Third Person Omniscient Productions (TPOP) mission is to produce powerful, meaningful, thought-provoking movies, television shows, and plays that shed light on the meaning of life. TPOP’s productions are entertaining and insightful and make people think about the world differently.
Joy Cheriel Brown is an accomplished screenwriter, with an MFA in creative writing from National University and a bachelor’s degree from Howard University, where she studied film and English and graduated summa cum laude. She has written several feature-length screenplays and received numerous accolades.
Joy is the founder of Third Person Omniscient Productions, a production company whose mission it is to produce quality movies, plays, and television shows that enlighten audiences about the human condition and shed light on the meaning of life. Her first feature film, Love’s Duty, is currently in development by her production company.
Beyond writing and producing original works, Joy also coaches screenwriters who want to write meaningful, production-ready screenplays. She has served as a screenwriting mentor for the DC Shorts Filmmaking Mentor Series and a panelist for the screenwriting panel at the Prince George’s Arts and Humanities Council’s Festival of Literary Arts. She recently launched a YouTube channel where she presents script analyses of studio and independent films.
Welcome Joy, thank you for taking your time with us, can you introduce yourself to us?
Thank you for having me. It’s such a privilege to be interviewed by you ladies. Well, first and foremost, I am a screenwriter. I have an MFA in creative writing from National University, where my program concentration was screenwriting, and I have a bachelor’s degree from Howard University, where I studied film and English and graduated summa cum laude. I have written six feature-length screenplays for which I have received numerous accolades; three stage plays; and two TV pilots—all of which I plan to produce with my production company over the next several years.
I founded Third Person Omniscient Productions in 2012, a production company whose mission it is to produce quality movies, plays, and television shows that enlighten audiences about the human condition and shed light on the meaning of life.
Beyond writing and producing original works, I also coach screenwriters who want to write meaningful, production-ready screenplays, as well as consult on screenplays that are already completed. In the past, I served as a screenwriting mentor for the DC Shorts Filmmaking Mentor Series and a panelist for the screenwriting panel at the Prince George’s Arts and Humanities Council’s Festival of Literary Arts, and I currently write for Script Magazine and other media outlets. I also have a YouTube channel where I present script analyses of studio and independent films.
Can you talk us through the path you have pathed to where you are now as an accomplished screenwriter, speaker and founder of Third Person Omniscient Productions?
Well, when I first started to write screenplays, I didn’t know how to do it, of course, and didn’t know anyone else who did either. I was 10-years-old and in Elementary School and there was one book in the school library about making movies, which didn’t include anything about screenwriting. It was 1991 and the Internet wasn’t that prevalent (I feel so ancient saying that! Lol), so my best resource was the library, and the local library had one screenwriting book (‘Successful Scriptwriting’ by Jurgen Wolff & Kerry Cox), a book that I checked out so many times that the library bought another copy. It was the first screenwriting book I ever bought and it’s still in my screenwriting library. It was actually a pretty good book because it didn’t just talk about how to write a screenplay, but also the business of it.
I didn’t meet a professional screenwriter until I was 17-years-old (he was a friend of one of my friend’s father). I had about three screenplays that I had written (I don’t even count those as the number of completed screenplays I’ve written so they’re not included in the six that I mention above), and he read and critiqued them. It was pretty harsh because I hadn’t been doing it quite right and he told me everything that was wrong with the scripts, but I was determined to be a screenwriter at this point so I took the script that I was most passionate about and rewrote it and gave it back to him. His comment that I had made a 180 degree turn was what I needed to keep going at that point.
I was a Senior in high school and planned to sell a screenplay by the time I graduated, which didn’t happen so then I had to think about what I was going to do next. By this time, I had a half-day schedule which allowed me to do an internship the second half of the school day and I was interning at a local community theatre, which I absolutely loved and actually worked there till I graduated from college, but at the time, I felt pressure to do something practical so when I went to college, I initially went to Prince George’s Community College and took one class in Paralegal Studies. I remember that the class was taught by a retired judge and he told us how much work it was to be paralegal, and I thought that if I was going to be working that hard then I might as well do something that I love, and the next day I went and changed all of my classes to general ed courses and transferred to Howard University after a couple years at community college.
