Brooklyn. Blue. Sky. is the new web series created by Dui Jarrod (pictured left) and Rhavynn Drummer (pictured middle). It focuses on two professional African-Americans who come together reluctantly to create a web series. Yes, it’s a web series about the making of a web series. It’s quite meta, but it’s also a romantic comedy, and it premiered Saturday, June 17 at the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) in Miami where it won the Best Web Original Award, presented by Xfinity.
Jarrod is a playwright and actor in New York City who directed his first feature, Lesson Before Love, which he made in 2011, played in theaters in 2012 and put out on video in 2014. He’s written and produced several plays. He starred in a one-man show, The Definitive Loser’s Guide to Winning in 2015.
Drummer is a freelance casting director and producer in Atlanta. She graduated in 2007 from the University of Virginia where she started the Paul Robeson Players, a theater company focused on producing African-American stories. She began her career as a casting assistant at Tyler Perry Studios where she was promoted in 2011 and worked on many, if not all of Perry’s film and TV projects.
Jarrod had a play called Unholy War, which he work-shopped in Brooklyn before bringing it to the boards in Atlanta in November 2016. Drummer herself directed it. Jarrod approached Drummer after the play ended about putting together a web series. Drummer had written, directed and starred in her own web series in 2014 called Good Girls, so it wasn’t a foreign thing for her.
Jarrod had created a web series before too, but the success of black creators like Issa Rae and Dennis Dortch in the online space encouraged Jarrod to enter that arena again. Jarrod also said that from a business perspective, putting together an independent feature or even a play is difficult. Getting people to come to a show is hard, so instead he decided not to have people come to him but to go to where they are, and that’s the Internet.
Brooklyn. Blue. Sky. isn’t autobiographical to Jarrod or Drummer’s lives, even though an episode features the two protagonists sitting down and writing a web series not unlike what Jarrod and Drummer themselves did. The series has issues that have affected Jarrod and Drummer’s families, but not them personally. The series is about two broken people dealing with past decisions that haunt them, topical problems like health and politics, as well as what Jarrod calls “throws of disconnection.”
Jarrod and Drummer did write the series with the intention of the two of them acting in it as the two leads. Jarrod would have played the male protagonist named Blue, a character who is arguably more like Jarrod in temperament and personality. Drummer would have played the female protagonist named Sky, a character who is nothing like Drummer, but who is a character that both really wanted to explore because of the fact that Sky has a sheltered, wealthy black background that neither Jarrod nor Drummer had ever encountered before coming to New York.
Jarrod and Drummer wrote eight episodes, each intended to be less than ten minutes. They wrote the episodes in a way that they could be produced and shot quickly. They filmed from January 6th to January 9th of this year. While the episodes are really short, doing eight of them is still a lot to shoot in only four days.
It perhaps helped that Drummer had experience working with Tyler Perry. In a DGA article, it was written that “Perry’s most salient characteristic as a director may be the speed at which he accomplishes things.” In 2008, Perry reportedly directed 100 episodes of House of Payne and two movies in one year. His fast directing is affectionately called “Perry pace.” Drummer has worked with Perry for six years, so she must have picked up a bit of that Perry pace.
What also perhaps helped is having a great cast who can deliver even under a tight schedule. Jarrod and Drummer knew that they would be more effective behind the camera. It would also make managing the production easier for them if they weren’t also actors in it. They had an open casting call two days after Christmas and it was not opportune, given a lot of actors were out of town for the holiday, but they still pulled in some great talent who could handle the fast pace.
Chief among them was Jenelle Simone Valle (pictured above) who stars as Sky. Jarrod said she at first auditioned as another character. When Jarrod wanted her to read for Sky, she was pulled back in and was handed 3 new pages. Jarrod was shocked when Valle was able to memorize and be off-book in only 20 minutes. They were also able to cast La Rivers, a theater actress who in one episode has to perform the whole thing like a play in one long, continuous take, no cuts or edits, and she nailed it.
With the exception of a party episode, which had Jarrod and Drummer juggling and trying to cover seven actors, the production went smoothly. Jarrod said they finished early every day, mainly because they didn’t need to shoot many takes. The look of it seems like natural lighting was used often. Jarrod said the first day of shooting was mostly run-and-gun. Thankfully, there wasn’t any dialogue, which made that first day simpler and gelled the crew.
The episode shot on that first day called “Hawthorne” became the episode they screened at ABFF. Jarrod said he loved what this episode was doing visually and its idea of black love in an unlikely place. “Hawthorne” captures two strong emotional beats at the beginning and at the end. It also captures in the middle two gorgeous black people falling in love with gorgeous camerawork.
When Jarrod and Drummer won the competition, Jarrod said he spoke on stage about generating their own opportunities and providing more and as many narratives of the black experience than what’s in the mainstream media. There have been of course a lot of progress made, but there’s still a ways to go.
He said his heart is set to do more. Brooklyn. Blue. Sky. was designed to have a three season arc. This first season is set to be released in the fall. Until then, Jarrod continues working on other ideas. One of which is another web series called King Ester, about a trans character in New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina.
For more information about Brooklyn. Blue. Sky., go to its web site: BrooklynBlueSky.com.