LaWanda: Welcome to today's episode of Notes from the Backpack, a PTA podcast, I'm LaWanda Toney
Helen: And, I'm Helen Westmoreland and we are your cohosts. Throughout this show and especially during the pandemic, we've talked a lot about academics, but what about the arts?
LaWanda: I'm so excited we're talking about this today, Helen. I think it's so important that families foster their children's creativity right now and we have a guest whose story is sure to inspire our listeners. Arts education has been a priority for National PTA for a long time. And, our Reflections program has provided opportunities for kids to express themselves and share their artistic talents.
Participation in the program has shaped the lives of many young artists and we are so fortunate to have one of those artists here with us today.
Helen: That's right, LaWanda. We have got the incredible Julian Bass with us today. Despite being only 20 years old, Julian has over nine years of experience and has garnered numerous film and visual effects awards. Julian's talents include onscreen acting, voiceovers, singing, producing, writing, directing and visual effects editing. He won first place in the National PTA's Teen Reflections Video Competition, not once, but twice, in 2013 and 2017. And, his winning works were on national display at the United States Department of Education.
Julian has cultivated a digital presence that has allowed his talents to be shared across multiple platforms and seen by millions of people. His recent works “Ant Man” and “Favorite Heroes” went viral on TikTok and led Julian to connect with a big entertainment audience, including a lot of industry elites.
Julian, thank you so much for joining us today.
Julian Bass: Thank you so much.
Helen: So let's dive into it. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what makes you passionate about filmmaking?
Julian Bass: Yeah, I would say the best place to start is in, is truly in like what I'm interested in. Right? Because I guess that's really what gets people, you know, inspired to do something. And it started for me, I was a huge cartoon fan and I watched a lot of like the DC superhero shows. So, I watched all the Justice League stuff. And at a point I, when you're a kid, you, you want to give yourself super powers, right? You want to fly like Superman, you want to do all this crazy stuff.
Helen: As an adult you want to do that too.
And, yeah. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. It hasn't gone away clearly as, as I keep doing these on my video, so I don't think it'll ever go away. I remember distinctly my dad, he was teaching, and he used a green screen for like the first time to do this online course and was in this lecture hall. And, I was like, how did he do that?
That was some stuff I've never seen outside of like Hollywood and I didn't even understand how that was possible. So, it got me interested and I started learning that, Oh man, maybe I can give myself super powers. Really cool stuff and all this is happening as like 10, 11 years old. I think what it was for me, partly my dad, partly the way that I was just growing up on these cartoons and stuff. And every video I made subsequently was just me trying to give myself some sort of super power, because that's how I felt I could be like, I don't know a hero in my own respect.
Helen: Oh I love that.
LaWanda: I'm not sure if everyone knows, but Julian's TikTok video has been seen over 24 million times. How amazing is that Julian, have you even processed what that means or looks like for you?
Julian Bass: I don't think I'll ever get to the point where my brain can encompass all of that. I think that's still crazy to me, even today. I still just, haven't had time to just sit back and think like, Whoa, that's a lot of people.
I never thought a hundred people would see that video. It was just one of those things that. It was a day to day thing for me. It's things that I like to do. So I mean, that that's, that's, that's really, I think why it became so popular as well was because it came from the heart.it wasn't like, Oh, I'm going to put everything into trying to get Disney on the phone or something like that. And, it was really just something fun. and that's what resonates with people, especially now people need that.
Helen: I'm sure your family is super proud of you. You talked about your dad teaching you how to use the green screen. We've got lots of parents who listen to this show. Could you give them a little bit of advice? How do you think families should support their own budding artists?
Julian Bass: I just had a conversation with my mom about this. This is right before that super viral video was released. we've been having family zoom calls, to keep in touch over this pandemic. And, one of the questions she asked me is like, she wanted to know, how did we do, as parents, you're 20 years old now, reflect. Right. And I was like, you know, it was good. I think one of the most glaring things though, that we talked about that I have noticed is that no matter what I had an interest in, they were there to support that and I think that goes for literally anything.
There was a time where I said, Oh, I wanted to do archery. And then I did an archery class I wanted to do football and I started practicing for that and they help support that. I wanted to sing, they helped me sing. I wanted to do videos, they were always there to support. As a parent, you don't know, what's going to be the thing that your child does. You don't know if this is the step one in the story, right?
So, say I picked up the bow and arrow for the first time and then, you know, down the road, I'm like in the Olympics or something and they're like, Oh man. You know, imagine if we hadn't supported him at that time. Right? And so, I think it's important for everybody to know that as an artist, more so than anything, there's a million opportunities to get discouraged by anyone. And you can't say, Oh, that's not going to be me 'cause I'm the parent. It can sometimes easily be you because you know, you're looking out. Everybody knows like the story of the starving artist and all that jazz. And part of, I want to include when I say, you know, discouraging, that also includes telling people to play it safe, in some cases.
