Budding filmmaker Myrlande Charelus has much to be proud of. She’s just completed the first year of a Master of Fine Arts program at Howard University—and that’s not all. She’s worked as a cinematographer on , a short, and assumed the role as a gaffer on two other productions. To top it off, she has written, produced and directed Life As We Know It, a short film that gives off vibes of a full-length feature with its explosive story line of a young couple aiming to conceive or not conceive.
Growing up, Charelus was in awe of such actresses as Suzan-Lori Parks and Jackie Devere-Smith whom she calls her “go-to-women in Hollywood”. Independent filmmakers always drew her admiration. The talent, who at the moment, impresses her beyond words is industry change-maker, Ava DuVernay. “She’s killing it in the industry right now,” Charelus gushes. “You probably heard a lot from her. She’s even directed one of ABC’s hit shows “Scandal”. She’s the “it” woman now.”
Charelus may be very mainstream-minded now, but some of the first productions she took part in were church productions. During her early years in Haiti, she would participate in holiday productions and kids shows, and wouldn’t actually participate in secular productions until her college years in the United States.
She penned her first screenplay when she was a high school freshman. That screenplay is still lying somewhere, but it’s definitely not going to be a Myrlande Charelus production anytime soon. Charelus now deems it as unworthy. It was around this time that she had the epiphany that she wanted to work in the entertainment industry. Throughout college she was cast in Shakespearan productions. Her professor Tyler Layton prodded her to play Egeus, a male character in “Midsummer Night’s Dream”. And she was also cast as one of the devils in “Faustus Burns Brightly”, among other plays.
All this combined with her training at Howard has prepared her for Life As We Know It. The realistic screenplay with its abrasive dialogue captures the difficult times in a young marriage. One would think that the filmmaker has been through seven marriages and back. But then, that’s what good filmmakers do.
Kreyolicious: Did your interest in film and filmmaking begin with a movie?
Actually, I started as an actress; I earned a bachelor degree in theatre from Florida Gulf Coast University, focusing in both acting and scriptwriting. Theatre and film is totally different- after graduation, I wanted to be more than an actress, and so I decided to pursue a degree in Film.
Kreyolicious: You’re pursuing a film degree at Howard. Why that institution?
Why Howard? Good question. HU was not my first choice; however, it was the right choice for me. I can be naïve at times; I applied to Carnegie Mellon University School of drama- where I would have pursued a degree in Creative writing. I have a degree in journalism- writing has always been my passion; so, I wanted to focus more into it. Unfortunately, I did not get in to CMU- I was devastated; nonetheless it was God stopping me from making a terrible mistake. I have never been to Pittsburgh, yet I wanted to move there. I have never heard anything about CMU other than what I searched online. And let’s not forget CMU is beyond an expensive school. Trust me, that didn’t stop me from applying. So when I received my letter from Carnegie Mellon, though I was desolated but I knew I wanted to attend graduate school within that year. I started looking at other schools because there were just a few more schools that were still taking applications and to make the situation even harder, there are not that many schools in America that offer a MFA in film—which is different than an MA. MFA is more technical than an MA.
I have lived in DC before; I love the city- so I started to look for school in the DMV- my choice was either American University or Howard. I chose Howard University and it was the best decision I have ever made. Howard’s film program is unique in so many ways. It is the one and only historical black college that offers an MFA in film. And the founder of the program is still teaching, Haile Gerima. Not only am I at a great school—some of the greatest in the business are my professors.
Kreyolicious: A lot creative people tend to procrastinate about their goals. What led you to just dive in, and accomplish your cinematic dreams?
Funny to say—I don’t procrastinate much. I have a lot on my plate, so I am always doing something. I am a photographer; cinematographer, writer, editor and I work a full-time job. I don’t sleep much because there is always something to do. To answer your question, I grew up in a small town, Naples, Florida. Most of my classmates or friends are either married or have kids. Me—I’m married to my career. Growing up, I set a plan for myself. I wanted to be at a certain level at a certain age. Like for instance, I wanted to have my PhD before I turned 30. Right now, I am getting my MFA, which is a terminal degree in film. I can’t go higher than that, but you never know; I might choose to get a PhD in something outside of film. When it comes to “cinematic dreams”, I am very determined. I don’t put anything before it and I don’t let anything stopping me from it ether.
Above: A scene from Life As We Know It with actors Loren Bray and Tim Thompson as troubled married couple Jane and Marcus.
Kreyolicious: How did the idea for Life As We Know It originate?
