Trent Dickens is somebody who’s accrued more than enough experience in his young life to venture into a variety of pursuits. The actor and oft dancer has since positioned himself behind the lens for his recent shortfilm debut, Panda, which even got Kevin Smith’s attention via Twitter at one point.
Yes. That Kevin Smith.
Panda goes live on Friday following my own review, and so at long last, we now take to our first interview to discuss his career and work going forward.
Panda marks your directorial debut online soon but you got your start in entertainment as a dancer. Talk about that aspect of your career for us and your segue into film.
My Mother is a dance teacher so I grew up in the studio. I always had a dream to make movies one day but had no idea how to go about it, dance was what I knew and what I was good at. So when me and my Mom started to seriously talk about me moving to Los Angeles and pursue the entertainment industry she told me to work hard at the dance thing and then after time you will make a lot of friends and contacts and you can use those to crossover to the film industry when you’re ready.
And that’s exactly what I did. I ended up getting to work and getting to know some of my favorite artists and people I looked up to. One really important person that I met along the way was Kevin Tancharoen. He was just getting done with all the Britney Spears stuff and really starting to try to be a Director. Seeing him was living proof that it was possible for a dancer to cross over and be successful.
Me having the outlet of dance and being fortunate enough to do it as a job helped me meet my network so I could get where I’m at now. Very thankful for my journey in the dance world.
And you also share a lot of production assistant credits including My Name Is Dolemite which has Wesley Snipes. Talk about working on that project for us and what sort of roles a production assistant plays. I’ve never been on a film set so I’m here imagining you specialize in any number of things that come with the title.
Dolemite Is My Name was a really fun and last minute project I got the opportunity to work on. I was still working on getting Panda finished for the cast and crew screening and I got a phone call from my friend Turbo one night asking me if I was “available” to work. I was so focused on getting my movie finished at the time, I was basically already going to tell him no before he opened his mouth but then once he uttered the words Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes and Craig Brewer it was a no brainer.
I ended up being in charge of first team which are the main actors so I got to help out with Eddie and Wesley and all of the other incredible actors in the film. Basically I was in charge of making sure they got to set, where they needed to go, informing them of the scene, making sure they have everything they need, and staying close just in case.
A production assistant can do any number of things from running errands, sitting on a lockup which is when you make that people/cars/crew are not going to walk into a shot or come down a street they aren’t supposed to. You’re the first ones there and the last to leave so the hours can be intense on television and movies, commercial world tends to be a little different as far as hours/duties and pay goes. As you work more and more and establish relationships you will be given more and more responsibility, hopefully.
You mentioned Kevin Tancharoen earlier and so I just wanna throw this in – the first time I acquainted myself with you was via Twitter or Instagram at some point as I was trying to stalk Kevin like a proper Mortal Kombat fanboy what with the Legacy being at the height of its popularity. And I know you both danced. Talk about your friendship and how that came to be.
Yeah, Kevin has been quite the friend to me. I guess I’ve known Kevin for almost 15 years now and he hasn’t changed a bit. He was always super driven, smart as hell and a just a good dude. Coming across people like that out here are a dime a dozen so the fact we’ve remained friends means a lot to me. He keeps the fire lit under me and everyt ime I see an episode of Agents Of SHIELD or whatever else he’s doing its just a constant reminder to keep going. Kevin gave me my first shot as a production assistant on Mortal Kombat and his sister gave me another shot on Agents Of SHIELD which I was not ready for [laughs]. I will always be forever grateful to both Kevin and Maurissa for what they did for me. I hope one day I can repay them.
Do you still dance or maybe teach any?
I don’t dance like I use to but definitely can still get down! Whenever I go back home I will try to teach a class at my Mom’s studio, help her out with rehearsals and I’ll still choreograph pieces that they compete with.
Talk about Panda for us and how you came up with this concept for a trippy, almost psychedelic crime noir that almost borders on fantasy to extent.
I was on tour with Joe Jonas and was going out a lot in lots of different places and meeting some really interesting people. I kept seeing a pattern in all of these people that I would meet and have a great time but then would never see again. Kinda like what Brad Pitt is talking about in Fight Club about self serving friends. Then I went through a break up and was also watching a lot of dark tonal movies and I think a mixture of that led to what Panda is now. Panda was an evolution of ideas over years that started off with potentially being a music video.
