When it comes to making a good horror movie, filmmaker, screenwriter, and composer John Carpenter says, “There’s a very specific secret: It should be scary,” and two award winning filmmakers who believe their upcoming horror film possesses that exact secret are Britt Banks and Tamara S. Hall. Born in Gary, Indiana, Britt is an independent screenwriter, director, producer and editor who grew up in Long Beach, CA. Originally from Philadelphia, PA, Tamara is an actress, writer, and filmmaker based in New York. Both filmmakers received three-year distribution deals with Revolt TV after their projects, Britt’s Ronald and Tamara’s A Night at The Table, won first and second place at the Short and Fresh Hip Hop Halloween horror competition via Revolt TV.
Britt and Tamara have teamed up on Nightmares Are Dreams Too, a feature-length film that they describe as a “hauntingly beautiful horror.” The film centers around “the murder of a former slave and hoodoo woman of the Benoit Plantation after visiting her former slave-masters, to follow up on a failed six-year promise to build a new cabin for her family. Fast forward to 1994—the plantation is still in the hands of the slaveholder’s family. The descendants of the former slaveholders adopt a precocious ten-year-old African-American girl who, according to her foster mother, suffers from nightmares described as pure evil. The spirit of the hoodoo woman uses her nightmares to wreak havoc on the family, and eventually possesses the child.”
Recently, Black Talent TV had the pleasure of interviewing Britt Banks and Tamara S. Hall about Nightmares Are Dreams Too, what viewers can expect from the project, what advice would they give to upcoming filmmakers, and much more below. Also, VISIT their Kickstarter for Nightmares Are Dreams Too and help “BACK” this project.
-Growing up, what moment made you both realize that you wanted to pursue a career in the entertainment realm?
BB: I can attribute my pursuit to two moments in my life. When I was in elementary school, I began competing in monologue competitions and went on to audition for and perform in plays throughout the years. I ended that hobby in college. In later years, I was faced with a situation that allowed me to write as a coping mechanism. I fell in love with what I wrote. It was that organic connection to writing that eventually led to my desire to pursue both writing and directing.
TSH: I’ve always been a performer, so I can’t remember any one particular moment, however, I initially thought that I would pursue a career as a rapper because I would write and perform raps at nine years old. My grandma bought me a small karaoke boombox that I used to help write my songs and to force my little sister to freestyle with me, lol. But it wasn’t until I tuned about 12 that I realized I wanted to become an actress. I had realized at that age that I was so theatrical, playing things out and living vicariously through my favorite Nickelodeon and Disney shows. I told my grandma and she enrolled me into a charm school that focused on modeling, acting, and social etiquette. It was at that age that the seeds for my current goals were planted and I had begun to take strategic steps towards making it happen.
-Who are your biggest influences when it comes to filmmaking?
BB: I’m influenced by Jordan Peele, James Wan, Leigh Whannell, Ari Aster, Wes Craven, and Robert Eggers to name a few as far as the horror genre goes. I’m obsessed with the cinematographer Michael Fimognari. I’m also influenced by the true example of excellence, consistency, and grace, that is Ava DuVernay. In a lot of ways, her work is Black horror. I also look up to Spike Lee not just for his outstanding films but for being unapologetically Black and for creating films like Malcolm X. Lastly, I’m influenced by filmmakers like Robert Townsend and The Wayans for paving their own way. It’s exactly what I intend to do.
TSH: I have quite a few and it really depends on the genre. For horror, my influences include Jordan Peele, Wes Craven, and Jonathan Demme. Generally speaking, I am also influenced by Spike Lee, Ava Duvernay, and Gina Prince-Bythewood.
-Individually, you both are not rookies in the Horror realm with two critically acclaimed projects that have both won awards. Britt, what is it about Ronald that makes it stand out from other horror projects?
BB: Ronald is a slasher tinged with realism and comedy. There’s this slow build in the beginning where we introduce an awkward rideshare driver who happens to be Black followed by an explosive scene that showcases his split personality. I’m a big fan of Bates Motel, Dexter, and Netflix’s You. I sometimes envision the characters as Black and wonder if the storyline would flow the same. As a result, I decided to make my entrance into the horror genre with an average quirky Black guy who also happens to be a serial killer. The bold color choices and the ending scene definitely stand out from other horror projects that I have seen, specifically Black-horror projects. Ronald was filmed in April and released on June 10, 2019, four months ahead of Joker. Several friends and a couple audience members who viewed Ronald reached out to me and referenced the ending scene of Ronald to that of the stair scene in Joker. I was beyond flattered.
-Tamara, what do you believe it is about A Night at The Table that grabs the audience attention and keeps it?
