Ludi – Interview with Filmmaker Edson Jean

Interview with Edson Jean - Ludi

Ludi is the 2021 drama film about a woman chasing the American dream in Miami’s little Haiti neighborhood.

The director and co-writer of Ludi, Edson Jean spoke with Borrowing Tape interviewer Nace DeSanders on various elements of the filmmaking process.

The film was part of the 2021 South By Southwest Film Festival.

Watch, listen or read the transcript — edited and condensed for clarity:
Hey movie lovers. I am Nace DeSanders of Borrowing Tape and I'm here with Edson Jean; the writer and director of Ludi, a film premiering at 2021 South by Southwest Film Festival. Ludi is a story of a young Haitian immigrant living and working in Miami to financially support her family back home. Thank you for being here today, Edson.

Thank you so much. I appreciate it. Appreciate the time.

Of course. So to start, could you tell us a bit about where the inspiration for the story came from, and what the writing process was like?

Yeah. The inspiration for this story came from my mom's earlier years when she immigrated from Haiti into the United States, specifically Miami Florida, where I am now. Yeah, so the inspiration came from her earlier years as an immigrant here in Miami. She would just tell me most of the multitude of stories growing up about the different jobs and situations that she would be put into as she was looking for work and trying to establish financial stability in this country. And so, Ludi's loosely based on some of those experiences and jumped into the writing phase with that in mind and sort of crafted this slice of life piece from those experiences.

Wow. Did you always know you were going to make a film about your mother's experiences?

I did. I didn't know it was this film though. It's just because there's just so many different angles and I had different ideas and, or even different parts of a story. And so coming to this one was also a surprise, at this part of the creative process of maybe having a larger idea, shifting it to this idea, and then finding something that I just felt right for us in a moment.

This is your first feature film. For the aspiring filmmakers out there, what was something you learned during the production process?

Ah, first film. Well, yeah, it definitely was. It definitely is my first feature, an exciting opportunity to have the opportunity to create a feature film. Some of the things that I learned, well, if you're a writer, if you're a writer/director, some just jumping in as director of someone else's script, but if you're a writer/director, definitely do yourself the favor of writing within scope. And, obviously, that depends on budget range — different things like that — but coming in, Joshua Jean-Baptiste (co-writer and I) — we knew what kind of film we wanted to make. We knew we wanted to be micro-budget. We wanted to make it with the resources that we had available to us. So, there were certain rules that we put in place of like serving a number of actors, locations. We broke some of those rules when things that are serendipitously started happening, but traditionally, writing a scope is huge, because sometimes you write larger than you have the resources for it. And then you end up trying to with less resources, create something more, and that always shows, as opposed to really leaning to what you have and making the best with what you have. I would just do something that I think is just really important for the creative process for me in general.

Yeah. That's great advice. So you are also an actor with impressive credits, such as Moonlight, War Dogs, and Grown. How has your experience as an actor helped you to direct other actors?

It's helped incredibly in a way that I was not aware of. Because it was something that was happening in the subconscious because I am an actor so I sort of understand that sensibility — and not that we all are just automatically the same people just because we share a similarity in our career paths of being actors — but it helps your approach the role with this sense of empathy toward their experiences being in front of the camera. Learning how to say something very precisely and taking the time, I think it's just about treating them with care and just as much as a priority as the image and all the other pieces happening around the film. But it's something that started being brought to my attention in later reviews because they're like, "Oh, that just seems like an actor's kind of director." And I was like, yeah, I guess so that's having that experience is invaluable in the way that I wasn't even aware of earlier on.

Oh, wow. That's amazing. Speaking of your actors, Shein Mompremier is perfect as Ludi. How did she come to be a part of the project?

Oh, she's the best. I had worked with her on Grown and that's the first time I had the opportunity to work with her, and meeting her there. I was like, "Oh yes. The Haitian actress. She also just, her sensibility is just so aligned with some of the similarities that in my mom. And so when even writing the script, we had her in mind, but it was never official. And it was until we sort of had the script to read, I was like, "Yo, read this, tell me if you want to be part of it." And, she loved it and just wanting to be a part of it almost immediately. That was a wonderful opportunity even in and of itself. It sort of came through that earlier experience with Grown and bringing it to her was very, what's the word? It wasn't serendipitous, but it kind of was. Cause it just worked out that I had known her before.

Everything just seemed to align together.

Yeah, for sure. Exactly.

The film takes place in Miami, which is also where you went to school and it seems that you're still living there now, how did studying and living in Miami affect your art?