Life as We Know It is my baby, my first-born, my daughter, my son- whatever I want to call it. One of the reasons why I am so connected to project is because I wrote, cast, directed, edited and produced it. Like I mentioned early, writing is my passion. It’s a way to express my thoughts. Also, as I writer, I create my own world. I choose how I want my audience to experience it. I write about things people can relate to [and be] inspired [by]. Sometimes I don’t even like the characters I create. For example, Jane the antagonist—who is married to Marcus. Marcus is a caring husband, an unselfish person and Jane is totally the opposite. The idea behind Life as We Know It [was] I wanted to tackle the idea of marriages, children or even religion in just a short film. Sometimes we get so caught up in love, we forget to talk about the things that are important the most—like having children. Being in love with someone doesn’t mean that individual is the right person for you—that’s what Life as We Know It is all about.
Kreyolicious: Tell us about the behind-the-scenes making of the project.
I was fortunate enough to work with such a wonderful casts and crews. I am beyond grateful for them. To think that I moved in DC last year, and I have met so many talented people who share the same common interest with me is beyond amazing. I have partaken in several projects before, whether I worked as a crew or a cast. Once the project was over, we never heard from each other. This project was different. I am still connecting to everyone I worked with, the cast and crew, and we all are looking forward to working with each other again.
Kreyolicious: And what of your parents? Do you have their approval?
At first it was a no-no. Not that they told me I couldn’t be an actress; they wanted more than that. My parents are very protective of my siblings and me. I mean—that is almost every Haitian parent. They were concerned at first. My father wanted me to choose something that could pay the bills for me in the future—you know, typical Haitian, medicine, law, engineering etc. I never wanted to be any of these things. So once I went to college, I invited my parents to any show that I was in. And they would just travel to come support me. Anything that is school-related, my parents always support. I would say, they saw almost everything I was cast in—from playing love interest, drug addict—whatever it was, and they were there. Now, they all are in. My father loves to brag about me: “My daughter is a photographer. She’s this and that. You should book her.”. I am beyond fortunate to have them in my life.
Kreyolicious: Do you find that the fact that you had the background as an actress helped you in running a movie set? Actresses from Ida Lupino to Jody Foster have all gone the actress-to-director route successfully, and I always wonder if the fact that the started off as thespians gave them a sort of sensibility when it came to directing….
Absolutely. It doesn’t help me just on set [but] through writing and editing as well. As an actress, when I am writing, I act it out in my head. I already have a picture of how I expect my talents to deliver, which is also a problem. Sometimes I expect my talents to create the exact picture I imagined, which is nearly impossible. They don’t live in my head; they only way I can be descriptive is with my words. Trust me, sometimes my talents come with better pictures than I could ever imagined. One thing that helps me out a lot as a filmmaker, I am very-opened. I like to leave rooms for my actors; I give them the freedom be that character they’re playing. If it fits well, we keep it.
The benefit both Jody and Lupino had was that they grew up in the industry and were fortunate enough to work with some amazing directors. No wonder they were and are good. Being a director is being able to communicate without saying a lot to have your point [come] across. No one understands the director more than the talents, and that is why it’s easier. Furthermore, it goes both ways. I believe a great director should be able to act a well. If the talent is unable to paint that picture the director is describing, the director should be able to demonstrate it with his [or her] talent. And that is the reason why I am so attached and love to direct my own [script]. I know what I am looking for. I write it, that’s the first picture, I direct, edit and produce it. There is saying: “By the time you see a film on the big screen, it already being told three different ways [through] the writer, the director, and the editor”. Any of these people are able to change the story to the way they think it will benefit the story. Eventually one day, I am not going to do all that when it comes to my production. But as of right now, everything is my creative thought.
Kreyolicious: Are we to expect a feature film from you, up next?
Yes and no… I have written a couple of feature films. But, as of right now, I am more interested oin making more short films. Making film, making a great film, costs a lot of money and is time consuming. I am a storyteller. I don’t want to make beautiful films. Rather, I want to make films that make sense. So right now, I am focusing on building my audience with short films…making sure people understand my style before I can go ahead and make a feature film. When you’re looking at a feature film, that’s 90-plus pages of writing and reading. I don’t want to waste my time, casts and crews and most importantly—the viewers—if I don’t have the right resources yet…such as funds.
Kreyolicious: From what you have experienced up to this point in your career journey, what would you tell someone who’d like to make it in theater, film and screenwriting?
Go for it. I would tell them to go for it, but– they have to make sure it is for the right reason. A lot of people go into the entertainment business for the wrong reasons—either they want to be famous or to be rich. Let me start by saying, it is none of these things. I am a filmmaker, a cinematographer, editor, writer, actress and photographer. All these things fall under the same umbrella. I do what I do because I love them. I am happy doing what I love, and if I continue doing what I love, I am never going to be miserable. My plan is to stick doing what I love. Whoever is thinking of going into any of these fields, if the passion is not there—I would suggest that person not to go for it. It is time consuming—imagine doing something you hate for a long time. Yeah, I think you get the picture.
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Watch Life As We Know It by filmmaker Myrlande Charelus belowbelow.
Last Updated on November 10, 2023 by kreyolicious