Behind the Camera: Julien Turner
Julien Turner is a content curator, writer, director and rising senior at Morehouse College. At a young age, Julien developed an interesting perspective: to tell urban stories, and quickly took action. Julien and his brother Justen developed their production company Dreadhead Films LLC at the tender age of 15 and 12 respectively, and began their auspicious careers as film directors and writers. Today as it stands, Dreadhead Films has been recognized by a number of film festivals such as San Francisco Black Film Festival, Pan African Film Festival, Urban Film Festival and much more. With viral videos all over and deals with some of the most well respected brands, this is only the beginning of what’s shaping to become a promising career in film. We explored Julien’s background and motivations, and where he foresees himself and his company to be in the future. Checkout this inspiring story and Julien’s playlist.
So who are you and what do you do ?
I am Julien Turner, a rising senior business marketing major, urban studies minor at Morehouse College from Champaign, Illinois. I am a content creator, but I focus on film and creative direction. That deals with the creation and execution of any creative product. I create marking plans, schedules, campaigns, and assist on how they are executed. I always make sure I do all this from my unique lens and perspective through urban story-telling. I’m an urban studies minor so that I’m able to depict our community accurately. Often our community’s portrayals in media are not correct or accurate. It may lack dimensions, as there are many parts and pieces that make our urban community what it is. It’s not just music or style, or if we are focusing on music and style, it's not just hip-hop or streetwear.
What I picked up from this is you're pretty clear on your vision and essentially your mission of depicting our community in a certain way. What made you want to focus on this ?
A lot of people don’t get to experience both worlds of being a minority in your community and being a minority in your classroom. From a young age I’ve had the struggle of trying to identify where I fit in the world, but not even knowing where I fit into my own community. I had the privilege of having a family that was pretty well established and I didn’t have to grow up in certain tough situations they grew up in. My father is a musician and a public school teacher and decided to send me to one of the rougher schools in the district. That's where I found some of my best friends and my perspective changed. I wasn’t a minority there because I looked different, but a minority because I had something and was fairly financially blessed. Hearing the different perspectives inspired me to tell their stories and be an advocate for those who don’t have a voice. I always felt if I didn’t use the tools I was blessed with growing up, I would be wasting it.
You have a younger brother you work on some of these projects with and have a production company together called Dreadhead Films correct? Do you think you inspired him to be in the same domain?
I started out doing music: piano and bass. I used to paint and draw, and write now and then, but film started out with my brother. He used to record himself doing unboxing videos, vlogs, and review videos when he was 10 years old. I started to recognize his talent. He made a mini movie with his friends and used every effect on iMovie to see how realistic he could make it. After that, I thought we could team up and do something with this. I started writing stories and he did the videos. So eventually instead of asking for toys and shoes for Christmas, we would ask for cameras, computer programs, and equipment. My brother tells the stories technically and I tell them through writing.
So you do most of the writing and he does the videos, how do y’all collaborate across each other’s domains ?
We are each other's biggest critics. As soon as either of us come up with something, we give each other first draft and allow each other to tear it up.
We incorporated the business to an LLC 3 years ago, but we’ve been doing this professionally since I was 15 and Justen, my brother, was about 12. We were hired to do sports coverage for the high school I was in. I got a deal for my brother come and record football videos and basketball videos. This blossomed into other sports, workout videos, weddings etc. We started making a good amount of money doing it, and we took those funds and reinvested it into some of our other films.
When you guys first started this, did y’all have any fears or doubts of if you could do this? Or were you so young at this point that you were oblivious to fear ?
I didn't start having doubts until recently. Until I started realizing I needed to make money or else I’ll be broke. I see it as a blessing we started so early. Most filmmakers start in college and often don’t have their first films out until school. There are so many things you have to learn just through experience that you don’t learn in school. I’m very comfortable at this point because I’m confident in what I know and our process, but the sense of doubt comes from being in the unknown about what project is going to come next. We just filmed our biggest project yet, but we have no idea about what opportunities are going to come from it. It may be a success or we may have to figure out a plan B as my brother Justen goes to college, and I graduate. I may have to go to film school, business school, or just straight into industry. But I’m blessed for my options. If film school is my backup plan I’ll be alright haha.
