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Quendrith Johnson

Quendrith Johnson is Los Angeles Correspondent covering everything happening in film in Hollywood... Well, the most interesting things, anyway.
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Filmmaker Jon Alston talks AUGUSTUS, entry for Best Live Action Short

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

“I am America’s original sin…" and a patriot, opens Director Jon Alston’s AUGUSTUS, spoken by the titular character. With this brief introduction, here is Alston in his own words on making the short for consideration in the current Award Season. But first, a quick synopsis of the 15 minute film.

“Augustus, a literate escaped slave masquerading as a free man in Massachusetts in 1841, experiences nightmares of his son's death and a future that resembles the struggles of his own time. Shaken to his core, Augustus realizes the horrors of slavery and racial inequalities will continue if he remains complicit. He's left with one choice; speak up or lose his freedom.”

Q: Why a short film?

We crafted a new type of structure with Augustus and felt that the narrative short form would be an excellent proving ground for what we wanted to do as a team.

Q: How was it cast?

Luckily, our lead actor and star,  Ayindé Howell also wrote the film – so this made casting the role of Augustus extremely easy. Rounding out the rest of the cast wasn’t as easy, but we couldn’t be happier with the performances we got.

Michelle Mitchenor was an excellent get for us and it just so happened that she was really open to working with new filmmakers. She’s since been cast as a series regular on a TV show.

I worked with Patrick Cage before on my first TV episode, and I already knew what he could bring to the table. I wanted to go through all of our options for the role of Henry before asking Patrick to audition, because I didn’t want to be biased in the spirit of collaboration

One of our actors, Chris Ryan is an old friend of Ayindé’s and mine. We worked with casting director Anne Chapman and her colleague Michael Duni in Virginia to fill the remainder of the roles. We were able to work with tons of great actors local to the region and on the east coast.

Q: What was putting together the budget like?

Budgeting AUGUSTUS was a wild process because our primary cast and crew were located in Los Angeles, but we had to shoot in Virginia due to the period elements of the film. Our Line Producer/ AD, Mike Montgomery, did a great job of breaking down the numbers for us regarding extra travel, lodging, and meals for everyone who had to relocate briefly. Ultimately, we could only afford a three-and-a-half-day shoot, so we had to get creative to make the film work within our budget. Our Producer, B. Quinn Curry was awesome with keeping us to our numbers.

Q: Do you see this as a calling card for a feature?

We’ve got a lot in store for AUGUSTUS going forward. Ayindé is already hard at work breaking out a series pitch, and there may be a few other avenues we’re likely to explore with the story.

Q: Who would you like to see cast in the feature?

I think it would be really be cool to have the opportunity to expand the story world with the same cast and crew that we had for the short film.  Everyone was great!

Q: Where do you see it going as far as Oscar or other Award Season aftermath, win, lose or draw?

We didn’t make AUGUSTUS for awards; we took a leap of faith to make it based on the strength of its message. Our ultimate goal is to share it with as many people as we can and allow for that dialogue to continue. Awards certainly help with that, so we’re definitely keeping our fingers crossed.

Q: Which studios, producers, and actors would you like to work with someday?

I want to work with anyone who cares about the craft as much as I do. Filmmaking is a privilege and you never want to be an environment that takes the opportunity to tell a good story for granted.

Here’s the trailer



Why Augustus?

“Because this film is my life. I am a Stanford/USC educated, former NFL player…but my life is better defined as the son of a convicted felon. At the tender age of ten I witnessed my own mother, a smart, albeit brash prosecutor and community activist in the small town of Bastrop, Louisiana succumb to the inherent prejudices of the U.S. “Justice” System. Everything I’ve ever done or sought to do since that moment was to make it right for my mother and my family.

I got straight A’s in school because that was the teary-eyed promise I made as she was torn from my arms and led away to prison by bus. I paid her restitution with my NFL signing bonus. She earned her way back into society after paying her “debt” and even gained a bit of success as a legal consultant post-prison…at least until the ‘scarlet letter’ of disbarment continued to become the weapon by which any opposing attorney would attack the credibility of her work.

After witnessing her own boss, who had been exploiting her expertise for more than fourteen years, break the law…he attempted to turn the law against her in order to neutralize her testimony against him. He unduly had her arrested, the day she was to testify. No charges were ever filed, and the event was wiped from the record, but the very fact was extremely traumatic and damaging…and there’s nothing we could ultimately do about it. This was in 2014.

This is painful, but my Mother’s story has been told a hundred-thousand times in the history of our country. And so, my tears are not just for her or my family, they are for all who have suffered similarly. It is my mission to express what I’ve grown to feel through the medium of film, because my pains were something that I could never talk to anyone else about directly. And now, with AUGUSTUS, I continue to walk in that mission.”

— Jon Henri Alston

Director: Jon Alston

Written By: Ayindé Howell

Producers: B. Quinn Curry

Festivals: Official selection at Hollyshorts FF, St. Louise FF, Social Justice FF, Martha’s Vineyard African American FF ( USA, 15min)


Special thanks to all who made the interview possible, especially Jon Alston.

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About Quendrith Johnson

Johnson Quendrith

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