You want to do what's best, but, but you also have a have to have a certain amount of trust. And, in what they believe in. I never stopped believing in what I was doing. And that is partially because of my parents
LaWanda: Julian, have you ever been in a creative space where you got stuck? And if so, what advice do you have for young artists who sometimes get stuck in their creative process?
Julian Bass: The only place where I've ever found myself in a creative block, has been when I've been trying to force something to happen and I think that goes for almost anything. You only notice when you're, when you're struggling to do something creatively when you're there, like a deadline is coming up and you're like, Oh, I can't think of something. you're stressing about it.
I think the biggest part of the creative process is allowing yourself time to not create. Which will give you time to just take things in, I think creative ideas stem from truly what's observed, in your community and in your environment, people create based off of what they know.
And, if you block yourself off from that and say I spent just days inside an effects program, I'm not going to be consuming enough for me to think of something new and creative, for me to offer my take on what I think something would look like. A great example of this, was when I was doing Reflections. I did it once in eighth grade and then once more in, in 12th grade. And, every year my mom would say, Julian, you should do Reflections this year. The deadline's coming up, all this stuff. And, I just didn't have anything.
And, part of the reason that I didn't necessarily do anything those years was because I don't ever want to settle. I always want to put my best foot forward and, I didn't feel like I believed in the projects or the ideas that I had had for those years. But if I truly have to say I would do something differently, I would actually have done those. And, I know that sounds like it goes against what I was saying earlier, but I think the reason I would do those is more so of a practice rather than trying to form a truly creative idea and then make something brand new.
Helen: But that's also good, going back to the question about advice for parents, right? Of like knowing when your child needs some space and that space for creativity might look very different than when you're like planning for a test or planning for something else. But, also what I hear you saying, Julian is, there's some discipline to it and some not getting too caught up in perfectionism and parents can probably help with that too.
Julian Bass: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that's a big thing to remember, especially like you gotta think too, as a parent, it's pretty much up to you to, recognize these things. Because, I know at the age, when I was saying, no, I need a break and stuff like that, I wasn't a hundred percent cognizant of why I was doing that.
But then, you know, I can reflect now, you know, hindsight 2020, I can reflect now and say, that was a pretty good idea. And, I was doing that because I, I felt stressed by it, you know? And II was like, Oh, you know, I, I went to nationals. I don't want to do this again and not, and I made it about something it wasn't, it started to become not about the art, you know? Which was, which is probably the biggest problem that you can ever run to it as an artist is when you start caring about, something other than the art. Which is why I think I'm, I am where I am right now is because I would still be making the same videos and the same content, if it was zero people watching versus the 24 million.
Helen: You shared something Julian, that reminded me - LaWanda and I were lucky enough to interview children's author, Kwame Alexander, for the show a couple of weeks ago. And he also shared, we were asking, how do you get inspiration for your stories?
And he was literally walking and saw something. But we were talking to him a lot about the importance of representation in kids' literature and being able to see yourself, your racial identity, your home life identity, your sexual orientation, all of those things, no matter who you are as a child, just the importance of really seeing that diversity, in our world.
I'm curious if you have a perspective on that when it comes to the arts and how you see representation in the arts.
Julian Bass: Representation in arts for me has been a little all over the place. So, what I tend to see in the film industry is there's lots of black actors but it's like the token and things like that and all these tropes. Usually there's one guy one Black guy for every time that there's like a hero, it's been like Will Smith a lot of times, or The Rock and, maybe Denzel Washington. And so in the, in the realm of actors, it's almost like, oh, you gotta take turns, you can't ever be a part of an ensemble movie that's not what I was used to seeing, especially for superheroes.
I think about like when I was young, young, there was, I guess Blade and Spawn who were the only black superheroes in movies at the time. So it wasn't really too great. It wasn't as uplifting as Spiderman and it wasn't anything I was really allowed to watch. Then of course, in, what I do now in VFX, there was absolutely no one, not a single person who looked like me, doing what I was doing.
At least not where I was looking and even as I started to grow and look for jobs at production houses. So, not a lot has changed at least in that space. And, one of the things I've learned is that there's a tremendous interest from the people who, comment on my videos and then send me messages and things like that and say, how do you do this? How do you do that? That's so cool. I want to get into video editing . And these are kids that look like me. I see myself in these students, in these young creators.
But it's not like it's not like there isn't an interest, because I've seen it with my own eyes.
Helen: Or the talent, the interest in the talent are there.
Julian Bass: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And I've seen the most amazing stuff and I'm like, why isn't anybody seeing this right now? This is insane. Incredible. And, the way to change that if I have to offer my opinion on it is to really implement more opportunities for these people, whether they're students or not. And I think it starts young.
