Screenwriter Spotlight: Finalist Aaron Braxton
Chicago Screenplay Awards Questionnaire
By Chicago Screenplay Awards Dept.
What’s your name? Where were you born? Where do you live? And what’s your hobby?
My name is Aaron Braxton and I was born in Roxbury, MA. Currently I live in Los Angeles, CA and my hobbies are physical fitness, food, reading, conversation and multiple streams of income.
Where did you come up with the concept that just placed as Finalist in the screenplay contest? How long did it take you to develop it into the screenplay it is now?
I have always been a person that asks, “Why?” Even as a child I would question everything including: “Why is the sky blue?” “How come we can see air?” “Do aliens exist?” Luckily I had a very patient mother who not only answered my questions, but bought me a set of World Book Encyclopedias and told me to look things up. I ended up reading those books from cover to cover.
One day, I was sitting on the couch and I started thinking about the incredible journey of African Americans from slavery to present times. Wondering what happened to us post-Civil War, I decided to do some research and came across the Black Laws. These were laws created by the decimated South specifically to railroad African American men back into the prison (The Convict Leasing System) in order to continue the economic system of free labor.
Prior to the enactment of these laws, the African American prison population was four percent. After its enactment, the African American male prison population rose to 40% and has never decreased! I was amazed at the fact, I had never heard of this system and felt very compelled to write about it. Especially since that type of system is still going on today.
From conception to where the script is today took about seven or eight months of continuous research, writing, and rewriting.
From concept to finished draft, can you take us through your screenwriting process?
I used to create character breakdowns and written outlines that I can follow. Now, because I have my process down pack, I can usually start with the written page, knowing that the story outline, character breakdown, and world are in my head. However, for this particular project, I had to go back to the drawing board.
I had never written a historical screenplay before and I wanted to make sure everything was historically accurate. Therefore, I wrote my story outline, character breakdown and world on paper, paying particular attention to what I needed to research.
This was a slow and tedious process. Some days I may have only written a half a page because I spent the rest of the time researching a character or specific phonetics in the ways people talked or phrases prevalent to the period. What was important was to never get discouraged and to acknowledge that every day I was making huge strides and progress.
When did you realize that you wanted to become a screenwriter?
I have always loved movies. At seven or eight, I would fake sick and stay home just so I could watch and get lost in movies all day.
It says in my high school year book that I wanted to be an actor, writer and teacher. I have been lucky to do all three in major ways.
Who are your biggest filmmaking/screenwriting influences? What about their style do you like or borrow?
I don’t really idolize people and I can’t say that I have a particular influencer whose style I have borrowed. I keenly listen to my own voice and I love all genres of movies. It doesn’t matter who wrote them, if it’s a well-crafted story, in any genre, I will gravitate towards it.
That said, I remember watching Cooley High at the movie theatre when I was around six or seven. There’s a death scene between Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs and Glynn Turman’s characters. I cried so hard in the theatre that my dad had to take me into the lobby and convince me the scene wasn’t real. When it finally connected that it wasn’t real, it became the defining moment in my life as an artist. In that moment I decided I wanted to affect people in that way.
Have you ever been obsessed with a movie or TV show? If so, which one? Why?
Cooley High, The Color Purple, The Apostle, Gia and ANY Marvel Movie, are movies I will stop whatever I’m doing and watch. The same with Station 19, Euphoria and Queen Sugar. I love projects with interesting characters and plots.
What’s your favorite moment in cinema history? Why?
My favorite moment in cinema history was when Halle Berry won the Oscar for Best Actress. I think because her speech was so poignant and even though it was primarily directed at African American women, it spoke to me regarding how the next tier had been broken. Brick by brick she represented the foundation of being “shut out,” being redefined in some way
Who’s your favorite character in cinema history? Why?
My favorite character in cinema history is Leroy “Preach” Jackson from Cooley High. I grew up under similar circumstances and I see so much of my own hopes and dreams in the journey and life of that character. He still moves me when I think about him; especially knowing that I will never give up. No matter what. The scene at the funeral still touches my heart.
If you could talk to anyone from any era, who would it be and what would you ask them?
I would talk to God. I would ask why there is so much pain in the world and how do we bring back intrinsic joy and selflessness into the hearts of humanity.