Tell us about yourself. What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
My name is Yolanda Buggs. I am an award-winning writer/director from Decatur, Georgia. I moved to Los Angeles to attend graduate film school. I earned my Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting from The American Film Institute. I am currently a screenwriting professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. I have written and directed several short films. My first feature film, entitled As Evil Does, is a suspense thriller currently streaming on Tubi TV and IMDB TV.
I became a filmmaker because of my immense love and passion for writing and creating stories. I find joy in using the medium of film to inspire thought and change. I love telling comedic and dramatic stories that focus on honest and relatable situations that unmask the flawed truths about human nature and desires.
Talk about your last work. What are some of the challenges you faced during production?
There were two major challenges that my team and I faced while shooting In The Gray.
First, we shot at the beginning of pandemic when there were still a lot of mysteries surrounding the Covid-19 virus. So, we had to navigate those hurdles. I am proud to say that we made it through production with no positive Covid cases.
Secondly, given In The Gray is an experimental film, and any time you set out to explore unchartered territory, it can be both scary and uncomfortable but I believe it is in that discomfort that we grow as artists. In The Gray was shot predominately in first person point of view using an iPhone 12 Pro. As a director, I felt uncertain of how this cinematic choice would resonate in viewer’s eyes, so for me this posed a challenge to stay the course and see my vision through. I took this cinematic risk because I felt it was appropriate to take a bold and daring artistic approach to a narrative that addresses a critical yet often misunderstood topic, such as gender diversity.
What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work?
As a filmmaker my storytelling intent has mainly centered on themes of unconditional love prevailing over emotional pains. Often in my work, I explore issues centered around the LGBTQ+ communities, homelessness, race relations, and love.
Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project?
As a storyteller, I have always been taught to write from my heart and about what I know. I believe my talents as a writer strengthen my approach to directing in that I am always thinking of ways to express stories outside the box where the camera acts as a subtle spectator. I thrive at being able to pull back the layers of a story and extract its raw truth. Condensing that truth down into a precise vision that I can then share with my collaborators and actors, and together we create a synergy that will resonate with viewers and manifest a visceral experience. Touching a viewer at the core of their emotional self is what I aim to accomplish as a director. It is the foundation of my artistry.
Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you?
My first cinematic mentor was Spike Lee. I believe his contribution to black cinema has been invaluable. Spike continues to be a filmmaker that I look up to. His narrative voice and visual style has always been bold and daring. His filmmaking comes from a place of fearlessness. He has never been afraid to push the storytelling envelope, and I have always appreciated that about him.
I also greatly admire Ava Duvernay. Simply put I think she is amazing! I love the path she is trailblazing. All her work speaks to me. Her cinematic style has the perfect blend of sensitivity and strength. Every time I hear her speak, whether in person or via an interview, her passion for the art of filmmaking inspires me. One day I hope to have the honor of working with and for her.
How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation?
Technology is changing the industry at rapid-fire speed. I think 360 virtual reality filmmaking will be the norm very soon. This is an artistic approach that I have begun to explore. Telling stories in new and innovative ways is something that excites me!
I believe Covid has opened filmmaker’s minds to explore how storytelling can be further enhanced in post-production. Additionally, Covid has taught filmmakers to be more efficient and cognizant of our time and budget when shooting.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid?
As I reflect on my filmmaking journey, I can say it most certainly has not been easy. I have been knocked down more times than I can count. But what I know for sure is there is power in getting back up. In this entertainment industry, the resilient will win. If you can endure what may feel like an endless storm of “no’s” in order to get to that one life changing “yes,” it will have all been worth it. I believe the keys to success are simple: keep moving forward by putting one foot in front of the other, never give up, celebrate the peaks and persevere the valleys! That is my philosophy, and it gets me through the storms. As a college professor these are life lessons that I strive to teach my students.
Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?
I believe every storyteller has two important responsibilities. The first is to inject thought into the social consciousness of its audience via multi-dimensioned characters and stories that express views of disenfranchised voices. The second is to ignite conversations by bridging marginalized communities with a larger majority. We need a broader, more diverse landscape in film and television. When there is an expansion of cinematic voices in media to include various genders, non-binaries, races, ethnicities, social classes, and sexual orientations it reflects the truth of the world because inclusiveness is created.
What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's taste?
Since the pandemic, I think audiences have broadened their viewing appetite and gained a stronger appreciation for all genres of stories. This means storytellers can explore the creations of content that may have previously been outside of their wheelhouse.
Please tell us about your upcoming projects.
Presently I am developing In The Gray into a television series. I wish to explore the subject of gender diversity in a more on-going capacity, and to do that I need a larger visual canvas in which these characters can express themselves.
I am also preparing to launch the first book in my children’s book series called London and Lollipop. My goal is to move London and Lollipop into an animated television series.