Tremendously. I think it's one of the larger reasons why I still want to stay in Miami and prior to the pandemic have been somewhat bicoastal there in Miami. But it's important for me to be surrounded by the regions and the cultures that influence my work because I'm constantly inspired. Even to the places that I decided to write — sometimes I am in an office or I am in my house, but then there's times where I break out and I go to the Haitian restaurant. It's just like hearing things, picking them up. I think it's so invaluable and those cultures really intersect and thrive in the way here in Miami that I don't necessarily experience in other places or I wouldn't necessarily move to somewhere to recreate that because I have it here.

Miami is really, I think so far in all my work has been the backdrop to all my work. I think it's going to continue to be because it just resembles this sort of geological olive branch (so to speak) to where the Caribbean come together. There are so many nuances that come from our cultures. As we leave our countries and try to find a new home in the States here, Miami is just right here, it's close in proximity. A lot of that is just like the people, you know, it's a big reason. And also the weather, I'm not gonna trip about the weather, it's lovely all year round. 

The original score by Darnell Monestime is lovely. How did you two collaborate to find a score that worked for the film as well as it did?

Monestime, man, Darnell. He's such a treasure because he was a friend of Joshua's [Jean-Baptiste] through high school and was someone who was pushed by his father — who's actually a commissioner here at Miami — to “not study music" to be like, “find a job that pays you money”. You know what I mean? That you can count on. He went to school for Finance but couldn't get rid of the itch to be composing and making music. He was involved in the church in making music for the choir and groups and also for just services. And I was like, "Yo, you have this talent in music. Let's explore doing a film score," You know, he had never done it. And, but I knew what, at least in the ballpark of what I wanted. And I liked the idea of, in certain situations collaborating with those who are not necessarily so seasoned in something, because there's a lot of room for a lot of organic things to come from that experience — because you're not necessarily doing things of the industry. So, I was excited about that opportunity. And I mean, it was a great experience because he also spoke to the Haitian sensibility, and we just were able to talk freely in a different way than I've had with other composers. His story is fantastic because he went back to his calling for art and music. And this is a great opportunity for him, sort of like stepping into composing as his debut, right. I'm excited about that experience for him as well.

Yeah, it came out really great!

Thank you so much.

So which films or directors have influenced you as a filmmaker, but also the film, Ludi?

I just feel like so many. It's not like one or three, it is so I learn the concept of is nothing new in assigning. Our artists are just really stealing and recreating from what they're just gathering from the world. And art is life, and life is art, and that way, right. There wasn't necessarily a model, so to speak like — this film is like filmmakers what I'm going after or something like that because I feel like I'm just grabbing pieces from so many different things. But I did, there was a call out to the Safdie brothers in a film they did called Good Time — where they sort of broke a lot of traditional rules, as far as coverage. And they were really up close up with their characters a lot.

And in one review they called out to that. And I had singles films, so I'm probably, subconsciously was influenced by that. Because I wanted to create this claustrophobic experience with Ludi being trapped into this obsession to find this money, and then even more so in George's house to feel really claustrophobic. So I broke away from some traditions, things that doesn't sit well with some people, but some people get it, and some people want to breathe. They want the cinematic picturesque two-shot or something, you know? But I just wanted to explore something different. So yeah, maybe not one specific director or film. But I'm sure so many different films play into like how I see or how I wanted to explore a lot of this was also like breaking rules so I could learn. I wasn't being too precious about it. You know, I find that a lot of filmmakers with their debut, they're so precious, this pressure, cause it's so hard to make a film and get the five minutes to do that. We lose the art of craftsmanship that exists well in other art forms where like the painter could just get a few strokes and be like, "Oh, I learned from that, that didn't work. Let me do another one." We put so much pressure on our films that we're losing this sense of craftsmanship. So, I wanted to make mistakes. I wanted to try different things because for me, I'm making films where I have the resources to make them, so I can't keep making them. And in Atlanta, I made a film that I have to wait three to five years before my second one or whatnot. So that was definitely informed, loose, like playing around and learning from it.

That's very well said. Yeah. Do you have any upcoming projects that you can tell us about anything we should be looking out for?

Looking out for? I don't know. It's a piece that I've been working on for a couple of years now, but we're closer to some finding necessarily the heart of it, but it's we're focusing on a situation that happened maybe nearly a decade ago on the Miami Causeway with this guy was shot on the scene for biting another man's face. And we addressed the themes such as like misinformation in the media. We're just sort of trying to tell an untold story of an international story and how we are complicit to and perpetuate the dehumanization of black bodies, and sort of telling an unspoken story of a family that was sort of like at the breadth of like this huge national story.

Well, that sounds really good. So we'll absolutely will be looking out for it. Thank you so, so much for taking the time to chat with us today, Edson, it has been awesome.

I really appreciate you, Nace.

And good luck with everything. Have fun at the festival, the virtual festival.

Yeah. Thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate the questions.

Related: Review of Ludi