There was a time in my life when I thought I was going to do something cool in the film industry. I had all the traits of a filmmaker. I was good with a camera, I liked telling stories, and I enjoyed film history. What I lacked was a passion for film. My classmate at the time, Memphis filmmaker Kevin Brooks, surpassed me in that category and probably all the others as well.
“To be a filmmaker in general to me means that you’re telling stories that are going to reach out and touch people,” said Brooks, 25, “and you tell stories that are meaningful. You’re telling the stories about the human condition, and that’s what I want to do more than anything. And especially about Memphis.”
Brooks has had quite the journey so far as a filmmaker. He’s won the Memphis Film Prize for his short film, “Last Day,” the Indie Memphis Hometowner Short Award for his film, “Bonfire,” and the 2018 Outstanding Young Alumnus Award from the University of Memphis Alumni Association. He is also one of the youngest people to serve as a board member on The Memphis & Shelby County Film and Television Commission (he was 22 when appointed), and was a fellow in the prestigious Sundance Ignite Program.
Being that it’s hasn’t even been three years since he graduated from college, Brooks himself said it has been mind-blowing to be recognized the way he has for his accomplishments in such little time.
“I was speechless when all this stuff happened,” said Brooks, “but I’m just very grateful that it has happened and it has brought more opportunities into my life, and I’m just gonna keep working.”
Brooks said that he first became interested in filmmaking when he was six-years-old.
“I watched The Matrix that year,” said Brooks, “I fell in love with that movie because it was very entertaining, but it was philosophical at the same time. At the same time my dad came home with a VHS camera.”
The filmmaking potential was there, but Brooks said his passion for filmmaking did not truly emerge until college.
“In high school I was playing basketball for a while,” Brooks said, “but, I didn’t want to keep pursuing that. So, when I went to college I was like, ‘Yo, I want to pursue filmmaking with all of my heart, and just go 100 percent with that,’ and I just started making films.”
Brooks said his real inspiration to become a better filmmaker came in 2016 when he was one of five young filmmakers in the world (yes, the world) invited to the Sundance Ignite Fellows Program, a development program which gives young filmmakers the opportunity to learn from major filmmakers and producers in the industry.
“That was the big moment where I was around other talented filmmakers—like, more talented than myself—and that pushed me to want to be better. I’m still on that journey now,” said Brooks.
The experience of the Sundance Ignite Program had a major impact on Brooks as a filmmaker. It gave him a sense of direction.
“Just seeing that and being around that environment really kind of changed the way I thought about film,” said Brooks, “It started to feel like something I could touch.”
Storytelling is what Brooks says drives him as a filmmaker. He loves seeing and hearing about the reactions and emotions of his audience when they see the stories his films tell. One of the biggest driving forces behind Brooks’ filmmaking is Memphis.
“Really, I just want to put Memphis more on the map to where people look at this place as a place where you can come and make movies,” said Brooks, “There are important stories here, stories that just need to be told, and that’s what keeps making me want to keep doing it.”
Many think that the best move to make as a filmmaker is to pack everything and move to Los Angeles, New York, or some other major city where opportunities might be better. Brooks said that this idea of leaving your home to go to these cities is strange. While there may come a time when he has to do that, it will be with the goal of returning to Memphis to share what he has learned with other Memphis filmmakers.
“The way that I see it, we’re all in this cave, and we’re all just trying to make it out,” said Brooks. “All of us artists, we’re trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel. So, if you make it out of that tunnel—which I have not done yet—and you see the light, then the key is to make a manual and hand it off to your friends so they can come out also.”
Brooks contributes some of his success to other filmmakers like Craig Brewer, Morgan John Fox and Ira Sacs. He also credits the local film community which he said is really helpful.
“I’ve had a lot of help with the short films that I’ve made here,” said Brooks, “and so many people are just very willing to help you- willing to do anything to make your vision come to life- and I don’t know if it’s like that in other cities. In Memphis, it’s like if you have an idea and you approach the right people, they will lay down everything to try to help make that project come to life.”
Brooks said he would love to be a big-time, Oscar-winning director, but that is not his goal.
“Ultimately, I just want to be that director who constantly reaches back, helps people, puts Memphis on the map where it should be,” said Brooks, “and helps other young filmmakers who want to make films. I want to show them that it’s not as hard as it looks. Have a story, be interesting, and you can make a movie.”