If the insistently obnoxious HBO original Entourage is any indicator, one must move to Hollywood, secure a sleazy agent who shouts, “Got MILF?” at passing women, and date Mandy Moore to remain a player in the film business. Frank E. Jackson, a writer/director/actor who lives in Prince George’s County, is interested in a more edifying approach to moviemaking.
“I want to entertain people,” says Jackson, who works during the day as an engineer for a defense contractor. “I don’t want people to feel like they’ve been preached to…but I want them to leave with something to think about.”
Jackson just completed his third full-length, Lorenzo & Monica L.A.F.S. (“love at first sight,” for those with dim grade-school-note-writing memories), which is being released Sept. 9 at the Magic Johnson Theatre in Largo and the Marlow 6 Theater in Marlow Heights. The picture, shot entirely in the D.C. metro area on the trim budget of $5,000, follows two teens who embark on a crime spree, armed with only pellet guns, and the cop who pursues them as he struggles with his own depression. Though partly envisioned as an urban Bonnie and Clyde, the 40-year-old auteur’s work retains a pathos smothered by the Keystone Cops element of the 1967 Warren Beatty/Faye Dunaway effort and the brash nihilism of films such as Natural Born Killers. The picture is unabashedly violent, but for Jackson, violence is a necessary part of the message.
“I want to challenge political leaders, spiritual leaders, and parents to raise awareness of what’s going on with teens,” says the director, who was inspired to write, direct, and self-finance Lorenzo & Monica after a youth he was working with at an area church became involved in “street life” and was killed. “I’m trying to show the worst that can happen,” he says.
Of course, for an independent filmmaker with a shoestring budget and little formal training (Jackson learned his craft at a Prince George’s County public-access station), making a picture look decent can be as difficult as making sure it says something. Special effects—a lot of slow motion and black and white—mimic the security cameras that capture Lorenzo and Monica around the city. When Monica describes her plan for the duo to achieve fame and fortune by selling their story to Hollywood, Jackson unexpectedly cuts to an animation sequence that recalls Kill Bill—Vol. 1’s.
“When you are shooting low-budget, you make the best of what you have,” says Jackson. “It’s like playing basketball. You don’t know what you’re going to do on a fast break, but you get there and make something happen.”
Though he may not yet have access to the big bucks of his influences—Antoine Fuqua, Michael Mann, Spike Lee—it doesn’t seem to bother Jackson. He plans to stay committed to the District and its talent. He cast locals Dexter Perry and Jessica Ostopoff as the titular couple, and though he prefers to remain behind the camera, he played the detective himself.
Even the name of his company—Sunjada Productions—reflects Jackson’s homegrown, do-it-yourself mission. “Sunjada was an African that built a city from the jungle,” he says. “To me, that takes hard work and dedication.” —Justin Moyer