“[My movies] helped me sell TVs,” says the 37-year-old Dallas filmmaker. ”And I sold a lot of DVD players.”
Back then, Lewis, who was also a stand-up comic, made sketch comedies in which he might impersonate someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger sitting on the toilet or portray a character he had created.
“I would sneak and play those DVDs in the store on the display TVs and people would stop and laugh at them,” Lewis posted on Facebook. ”Some even asked if it was on the shelf to buy. Sadly, the answer was no. But in that moment, I realized something. I had the ability to make people laugh. And they were willing to pay for it.”
Part of Lewis’ job had been to put new movie releases out on the shelves. Then, one day, fate and love walked in.
“I was selling her some iPods,” Lewis says of Seckeita Taylor, who later became his wife and the director of Jerico.
The film, which follows the hardships of best friends Jerico Walker and Jarvis Cook, two black men making their way to work in the Jim Crow South while being chased by a racist mob, has been described as “whip-smart surrealist satire,” by the Austin Chronicle. The comedy debuted at the Cannes International Pan African Film Festival and has won numerous awards, including Best Feature Narrative at Denton’s Black Film Festival. It’s now available through Walmart, Best Buy and Amazon.
“It’s also in the libraries,” Lewis says. “I heard it’s being used as a teaching tool for civil rights.”
But despite his success, Lewis’ own journey from stand-up comedian to professional filmmaker has had nearly as many hairpin turns as the plot of Jerico.
Lewis says he was at a crossroads more than a decade ago and quit his job as a social services specialist with Georgia’s Department of Family and Children Services to pursue a radio show gig offered by Rickey Smiley.
“Without much thought, I gave up everything, my apartment and my career and moved to Texas." – Brandon Lewis
“Without much thought, I gave up everything, my apartment and my career and moved to Texas,” says Lewis’ Facebook post. “It was the most foolish thing I'd ever done. I called it stepping out on faith. Within a week, I was sleeping on a blow-up mattress in my grandmother's garage – completely broke.”
Lewis debuted on-air as country western DJ Dale Stevens but eventually went to work at Walmart where he met Seckeita.
”I even proposed to her at Walmart,” he says.
Seckeita, who until November was a marketer for Frito-Lay, is now pursuing her passion for film full time, Lewis says. The two are currently working on their second movie titled 100.
Lewis says 100 follows his own life, detailing the struggles of a guy who goes into the movie weighing more than 300 pounds, leaves 100 pounds lighter and “learns that there’s more to life than what’s in a greasy bag.”
While the film has some comedy, it’s actually a drama, Lewis says, who was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes during the filming of Jerico.
Through it all, Lewis and Seckeita, who make up Lewis Taylor Productions, never abandoned their dreams.
“Many people, even the closest to you, will call chasing your dreams or anything else they could never fathom for themselves foolish,” says Lewis on social media. ”Don't stop.”