Justin M. Thomas

Justin M. Thomas began his professional film career in 2007 as the Associate Producer of People's Television documentary short "The Grey Movie”, which was sponsored by the Cinereach Foundation.

Beginning in 2011, Justin attended graduate school at the School of Visual Arts for Social Documentary filmmaking. It was during this tenure that he directed, filmed, and produced his first feature film called "Truth Through A Lens", which won the Best Documentary Feature Award at the 2014 Workers Unite Festival, and was an Official Selection at the 2015 Socially Relevant Film Festival in New York City.

Beginning with his graduation from SVA in 2013, Justin became a freelance videographer and produced video content for Arvato Systems North America, Firelight Media, USA Today Sports, and And Now Media. He has also directed, produced and edited several music videos for independent artists.

In October 2019, Justin’s documentary short "Sophia Dawson: PURPOSE" became an Official Selection at the first annual Shortie Film Festival in Brooklyn, NY. The film also went on to win Honorable Mention (Documentary Short) at the Workers Unite Film Festival in November of 2020.
In September of 2020, Justin founded and launched the Black Independent Filmmaker App, the first mobile venture to provide a virtual platform to connect filmmakers of color in the independent film community.

In 2022, Justin became a producer on the feature film drama "I Want To Live On Mars", directed by Ukrainian filmmaker Mariya Somova. The film was completed in 2023 and has since been officially selected to screen at film festivals across the U.S.

Justin is currently developing his first two narrative screenplays - one feature and one short - and is in the process of securing investments to begin production.

What topic do you discuss in your script? And why?

The idea for "Finding Jaden" came to me as I reflected on my years as an activist in New York City engaging in social justice movements, and how this life stood in stark contrast to my upbringing in the conservative suburbs of New Jersey. When I was in elementary school, I forged a close friendship with a young Caucasian girl, and we became inseparable - until outside influences conspired to keep us apart. I began to imagine what would happen if she were to come back into my life now, and how we would interact and communicate. Would there still be a connection, or would the gulf between our respective life journeys make us incompatible?

I started writing this story in November of 2017; as time went on and the national events of the past several years became more urgent and volatile, the message of my screenplay became all the more prescient. In the characters of Jaden and Nicole, I wanted to create a mirror for ourselves as a nation and as a society to pose the question of why race still so fundamentally divides us in all facets of our lives, even one as personal and intimate as who we love.

How do people feel after reading your script?
The feedback on my script has been very positive. It has gone through multiple iterations since I first conceived the story seven years ago (the version that won the New York Script Award is the sixth draft). During the course of that time, I have taken people's feedback and constructive criticism to heart as I fine-tuned the script. Overall, people seemed to be genuinely enthralled by the love story, the parallel story of activism, loyalty and mentorship and the depth and dimensions of the characters, including the supporting cast. I wanted to make sure that every character was well-rounded and didn't fall into tropes, and that the arcs of the two protagonists would be engaging and relatable. I wanted the reader to be able to see themselves reflected in this love story.

Do you think that films can change people for the better or for the worse?
Speaking from personal experience, I can definitely say that films can change people's lives. How they choose to allow their exposure to cinema to impact their life trajectory is entirely up to the individual. For me, great art (whether its in film, or music, or theater, or any creative expression) is at its most powerful when it holds a mirror up to its audience and makes us evaluate (or re-evaluate) who we are, what we value, and what we feel gives us purpose in this life. Our time on this planet is short, and getting caught up in the day to day grind of surviving sometimes makes us forget about what it means to be truly alive. The art that is most enduring and sacred to me (in films, in music) has always been a visceral reminder of that, and as a writer/director I want to be able to do the same for my audience.

According to 3-act dramaturgy, how would you define your story?
Act 1 is where the love story between Jaden and Nicole is established, when they first meet at elementary school in suburban New Jersey. The catalyst for the narrative is set in motion when their friendship is broken up by outside forces, which reverberates through their respective trajectories into adulthood. The script then sets up their realities in the present day, establishing their current environments, jobs, friendships and romantic situations. Nicole still lives in Jersey, while Jaden has relocated to Brooklyn, NY.

Act 2 is when Jaden and Nicole finally reconnect, in the most unlikely of circumstances. From there, they gradually begin to piece back their friendship and repair their severed bond. In the process, questions and suspicions about their relationship begin to impact their lives, both professionally as well as within their respective social circles. This establishes the central underlying conflict - can they overcome resistance and resentment towards their romance, and ultimately be together? This act concludes with a traumatic event in Jaden's life that makes him question his choices - including his budding romance with Nicole.

Act 3 deals with the fallout from this event, and it climaxes with Jaden and Nicole once again drifting apart and beginning to lead separate lives. During this period, they both make inroads in the pursuit of their individual passions, and they each finally feel a sense of living in their purpose. This victory is hollow, however, as they both acutely feel the absence of each other. The redemptive arc has Jaden taking a professional opportunity that requires him to leave the Tri-State and head across country. At the last minute, Nicole is alerted to this and decides to intercept him. It's here that they have one last opportunity to express how they really feel, before it's too late.

