Actor, producer, and director Robert Townsend partnered with Jack Daniel’s Gentleman Jack and Codeblack Films Wednesday, July 10 for a inspirational talk on Black creativity. The event was part of Gentleman Jack’s third annual Real to Reel and hosted by Codeblack writer Anthony Rose.
The Real to Reel event is a national contest and screening tour that showcases emerging Black filmmakers. Three short films were featured. Local directors Don Amon, Rasheed Stephens, and Xavier Burgin presented their art to a crowd at the Wiltern Theatre.
Before the event, Townsend sat down with the Los Angeles Sentinel Newspaper to discuss his creative philosophies, inspiration, and how he operates creativity as an artist.
LOS ANGELES SENTINEL (LS): You have such a large body of work including ‘The Five Heartbeats,’ ‘Meteor Man,’ and the ‘Hollywood Shuffle.’ How do you maintain multiple creative inspirations?
Robert Townsend: Well, for me, I’ve always looked at myself as an artist. I think a real artist paints on any canvas that speaks to them. I’ve always challenged myself. I can go from satirical comedy like ‘The Hollywood Shuffle’ to music like ‘The Five Heartbeats.’ I like to touch a lot of different canvases.
LAS: That sounds like you’re not afraid to take chances.
TOWNSEND: That’s right. When I did ‘Carmen: A Hip Hopera’ with Beyoncé, I’ve never done anything like that before. It was fun working on that project. Real artist speak to what’s inside them and tell the story. It’s all about being authentic to your voice.
LAS: Where does all that confidence come from?
TOWNSEND: I pray a lot but I also love what I do. I do get scared at moments. However, if you don’t try, you won’t know. That’s what stops a lot of artists. It’s the fear. They are afraid of taking chances because somebody would judge them.
LAS: That’s something I really want to dig into. How do you handle judgment?
TOWNSEND: I’ll share this story. When I directed ‘Holiday Heart,’ Alfre Woodard got nominated for a Golden Globe. The New York Times said it was the greatest television movie of the year. However, the Wall Street Journal said it was the worst. So, you shouldn’t worry about criticism. It’s all about making sure you are happy.
LAS: What has changed the most for filmmakers during your career?
TOWNSEND: I think technology has been the biggest change. When I started, you had to shoot on 35mm cameras and edit on big plate machines. Right now, everything is affordable. The only thing that stops filmmakers today is fear.
LAS: There are a lot of people who will read this and feel inspired. What advice would you give to your younger self about filmmaking?
TOWNSEND: Run even faster to your destiny and manage your time better. Also, don’t let people steer you in the wrong direction.