Meet the Director
My name is Traemani Hawkins, and I am the writer and director of Kesler. I am a graduate of North Carolina State University in Communications with a concentration in Media. My personal experiences in college, as well as those of my peers, greatly influenced the creation of this film.
My friends in our positive hip-hop group, Symplicity, would often talk about our journeys in college and discuss how we were going to grow our production company. We all felt like there were many ways in which college was actually a hindrance to our dreams instead of supporting them. It required us to take classes that we would never need to use again and even keeping us out of the majors we wanted to be in. Three of us, Jason, Stevie, and I, all began in engineering, but were tripped up by low grades in physics and forced to change our majors. I wanted to be a computer scientist which has little to nothing to do with physics.
One day, Stevie, the star and composer of the score of Kesler, came to us with an idea for a film. He wanted to portray our struggles in college in a more surreal and exaggerated way. We all immediately loved the idea and began to expand upon it. At that time, we were all focused on making music and didn’t know the first thing about making a feature film. Although we were passionate about the idea, our lack of knowledge and experience at the time caused us to get stuck with the story we really wanted to tell. Every once in awhile we would come back and work on it some more, but we could never quite nail the story down.
As I continued my journey through college, I discovered my love for storytelling and ultimately joined the communications program. My focus was on telling stories through visual mediums. So, naturally, I started to learn everything I could about filmmaking. At the point that I was in my new degree, I couldn’t take any real production or screenwriting classes, so I decided to teach myself. I watched numerous youtube videos, read books like Story by Robery McKee and The Anatomy of Story by John Truby, and studied Dan Harmon’s story circle. I started writing my own movies and TV shows while honing my craft of visual storytelling. This eventually led me back to Kesler.
I came back to the project with all the knowledge from my studies and was finally able to figure the movie out. At this point, the script had gone through three different iterations over about two years. I dedicated a bit of time every day to work on the script, and bit by bit, it was finally done. Then it was time to figure out how to actually make the film.
At this point, I had taken a film class, so I knew a bit about directing and had made two short films. The real hard part was going to be finding locations, actors, props, equipment, crewmembers, and anything else we would need. I started with the locations. I read through the script and tried to think of places that I already knew about that could work for the locations in the film. I actually didn’t try to restrict myself to locations I knew about when I was writing the script, because I didn’t want that to hinder my creativity. I wanted to write the story the way I wanted to see it, then try to make the script come to life. Then if there was something I couldn’t do, I would change the script. There were parts of the script that I had no idea how we would do, but we figured it all out and I didn’t really have to compromise on my vision very much.
Once I had a good idea of the locations we would use I went on to the equipment. Luckily, I already owned a camera and so did Riley, my DP, and Ade, a member of Symplicity and the AD for this film. I went on Amazon and ordered some lights, a tripod, and a shotgun mic. These small investments worked perfectly for our project, except for the shotgun mic. I later learned that this was not the best way to record the majority of the dialogue in the film, as most of the time everyone was off mic. This part was definitely a learning experience and now I know how to record sound for my next film.
Lastly, I had to get the actors. For this task, I went to a local acting school I knew about and left some fliers there. However, I didn’t get any auditions from this method. So I started looking online and found a site called auditionsfree.com and I posted my casting call there. From that site alone, we got about 150+ responses. Then we held auditions at my church and maybe half of the actors registered showed up. We also allowed some people to do video auditions if they couldn’t make it to the live audition. From there we reviewed the videos and offered roles to the actors we thought could best play the character. This part was much easier than I thought it would be. We had a good selection for most of the parts and were able to fill each big role with actors I was very confident in. The place we had trouble was in extras. It was difficult to get a lot of extras for some scenes since it was an unpaid position. We solved this by working with what we and asking friends, and sometimes strangers, to be in random scenes. I did know that we would have to have a lot of people for scenes in the club, so we decided to rent out a club and have a local band we knew hold their own show there. We let them run the show however they wanted and they took care of all the extras for those scenes.
The next step was to lock in the times and locations for the shooting. This was also very hard because I had to coordinate a large number of people to be at a certain place at a certain time. It also made it more difficult because our star, Stevie, lives in Atlanta, Georgia and we were filming everything in Raleigh, North Carolina. This meant that we either had to shoot everything in a short amount of time, or we would have to split the shoot between two weekends. We went with the former option. We shot the whole film in five days starting on a Thursday and ending on a labor day Monday. I was definitely worried about this time constraint and some people even told us that it would be impossible to shoot 66 pages of a script in 5 days, but we did it. We were even ahead of schedule for most of the days by the grace of God.
The directing experience for me was a combination of anxious, excited, and grateful. On the first day of shooting, I was very nervous about telling everyone else what to do and making my vision come true. I kept asking everyone else what they thought because I didn’t feel completely confident in myself the first day. Riley kept reminding me that I was the director. However, as the shoot went on, I got more confident and took charge. I was very thankful to everyone for bearing with me and steering me into the director’s chair. In the end it all turned out great and I am very happy with the results.
The project overall was a very long process and very, very difficult. Creating a self-funded indie movie isn’t easy at all. Especially when it’s your first time. There was uncertainty throughout the whole process from writing the film to editing it, but we pushed through every obstacle to make this film possible. The filming cost us about $3,000 and we hired a colorist to make the film look more professional for $3,500. We were able to complete the whole film with less than $10,000, and without the colorist, you could do it for less than $5,000. We couldn’t have done it without help from God. He really put everything together when we couldn’t and made it all happen.