What to Watch: Freefall

It’s been a while, but What to Watch is back.  This time the series being highlighted is Freefall. Freefall is a black gay web series that focuses on the lives of a group of young men living in Atlanta who are trying to deal with the city’s underworld while attempting to keep their own heads above water.

The show was created by Lamont Pierre, an independent filmmaker based out of northern Florida. Lamont attended Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahassee, Florida, where he studied English and political science.  During his time at FSU, he created My Brother’s Keeper which was his first web series project. He left Florida to work for Lee Daniels in New York City, and after that, he went to Los Angeles for three years where he produced, wrote, and directed multiple projects and worked on other people’s projects as well.

Vada caught up with Pierre to discuss how Freefall was conceptualized and why it almost didn’t get off of the ground as well as his Mission Mainstream initiative.

How did you get the idea to create Freefall?

The idea for it came to me after I had been back in North Florida for a month. And I didn’t want to tell any of my business partners, because I was supposed to be giving myself a break. I had spent three years over in Los Angeles, but I was getting burned out after some projects I was working on failed to come through. What I knew though with this project was that I wanted to approach this project much differently than any of my previous works. So, I went to a friend of mine and said, ‘I have this idea. I want to experiment with it and see how far it goes’. The word that kept popping into my head for the name of this project was Freefall. I just could not get it out of my head.

Why the name, Freefall?

The title Freefall kept coming to mind, because the project is about how people go about their lives as if they’re in a freefall. When people live like they don’t care about how fast they’re going, where they’re going to land, or what the consequences will be. They’re just living their lives like a freefall, and that’s not always the best way to go through life.

What was the process like from getting the show from being an idea to fruition?

After I told my friend about the project, we decided to shoot it in Atlanta. We found some actors we wanted to work with and wanted to work with us on the project. We contacted one of the actors from My Brother’s Keeper (Shamon Glaspy) and made his character the lead in this show (Xavier). We shot the episodes in a very minimalistic way, and we kept the team small. I directed the episodes, but I did not take the lead on writing them which is very different for me. I’m usually a solo writer who does not like to collaborate, but I wanted to break all of my rules and do something different to see if I got a different result. We put out what is now referred to as the pre-season episodes around Christmastime in 2012, and a lot of people loved it. It found its audience quickly.

How did you feel about that? I know you had to be happy that the project took off so quickly, right?

Not at first. When we put out the first season, I really felt like it was my worst work because I didn’t write it. I felt like I bullshitted the project, for the lack of a better term. I did something I knew would be very simplistic.  The story wasn’t that compelling. The characters weren’t that compelling. I didn’t want anyone to even know I did this even though people liked it and wanted more of it. I wanted to get back to making the kind of projects that Lamont makes, what Lamont is proud of, what Lamont puts real work into because most of my work has a message. I went to school to be a great writer, and I felt like Freefall was not that.

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When I went back and told my team about this, they felt like there was no way I should let Freefall go from a business perspective. They felt like I had tapped into this audience and this has gotten the most attention of any of the projects I’ve ever done. They said it would be a huge mistake to let that go.

I thought about it for a few months, and I decided to continue the show but go in a different direction with it. I said that if I was going to continue this, I had to make it more of a Lamont Pierre project.

Why did you decide to make Freefall a crime drama?

At the time, I was really inspired by shows like The Wire so I really wanted to do a crime drama. And I was also a little bored creatively. I’ve always considered myself a dramatic writer who dealt with heavy subject matter. I went to school for dramatic writing. I could do something like comedy writing, but it would be more of a sarcastic kind of comedy. If you watch my projects, it’s usually about how to find your freedom. If you watch the truck driver in Tequila Sunrise, the aspiring screenwriter in Plateaus, or you’re angry at the world and very smart but depressed like my character in Talking with the Taxman about Poetry, you will see the theme of seeking freedom emerge. I feel like it’s a common theme in my writing which is why my personal production company is Freedom Writer Pictures.  I wanted to tap into a different genre and get away from that a little bit.

Please don’t take any offense to this, but you really didn’t do that at all.

[Laughs] I know.  I know I didn’t. But the show still gave me the chance to try different things. I got the chance to play around with special effects makeup like blood. I got to write some action scenes. You can do that with other projects, but I just wasn’t writing them. I was doing more thoughtful pieces. I didn’t get to do a lot of action, and writing a crime drama has allowed me to do more action scenes than I ever thought I could. The show is still a drama for sure, but it also has other elements I never experimented with before on my projects.

Earlier, you said that you brought back a character from My Brother’s Keeper. Why did you decide to do that, and where did the inspiration for the other characters come from?

I decided to bring Xavier’s character back for two reasons. First, I felt that Xavier’s character was a character I hadn’t finished exploring yet. I also wanted to bring Xavier back, because it would be another chance to work with Shamon Glaspy. A lot of production companies have actors/actresses, directors, and producers they work with that they are loyal to and are loyal to them. I wanted to build the same type of community with my company. That’s why you always see familiar characters popping up in my projects.

I created the characters for Freefall very differently than my past projects. While I usually tend to put a little bit of myself, my family, or my life around me in my characters, the characters in Freefall were not inspired by anyone or anything in particular.

When we shot the original episodes, the show was about three roommates in Atlanta who were living together and about how their lives were going down a dark path. That is what inspired the other characters.

Once we started filming Season 1, we didn’t bring back the Trent character and replaced him with Nico. We introduced Tyson, and Chad became more of a major character.

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In the show’s description on YouTube, it says, ‘For these guys, their lives are enhanced, not defined, by their sexuality.’ What did you mean by that?

