Carter (Landen Amos), a young struggling but charming black writer, meets Amber Leigh (Jeanine Harrington), an older, enchanting, enigmatic professional white woman, at a bar in Santa Monica. After sleeping together, Amber reveals she’s running from a deteriorating marriage and proposes that Carter stay with her for the weekend. Carter begrudgingly accepts in hopes that it might lead to some inspiration. True feelings soon emerge as they engage in a series of thoughtful, humorous, and soul-baring conversations. However, as the weekend comes to an end, they must decide whether to continue their torrid romance or go their separate ways.
R.S. Veira, born Raphael Sylvester Veira, is an author, director, orator, and self-proclaimed dreamer. Veira, the son of Jamaican parents, was raised in Cleveland, Ohio, and has been a storyteller for as long as he can remember. Featured on Yahoo! News, Veira co-founded Dream With Me Productions in 2018 where he brings films showcasing diverse voices to life. To fuel the written side of his storytelling work and uplift other authors, Veira also launched RSV Ink, a publishing imprint. Veira is the author of five published books and has written and directed two short films, The Ride and Reflections. Most recently, Veira wrote, directed, and produced his debut feature film Meeting Ms. Leigh.
Before moving to LA, Veira graduated cum laude from Cleveland State University, where he played Division I basketball and won the Horizon League Sportsmanship Award in 2014. Veira is often invited to speak to audiences about his journey and has been a keynote speaker at high schools, colleges, conferences, and business luncheons across the country. It is our pleasure to interview R.S Veira regarding his debut feature.
What makes you fascinated with the cinematic language and what was the first film project you worked on?
The first film project I worked on was a short film we made at a film summer camp I attended when I was in 5th or 6th grade. I don’t remember much about the experience except loving being on set and creating with others. It was the same feeling I had while directing my first short film almost a decade and a half later. For me, that feeling was God confirming that I was where I needed to be and was doing what I needed to be doing. What fascinates me about the cinematic language is that it doubles as a universal language for the human experience. I love the films Jules and Jim and In the Mood for Love. Even though I don’t know the intricacies of those cultures, I can relate to the human experience at the core of each film. Films reveal to us that once you get past the myriad of surface level things that separate us it’s clear that we are all seeking the same things. We are all seeking opportunities to love and be loved, for purpose, and fulfillment. The cinematic language allows us to empathize with people from all backgrounds and ethnicities.
What inspired you to work on Meeting Ms. Leigh as a first-time feature filmmaker? Let us know more about the process from pre-production to completion.
Like most artistic endeavors Meeting Ms. Leigh was inspired by life and love. It was the third feature script I wrote but was the first one I could get off the ground. We produced the film through our production company, Dream With Me Productions, and my goal was to tell a story that I was passionate about, and that would hopefully resonate with audiences. I believe for anything to resonate it has to originate from a true place in your soul, and that’s where Meeting Ms. Leigh came from. We started pre-production at the end of 2019, but because of the pandemic, we weren’t able to begin production until January 2022. This ended up being a blessing in disguise because during that time we were able to secure additional funding and gather the exact cast and crew we wanted. I have to give all credit to God here. He made a way for us despite the numerous obstacles we faced. The most obvious obstacle was the pandemic. Meeting Ms. Leigh was a SAG production, and SAG required us to have a COVID-19 Compliance Officer. Ernest Cornish, our Compliance Officer, was amazing and ensured that everyone on set was safe and followed protocols. We partnered with Project Indie Hope who facilitated COVID-19 testing three times a week during production.