So I would say, start with students. If there was like a computer lab or if there was like a, you know, a video space, a Student production house. That's one of the things I've been talking about actually with my agents too, what can I do to help people like me who don't have the resources that I had, get to a point where I am? 'Cause I know I'm not the only one, there's 7 billion people out there. You mean to tell me that I'm the only one who was able to, crack the code and no there's just people who don't have the resources. That's all.
LaWanda: I also think that you are helping to open some of those doors and help a lot of kids who see you virally say, Hey, he looks like me and he's making these effects, maybe I can look into it and see what I can do. They also see you connecting with industry elites, like the CEO of Disney. And, hopefully they're starting to have different conversations. What was that conversation like? I mean, you don't have to tell us exactly what you guys talked about but what.
Helen: No, tell us exactly...
Julian Bass: I will tell you that I have spoken with everybody, just name a studio, name anyone I've spoken with everyone already. Those conversations are crazy. These people are super gracious. And you hear a lot of like Hollywood horror stories, and I think the only reason you do is because those are newsworthy. But everybody that I've met down to producers and directors and studio executives, they just want to create stuff.
And they kind of sigh at the fact that they need money to do it. It's a much different space than what the outside world has told me.
There's lots of people advocating for me and wanting to see me just succeed, in any way. And so that's great, it's great to have that support too. And my dad right now is my manager, my mom's not, my second manager, she's occupying from the sidelines and stuff.
That's another thing too, is like when I was making some of these videos and things. I didn't necessarily tell them that I was making these videos. I was like I'm going to go out and hang out at the park or something, and then I'd post a video and if you're getting like millions of views. It's only a matter of time before your parents see you,
you know, I can't hide for too long, but-,
Helen: So wait, did you send them the link or did somebody else send them a link and say, I think this is your son.
Julian Bass:There was an instance where I had done a video where I was Ben 10, Ben Tennyson from this cartoon network show. And, they were like, Julian, why are we getting text messages about you, you made a new video. And it's not like they didn't know I made videos, but they didn't necessarily know that I was doing the social media stuff. Cause that was just a harder thing for them to understand.
My dad used to always say, Likes don't buy you food. And it was like, obviously, you can't buy things with likes, but some people make that into a career. And it was just hard t, you can't talk back to your parents. So they weren't gonna allow me to say that.
Like I said, nothing has ever stopped me from creating. And so, that's what I did, naturally. And now, it's clearer to them that there is longevity and security and a career, in this and something that my dad is just for the first time being like, Oh, you know, you can get paid to do a post on an, on a social media site, just because of an audience that you got, yeah. You know, it's like an ad. It's like screen time on a TV show? And that's all it is.
LaWanda: It sounds like you guys are growing together. Like, your parents are learning new things, you are learning new things and it's all based, because of them helping support your passion, your talent.
Julian Bass: Yeah. Big time. I will say that is probably the single biggest factor in all of this, is that I'm fortunate enough to have two parents that support what I do.
And I don't say that lightly at all. When I didn't see anybody doing VFX, they were the ones who told me that I could and that it was possible. Like I said, I saw my dad doing green screen, not somebody from a Hollywood behind the scenes video.
LaWanda: Yeah. You never know how you can influence your child. That one little thing, your dad was just doing his job and he figured out a different way to do it. And, you zoned in on that and built your career off of that one instance. That's pretty fascinating and now I need to pay attention to what I'm doing around my son.
So Julian, we've enjoyed this conversation so much. Thanks for sharing all your experiences with us. Out of everything we discussed, what's one thing you think families should walk away from today's episode?
Julian Bass: I think the one thing is sticking together. And sticking together encompasses, supporting one another, trusting one another, especially when you don't fully understand, where someone's perspective is coming from. You got to understand you grow up in different times as a family. And so, my experiences are different than my parents' experiences and that's the same for every family really, you're not going to have the same exact lives as your parents. But, through that, you have to stick together.
LaWanda: That's really great. I think that people can definitely understand that and use it. Julian, what are your social media handles and where can listeners go to learn more about you and your projects?
Julian Bass: Yeah, on all of social media. I'm The Julian Bass on TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and I have a website, macrobassproductions.com, M A C R O B A S S productions. And, that's where you can see some of the work that I've done, and the work that'll continue to make.
Helen: Thank you again, Julian.
Julian Bass: Yeah, thank you so much guys.
Helen: And, to our audience listening, thank you for joining us for more resources related to today's episode, check out notesfromthebackpack.com. And if you're interested in learning more about PTA's Reflections program, you can visit pta.org/reflections.
Thanks for listening and we'll talk to you again, next time.