Two Thumbs Up: Brandon Towns reviews your favorite movies for RogerEbert.com
When Brandon Towns ’20 was still in middle school, his mother gave him a Christmas present that she hoped would chart a new course for her son. Towns had developed a bit of a troublemaking streak and lacked a hobby to occupy his free time.
He didn’t like sports. He wasn’t old enough to chase girls yet, either. But Towns had a long-standing ritual of going to the movies on weekends with his father ever since he was a small child. Sometimes, they saw two or three films in a day.
After his mother bought Towns a camera, it didn’t take long for the precocious pre-teen to hone his filmmaking chops. By the 8th grade, he had debuted his first short film to his classmates. Along with an impressive C.V. as a filmmaker, the advertising major has become a film critic, including an 8-year stint writing for the influential film website, RogerEbert.com.
That gig began before he graduated from high school.
Chaz Ebert, widow of the late illustrious film critic, took a personal interest in Towns after reading a review he wrote about the movie “Oldboy” through a program at Columbia College he participated in while in high school. The work complemented his experiences as a budding filmmaker.
“I understand the thought process and can articulate why something was done from a technical standpoint,” Towns said, noting his focus now is more on the story and the performances.
Ebert continued to champion and highlight Towns’ writing, selecting his work for the website’s annual Black Writer’s Week and progressively assigning him higher profile films.
He was also named one of three 2018 Ebert Fellows, an award for emerging writers that allowed him to attend the Sundance Film Festival to write about his experiences at the buzzy Utah festival. It was a watershed experience.
“Sundance 2018 was really the best time in my life,” Towns said.
At Bradley, Towns shot music videos and other film projects to further hone his craft; he also earned a Multicultural Advertising Intern Program Fellowship in 2019 through the championing of his advertising professor, Grace Wang. He worked with the Link 9 production team of the Omnicom Group — described as the largest health care and communications network in the world — in an editing position where he thrived.
“They put me right in the mix and didn’t hold my hand,” Towns said.
Of his 58 short films, many explore what he describes as “the whimsical spectrum of cinema from a black perspective.” He called a current project “basically like ‘Teen Wolf,’” mixing elements of fantasy and comedy in a coming-of-age tale with Black protagonists.
“What changed my mindset of what Black films could be was the ‘Best Man’ movies and ‘Sorry to Bother You.’ It made me realize that I can be more than just my own environment. I can make fun, goofy movies, too.”
The 25-year-old Towns has two scripts currently in the conceptual stage that he hopes to turn into his first feature-length films. And he’s followed a guiding light of inspiration since that trip to Utah five years ago as an Ebert fellow.
“The next time I go to Sundance, I want it to be for my own film,” Towns said.
— Thomas Bruch
On the set of "The Wolf Among Us," Brandon Towns (far right) and crew review the playback. (Photo by Jesmine Mitchell.)