And how do you write a character like that? Because all I can think of is the average viral video of an adorable panda cub being a pain in the ass to its caregivers. I’d call this an allegory of sorts but I kind of feel bad about connotating the two because your take here is pretty violent. 😆
Exactly! [laughs] Well, the idea was at its infancy stage and I was on tour, still. I walked into an Urban Outfitters in Dallas and saw that mask. I immediately thought, that would make a really cool character and then somewhere along the way I merged that mask idea with what I was starting to come up with.
Eventually the two married in nice with each other and we were off to the races. As far as writing a character like that, I think it was just an amalgamation of everything I talked about in the last question mixed with finding the mask and just having more conversations with my writing partner Terence and also some convos I had with my other friend Derek.
How did you cast the title role to begin with?
I was originally going to play Panda myself but I decided against it because I wanted to just focus on making my first film and not starring in it as well. Made my life a lot easier. Jordan was at first going to play another role but as we started talking about it more I was like “hey man, why don’t you just play Panda?”
And talk about casting Krystal Ellsworth for the role of the girlfriend. Firstly, she’s stunning, and second, she’s kind of nebulous in this film much like a few other aspects and characters we see here. Like the boy on the bike for example… very puzzling stuff.
I’ve known Krystal since we were both like 19 or 20. First time I ever met Krystal I thought she was the most gorgeous woman to walk the earth (still think so) and was like “whoa.. she would look amazing in a movie.”. So I told myself that if I ever make one she would be the one I ask. Luckily she said yes, she’s stuck by me all of these years and believed in me when others didn’t. Very thankful for her friendship. Also, when I started writing that part, it was always with Krystal in mind and honestly wouldn’t have wanted to include that character if she couldn’t have done it.
What was the most challenging part for you as director of this ambitious project?
Figuring out how to start. I had never done anything like this before and had no clue how to write a script or how to coordinate a production. It was an insane learning experience that took a long time. It was the hardest yet most gratifying thing I’ve ever done in my whole life and I cant wait to keep going so I can apply what I learned this time to the next project.
And this was originally a crowdfunded project and a lot of projects – film projects that seek crowdfunding – oftentimes fall short, and of course, some still persevere on through completion. Luckily for you, you surpassed your goal – something to the effect of 16k and some change. Tell us about your position on crowdsourcing. Is it still a viable medium for filmmakers even with some still relegated to zero budgets?
Crowdfunding was a completely new to me. I did a lot of research and asking around with people who had tried it before, and once we decided we were going to go with Kickstarter, it was just about really committing.
Making a successful campaign is a lot of hard work. There’s a lot of information and presentation to be applied I think in order to have it be successful. I think it’s a great way to get people involved with the movie that can make them feel like they actually had a hand in making it. It makes it more personal for everyone involved and exciting. It’s also a great way to get people talking about your project.
For me it showed a lot of people that I was serious about this idea I had been talking about for a while so it also helped me in that way as well. Now crowdfunding may not be for everyone but I think it’s a great way to get people involved and to raise money for your project if your willing to put in the work.
Is there a feature version of this you have stashed somewhere in a cabinet in some dark corner of your room next to your half-eaten Milky Way bar and your sleepy pet hamster, Earl, by any chance? Any interest in expanding the concept? Investors?
This is the only version of Panda that I intend on doing. It was always written as a short and I feel like I told the weird story I wanted to tell. Now that’s not to say that if anyone approaches me and are like hey trent we wanna talk to you about this I think that I would be a fool to not.
How was the venue screening?
The screening couldn’t have went better! We did the cast and crew screening at the Grand Theatre in Biloxi, my hometown and where the movie was filmed so that was really special for me to be able to do that there. We ended up selling out the screening and went over capacity so that definitely exceeded my expectations. I had my entire family there, friends from high school, people from the community who I’ve known forever and some wonderful people I hadn’t met before, I was incredibly nervous and beside myself for sure.
So what’s next for Trent Dickens: Humanoid Dapper Fox and Indie Film Auteur?
Right now I am writing a new story that’s completely different from Panda and I’m really excited about it. Hoping to have it finished before summer. I’m also about to start directing some online content for my friend who is an actor that’s really killing it right now. I’m super excited to get that started up, we are working on a lot of really interesting stories with a dark tone and he’s such a fantastic actor, it’s going to be really great for me. Hopefully I’ll be able to share more details soon!
It’s been a pleasure sharing a piece of yourself with readers. On that note, is there anything you would like to throw out there before we close?
Thank you so much for wanting to even ask me any questions, this was a lot of fun! To the readers, thank you so much for your support. I hope that you all enjoy Panda and I look forward to making more movies for you all and growing as a filmmaker! Peace and Love!