By: Dee Yeshitla, Evan Cho, Muhammad Abubakar, Moiz Qureshi, Brady Meador, and Isatou Ceesay, The University of Washington Bothell School of Business
Photo Left: Felicia Thomas wearing a Black button-up shirt with the Bright-Eyed Entertainment logo in yellow writing.
Photo Credit: Felicia Thomas
Photo Right: Isla Roberson wearing a white and magenta v neck shirt.
Photo Credit: Isla Roberson
Felicia and Isla are both CEOs of Bright-Eyed Entertainment, a Black-owned “small Seattle-based film /entertainment company, that prides itself on giving back to the community.” Recently they have embarked on a journey working on a film, “The Voice Inside”, advocating for mental health, with Joey Wilson from NAMI Seattle.
After interviewing Joey Wilson, we were thrilled to interview Bright-Eyed Entertainment about their work and documentary featuring Joey and his experience living with schizophrenia. Sitting in what appeared to be her home office, CEO Isla Roberson’s cool and collected demeanor caught our eyes immediately. Speaking softly and pondering her response to every question carefully, it became apparent that Isla Roberson was a woman directly inspired by Joey’s story. Felicia Thomas also joined the interview. We could tell by Felicia’s voice that she was a compassionate and outgoing leader. It quickly became clear that similar to Isla, Felicia had also been touched by Joey Wilson’s story. They are two among many that are inspired by Joey’s success.
What led you guys to make a film centered around individuals with schizophrenia?
IR: Mostly because of Joey’s story, and the fact that we wanted to bring more awareness to the topic of schizophrenia.
FT: It was because Joey was sharing that story with me and the more he shared, the more I realized a lot of the stereotypes around schizophrenia are just horrible. And so, I was like, “I didn’t know that I didn’t know this about the brain” and so on and so forth. So, I was like, “You should really let people know this.” And it just kind of developed like that.
What was the initial collaboration process like? Did Joey approach you or did you approach Joey or did you just already know each other?
JW: We were working together at a job and I had a speech coming up for a Transitional Resources fundraising event, and I showed it to Felicia and not knowing yet she had a film company. She was like, “This is really great I want to make a documentary about you”, And I said “really” and she goes “Yeah, you’re a great story I’m reading it”, I showed her the whole speech, it’s a five-minute speech and that’s how we started the whole thing. But we’re good friends too, so she’s very important to me.
How has his story inspired you guys to make this film as well? Was there anything you’re looking for?
IR: From my perspective, I had no idea what schizophrenia was. So just learning about that was pretty interesting. And, it moved me to just show that everyone has a voice and everyone deserves to be heard. Representation is very important to me, so I just wanted to make sure once again that everyone is being heard.
What has been your biggest challenge with filmmaking?
FT: Well, one is budgeting or funding, I should say, where most of our short films and things that we do, it’s out of pocket. So trying to get the funding. And then also with COVID and things that surround that just being COVID-safe on set. But, I would say the most is funding. So, we’re definitely looking for sponsors, partners, and donations. They’re all very much welcome and appreciated.
Are there any other obstacles that come to mind?
FT: Well, we sometimes have people who are very skeptical about being on film. So that was one. But you know, we have all the equipment to go to an individual. There have been so many people that have donated a space, their conference room, or their anything that it has been supportive of. So I’m grateful for all of it.
In the future do you plan on continuing to make documentaries centered around mental health, similar to this one?
IR: Yes, documentaries. We’re hoping that the audience gets a better understanding of schizophrenia and other disorders. So yeah, in the future we will be making things related to that.
FT: Oh, absolutely. We are actually conversing about trying to generate one for a specific diagnosis. Like a documentary at least every year to shed some light on a different diagnosis. So, whether it be an eating disorder, depression, etc., we plan to push one out at least once a year.
Is there a support system set up to advocate for the mental health of the people involved while reliving/retelling intimate and trauma-provoking memories? What does that look like?
FT: Oh, let’s see. This project has a support system set because a lot of the individuals in this project already know each other. And so we’re feeding off the support of each other. But any time that we’re on set, I always tell anyone that we’re interviewing to take a moment if they need to. I usually bring some tissues, some water, you know, they always have the opportunity to say, “I don’t want to talk about that” or “I need a moment”, “we need to reschedule this”, anything. The number one thing is to make sure that they’re comfortable on set. For example, we just interviewed an individual who was like, “I don’t want my face shown.” So, we just turned the cameras and we just got her audio. And that was more comfortable for her. So just trying to make sure everybody is comfortable outside, and sharing their piece of the story and their experience.
Is there a target audience you are looking to target with this documentary?
FT: It originally was going to be for educational purposes. But as the project began to grow, we felt like it should have been, should be shared everywhere. So, there is not a specific age group we want. We want it to be kid-friendly, but mostly informative for those viewers.
Is there a key takeaway or message you hope the audience will learn from the documentary?
IR: We’re hoping that the audience, mostly people in the community, can see that there are resources that can help patients with schizophrenia or the ones that are affected by it, like families or friends. Just letting them know that there are resources that help. And also that is the success story. At the same time, this is a successful story and that, yeah, you can also just help anyone or themselves.
FT: I’m just hoping they gain more awareness, and hopefully will stop a lot of the stereotypes that surround schizophrenia and inspire others to either look into it for their family member or if they know someone or if they are someone and they feel like this documentary is telling a piece of their life or what they’re experiencing, they will go and look into more of their mental health.
We would like to thank Joey Wilson, Felicia Thomas, and Isla Roberson for the opportunity to conduct this interview. We learned a lot about the perspective of Joey Wilson and about mental illness. To learn more about their upcoming documentary, we recommend that you check out Bright-Eyed Entertainment for updates. The film industry is predominantly white and male-dominated. Be sure to uplift and support women of color by checking out the other amazing projects that they have worked on. If you’d like to help fund their future projects and help spread awareness about mental illness, please donate to their page here.
We urge you to check out these additional websites for more information and resources surrounding mental illness and people affected by it:
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity and content.
We would like to thank Jennifer Sanchez for her help throughout our writing process. This project was a collaborative effort between Professor Laura Umetsu’s University of Washington Bothell Business writing class and NAMI Seattle.