S.L. Sawyer
For the Culture // February Edition
With Shameka Sawyer
Shameka (S.L.) Sawyer

In a very rapid digital age, we find ourselves inundated with social media high-light reels, where the majority of content is glossy, crisp, and #goals. In an effort to take a look behind the curtain, CultureWorks is sitting down with members of the cultural community to learn more about story behind the glory and how they are reshaping the cultural scene. We are on an exploratory mission to amplify narratives that often are relegated to the margins.

This month, we talk with S.L. Sawyer, Founder of 5 Shorts Project, which supports aspiring filmmakers and teaches them how to create a short film. It walks the participants through pre-production processes like casting, teaches them camera techniques, allows them to set up a film crew made up of volunteers and walks them through the editing process.

S.L. Sawyer

1. What inspired you to create 5 Shorts Project?

My passion for film and storytelling. Film has the ability to evoke strong emotions, connect with others, and share your vulnerability. We are diverse people with unique experiences. Film has the power to ignite a movement or change perspectives. There is more than one type of story from diverse communities and I wanted to be a part of bringing these stories to our communities.


2. 5 Shorts Projects helps emerging talent with all facets of filmmaking from pre-production to distribution. Why have you found it so important to make space for these storytellers to create and thrive?

This is important because it’s needed. We all have a voice, different struggles, joys, pains…It is important for these stories to be brought to our communities to show that in many ways our diversity does not change some of the challenges and triumphs we experience in life. For me, film is a way to spark difficult conversations or share our voices. I didn’t want to create films that only depict my experiences or perspective. I feel it is important that diverse stories are shared because this helps us as a community to grow and understand perspectives different from our own.


3. What is 5 Shorts Project doing to reshape the narrative on the perception of Black culture, (specifically the perception of African-Americans not creating “quality” films + storylines)?

5 Shorts is the starting place for new filmmakers. We offer filmmakers the freedom to tell the stories they want to tell. What I have come to realize with 5 Shorts is that our black filmmakers create films that resonate with all audiences. We don’t just create “black films.” We share stories, our stories.


4. How do you decide on artists to participate in 5 Shorts? Is there a criteria or experience level required?

No experience is required. Perspective filmmakers submit a rough edit of their script. For documentaries, we ask for a short synopsis. I have a team a previous filmmakers from the project select the scripts that resonate with them the most. We do offer feedback to those who were not selected for the project.


5. Despite the fact that black people are culture makers with tremendous economic impact there is still a lack of value placed on art geared specifically towards the African-American experience. Why do you think that is, and how can we combat this?

I think that black people are dope. Our strength, our creativity, our passion is very difficult to duplicate. The lack of art geared specifically towards our experiences is due to historically how we were viewed by society. Although films like Black Panther, Hidden Figures, Moonlight, Get Out, etc… continue to break records and prove that films with African American leads can and will sell, some are still stuck in the ‘old school’ and are reluctant to change.

We can combat this by owning our own studios, production companies, distributions outlets, etc. and continuing to put out quality products that do well. The more we own the more we have control over how are stories are being told and we will set the standard for the value of our art.


6. What do you see for the future of 5 Shorts Project?

In the short term, we are starting a theatre division in the Spring of this year. I would love for this project to expand to different states in the next 5 years.


7. Where can people follow 5 Shorts Project?

Instagram: @5_shorts

Facebook: 5iveshorts