Something good happens every time Oscar winner and Florida State University graduate Barry Jenkins puts his FSU filmmaking band back together.
The talented film school graduates from the class of 2003 have created another masterful movie, “If Beale Street Could Talk.” The critically acclaimed film is nominated for three Oscars at the 91st Academy Awards this Sunday.
The FSU crew connected in college and created the kind of bond that’s easier felt than explained. Over the past 16 years, they have frequently worked together, played together and confronted challenges together.
They describe themselves as a family, and they work that way too.
“Since we left Tallahassee about 15 years ago, we’ve been working to build careers as filmmakers,” Jenkins said. “Over the past three to four years, that foundation has finally coalesced into the work and opportunities that we hoped for when we were students at FSU. We’re keeping the band together.”
Keeping the band together has been good for them personally and professionally.
Jenkins (FSU ’03), cinematographer James Laxton (FSU ’03), producer Adele Romanski (FSU ’04), and editors Joi McMillon (FSU ’03) and Nat Sanders (FSU 02), have worked together regularly over the past decade. Each experience has rejuvenated what Jenkins calls a “communal” chemistry that first clicked between them as students.
Two years ago, their breakout indie film “Moonlight” was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three Oscars. Jenkins shared an award for Best Adapted Screenplay and Romanski shared another for Best Picture.
Those big wins have translated into big opportunities.
Jenkins and Romanski have launched a new production company called PASTEL, and they’ve signed a deal with tech-retail behemoth Amazon to develop multiple television series for Amazon Studios. They are already filming the first project, “The Underground Railroad,” based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Colson Whitehead.
As part of Jenkins’ new entrepreneurial effort, he has expanded the FSU film family and welcomed more Florida State graduates to the team. One of the other partners at PASTEL is Mark Ceryak, a native of Live Oak, Florida, who graduated from FSU’s film school in 2003.
Jenkins said bringing new members into the FSU filmmaking family is done with much care because they want to preserve the special chemistry first developed as students at the film school.
“We’re still the same group — we’re not different because we won Best Picture for ‘Moonlight,’” Jenkins said. “The biggest thing to me is we trust each other. Having a producer like Adele at the top, who has my back, is always comforting. So is having James, Joi and Nat filtering the images in the voice they need to be filtered through.”
Those telltale images are again captivating film fans and critics.
The Washington Post praises Jenkins for “redefining cinematic beauty” in “If Beale Street Could Talk” with its vivid colors and compelling composition. The film builds on the almost reverent reputation that Jenkins et al. earned for creating the gorgeously raw and bold look of “Moonlight” in 2016.
Jenkins is building a singular film aesthetic immediately recognizable among fans. He credits the film school and his FSU family for helping to develop that vision on the set and in editing.
“I think my films look the way they do because the film school instilled in me that you have to know how all these different equipment components operate because it’s part of the craft,” Jenkins said. “I think the really lovely thing about the film school is everybody has to do everything, and so the idea of ego is very quickly put in check, and we just share a collective energy.”
Fortunately, his FSU family is a buffer — a comfort zone where they all can retreat from the realities of celebrity and just focus on being storytellers.
“Everything is larger now, so we have to do extra mental work to block out those things,” Jenkins said. “We want to make sure everyone who comes into the family understands how the family operates. We’re just trying to tell stories, same as we always did.”