The company, co-founded in 2012 with John Legend and Ty Stiklorius, focuses its storytelling on multi-cultural content. Its credits include: “Jesus Christ Superstar Live!,” WGN’s “Underground” and “La La Land.”
When the coronavirus pandemic forced a shutdown, Jackson, like many other producers, didn’t stop working — he pivoted. During the pandemic, Jackson relied on Zoom and scouting for safe filming locations to produce “John Legend and Family: A Bigger Love Father’s Day,” while developing other projects when Hollywood reopens.
Below, Jackson provides insight into how he’s been navigating production restart in a pandemic landscape, and the stories Get Lifted Film Co. has been highlighting long before the Black Lives Matter movement.
How are you navigating your way around and what do you see the new norm being like on set?
There’s going to be COVID-19 testing. Craft services will never be the same again. In fairness, we haven’t gone back to a location and we haven’t shot yet. We’re focused on our development, and it’s about the timing of our projects.
We shot John Legend’s Father’s Day special for ABC during the pandemic. A lot of that was about using Zoom technology and finding a couple of locations where there weren’t any humans, except for the people we walked into the space with. Everyone was tested daily, you cross your fingers and you go.
What impact will this have on production costs and insurance, and when you’re on set, hoping crew stick to the confines of the set bubble, not sneaking off for pool parties and putting cast and crew at risk?
I know that’s going to be a part of production budgets, and it’s going to be something that has to be accounted for.
There is a company called World Back to Work and there are a few companies out there that deal with all things COVID-19 that are emerging. They handle everything from daily testing to medical staff, and that’s the new normal now until we know how to combat this pandemic and the virus. I don’t know what else to do except for daily testing.
I liken it to the NBA with the bubble. They get tested daily and you trust those people to stay in the bubble and not sneak out for a meal.
I’ve heard about movies that were shot in quarantine with one location. They commuted from there to a little housing compound that they had — only the actors and the necessary people there. They did their makeup. I know with that particular production, they all played by the rules and everyone trusted one another and everyone does what they’re supposed to do, and they delivered a film.
What kind of stories do you foresee Hollywood telling moving forward?
I can’t speak for the whole community but I can speak for my company. Our approach is pretty simple in that we like a good story and we like to have stories that are rooted and grounded in some sort of truth for the most part.
The pandemic happened, and as we develop stories, we’re going to be telling stories post-COVID and how we imagine what it looks like with the vaccine and things in place, and some are going to happen while this is still happening.
The thing is, we don’t know ultimately when you’re going to shoot something, so we don’t know what the reality of the world is going to look like when they say you’re greenlit and ready to go
We are developing some projects that are made to shoot during COVID-19 like the Father’s Day special where we utilize the technology that people are using right now, which is Zoom, and finding those locations that are willing to open up for you for the day, as long as you’re practicing the right protocols. But just as far as pure creative, it’s a case by case basis depending on the story you’re trying to tell.
There’s a spotlight on Hollywood on how we tell diverse stories, especially since the Black Lives Matter movement, do you feel there’s a change in the air?
Within the infrastructure of Hollywood from the top down, there’s this way of doing business and the types of stories that studios and networks feel they can market and sell and make money off of. They’ve never looked at other people’s stories with much intention behind ever making them.
I don’t think it was a lack of acknowledging that there were differences out there and other people had stories to tell. I don’t think it fit the business model.
I think the timing of the pandemic, with so many people stuck in their houses, seeing George Floyd on their TV — it was something you could not hide from. People couldn’t say that they were at work or just weren’t paying attention. It was a real thing happening in real-time in front of their houses.
Within the Disney eco-system, I’ve seen a lot of action as far as new hires and senior-level positions. We just sold a show to ABC with Nia Long as the lead. They have a history of doing these shows with Kerry Washington and Viola Davis, and they’re not backing down.
What stories is your company striving to tell as we have conversations about diversity and representation?
We’ve always been very unapologetically Black in how we navigate Hollywood. There are all kinds of races of people, with diversity within those races and there are so many different stories to tell.
For Get Lifted, it’s business as usual. We’ve always had an eye on looking to find writers and directors of color. That’s always been an initiative of ours.
As a Black-owned company, we felt a responsibility that would put on ourselves to always try to highlight females and people of color throughout all of our productions. I think we’re always going to keep focused on that — multicultural storytelling.
We love stories that are grounded and representative of the community and give people a lens into a world or person that they may not otherwise have. That’s important to us whether it’s TV, film, theater or documentary that people walk away from a Get Lifted project feeling they’ve learned something.