TSH: The suspense, for sure, as well as the eeriness. For such a short film, I wanted to assure that I kept the audience on their toes with each shot and piece of dialogue. I love unexpected twists and turns in stories, which is why I credit ANATTas a thriller as well. Additionally, the film starts off with a seemingly-nostalgic scene of creepy little girls (including twins), jumping rope–an homage to Wes Craven–which I believe drew a lot of people in. I am a huge intro person and LOVE when a film has a compelling and teasing intro. I’ve also been told that the direction was really captivating and unique, playing with alternating POV shots. And the overall cinematography appealed to a lot of people. I worked very closely with my DP, Ty Stone, and colorist, Donato Boccia, to assure that the colors matched both the realism of the circumstances and the surrealism of the nightmare too many mothers have to endure.
-On top of winning awards, both of these projects won at Revolt TV’s Short and Fresh Hip Hop Halloween contest. What were your initial thoughts when you found out that you both won?
BB: I was eager to find out the results because there were a lot of submissions. Having just completed Ronald and not knowing if the genre choice would be well received by the Black community, I felt like ok, I won a horror competition and now I have this extra layer of validation. I am right where I not only want to be but where I’m supposed to be. I was extremely happy to find out that Tamara won also. She is one of the writers on Ronald the series and I felt like it was a sign to continue our working relationship.
TSH: I was at my job working late on my craft when I found out. Because I was so busy and focused, I held the excitement and news in but I was honestly shocked! I submitted pretty last minute and didn’t anticipate winning. Thus, when I did win, it sealed the deal in regards to assuring me that I had done what I was supposed to do with the making of my first ever film, A Night at the Table. It gave me more credibility as a filmmaker and exceeded the expectations that I had for the success of my film. It was and still is a blessing!
– How did you both come up with the concept for Nightmares Are Dreams Too?
BB: I’m a Black American, specifically a descendant of those enslaved here in the United States of America. Slavery is a large part of my history and as I grew in knowledge about the atrocities of the institution of chattel slavery here in the U.S. I couldn’t help but to think about a world in which my ancestors sought and actually achieved revenge. Being a filmmaker, the idea was always present to do a film as such. I’ve never seen one like it before, so I decided to write my own.
-What can potential viewers & Kickstarter backers expect from Nightmares Are Dreams Too?
BB: Horror, in my opinion, has transformed into this new terrifying form of realism. Nightmares Are Dreams Too is a film cross between Get Out and The Conjuring. While most of the film is reminiscent of the newer transformative horror films such as Midsommer, we also totally utilize the traditional horror film tropes. We intend to bring an original and controversial high-quality film to our future audience members.
TSH: They can expect excellence, first and foremost. They can anticipate a film that, at the most basic level, will entertain them and keep them on the edge of their seats. But on a deeper level, they can expect to be taken on a joyful and vengeful ride that will educate, remind, and fulfill the ever-present void of slave stories that end with black Americans being the true victors of their narrative and fate, and how such a victory might impact their descendants. Additionally, I love a good subtle homage–they can expect that too.
-What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in filmmaking and/or acting?
BB: Block out all doubt, fear and negativity and understand that you are not alone. No one can see the end from the beginning, but there’s so much beauty in a journey like this. Embrace it all. The ups, the downs, the wins, the losses, the rejection… yes, even THE REJECTION. Take those moments and reflect on what went worked and what didn’t work and perfect what worked and correct what didn’t work. I would also suggest having someone to talk to about your film journey. Venting is perfectly normal, as long as you apply the aforementioned.
TSH: To just do it and to only do it if you absolutely love it. This is not a craft for the faint of heart and requires perseverance, resilience, and positivity, amongst other things. For example, part of the work involved with being an actor is doing inner work. Meaning, working daily to maintain a positive mind, spirit, and body and one that is receptive and adaptive to unavoidable things like rejection. I pray, read, write motivational quotes down, and surround myself with positive-thinking people. Which leads me to my next tip: surround yourself with like-minded people. I cannot stress how powerful and helpful this will be for you and your career. I have been pushed, inspired, and helped so many times JUST by witnessing the transformative journeys of my fellow goal chasers around me. This is one of the secret ingredients to success.
-What are your dream projects?
BB: My dream project consists of working with cinematographer Michael Fimognari, on a dark comedy starring William Jackson Harper and Nicole Beharie.
TSH: Haha, I have a few! One, to lead a film alongside Taraji P. Henson (my friends call me Young Taraji), to act in a drama that consists of having Angela Bassett as a scene partner, and three, to play Nicki Minaj in a biopic!
-What is NEXT for Tamara S. Hall & Britt Banks?
BB: Although it works for some, I am not a fan of juggling a million projects at once. Nightmares Are Dreams Too is next for me… for a while. Our Feature Film has my undivided attention and when it is complete, I will consider what my next moves are.
TSH: Stay tuned! (insert shhh emoji here). You can follow my journey on both Instagram and Twitter at @TamaraxShanice.
Britt Banks Productions: Instagram