I meant exactly what the description says. What we were trying to say was that the show was not just going to be about their sexuality. It was going to be about their lives, and that’s what the show felt like it was showing by the time we got to Season 1. We weren’t just talking about their sexuality. Viewers were not just seeing the characters hook up and have sex. You got to see them in other aspects of their lives and the people involved in them. That was supposed to be the point. The show was not supposed to revolve solely around who was sleeping with who.

Speaking of the character’s lives, the show covers some heavy issues including murder, prostitution, suicide, drug dealing, and drug abuse. However, I noticed there was a lack of focus on HIV and AIDS.  Was that intentional?

It was intentional, because I felt like most of what has come out of LGBT media in the past has always included HIV/AIDS. And yes, HIV/AIDS is here in our community, but I felt like there was more to say than just that in 2013 (when Season 1 was filmed). I won’t pretend that HIV/AIDS isn’t an issue, but if it’s going to come up in the series I wanted the story to unfold naturally. At this point in the story, none of the characters are HIV positive so there was no need to talk about it. What I did deal with, though, was the issue of promiscuity. You had a couple of characters who were sleeping around, but I never touched on HIV/AIDS because I didn’t want to talk about it at that time. I felt like every project talks about it, and it doesn’t always have to be a part of gay stories.

It’s funny you ask that, however, because there is a character who is HIV positive in this season.

Is this a new character, or has he or she appeared already?

He’s already shown up, but right now, he is a supporting character. He is currently dating one of the main characters who doesn’t know he’s HIV positive yet. The issue will be coming up in a future episode, and when we get into the issue, we’re going to get into it hard.

What made you want to cover the other issues you’ve included so far in the series?

I really just went wherever I was led to go by the character, which is very different from how I wrote My Brother’s KeeperMy Brother’s Keeper was a socially conscious show, so the issues came first with an emphasis on the characters second. In this show, it was about the characters first. I know it sounds funny, but we as writers sometimes believe we are led by the characters and that’s what happened. We covered issues based on where we thought a character was going, what we thought would be interesting, and what would actually happen in these character’s lives.

Of the issues you have covered in the show so far, it is the sexual assault in Season 1 that has had the most reaction. Many fans feel like the sexual assault being two of the main characters was never properly dealt with. Why did you cover the issue in this particular way?

This is the question I get the most from the fans. When I try to answer this question from fans, I try to get them to understand that when sexual assault happens it’s not always a wham bam thank you ma’am type of thing.  What I mean by that is when it happens, it does not always come out immediately. In this particular situation, the implication was that the character who was assaulted was knocked unconscious. There’s no reason the character would know this happened to him.  If you’re the person who did the assault, you’re not going to yell that you did it from the mountaintop. It was something that needed to come out over time. I felt like that’s how it happens in real life. And you can see the character who committed the assault feels bad about doing it and wants to make amends, but he wants to do it in a way that wouldn’t risk him being isolated from that character completely. I felt that this would be more believable. I know from a series perspective you want to see the action right now. You want to see how it all plays out, so I get that. I just felt like this was something that was a big deal to me, and I felt like I wanted to see the effects of [the assaulter] dealing with what he did. How does the victim find out? When does the victim find out about it? And when he finds out, what is he going to do about it? The assaulter does confess what he did to someone who’s close to the victim, but most fans did not catch that and the timing did not call for an immediate reaction to what was confessed. But we do plan to deal with the sexual assault this season.

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Now, let’s talk about Mission Mainstream, an initiative you put in place around the time Season 2 started. Can you tell me a little more about that?

When we started Mission Mainstream, the goal was to get a bigger audience. When we did Season 1, we impacted many area that have a large black gay population demographic. Freefall is well known in these places. However, there are still a lot of places where Freefall isn’t really known that has a large black gay population. We also wanted to start gaining viewers outside of that immediate demographic as well. That’s why I told my whole team and all of my actors that I wanted everyone’s mindset to be on making it mainstream when we started filming Season 2. We wanted to expand past our direct audience demographic. We also created Mission Mainstream, because our ultimate goal was to get the attention of a network. In order to do that, we needed to show them that we were more than just a black gay show. We can appeal to more than just the black gay demographic. That’s why we made a bigger attempt to bring in more diverse characters and enhance the story.

Mission Mainstream also has a GoFundMe page. Why did you  want to focus on crowdfunding rather than finding investors?

There were no investors originally, and we had to find a way to continue making the show. To be honest, even though we still have the crowdfunding campaign up, we don’t really use it. That’s because we’ve found a way to monetize our show. We’ve gotten to the point where fans are willing to buy our episodes, and we’re one of the first web series to be able to do this. We make a nice amount of money on our shows every month. We’re able to make sure all of the actors get paid, and we are proud of that fact.

And now that we’ve found a successful way to monetize the series, we plan to use that same model with future series.

What do you think the future holds for Freefall? Where do you see the series in one year? What about five years?

I think we still have so much ground to cover. We have a lot of places in the United States and internationally to expose to Freefall, but we still have so many places that don’t know about the show.  Right now, we are going to continue that we keep working on improving the show. We are growing at a satisfying rate, so even if we never get picked up by a network, we can still be successful on the web and make money from that. That’s where we see Freefall. Freefall is considered a success for us, and we want to ride that for as long as we can.

As for how long the show will continue, I say it’ll continue for however long the fans want it to.

Season 2 is still in progress. However, you can view all of the past episodes on the Freefall YouTube channel. You can watch the first episode from the first season here.