“The Straw Man”: Wednesday Work Day Interview by Hillary Leftwich

Wednesday Work Day is a series started by editor Hillary Leftwich to showcase and support creatives who offer services, both in-person or online, and are impacted by the pandemic and the shutdowns both statewide as well as in other countries. The series will showcase one business or individual that is still able to provide a service during the shutdown, whether via remote service or some other way. The hope is to overcome the struggle creatives are enduring through these times and have you, dear reader, get to know some folks who might be able to help you or someone you know with their services. Read a conversation with filmmakers R. Alan Brooks and Victor V. Hogan II below.

I had the pleasure of speaking with R. Alan Brooks and Victor V. Hogan via email recently about their current movie project, The Straw Man. With a series of episodes posted on YouTube, Alan and Victor talk about the struggles of making a movie during a pandemic, their 30-year friendship and how this comes into play with working together, as well as their motivations and inspirations. Find their episodes here: Making Our First Movie.

R. Alan Brooks teaches writing for Regis University’s MFA program, and at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. He’s the writer/creator of The Burning Metronome and Anguish Garden—graphic novels featuring social commentary, as well as The Colorado Sun’s weekly comic, What’d I Miss? He also hosts the popular MotherF**ker In A Cape comics podcast, which focuses on marginalized members of the geek world, and has written comic books for Pop Culture Classroom, Zenescope Entertainment, and more. In addition, Alan is a musician and noted stage host, regularly emceeing celebrated events, like the DINK Awards Show and Arise Music Festival.

Director/Producer & Emmy winning editor Victor V. Hogan II is the epitome of a creative visionary. His journey began long before he picked up his first camera or sat in his first edit suite. His background in studio art, oil & acrylic on canvas, sculpting, charcoal, textile, photography & illustration, arms him with an extensive arsenal of creative weapons. His career in TV production spans over two and a half decades. He’s directed, edited, and produced projects for cable networks, major corporations, independent projects, and the music industry. 

Hillary Leftwich: What were you both like as close friends in childhood? Did this have any impact on what made you both decide to join your forces and talents to make The Straw Man

Alan Brooks: So, my answer for this is that, typically, in a young male friendship, there’s a lot of bravado and competition. When we were kids, what I found in my friendship with Victor was a mutual strength, without any compulsion to outdo the other. 

We both created art, we both stood up to people who tried to start shit with us, but we never seemed to feel like one of us needed to be diminished in order for the other one to shine. In fact, we both were always happy for each other when something good happened. 

It’s only in the decades since that I’ve come to really understand how rare that is in friendship.

This obviously made it natural for us to work together, and it even influenced some of the themes in our movie. 

For example, a longstanding friendship between two men forms the foundation of the story (in this case, a Black guy and a white guy), as they begin to consider whether their demographic differences should influence how they protest injustice. The third lead character is a woman who is exploring what the possible future of journalism is, in a day when centuries-old news organizations are shutting down.

Victor Hogan: Back in our early teenage years, Alan and I were easy and uncomplicated. His intelligence and quick wit played extremely well with my low-key wit and unexpected intellect. What started as quirky adolescent banter quickly evolved into real life deep conversations. He has always been someone that I could rely on to give me honest sound feedback on any and everything. 

Over the years he’s proven to be one of my most loyal friends (my best friend), in more than a few situations. From when I was unjustly fired from my first industry job to when my ex-wife unexpectedly left me, Alan has always been there for me … not only with his words, but with his resounding action! 

Working with Alan on The Straw Man strongly reflects our 30-year friendship. It was seamless on every front. Like in your youth, our personalities played well together in the development of this project. I strongly believe that the viewing public will connect with this film on a deep level, because of the bond under which it was created. 

HL: This bond comes through when watching the first (now) three episodes leading up to The Straw Man. Genuineness can’t be faked, just like you can’t trick your readers. I think audiences will appreciate the ease and familiarity between the two of you. I know I did!

Victor, in Episode Two, you mentioned, “Everybody shut down. The world shut down,” concerning the pandemic hitting during the beginning process of making The Straw Man. In response, Alan said, “Are you gonna let it stop you, or are you gonna make your thing?” How has this determination kept both of you pushing forward in industries that have proven to overlook, underpay, and have a history of underrepresentation of Black creatives? 

AB: I’ve realized that, whether in publishing, film-making, or otherwise, a number of gatekeepers have specific ideas about what a Black voice should be, and when I don’t fall into that limited arena, they don’t support it—even when I see them supporting the same “out-of-the-box thinking” from non-BIPOC creatives. It just seems that their ability to see potential is critically limited when it comes to me. So, I just go execute my idea on my own—then suddenly, they’re “amazed by the vision” of what I’ve created.

VH: Work ethic. Growing up, my dad, a Panamanian immigrant, instilled in me a relentless work ethic. Initially, I hated it! My friends would be out playing on the block in my neighborhood in South Queens, and he’d have me doing what I thought to be, some unnecessary task, causing me to sometimes miss out on all the fun. But as I grew into adulthood, I recognized the gift he gave me. 

