Meet Xavier Burgin. He has been taking the entertainment world by storm lately. If you haven’t heard of him yet, let us introduce you. Xavier is the Director of Shudder’s first original documentary, Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror. He’s also a Sundance Lab Fellow, an HBO Finalist, a Ryan Murphy Television Half Foundation alumni, a semifinalist for the Student Academy Awards, and a director on the Emmy-nominated series, Giants.
Xavier’s feature script, On Time, has won The ScreenCraft Drama Competition and The Film Empire Diversity Screenplay competition. It was also a finalist in the Hollywood Talent Summit Screenplay competition and a Top 5 finalist in the Atlanta Film Festival Screenplay competition.
We had the chance to ask Xavier a few questions about his recent success. His answers are below.
What got you interested in writing at first?
My love for storytelling dates back to my childhood in Mississippi and Alabama. I had an immense affinity for short stories and poems that spoke to my experience in the deep south. Still, I didn’t consider filmmaking and writing a true career choice until my time in college at The University of Alabama. I took a class with aptly named “Make A Movie” with Billy Field. He threw a camera in our hands and told us to go create. My crew and I did. The film we made was bad, but it made me realize I found immense pleasure in writing and creating stories for others to consume.
What inspired you to write the script that won the ScreenCraft Drama Competition and The Film Empire Diversity Screenplay Competition?
The first inspiration for On Time came from the story of Shanesha Taylor, as well as my mother. Shanesha Taylor is a black woman who was arrested after her job interview for leaving her two children in the car. The state took away her children, but her mugshot went viral and monetary support flowed in. When I was young, my mother left me in the car during a grocery session. The police let her go with a warning. These two incidents made me ask what happens to those who don’t receive these lucky breaks. So I did my research and learned about similar stories of mothers being arrested while trying to find jobs This led me to research stories of the juvenile dependency court as well as foster families, and foster homes. Many people (and most audiences) have never seen the reunification process for parents and children, children’s court, the workload of children protective services caseworkers, or the overwhelming disparity black parents find themselves in when dealing with juvenile court. I want to bring these problems out in the open. An audience should leave this film emotionally moved, with an open mind to learning more about the legal system for parents and children in regards to the reunification process.
Who did you meet with from winning these competitions and what did you learn from those mentor meetings?
I sat down with Marvel Studios’ Rachel Vigneaux and Warner Bros. VP of Film Production, Cate Adams. Rachel taught me about the ins and outs of Marvel and how I should strategize my trajectory towards one day directing a film on such a scale. Cate Adams taught me about the ins and outs of the studio system, as well as giving invaluable critiques on my script.
What’s the best piece of advice you received from the mentorship?
Cate Adams told me I was doing something undeniably right with my career and I should keep pushing forward. The people who stay in the industry are the ones who never stop fighting to make their voices heard.
Where are you at in your writing career now? What are you working on?
Currently, I’m working to find micro-budget funding for On Time so I can direct it. I’m working with Gunpowder & Sky on a black, animated series. I’m writing a romantic comedy so I can have that under my belt. I was recently nominated for an Emmy in directing for my work on the digital series, Giants. I also directed a documentary for Shudder entitled, Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, about the history of black people in the horror genre. The documentary features Jordan Peele, Keith David, Tony Todd, Rachel True, and more.
What’s one piece of advice you would pass on to aspiring writers?
To all writers, you need to be ready for a lot of notes after your first draft. Get out the first, shitty draft, and get notes. Listen to the ones that make sense, throw out the ones are bad, but if one note keeps coming up constantly by different people, you should look at it.
To my black and brown writers, you also need to be prepared for white readers/audiences to not completely understand the stories and ideas you’re writing about. Stand your ground. Be sure to understand the difference between a constructive note and one that comes from a place of non-understanding due to the specificity of what you’re trying to say.