Oklahoma City-based filmmaker Laron Chapman has watched deadCenter Film Festival grow over the years, which culminates as his debut feature film You People premieres at deadCenter opening night June 7 with an encore June 10.
Chapman was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, before his family relocated to Oklahoma City when he was around the age of 5. He is a graduate of Putnam City High School and the University of Oklahoma with an emphasis in film and media studies.
You People was shot in Oklahoma City at the beginning of last year with the timeline geared around submitting for deadCenter, Chapman said. The Eyecatcher Film Festival in McAlester and Fly Film Festival in Enid have since picked up the film.
“deadCenter is where I wanted to debut; it just made sense,” Chapman said. “To have secured that and received two great time slots opening and closing night is a big deal. It’s validation for me because it means all that hard work that we poured into it paid off.”
Chapman worked as a production assistant on the set of Oscar-nominated August: Osage County and on reality television shows like American Idol and The Pioneer Woman.
The journey to director’s chair began during a trip to Austin Film Festival, where he participated in writers’ workshops that gave him the confidence to start working on a deeply personal script.
Chapman, who is biracial, wanted to explore the issues associated with identity he struggled with growing up, saying that he often heard he was “too black to be white and too white to be black.”
“I’ve been told by many people that I don’t fit the description for what most people will say a black male is, and I’ve always thought that was interesting because I didn’t think there was any specific place for that,” Chapman said.
Chapman uses real-life experiences, like being profiled in a grocery store by a local law enforcement officer and conversations about race with friends to create an exaggerated version of himself in the main character named Chad.
After initially starting a script that was a straight drama, he found that it was more successful in communicating its message by introducing some levity.
“It was very confrontational, and I realized that it wasn’t working. It felt too antagonistic, and I had to ask myself, ‘Would I want to watch this film if I was on the receiving end?’” he said. “Everyone can laugh at themselves. Stereotypes exist, and there is something ridiculous about them that lends itself to comedy.”
Chapman’s finished script attracted producers Wendy Parker and Sha’ree Green of WeerNProduction. He launched a successful crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, and started preproduction of the $40,000 budget film in the summer of 2016, but there was one question: Who was going to direct?
Despite never sitting in the director’s chair, eventually Chapman took over the role after being talked into it by those around him.
“‘Do you want someone else to take it and make it something else?’ they told me,” Chapman said. “‘If this is based on your life, then who better to give people the little nuanced gestures that no one else will know?’”
Chapman said his experience paid off in a scene in which a local law enforcement officer pulls over the main character late at night that is based on his own experience.
“[The officer] profiled me for fitting the description of a suspect who assaulted someone at a party. I was coming home from work. I had an alibi and had my employee badge, but he was so certain that I was me. … At one point, he made me get out of the car; he roughed me up a little bit. It was a jarring moment in my life. I knew it had to be written into the film somewhere, and it’s the one that resonates the most.”
The film was shot over a month in January 2017 and features noticeable Oklahoma City landmarks such as a dinner scene at Café do Brasil, a night out at Angles bar and the campus of the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics subs in for a college campus.
“I had to be location scout too,” Chapman said. “To my surprise, everyone said yes. I don’t think that would’ve flown in New York or LA, but here, everyone is eager to have their business showcased in a film.”
In addition to being picked up by two other Oklahoma film festivals, Chapman said he has submitted the film to at least 30 other festivals across the country and is waiting to hear back.
“I’ve had people email or message me that they relate to the main character just from watching the trailer, and they’re excited to see it,” he said. “That’s really encouraging, and I hope that it lives up to the promises.”
You People premieres 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Harkins Theatre Bricktown 16, 150 E. Reno Ave. A second showing is slated for 6 p.m. Sunday at Harkins. Chapman will participate in the filmmaker’s panel discussion at the ACM@UCO lounge 10 a.m. Friday.