When my industry peers would tap out because something seemed impossible to accomplish or figure out, I’d keep going until I figured it out and completed the task at hand. 

When dealing with an industry that overlooks, underpays, and grossly underrepresents Black creatives, to me, it’s simply another task for me to work through and concur. The box they created to put us in is the box I stand on to help me reach my next level. 

HL: Having the tenacity and unrelenting passion for what you’re doing obviously has gotten you both where you’re at today. I’m curious; in Episode Three, you both speak about not asking permission and doing your research. Can you elaborate on how these apply to your new project together? Can you expand on how music has impacted both of your creative sides as well as professional projects?

AB: I’ll start with the music part: in learning to tell stories through songs, I happened upon the realization that most songs have three verses, and most stories adhere to a three-act structure. That parallel led me into paying attention to how to engage an audience with the way that I put a story together in my songs. As I moved into writing fiction, songwriting provided me with a fantastic foundation to understand the workings of this new type of storytelling.

As for permission, in my life, I’ve encountered so many would-be artists—people who want to make music, or paintings, or novels, etc.—but they are always trying to get someone to hire them before they ever actually make anything. They want a record deal, or a gallery show, or a publishing deal, because they think those things will make them “real artists.” Obviously, it’s not wrong to pursue those things, but it is a bit backwards to pursue them before you ever actually created anything.

If you owned a record or publishing company, would you sign someone who’d never made a song or written a book? Just someone with “a really cool idea”?

So, that’s the approach I carry into making this movie. Make the best thing I’m capable of, and let everyone catch up.

VH: When I was a teenager, I used to be the guy who felt the need to ask permission to be ME. Growing up, Alan played a major role in shifting my perspective. After I grasped the concept of living confidently, without the need to ask permission to operate in what I was created to do, immense progress and growth took place. 

The decision to make this feature length movie, without waiting for someone to give us the opportunity or hire us, is simply an extension of what I’ve been doing for my entire adult life. Building a very successful production company and experiencing the loss of that company due to the nationwide 2007-2009 recession, and currently building Sacri Monti Films which has created a solid space for me in the industry, are examples of this. In hindsight, all of my successes have been a result of allowing my God given gift to be my voice. My “voice” has made way for me to create without the need to ask permission.

Music has always been a deep source of creative inspiration for me. Although I am not a musician, the creativity that music breeds in me plays a major part in my visual storytelling. It sets the atmosphere for my creative visuals. For me, they go hand in hand.

HL: I love what Victor said about it being a part of “visual storytelling.” For both of you, music plays an integral role in your careers, including what Alan said about “the three-part rule.” I noticed many people are attracted to patterns in threes, so this is an interesting observation! This leads me to my final question for you both: Regarding The Straw Man, what is your wish for its future, and do you see yourselves at this point in time working together again in the future on another project? 

AB: With the movie, my hope is to introduce the idea to people that they can be deliberate about how they choose to protest, and that different strategies can work together, to improve the conditions of the world around them. 

Professionally, obviously, I’d like it to get picked up by a streaming service or distributor and make it easier for me and Victor to get work out in the future. 

And, of course, the answer to the last part of your question is implied in my last sentence—I definitely plan to work with Victor again. It’s kind of like we’ve been waiting all of our lives for the tools and opportunity to create something dope together, and here we are.

VH: My hope is that The Straw Man is as far reaching as the current movement for racial equality that the world is currently experiencing. I feel like it will amplify the voices that have been muted for and overlooked for so long. One of the greatest beauties of film is that it documents the events of a generation while simultaneously inspiring the people of that generation. That’s my greatest hope for this film.

Working with Alan on future projects is most definitely a given for me! I’d have to agree with what he said. We’ve been waiting for the perfect tools and opportunity to create something together since we were teenagers. Looks like film is the embodiment of that! I hope the world is ready for us! 

You can watch Alan and Victor talking about their friendship, past projects, and their current project The Straw Man at Making Our First Movie. Please help support this project by watching and sharing!

Hillary Leftwich is the author of Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock (CCM Press/The Accomplices 2019), which was featured in Entropy’s Best Fiction List of 2019, and was a finalist for the Big Other Book Award. Currently, she runs At the Inkwell Denver, a monthly reading series, and freelances as a writer, editor, journalist, and teaches writing at Lighthouse Writers. She is a Kenyon Review scholarship recipient for 2021. Her writing is found both in print and online in The RumpusEntropyThe Missouri ReviewDenver QuarterlyHobart, and others. She lives in Colorado with her partner, her son, and their cat, Larry. Find more of her writing at hillaryleftwich.com.

Check out HFR’s book catalog, publicity list, submission manager, and buy merch from our Spring store. Follow us on Instagram and YouTube.