“Oakland in Blue” is a short movie that was made by locally grown, Los Angeles-based filmmaker Robbin Rae and selected to be in both the Oakland International Film Festival, which just passed, and the upcoming San Francisco Black Film Festival. The cinematography, the lighting, the script, the acting and the message were all on point. Robbin Rae is a name we will hear more of, mark my words.
M.O.I. JR: Where did you get the inspiration to write “Oakland in Blue”? How long did it take you to write it?
Robbin Rae: The film “Oakland in Blue” was inspired by an album of the same name by Oakland emcee Do D.A.T. His album got me through the first two years of film school as I was missing home and needed to be reconnected.
I have a deep appreciation for artists and musicians – their creative process, their sacrifice. I wanted to do a film that showed that; however, specific to growing up in Oakland and dealing with specific circumstances. Do D.A.T. played a huge role in the development of this story as a consultant and my muse.
I began writing “Oakland in Blue” during the last [instruction] year of our program. During that time, we did a lot of work to the scripts, character development with actors, table reads, breakdowns. We even filmed scenes and critiqued them in class, all of which was extremely beneficial because by the time production came around, I needed not to worry about story.
M.O.I. JR: What kind of history do you have with filmmaking?
Robbin Rae: It’s funny. When I was 15, my father bought me a Sony camcorder. I would film skits with friends and document our high school experience. At the time I did not recognize that as an interest in filmmaking nor did I know that being a filmmaker was an obtainable career.
While completing my B.S. at California State University, Hayward (now California State University, East Bay), I took a few TV production courses and held an internship with Backstage Pass. This is where I learned video editing and basic camera usage.
I began working with Youth Sounds (now Bay Area Video Coalition Next Gen program) on the McClymonds High School campus in West Oakland as an after-school instructor, which turned into me teaching video production as a full-time teacher. Here, filmmaking was self-taught; I learned as I was teaching.
There came a point where I maxed out of teaching given my knowledge and experience, so I decided to attend film school. I enrolled in the MFA film and television program at New York University, Tisch School of the Arts, Asia, located in Singapore.
M.O.I. JR: You did quite a good job casting your characters. What was that process like?
Robbin Rae: Initially, the casting process was difficult; however, once I found the two lead characters, Kennedy and Marcus, the remaining characters became easy to fill. In the beginning, I set out to only cast out of Oakland; however, due to a production schedule and budget that were not realistic, I found the two lead actors, Jah Shams (Kennedy) and Troy Curvey III (Marcus) in Los Angeles. All other roles were filled by Oakland-based actors and actresses. Casting was fun. We met a lot of interesting people through auditions.
M.O.I. JR: Who handled your cinematography? It was exceptional.
Robbin Rae: The director of photography is a classmate and one friend of mine, Melanie Ramos. She is a beast on the camera. I gave her film reference, and a look book got the type of lighting and shots I wanted to achieve. She did the rest of the work in designing the shots. I love working with Melanie; she is quick, precise and always makes sure I get what I want captured. Her and I have another project we will be collaborating on.
M.O.I. JR: Why did you end the film leaving the audience hanging?
Robbin Rae: Well, it’s a short film. I can only do so much in 20 minutes; either I give you a traditional satisfying ending or rich content. My intention with “Oakland in Blue” is to give the audience a quick look into the life of each character.
I want audiences to come out with understanding and empathy. So in reality, when one encounters someone in a similar situation as any of these characters in the film, they are not quick to judge that person.
M.O.I. JR: How was your showing at the Oakland International Film Fest last month?
Robbin Rae: Seeing “OIB” on the big screen in the theater which I grew up in was absolutely incredible. The audience at the Grand Lake Theater gave such good energy and so much praise for the film. Folks really enjoyed the acting and production value put into the film.
I thank David Roach, director of OIFF, for having us and providing the platform to share “OIB” with its contributors and supporters. I left the Oakland International Film Fest feeling like people wanted to see more of my work, so now all I want to do is produce more content for Oakland. And I will, so be on the lookout, Bay Area. Robbin Rae is gonna give it to you.