John Legend and Mike Jackson co-founded their production company, Get Lifted Film Co., alongside the singer-songwriter’s longtime manager Ty Stiklorius eight years ago. Their projects have included “La La Land,” “Southside With You,” David E. Talbert’s “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey,” Netflix’s “Rhythm + Flow,” “40 Years a Prisoner” on HBO Max as well as the upcoming film “Monster” and the sports drama “Signing Day” with Steph Curry’s Unanimous Media for Sony Pictures.
On Tuesday, Feb. 2, Legend and Jackson will be honored with the Producer’s Award during the Critics Choice Association’s Celebration of Black Cinema hosted by Bevy Smith. Following an invite-only live stream, the event will air as a 90-minute special in Los Angeles on KTLA on Feb. 6.
Others being honored and presenting during the ceremony include Zendaya, John David Washington, Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Taraji P. Henson, Jesse Williams, Shaka King, George C. Wolfe, Lee Daniels, Kemp Powers and Tommie Smith. Chadwick Boseman will receive Performance of the Year Award for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” A donation will be made in his name to the Academy Picture Arts and Sciences’ Gold Program.
I spoke to Legend and Jackson ahead of the event.
What does it mean to be getting the Producer’s Award?
Legend: It’s very humbling because I just think about all the times where things didn’t work out and the struggles that our company’s been through. Even though I think we had some early successes, it’s been a lot of work getting us to this point. I feel really grateful for our team. I’m really grateful for all the hard work that Mike has put into it because this wouldn’t have happened without him.
Jackson: It’s equally as humbling for me. I think the misconception is when you have a John Legend, people are handing you television shows and the reality is it’s actually quite the contrary. A lot of times we have a celebrity as the face of your company the business treats you as vanity and they don’t take you as seriously. We certainly had to overcome that misconception of who we are and who we wanted to be.
Take me back to the day that decided to start Get Lifted.
Jackson: John and I’ve been really close friends for 20-plus years and I had a front row seat in watching him ascend as an artist. He was watching me start my career as a producer. The whole idea to Get Lifted was to capitalize on the platform that John had been able to build through his music and to be a part of storytelling that serve the underserved and the marginalized.
Legend: Honestly, I had to be convinced because Mike was already working in that realm and he was a professional and really understood the business. But I was coming at it as a musician, first and foremost. I was an English major in college and I appreciate great storytelling and I brought a certain taste level to whatever we did, but I didn’t have any experience making film. I didn’t have any experience on the business side of that. It was like, “What do I bring to the table?” And Mike convinced me that together as a team, we could really create something exciting and beautiful. And it’s been amazing seeing it all happen over the years. It’s been a lot of work and a lot of time and some things that didn’t work out, but it’s been really gratifying.
Jackson: I remember the day John said yes, and I don’t even know if he realizes this, but I was standing in my backyard and I wasn’t sure if he was going to say yes. And I remember the word he came out of his mouth and I literally ended the conversation. I was like, “Great! Goodbye!” [Laughs]
What was the first project you pitched together?
Jackson: It was a series loosely based on my upbringing outside Philadelphia and kind of being between two worlds, where you’re a Black kid growing up in a locally Jewish suburb of Philadelphia. It was kind of loosely based on that. So the character was inspired by me was the protagonist. Essentially he was estranged from his father and in the pilot they are brought together by a series of events. It was kind of like a buddy comedy between father and son. We sold it to NBC, but we ended up not getting picked up. But it was still an incredible first experience for us because it showed us we had what it takes.
Legend: It’s funny because I think it would have probably been similar to “Black-ish,” which hadn’t come out yet.
In the eight years that you’ve had Get Lifted, how have things changed for you in Hollywood?
Jackson: It’s changed drastically, I would say when we launched the company, we were always unapologetically proud of our blackness and multiculturalism. We never wanted to put out content that we thought was catering to the lowest common denominator. Hollywood was letting Black folks portray certain imagery on TV and it wasn’t what we were interested in doing. As time progressed, attitudes have shifted, blackness became even cooler than it already was. So with that change, more producers, writers, directors and content creators that look like us are getting jobs across multiple platforms.
One of your films was “Southside With You” about Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date. Will you be doing a Kamala Harris film next?
Jackson: We would not be opposed to doing a biopic. Actually we’re reaching out to her team more in general just to see if there’s interest in storytelling and if so, how we could assist.
When will we see “Jingle Jangle 2?”
Legend: I’ve been telling David, “You got to write this sequel.” But I think there are still merchandise opportunities and Broadway opportunities, just so many things can come from that amazing IP. It’s a world of its own and has so much room to continue to carry on the brand and the world that David created.