I think too often, people don’t see film as art. Film is often viewed as a business, or moneymaker, or for its hits versus misses. The same way actors or musicians could become stars from a young age and do that for the rest of their lives without any formal training, why don’t you see that happen as often with directors? If you could make a film, who cares how you learn to do it? Ava DuVernay is one of the recent examples that didn’t go through formal training and has made beautiful works like ‘When They See Us’.
That's a really great point. How many films have you all created thus far ?
We have about 7 or 8 short films. 6 of them have had some film festival recognition and 2 of them were Sesame Street pieces. Our last one, is our largest piece to date that's about 22min long that took a year to complete.
How did Sesame Street opportunity come about ?
We have a film called Pseudo which is about 7 mins that we made around the time of the Eric Garner case. We wanted to make a film that was a statement on the state of America, from a black teen perspective and made it to Martha's Vineyard film festival. I was networking and my mom told me to introduce yourself to some Sesame Street Workshop representatives and we exchanged information. We stayed in contact then they reached out and told us they wanted us to do some work for their 50th year of recording. The timing was great because it was around the time my biology video blew up. People thought the Sesame Street opportunity was a result of the biology video, but it wasn’t at all. It all played into the marketing of us and who we were though.
The famous biology video haha, talk me through how that came about
It's crazy because it was just an extra credit video and now seeing all the things that are happening because of it. Out of a habit of just doing extra credit, I did this video. My friends told me to post it and did, I wasn’t going to initially. By the time I woke up the next day, it had hundreds of thousands of retweets and favorites. I posted it on Youtube, and I believe it reached #7 trending on there. I had to use my knowledge of marketing to change the narrative from just ‘Biology Rapper’ to ‘Film Maker’. We ended up on the New York Times and the headline was ‘Filmmaking Brothers’ and that was all we could ask for.
Film is very resource intensive, how has been your process for fundraising for these films ?
We were able to get into this field early enough to realize that film is business with fundraising, marketing etc. But fundraising is very stressful and the least creative part of it all. Our last film we crowdfunded $50k. It took a lot of pitching, cold emails, and presenting of previews. We still do email campaigns to this day. A little while ago, we flew out to LA and to meet some executives at production companies and pitch our stories as directors. We left with an understanding we needed some more projects under our belt before we are able to have some of these major backers in creating our first feature film (90min or longer). Getting to that point has been our goal, and we may be able to get there before I even graduate.
So how did some of these influencer marketing deals like the Amazon Back to school advertisement campaign and your current internship with Adidas come about ?
So I was trying to figure out how I was going to raise money to join a fraternity [Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc] and I just received a call from Amazon one day. They were looking for college influencers and this was coming out of the bio video. They had a couple of other college students and I was the only black one they had. My angle was portraying how at an HBCU, our back to school supplies are a bit different than other schools. All of these opportunities just adds to my resume. For the internship, usually I’m back home over the break because that’s the only time my brother and I are able to get together to chill and work so I never had the experience of an internship like our Morehouse brothers. So I wanted my one internship to be meaningful and bridge the gap between athletics, business, creativity, and content curation. I applied to plenty of places, and Adidas responded first and I realized the position they offered was almost perfect and I went I just for it. My title is Content Creation Corporate Communications Intern. That's videography, photography, and graphic design for all internal communications at Adidas throughout the US.
Super cliche question, but where do you see deadhead films to positioned going forward, 5 or 10 years ?
I definitely want to be an influencer, kind of following in the footsteps of Spike Lee. Just not only behind the camera but in the community providing support and resources for others. I want to own a production company and continue telling the urban stories of others. It’s also important for us to maintain the name as Dreadhead Films because there's a stigma behind dreads and urban hairstyles we want to continue to challenge. To provide more examples that people can be professional with dreads and other urban hairstyles.