A local web series about heartbreak is getting an upgrade. Joshua “Jay Wil” Wilson began filming the second season of Matters of the Heart in December but halted production after the first episode to purchase a high definition camera. The second season is on target to be released next fall.
Matters of the Heart packed the Texas Theatre for its premiere in November, through word-of-mouth alone. The show examines the male perspective on breakups. Wilson, who writes and directs the series, also plays the lead role, a vulnerable man named Jeremy.
The show was inspired by Wilson’s own messy breakup with a long-term girlfriend. “A lot of people are shocked to know that Matters of the Heart was real,” he says.
Wilson, 25, conceived the series during a night out with friends, venting. “They were like, ‘Oh, get over it. You’re being a punk.’”
On his way home, one of Wilson’s friends stopped him to offer words of encouragement. “He said, ‘Hey man, I know I was giving you a hard time, but I want you to know that I went through the exact same thing. Eventually, you get over it.’ So it kind of let me know that this is something I’m not going through by myself. Everybody must go through this, just nobody talks about it.”
Wilson plays Jeremy as a beaten-down and self-deprecating everyman. He pores over details of his past relationship when not phoning his ex or venting to his friends or into tissues. Wilson says this unashamed portrayal of male emotion was critical to the show.
“That’s [relevant] to my everyday life,” Wilson says. “Where most people have shame or embarrassment, I don’t. I will tell the most embarrassing story ’cause that’s just who I am. I was not the dude in school who had the most girls, and I’m willing to argue that most people are not the cool people.”
Wilson discovered his love of acting in his hometown of Big Spring and went on to study it at the city's Howard Community College. He later transferred to the University of Texas at Arlington where his acting pursuits took a temporary backseat as he embraced another passion: hip-hop.
Inspired by Dallas' growing hip-hip scene, and -Topic’s debut album in particular, Wilson created Live From the Underground in 2011. The radio series broke a myriad of local and major label rappers in its five-year run, from A.Dd+ to Danny Brown.
“Radio was never a part of my plan. It’s just something I fell into when I moved here,” Wilson says. “Doing five years of that and feeling like I had reached the end of my journey, coming full circle, I feel that was an accomplishment in itself.”
Wilson switched tracks and began production for Matters of the Heart in July 2015. He found a cinematographer in Renee Thompson and began a casting process that pruned the audition phase out entirely. “I’m kind of iffy on auditions,” he says. “Auditions are kind of the equivalent to job interviews, where it’s like sometimes you show your best self in that interview, but then later on your job finds out that you can’t do the job you said you could do.”
Many of the actors play facsimiles of themselves, with their attributes written into their characters. Ja’Cory King appears as a talking head on a popular radio show similar to his former role on Live From the Underground.
“Jay Wil naturally puts people in spaces to win,” King says. “So the character he had me play was really ‘just be yourself.’ A lot of the radio stuff was improv, so it was like another day at the studio. And then when he gave me the actual script, it was stuff I would naturally say anyway.”
Wilson says the show’s naturalism is inspired by a casting director he worked with in college, and the tongue-in-cheek works of other black filmmakers such as Keenan Ivory Wayans and Robert Townsend. In Meteor Man, Townsend depicts a superhero who becomes an object of scorn in his community because he is afraid to fly more than 2 inches above the ground.
“Consumers, especially with what’s out now, want to feel as close to the person they’re watching or listening to as possible,” Wilson says. “They don’t want to feel like they’re watching a movie, they want to feel like they’re watching their lives play out onscreen. The closer you can get to naturalism, I think, is a better way.”
The city of Dallas also plays a prominent role in Matters of the Heart. Wilson has flourished since he moved here six years ago, and with the series he means to say thank you.
“One of the themes of the show is that it’s kind of love letter to Dallas,” he says. “Musically, the only time you hear music on the show is from a Dallas artist; a lot of the cameos on the show are from Dallas artists; a lot of the locations showcase Dallas in general.”
The first season required a grueling 10 months of post-production, but the big turnout for the November premiere was all the encouragement Wilson needed. “All of the BS we went through was validated,” he says. “We all looked at each other like, ‘When are we going to do this again?’”
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Cinematographer Thompson admits the show’s visuals improved over its two years of production, owing to the crew’s significant learning curve. Wilson considers himself an actor first, but he has taken on the roles of writer and videographer out of necessity.
“A lot of people love Matters of the Heart, but I’m not stupid,” he says. “I know it has some flaws. I found out about them along the way, so I know how to avoid them moving forward, which I think is the most rewarding part.”
The new camera should be one giant step toward achieving the more polished results Wilson wants, and he also promises more storylines, including episodic ones, in the second season.
Nor do his ambitions for the year end there. Wilson also aims to produce two or three short films for his YouTube channel, in addition to films by other writers and directors. “The goal this year is to create a multitude of content,” he says.