I started at Howard University in 2002. There was an award ceremony to win a Paul Robeson Award, which was Howard University’s equivalent to an Oscar and I set a goal to win one. For years I had wondered if writing screenplays was what God wanted me to do. I was raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religion I no longer practice, and I was always conflicted about whether God approved of me writing movies. I prayed that if I didn’t win a Paul Robeson Award, I would know that it was not the path I was supposed to be on and I would quit.
However, I did win a Paul Robeson Award for Best Feature-Length Screenplay (for a screenplay I wrote my Senior Year of high school, after I had met with the screenwriter), and I felt that it was God telling me that it was okay, but I still had doubts, which today I believe caused me to have mixed results in my career for many years—I had mixed feelings about what I was doing so how could I have anything other than mixed results? I also had a limiting belief that I would have to pave my own way to Hollywood, which I think actually made everything harder for me than if I had believed that Hollywood would welcome me with open arms. I really do believe that our thoughts become things and our limited beliefs often prevent things from manifesting in our lives, or make them harder to manifest.
I made my first short called, ‘Figment,’ (which can now be found on my YouTube channel) for my Senior Thesis. At the end of my Senior Year of college, I was all set to move to Los Angeles. I had interned at two production companies in LA during the summer of my Junior Year, for the people who made ‘Selena’ and for the woman who produced ‘Thelma and Louise,’ and I was anxious to return. My plan was to skip graduation and fly out to LA that day, but instead I was hospitalised and diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder. I had my first psychotic break a few months after I had graduated from high school, but it wasn’t till 2005 when I graduated from college that I got a diagnosis.
Three years later, I found myself teaching high school and early on in the school year, I also knew that I needed to make a second short film. That’s when I decided that I would do three shorts and then do a feature film. One of my students who skipped class and wasn’t doing well in school wrote an essay that I thought would make a good short film so I wrote a script based on her essay, but halfway through the school year, she got kicked out of school and I couldn’t find her. It wasn’t till years after I had stopped teaching and she was grown and had kids of her own that I was able to find her, quite by accident, I was in a seafood shack getting dinner and she happened to come in with her two kids and her mom, and I was able to finally tell her that we made the short that was based on her essay.
Part of the goal in making that movie was to make the kids feel good about themselves and to be proud of where they were from—it was the same area that I had grown up in and I lived in the same neighbourhood as my students. We had originally decided to cast students from the school in the short but after the first day of shooting the main actress quit and her mother wasn’t supportive in encouraging her to honour her commitment that she had made to the film. At this point, it was the next school year and after the lead quit, we had to postpone the production until the Summertime (we had initially tried to shoot during Winter break). Eventually we were able to premiere the short in 2011, which was my last year teaching. We had made it for the philanthropic arm of a large telecommunications company and they used the film, ‘One Chance’ (can also be found on my YouTube channel), to inspire the youth in the community.
The next year, I wasn’t teaching but was temping in property management and selling insurance and decided to start my production company—Third Person Omniscient Productions– a few weeks before I was hired as an Academic Counsellor at a leading online university. Shortly before that, I had a found a script I had written as a contender for my thesis film back at Howard called N.O.S., based on my first psychotic break when I was 18-years-old and had to be hospitalized for five days. It took five years to make that movie, but recently I signed paperwork for a sales and acquisitions company to acquire it to find distribution and I mailed off the hard copy of the contract yesterday. So it all seems worth it.
What sparked your original interest to work within the entertainment industry?
I remember being a little kid and my dad was teaching me how to say my prayers at night and he would pray for all these Jehovah’s Witnesses who were being persecuted for their faith in other countries—some of these countries would be war torn places, and I remember feeling exhausted trying to pray for people experiencing all the problems of the world and I knew that I wanted to do something to make the world a better place, and since Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t get involved in politics, I knew that was out. So I was thinking, “what can I do that will make the world a better place on a grand scale?” And it came to me to be an artist. I first tried to be an artist who drew but quickly realised that I had no natural talent at that. Then I decided that I would be a fashion designer but didn’t feel that talented in that area either. I had always loved television—the first time I cried because of being moved emotionally was when Family Ties went off the air.