We shot for 13 days and we were only able to do that because we prepped so extensively. Boki Vukajlovic, my producing partner, and I had countless meetings in pre-production with department heads to make sure we were all making the same movie and aiming at the same target. Stevie Murrell, our director of photography, and I walked every location and mapped out every scene. Dylan Bocanegra, our production designer, and I focused on making sure the sets accurately captured the world we were creating. The leads, Landen Amos and Jeanine Harrington, and I had multiple rehearsals where we were able to play with a lot of different ideas so when it came time to shoot we knew what we were going for. We prepped the best we could so that when unforeseen obstacles did arise we wouldn’t be overwhelmed. Things rarely go as planned on set, but if you’re well prepped, then when things do go awry you’re flexible and can adapt quickly. Finally, our post-production team was incredible. Our composer, Angelique Calvillo, our editor, Tianhui Huang, our colorist, Alexandra Makarenko, and our sound designer, Cem Dursun, all elevated the film. We had an amazing team from start to finish, and I think that’s clear from the final product.
What was the most challenging aspect of working on this drama genre?
The most challenging part of working on a drama is ensuring that it stays authentic. I never wanted Meeting Ms. Leigh to be sappy but always remain genuine. To do that, I spent a lot of time in rehearsal allowing the leads to inhabit the characters and interact with each other. This made it so they were comfortable going to the places I wanted to take the characters. It also strengthened our bond. It was imperative that the actors trusted me because I was asking them to be extremely vulnerable. We built that trust through rehearsals, and when it came time to shoot, we were able to do what we needed to do.
What is your next film project and what are you currently working on?
Meeting Ms. Leigh deals with the power of spontaneous bursts of love. It's in the same vein as Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy and Barry Jenkins’s Medicine for Melancholy. My next feature film, Digits, explores the euphoric and idealistic nature of young love. Digits is a love letter to teen movies and romantic comedies. It’s heavily influenced by Superbad, Can’t Hardly Wait, The Wood, and other teen movies I loved growing up. My dream is to make a Love Trilogy. Three tales that deal with different versions of love. Meeting Ms. Leigh was the first and, hopefully, Digits will be the second.
What is the most difficult aspect of distributing an indie debut feature?
We’re dealing with distribution right now. The most difficult part has simply been learning what the entire process entails. Like anything, at first, it’s overwhelming but as you continue to do research and learn you slowly begin to get a better grasp of how it all works. I believe Meeting Ms. Leigh is a great film, and we’re starting to get outside confirmation that others think so as well. MIFF is a prime example. We hope that we continue to garner support and recognition from amazing festivals like MIFF and use that to make the best distribution deal we can. The best advice I can give when it comes to distribution is to take your time. You worked extremely hard to make your film. It deserves the best chance to be successful, and that takes patience. When you rush the process, you shortchange your reward and blessings. Take your time and let everything fall into place. God always rewards the patient and faithful. Does the language of cinema stand out more than other arts to you? And why?
To me, the cinematic language is an incredible amalgam of all other art forms. The cinematic language is comprised of prose, poetry, visuals, and music. I think that’s why it’s so impactful. A great film can arouse an astonishing amount of emotion in us because it hits us with so many powerful art forms at once.
I make films because they are a natural expression of my soul. It’s the same reason why I write. I also make films because it’s challenging. I enjoy doing hard and challenging things. I love having to rely on God to do the remarkable and miraculous in order for me to attain my dreams and goals. I could not have completed this film or any project if it had not been for a string of impeccably timed miracles. It’s truly a spiritual experience when I create anything. The process starts when I get an inkling that I want to create something. Then I pray about that inkling. I ask God for clarity and understanding on what exactly this potential creation is and how to go about creating it. Then over time through persistent prayer, hard work, and perseverance that thing takes shape and comes to be. Every completed project, whether it’s a book or film, deepens my faith in God and inspires me to dream bigger. Ultimately, my hope as a filmmaker is that I inspire others to create things. Landen Amos, my business partner and star of Meeting Ms. Leigh, and I founded our production company, Dream With Me Productions, on this idea. We want to inspire others to take a leap of faith and make their dreams their reality. We want to support, encourage, and cultivate a belief in other creators that anything is possible through love, faith, hard work, and perseverance.