TMP: Take us back, when did you first know you wanted to produce?
CF: I think I knew I wanted to produce as soon as I became an auditioning actor and realized very quickly that I was being typecast in a way that didn’t allow me to explore a lot of the roles that I aspired to pursue. Once I started creating and producing content, I realized what a beautiful marriage producing was with my two passions of business and entertainment.
TMP: From a producer's eyes, what do you look for in a show?
CF: I’m really big on thematics. I’m always looking at stories that spark conversation; things that portray people of color in ways that they are not typically seen or even simply stories that portray people of color from a different lens of truth. Additionally, I’m always looking for stories that are impactful yet entertaining, so I can seamlessly put the medicine in the candy, if you will.
CF: FaceForward Productions is my production company. I started FaceForward Productions to really focus on creating content that is universal in appeal and nature but told from the perspectives of people of color. I knew I needed an umbrella under which I could create content that I thought would serve the market in ways we haven’t seen or re-serve content with a unique spin. Shortly after producing Giants, I created FaceForward Productions so I could have a conduit to help other film creators and storytellers share their story and also give opportunities to actors, writers etc.
TMP: Giants is a huge digital series and has been nominated for 13 Emmy's, 11 of which you helped acquire, how does that feel?
CF: Giants is an amazing series created by James Bland with a talented room of writers and cast that helped bring the vision to life. Myself, Takara, along with James, served as producers for the show. It's amazing to see what has come from the dream/ vision. Giants is ministry for us. It is certainly entertaining, yes, but also sheds light and humanizes a lot of issues that have been deep seeded in communities of color that are yet to be discussed. It’s incredibly humbling and affirming to be recognized on one of the highest stages within the television industry and to see that God's vision for what we had dreamed has come to pass.
TMP: Did you know Giants would be such a hit?
CF: I had no idea Giants would receive the accolades it has thus far. I was almost certain after the first season when James asked me to come on and produce, that this was going to be something big and impactful. I believed with season two, we’d be able to expand on the excellence from season one. Seeing the level of recognition for Giants is again just incredibly humbling.
TMP: Working with Issa Rae what tips did you gain that have helped you along the way?
CF: We didn’t work directly with Issa, she served as our distribution arm. I can say though it’s powerful to watch what she’s done with Color Creative and even what she’s doing with Insecure and her other projects. Her work and achievements really drive home how important it is to tell authentic stories and to be tribal and give those opportunities to underrepresented talent that look like she and I. She has been loyal to her team and has certainly fought in rooms that most aren’t privy to and that’s just who she is; she fights to maintain her authenticity and is a genuine person through and through.
TMP: I believe there is an art to what you do, what is it that inspires that art?
CF:Certainly there’s an art and a science to producing dynamic yet entertaining content. The art of it is that you’re able to put your paintbrush on stories that may have never been told. In addition, the art is figuring out how you can tell said stories in a way that resonates with your target audience and beyond.
"I think the authenticity of producing content and finding the balance to remain true to the story is the ultimate way to master this art. Being able to stick to the importance of the story, despite what is considered trending, or marketable or what will provide clout is what I strive to achieve. My focus on authenticity may not be the most popular opinion, however, I know that rooting my stories and projects in truth serves a higher artistic purpose and will resonate in a deeper way with those we reach."
TMP: What keeps you going?
CF: The fact that I’m able to wake up everyday and continually pursue a purpose driven life and impact other creatives is immensely rewarding. I love working with film makers/ storytellers to serve as a beacon of hope for young black youth that come from places like my hometown; Ocala, Florida. Some of these youth never knew the possibilities for their future. Offering hope to others is such a rewarding and humbling opportunity. I often equate my journey to holding a lit torch. My job is to stoke the flame and get as far as I possibly can while igniting other torches so they too can continue on their own purpose filled journeys. Knowing that the purpose that has been laid over my life is bigger than me keeps me going.
TMP: Your platform has geared you to being able to help mentor other film creators, when did you know you needed to share your gifts with others coming up in the business?
CF: I have a background in Corporate America, so I understood the value and importance of mentor-ship. Starting out, I didn’t have a lot of mentors in this space. James Bland has served as a huge mentor. I call him up and bounce ideas off him as well as other people I admire and work with like J. August Richards and Vanessa Baden Kelly. The people that are part of my tribe are incredibly important to my growth and this journey overall. I recognized that establishing a tribe where we can share knowledge is invaluable and profoundly impactful. As a result, I take this same approach with mentoring others because I want to be able to serve and offer guidance to others along the way.
TMP: What is the hardest thing that comes with being a producer? CF: The hardest part is finding the resources to fuel your projects and propel them to the market. Convincing key stakeholders is challenging but also one of the most rewarding and gratifying parts of being a producer because of the “thrill of the hunt”.
TMP: How do you stay on your toes when it comes to creating?
CF:I’m inspired by writers and creators so I constantly research what is going on in the industry while keeping my focus on the stories I want to tell and the unique offerings I bring to the table.
TMP: Does it ever become overwhelming?
CF: All the time. Anyone who is chasing a dream or passionate about something will at one point or another feel overwhelmed and that’s okay. It’s important to remain even-keeled and try not to get too caught up in the highs and lows. It’s okay to disengage, especially in the entertainment industry. I allow myself the room to feel, to take breaks and power back up so I can stay on course and actually enjoy the journey along the way.
TMP: What is the CJ Faison experience like in two words?
CF: Mind blowing
TMP: What is next for you?
CF: Working on my lead feature, On Time.
The feature follows the life of Renee Johnson, a single mother living in South Central, Los Angeles, forced to make a dangerous decision for the sake of her child. Six months unemployed and desperate, Renee receives an interview for a job. Renee leaves her daughter in the car as she goes in for her interview. Renee lands the job, but walks outside to find a much worse scenario.
It’s a feature length adaption of the short film; On Time, written and directed by USC alum; Ryan Murphy and Sundance Lab Alum; Xavier Burgin. The feature is a very impactful story that covers the plight of the single mother in the African American community. It’s currently a semifinalist in the Academy’s Nicolls Fellowship which is the number one screenwriting competition in the industry. The short film has been seen on HBO, HBO Go, HBO on Demand, Cinemax, Spectrum and at ABFF. It's currently streaming on Issa Rae Presents' YouTube channel and has won a plethora of awards!
We are currently raising funds for the feature film and securing talent. We are hoping to begin shooting at the top of 2020.
I also have another digital series, a sport show as well as a few other feature films I’m working on. It’s a very exciting time for my team and I am looking forward to sharing more dynamic stories and content with the world.
TMP: Where can you be found? FB? Twitter? IG? Youtube?
CF: FB - @CJFaison IG – face_forward87 and @faceforward_productions
TMP: Before we end this, what is one motto you live by?
"If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same, then you’ll win."