Before that, I thought that the Keatons were a real family. When the show ended and they invited the actors to come out to take a bow, for the first time I understood that they were just pretending to be a family—it really broke my heart! Then a few years later my 5th grade teacher discovered that I could write and I discovered the move Home Alone, which was really a game changer for me. Macaulay Culkin looked like he was having so much fun in the movie that I wanted to be an actor, too. I asked my parents if I could get an agent and they said no. So I was left with no other choice than to write and produce my own movie and act in that and sell it to 20th Century Fox (the people who distributed Home Alone).
I wrote my first screenplay and had assembled a cast made up of my friends and my cousin’s husband and I was all set to direct and produce it as well as have a role for myself when my friends started to lose interest. After that, I figured that I would put making movies and acting in them on hold and just write them instead since that only required one person—ME. As time went on, I discovered that writing the screenplay was my favourite role and basically became a screenwriter instead of an actress. I still plan to act eventually but I love writing and producing a whole lot more, and no matter how Hollywood treated writers, I knew that writing scripts was powerful and would help so many millions of people, and if I wanted my vision to be brought to life, I would have to produce it myself, too.
How is Third Person Omniscient Productions funded and avenues do you explore when it comes to looking at funding projects?
Well, with my first short, we used equipment from Howard University and my cinematographer, who was also my co-producer wasn’t even a student at Howard but one of my friends who I had grown up with, and we put a lot of our own money into it for renting lighting equipment, set decorating, etc.
The second and third shorts were completed with grant money, and now with the first feature and one of my stage plays I want to produce, we will have to find investors.
Third Person Omniscient Productions is located in Maryland, which is prominently a black community. Can you tell us how this reflects you work when telling diverse stories that have a different perspective in comparison from the ‘run-of-the-mill’ entertainment companies we see?
Yes, I am from Prince George’s County, Maryland, which is the most affluent predominately Black county in the United States. I always hated it growing up and wanted to leave, but at some point, I decided that I would make movies in Prince George’s County, Maryland because we have such a unique and different Black experience. When I was growing up, all of my schools and classes were predominately Black. When I went to work, I worked with a majority of Black people. And not only are there a plethora of Black people, but they are well educated and quite affluent compared to many other areas of the country that are Black OR White. I wanted the kids who came from Prince George’s County to be proud of where they came from and their heritage. That was also part of my goal when I taught High School English for three years as well.
Where can you see yourself within the next 5 years and how are you planning to grow or diversify Third Person Omniscient Productions?
I definitely see us completing at least one or two feature films during this time (hopefully more); getting one or more of my plays into professional theatre; and shooting the pilot for at least one of my television shows.
What is your most favoured aspect of working within the entertainment industry?
I love the creativity and the collaboration of it all. I may have an idea of how I see one of my scripts but then I hire a director and other creatives and they bring their creativity and life experiences to the project and it becomes this thing that’s so much bigger than I am and it really, really can change the world and affect millions of people worldwide.
What challenges have you seen to have been presented during the growth of the Third Person Omniscient Productions?
That’s easy. Money. It’s taken so long to make my shorts because I really wanted to do right by people and pay them, which I haven’t always been able to accomplish sadly, so actually getting money to make the projects was what always held up progress the most.
What does #BEYOUROWN mean to you?
To me #BEYOUROWN represents going after your dreams—not waiting for the world to give you permission to live your destiny. You have to do what makes you happy, as long as it doesn’t encroach upon the rights of others. The only way to help other people is by living your truth.
Finally, what are you working on throughout 2019?
Currently, Third Person Omniscient Productions is producing a stage play I wrote called “Stuck” that will be in the DC Fringe Festival this summer. We just finished casting the play last week and we will have a read thru of the script on Sunday. So far it’s been a blast. I absolutely love my life, but that hasn’t always been the case.
After the play is done, I will turn my attention to acquiring financing for my first feature, ‘Love’s Duty,’ and professionally producing my stage play, ‘A Matter of Convenience.’
YouTube channel: http://bit.ly/2BqGYf4