We were actually in touch with one another in the hopes of making a meet-and-greet happen, however it turned out not to be so with production going into overtime.
Going forward though and continued hopes notwithstanding, Cann and Thompson will be making some headway with Street Dreams: Los Angeles. The trailer immediately caught my attention as it mixes a lot of what I’ve already enjoyed their work thusfar next to my own appreciation for solid independent productions.
“I play Elijah Wilkins.” Cann says in introducing his character. “He’s cocky, confident, laid back and selfish. After witnessing a death of a friend and an intervention with an admirable FBI agent, he sets out a career path toward the same field by walking in his footsteps. He also shares a relationship with his childhood girlfriend bonded further through their child. As such, he’s constantly being forced to choose between them and his career goals and everybody around him seems to want to suppress him in some way.”
Street Dreams: Los Angeles appears to be in much better standing for Cann and the good folks at J&S. Rest assured, it’s a much more concrete assembly following a dodgier freshman outing a few years ago with his debut feature, From Paris To Rome. It had a good trailer and all seemed ready for a local screening event until Cann reached out to me and informed me that there were certain underlying issues; much was ado with licensing and technical aspects in addition to still learning the business end of it all.
“It was a MAJOR learning curve.” says Cann. “We appreciate everybody who worked on it, but we tremble in disgust over the thought of that film. There is a saying: ‘Never despise small beginnings.’ We all have to start from somewhere.”
Indeed, Cann’s starting point still holds up as a milestone of similar size. It’s early days for J&S Film Productions in my view though, and so I still felt it fitting to ask him what his thoughts might be in terms of some major issues that may plague the independent film scene or the industry in general. I often ask my interview subjects this and a good handful that know what the issues are are often mum on this area. Sometimes saying certain things can be costly for performers still in need of employment and frankly, I reckon there are some people who definitely have a little too much authority, and often observe it in ways that are counterproductive to say the least. It’s something that Cann sheds light on with his own perspective as well, and with a fitting measure of it having been able to get his feet well into the water.
“At our level it is funding.” he writes, citing his faith as a means of steadying his compass in the course of making things work with less.
“As far as things within the industry that I would like to see change… I don’t like the politics within the entertainment industry relating to a person getting more work because of popularity versus raw talent.” he adds. “I can make a video of me doing something obnoxious and it goes viral. Next thing you know I am getting endorsements, paid appearances and the like when Johnny has raw talent and can’t catch a break because his social media numbers are not high. I see why they exist, but it could be frustrating for new talent to break in. Talent is not even secondary, but a third factor these days.”
At best, Street Dreams: Los Angeles is signature to the whole of the education Cann is taking with him onto other projects. He is much more mindful nowadays of the business part – licensing, contracts, proper planning, budgets scheduling, logistics, treatment of talent and crew, and any and all related to production quality. It also culminates amply the very purpose he sees himself living in along with the enjoyement of being an artist:
“I am the creator type and to construct an idea that starts in the mind is a cool thing to see. Of course it’s not easy and at times stressful, but you know what they say, “When you love it, it never feels like work.”
It’s been four years since I met Cann online and I still look forward to him venturing back East. Until that day comes, I put him right up there with any number of filmmakers and actors I’ve covered who are working their way up either on an independent scale, or through the mainstream machine. The latter is much more of a challenge considering the restrictions by which most folks are allowed to divulge information, share and engage with anyone who reads press, but I’m determined.
That said, I certainly hope Cann will be able to cover greater ground. His channel is home to shortfilms such as Reclamation, My Brother’s Keeper, comprehensive dance sampler DeTour and a plethora of videos related to dance and dabbling in fight choreography and performance. It’ll be interesting what else comes of it and as long as Cann is able to shape things his way, onlookers like myself are bound to see deservedly bigger things to come.
“I personally want to get to a blockbuster [Michael Bay] level, but with better storylines.” he says, adding on hopes of more chances to write, as well as direct other major actors so as to condense his focus.
“I also really want to produce and direct major music videos as well. We want our company to be one of the leading independent film production companies that don’t need 100% help from Hollywood.” he adds. “It would be a dream to work with Tony Jaa and Wesley Snipes.”