Eli and Lu Bevins have much more than their appearance in common. The identical twins graduated from West Philly’s Overbrook High School in 2008, studied computer science together at Elizabeth City State University, and cofounded film venture Eli Lu Productions while completing their masters at Indiana University. One of the company’s films, MY DEAR ARTHUR, was selected in Hollywood to screen at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival in France.
The talented twins talk to Phindie writer Trish McFadden about their opportunities (and lack thereof), cinematic influences, and what we can expect in their future.
Trish McFadden: The world’s largest student film festival, the CampusMovieFest Hollywood competition, selected your short film My Dear Arthur to be screened at the 2016 Cannes. What an honor. Just give us a visual of what went on when you guys got the news.
Eli Bevins: Well the CMF Hollywood Competition had ended back in the summer of 2015, so the news was so unexpected. I checked my email around the Christmas holiday and when I read the message from CMF that out of thousands of films submitted every year, our film “[had] been recognized as an extraordinary achievement in storytelling excellence and creativity”—I went flying down the hall to show Lu. You can imagine how excited I was. I had to read it twice.
Lu Bevins: It really did not sink in until the next morning. We were like, “Wait—this is Cannes! Cannes film festival in France!” This is a filmmaker’s dream. Although it will not be in competition, through CMF’s unique partnership with the film festival, our film will be shown on the big screen and CMF attendees get to walk the red carpet alongside celebrities and industry professionals. So this is big; our first time having a film travel overseas.
Trish: How did you two hear about CMF, and how difficult was it to create such an original piece in one week’s time?
Eli: While attending Indiana University for our Master’s Degree in 2014, a friend of ours told us about the competition. CMF travels to over 50 plus universities. From each university, the top 4 films are chosen to compete nationally. The top films from each category are then selected and invited to screen in Hollywood. At CMF Hollywood 2014, we submitted a short film called Systematic Living in the Elfenworks Social Justice category for which we won first place. In 2015, we submitted 3 films total – My Dear Arthur, The Exit, and ID. All three were created within a week and screened in LA.
Because this was our second time [entering] the competition, we were more prepared. The most challenging part was working against time, editing, and trying to pull everything together.
Lu: Right. Prior to writing My Dear Arthur, we asked a few actors who were in a previous film to play a role; other actors were recommended by friends, and some came to us by word of mouth. So it was crazy because some of us didn’t meet until the day we met on set. We were like, “Hi, how are you? Okay, great—ready? Action!” We wrote the script, did a table read, filmed, and edited in one day.
The location of the barn was actually suggested to us by our roommate and her boyfriend. We told them how we didn’t have a good location to film, and surprisingly, her boyfriend’s family had a barn—it was perfect!
Trish: What was the inspiration for My Dear Arthur? Is the thriller genre one that you plan to revisit often?
Lu: One of our roommates had a Mona Lisa picture on the wall at our apartment, and sometimes it looked as if her eyes were following us. Eli came to me and said, “Hey, wouldn’t it be creepy if someone was stuck in a painting? We should do a film.” And then we sort of built off of that idea. Our thought process was, Okay, let’s do the 17th century. How does one get stuck there? By some type of magic—no, witchcraft! Next, we had to figure out how they would get out, so we brought the film into present time so that whoever was stuck in the painting would be released.
Eli: We usually create films that have messages that make people think, but we love thrillers and horror movies, so we will definitely revisit the genre. In fact, we have another thriller, When Karma Calls, that will be released soon.
Trish: Which roles do each of you normally take during production?
Eli: Lu and I are both self-taught. We typically write and direct our films together. Lu is usually on the camera filming and I am often the one who edits. It kind of just ended up that way. Every now and then we switch roles.
Trish: You both studied computer science in college. How did you get into film? What prompted that ambition?
Eli: When we were kids we used to write stories all the time, wishing to turn them into movies. But back then we didn’t know screenwriting was even a thing. Prior to attending Elizabeth City State University, Lu and I joined the Overbrook High School film club founded by Ms. Sherri Thomas. It was there that we were introduced to screenwriting. At that point we [realized] that filmmaking was something we always wanted to do.
So although we went to collegefor Computer Science, we still had this strong passion for writing stories. We joined the Mass Media Club at ECSU in 2008. Through the club we were able to put on our first stage play. So we began doing stage plays, and from there, a web series, that ultimately led to filmmaking.
Trish: Last year, director Ryan Coogler’s Creed portrayed the city in a light that most of the few films set in Philly don’t explore: its slums, the areas that you and I call home. What do you think about Philly’s filmmaking scene?
Lu: Creed was great—love seeing our city on the big screen. When it comes to Philly, you have to show the good, the bad, and the ugly, because that’s the reality of Philly. Coming from West Philly, as filmmakers, we want to introduce people to our world. Even if it’s hard for some to conceptualize, it’s our truth.
Eli: Growing up in Philly, we were surrounded by poverty, crime, and an educational system that wasn’t all that great. But the best thing to do now is to help the generations after us have a better upbringing so that they can have opportunities that were not accessible to us growing up.
Lu: Philadelphia has some growing to do when it comes to film-making. I would be lying if I didn’t say that it can be discouraging at times because Philly isn’t a film hub, and sometimes it’s hard to find support and resources. However, where there’s an absence of opportunity, there’s a window for growth.
Trish: Which director’s filmography do you admire most?
Eli: Lu and I often talk about tackling various genres and having no two films be the same. Spielberg’s work is a great example of that. He’s done Jurassic Park, The Color Purple, Hook, Jaws, Poltergeist, and even Amistad. None of those films can be compared to the last.
Trish: As black women, our species is a rare commodity in the filmmaking industry. Is there anyone you look to as inspiration to push forward?
Eli: I agree with you. I’m hoping to see a spike in black filmmakers, but particularly, black femalefilmmakers. You know, anytime we see a femalescreenwriter, director, producer, or cinematographer, it’s inspiring because without them, we wouldn’t see ourselves.
Lu: I think what Shonda Rhimes has done is remarkable. She tells stories with characters from variousbackgrounds that represent the world we live in. You look at the Oscars’ diversity problem, but the issue starts the moment a script is written without inclusion in mind; or, the simple fact that studios overlook scripts with diverse characters. The awards ceremonies and nominees act as a summary of the great films and TV shows of each particular year. When the outcome is not diverse, it becomes clear that Hollywood has yet to solve the diversity and inclusion issueas a whole. Now that it’s out there, we’ll have to see if things will change.
Trish: You just received a huge budget to direct a film with whichever crew you choose in any genre. Title your dream film and tell us your casting choices.
Genre: Action (Superhero)
Produced by: James Cameron (Avatar), Michael Bay (Transformers)
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Lupita Nyong’o, Chad Michael Murray, Vin Diesel, Lucy Liu, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Ealy, and Denzel Washington.
Plot summary: After two opposing teams of super-powered mutants make amends with mankind, an unknown evil entity forces all three sides into battle and the “good guys” become unclear.
The Devil’s Palace
Produced by: Steven Spielberg
Composer: John Williams (Star Wars)
Cast: Michelle Rodriguez, Tom Cruise, Viola Davis, Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Cage, Halle Berry, and Morgan Freeman. Boom!
Plot summary: In a land of departed souls, a group of rebellious prisoners join forces to take the land back from its autocratic leader.
Trish: Thanks for talking with us, Eli and Lu! We wish you the best on your future endeavors in the filmmaking industry. Keep making Philly proud.