Written by: Karina Jones
Daniel Jones, known to his friends and family as DJ, is a film student at the University of California - Santa Cruz. After years of dreaming about being a filmmaker, he released his first short film titled “What We See” on YouTube on April 24th. He was responsible for every step of the process, including writing the script, acting in and directing the film, handling technical aspects during shooting (angles, lighting, etc.), and editing. It took about 4 and a half months to develop from the original idea to the final upload to YouTube. The film centers on Dante, a young black man, and his wife Cindy as Dante vents about the mistreatment of black people in society.
The film was originally an assignment for one of Jones’s film classes, but he felt so passionately about the piece that he decided to release it to the public. He received the assignment during a tie of great racial tension in America, and decided to use the script “as a way to let out my frustrations.” The name of the film was developed after Jones pitched the original name, “Breaking Point,” to his professor, who said this title was too on the nose. After exploring various lines of the script, Jones settles on the name “What We See.” The name of his channel, UGK Films, dates back further than this project. Jones says, “‘UGK’ Is originally the acronym of a semi-popular hip hop duo from the 90s (Underground Kingz), but that’s not actually where the inspiration comes from. When we were Juniors in high school, me, my cousin, and my best friend were a super close friend group, and in the most corny way possible, we wanted to come up with a name for our group. We went through a bunch of names and tried them out (I’m not even gonna talk about those), but we settled on the name ‘UGK’ after listening to the song ‘Under Ground Kings’ by Drake together and turnin up to it. Some could say we ripped it off but to be fair we were the ‘Under Ground Kings’ and not the ‘Underground Kingz’...there’s a difference I promise. But over time we kinda stopped calling ourselves that but the name still kinda stuck with me and I still love the song and what it means to me.”
Artists of all kinds use their craft to release their frustrations in their personal life and in the world, and Jones is no different. He says the experience of creating a film with such a heavy message was both emotionally taxing and liberating. In order to give the strong performance he wanted when playing Dante he felt he had to “truly feel the frustration and anger that comes with being a black man in America,” which weighed heavily on him. He simultaneously felt freed by expressing this frustration through both writing and acting, and he described the creation of a film that could be meaningful to others as a “gratifying experience.”
After fully finishing his first film, Jones has learned that he greatly enjoys being a writer and director, but he would rather leave many of the other aspects of filmmaking to people more skilled in those areas. He did receive some help from others throughout the process, all of whom are credited at the end of the film, but overall he was responsible for making the best film he was capable of making with limited time and equipment. Managing cameras and lighting during shooting was a struggle, and the process of editing, choosing the right cuts and stringing everything together, incorporating music, and more was not his forté.
Since the release of “what we see,” Jones has received “an overwhelming amount of support.” He continues to receive compliments on his film almost a month later, a result he was not expecting from his very first short film. He sees the film as a successful introduction to his film career and would like people to continue to view it as he goes forth with filmmaking, but he does not have any goals pertaining to this specific project. He has moved on to developing a short film that he will shoot during his final year at UC Santa Cruz, in which he intends to focus on mental health, another topic that resonates with him.
You can support DJ on “What We See” and in his future film career by watching the film on YouTube and subscribing to his channel, UGK Films. You can also follow his account on Instagram, @ugkfilm.