How does the main character develop?
At the beginning of the story, Jaden is at a crossroads. He is celebrated by his friends and peers for his activism and for his dedication to his community. However, he does so at great personal cost to both himself and to his long-term partner. Although his heart is in the right place, he has a lot of growth and maturing to do. He also feels frustrated and trapped, unable to reach what he feels is his fullest potential. Over the course of this story, through hard-earned lessons, his rekindled relationship with Nicole, and a tragic turn of events, Jaden is forced to re-evaluate the kind of man he wants to be - not only for his broader community, but to those closest to him who mean the most in his life. In doing so, he is finally able to stand in his purpose and follow his calling.

What actors do you imagine in your project (typologically)?
Honestly, I haven't really considered who I would cast in these roles as of yet (if we're talking about A-listers). If I were making this film ten years ago, then I'd say I'd be open to casting someone like Michael B. Jordan in the role of "Jaden" (I really liked his nuanced and empathetic portrayal of the late Oscar Grant in Ryan Coogler's debut "Fruitvale Station"). With regard to the character of "Nicole", again I would have to look backwards in time to someone like Natalie Portman around the late '00s. However, my original plan was to utilize up and coming talent (through audition) for the two lead protagonists; I didn't really have any current A-listers in mind.

Why do you think your script should attract a director?
It's funny you should ask this question, because I am planning to direct both of these films myself. That being said, if I were to entrust either of these screenplays to another director, he or she should be someone who has the capacity to not only empathize with, but truly understand these characters, the communities that they are from and the worlds they inhabit. I think my script should attract a director because it tells the truth and is unapologetic in its truth-telling, and those qualities are always attractive to both filmmakers and audiences who are drawn to unfiltered and authentic stories.

At which festivals did you receive the award?
So far, my screenplay for "Finding Jaden" has made it to the Semi-Finals of the Big Apple Film Festival, and won the Grand Prix First Time Screenwriter (Feature) from the New York Script Awards. My short screenplay "Lil' Faye's First Finale" received its first Official Selection from the same summer edition of the New York Script Awards. I am still in the process of submitting to other competitions/festivals.

Which screenwriters are your favorite and why?
I began to come of age in the 1990s, and the two writer/directors who made the biggest impression on me during that time were Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino. They are each stylistically unique directors, visually and aesthetically. However, what stood out to me most about their respective films was the screenwriting - particularly their use of dialogue. Both Lee and Tarantino are masters of conversational dialogue, and listening to actors recite their monologues in films like "Do The Right Thing" or "Pulp Fiction" always fascinated me. They innately understood how to create the most complex, philosophical and poetic dialogue and make it effortlessly sound like normal, run of the mill, everyday conversation. Additionally, both of these men showcased extreme empathy when constructing their female characters. A lot of times when female characters are created by writers who aren't women, they can easily fall into tropes or be two-dimensional at best. Both Spike and Quentin showcased their capacity to understand the joys, concerns and struggles of women that didn't feel contrived or forced (Spike was masterful in writing the scene of Wesley Snipes' wife lamenting the loss of her husband after he leaves her for a white woman in "Jungle Fever", while the camera pans the room and we hear her girlfriends spill the tea on race dynamics in relationships. I love that Quentin adapted Elmore Leonard's "Rum Punch" and casted Pam Grier as a middle-aged woman down on her luck and looking for redemption in "Jackie Brown"). As a young teenager when I first saw these films, all of this was revelatory and stayed with me. They inspired me once I decided to begin writing the script for "Finding Jaden" in 2017. I wanted to write dialogue that was as engaging as that, and also imbue my female characters with a level of empathy and understanding that made them fully developed, three-dimensional personalities.

About which topics are your screenplays?
I am drawn to stories about people who are underdogs and on the fringe of society in some way. In the case of "Finding Jaden", the titular character is a Black street activist who uses his talents behind the camera to document oppression in his community and expose these injustices to the wider world. In my short screenplay "Lil Faye's First Finale", the protagonist is a young Black woman who is socially awkward and feels like an outcast in her high school, but channels her inner power through her love of playing loud, aggressive punk rock music. Both of these characters are reflective of my own life experiences - with social justice community activism, as well as being what is now affectionately referred to as "AfroPunk" (which confused and confounded many of my peers growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey in the '90s). I feel that the best writers create amalgamations of their own lived experiences when they are constructing their stories and characters.

What motivates you the most to write screenplays?
Usually there is a story that I am itching to get out of my system, and I feel that I am the best person suited to tell it. Although the references in my scripts are personal, the message behind the story and embodied by the journeys of these characters are universal. This is often the case with artists; people produce their art because they feel that they have to express themselves, but what they have to say ends up resonating with people from all over the world.

What are your plans in future careers?
My immediate plans are to raise money and go into production on both of these screenplays - the feature-length and the short (myself and my production team will most likely focus on the short film first). From there, I plan to send the films to festivals locally, across the country and around the world, and eventually find distribution for them on streaming platforms. I am still learning the marketing side of the business, so everything has been a work in progress. But I am really enjoying the experience of gaining that knowledge. These two scripts represent my first foray into narrative filmmaking as a director; my background and training is originally in documentary film. I do want to get back to producing documentaries one day, but I have always loved narrative films (independent cinema in particular), and I want to try my hand at this lane of the filmmaking industry and see how far the journey takes me.