*In this age of reality TV and competition shows, where everyone chases the dream of instant stardom, independent filmmaker T.D. Faison’s cutting edge documentary “Are We Famous Yet?” is a powerful chronicle of a true-life, hard-won success story, a gritty and emotional behind the scenes look at one man’s struggles, detours, heartaches—and ultimately, triumphs–along the crazy, bumpy road towards fulfilling a dream.
Faison is intimately familiar with this extraordinary, stranger-than-fiction journey because it’s his own –and even as the 110 minute documentary emerges early in 2014, he is still very much on it. In 2011, after achieving some success doing video shoots for fashion shows and film premieres in New York, he and a few friends came to Hollywood looking to make their mark. They quickly hooked up with some local politicians and began shooting various public functions on the campaign trail, including those of Jan Perry, a Los Angeles City Council member who ran for Mayor.
Faison and his small team then began shooting red carpet events for such glitzy events as the BET Celebration of Gospel, The NAACP Image Awards and the SAG Awards. Within months, they were doing the principal photography for a reshoot of a $15 million dollar film, “Black November,” (starring Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger) that was screened in September 2012 for dignitaries including President Obama as part of UN Week. Faison’s company, Those “5” Film Productions, is starting pre-production on its next film, “Killers in the House” in January 2014. He and Jared Davis, his partner in his other production company Faison-Davis Films, are also developing “Our Guy,” a new romantic comedy that they wrote. Faison has also appeared on the New Orleans based HBO drama “‘Treme.”
True to his goal to share his story honestly, pitfalls and all, the North Carolina born-and-bred Faison infuses “Are We Famous Yet?” with plain talk and snippets about many of the struggles along the way. Particularly gut wrenching is the mysterious disappearance and murder of his friend Ryan, aka “Shatzi,” a model he helped promote in New York and one of the three friends he came to Hollywood with in 2011. Shatzi was the one who helped hook up the gig with “Black November,” and his death proved devastating to Faison and his close-knit staff. In line with the film’s ultimately triumphant theme, Shatzi’s passing brought the team at Those “5” Film Productions closer and inspired them, in his honor, to put more energy and focus into their work. They resolved to overcome the tragedy and work together for the greater good. As one of the graphics in the trailer makes clear, “Fame would not define them. Their strength would.”
“Are We Famous Yet?”also goes full throttle with the ongoing trauma of Faison’s heart-wrenching eight-year custody battle with the mother of his daughter, who was not yet born when he began fighting for her. Desperate for funds to fight for her in court, and at a financial low after a building investment in his new hometown of Philadelphia went sour, Faison became an exotic male dancer, which led to too-lucrative-to-resist opportunities to become an escort and a male gigolo (or “Mr. Fix It”) to many of the world’s rich and famous women.
After three years as a first-call gigolo, Faison left that world behind to become a better influence on his daughter. When his girlfriend quoted Oprah’s thoughts about writing being a cathartic necessity, he began penning a story about a fictionalized version of himself and launched a bestselling series (which became known as “The McNeil Chronicles,” after the protagonist based on Faison, Christopher McNeil) with his first book “All The Things She Told Me.” His first college book tour led to the opportunity to become a popular, highly-paid motivational speaker on everything from “Living the Fullness of Life” and “Walking Into Dreams” to the importance of safe sex.
Over the next several years, as he released his follow-up book “Some Things Better Left Unsaid,” Faison began incorporating performance art, dance and music into his live presentations. One of the songs he wrote for a tour, “There’s Something,” featured rapper Killah Rich and was #1 on the playlists of 66 colleges nationwide. He also created and released three relationship-oriented DVDs, including “Being the Best Me I Can Be: Loving My Life As A Single Person” and “Who Holds The Key To Your Life? Guidelines in Dating.” Faison’s popularity as a speaker helped him make a spectacular turnaround in a few years from being a gigolo to being in demand to speak at singles seminars at churches across America.
Along the way, Faison’s family grew when he learned that the 13-year-old son of a long-ago flame, who was now gravely ill, was also his son. He took custody of his son and his son’s brother and for a time was a stay-at-home dad with the boys and his daughter, who was in his care until her mother started a later effort to spread terrible rumors about him in an effort to steal his daughter away again. For a time, he also took care of his daughter’s mother’s other girls.
While navigating the challenging, sometimes magical, sometimes harrowing waters of fatherhood, Faison also began pursuing his filmmaking dreams. He moved to New York with the boys, bought some basic camera equipment and his first gig was shooting Ryan’s (Shatzi) first fashion show. He then joined with two other friends, “The Prick” and “The Wood” in launching his first film company – which evolved,after they moved to Hollywood, into the companies he runs now.
When he’s not immersed in his work as a writer and filmmaker, Faison is busy spicing up the talk and club circuit, performing his one-man show called “I’m the Only ‘Me’ I Have.’ He also works tirelessly with his non-profit organization Stand For A Father, which was created, in the wake of his own traumatic custody battles, to shed light on fathers who are being alienated from their children.
“My goal in sharing the story of the last decade of my life through film is to help those dreamers everywhere to understand what it’s like to start out with a simple idea and seemingly impossible odds and accomplish something you set your mind to,” says Faison. “I was able to put the drive behind the dream,overcoming powerful obstacles and many personal demons to go after what I wanted. This was just the beginning of becoming a thriving independent production company. ‘Are We Famous Yet?’ is a blueprint for anyone who ever thought their dreams seemed too far away. It’s my way of saying, it’s possible. Now go and create.”
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