A group of innovative young videographers is blazing a trail for other up-and-coming movie-makers, and preserving the future of video journalism for those who aspire to create content from behind prison walls.
ForwardThis is a cohesive team comprised of video veterans Jesse Rose, Edmond Richardson, Ryan Pagan, Thanh Tran, Anthony Gomez, and interns Jeremy Strain and Marcus Eugene, who have taken a progressive approach to shining the light on the incarcerated, telling stories that humanize the incarcerated and promote social justice.
The team uses their medium to address issues of both public and prison safety, while simultaneously combating mass incarceration. ForwardThis also highlights the rehabilitative efforts of the incarcerated from their dedicated space in the San Quentin Media Center.
“I hope that young people would follow the path that we laid as role models here and learn from us,” said Thanh Tran, former program lead for ForwardThis. “I want them to learn some skills that would sustain them once they are released.”
Tran recently returned to the community and is continuing to pursue his passion in filmmaking with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
This driven young crew taps into their natural creative energy and collective experience when they traverse the prison on strictly supervised video shoots that nonetheless result in a polished and professional-grade product.
ForwardThis built on a foundation laid by the former FIRSTWATCH video project. Ties were severed last year when the team branched off on their own, pursuing their unique vision and developing their own identity.
“This is a good place to receive the education and experience I need to have something to apply to life once I parole,” said intern Jeremy Strain, a young man of promising talent, eager to learn all that he can from the founding members of the ForwardThis crew.
This team takes their craft very seriously. They have daily meetings to connect with each other as a team as they “storyboard” production outlines for upcoming projects. This is an important step in the pre-production process, visually laying out the plan for camera shots, narratives and other pieces from which they build their stories.
The challenges of learning while in prison can often be difficult, especially in the Covid era as rolling lockdowns and quarantines repeatedly restrict prisoners’ access to programs and resources. The ForwardThis team, however, perseveres in spite of the challenges, using their space to study fundamental methods of filmmaking at every opportunity, along with sound and audio engineering, photography, and video editing. Their preferred method of learning is hands-on, with extensive co-learning, coaching from veterans, and a natural instinct to share new discoveries.
“So many barriers I have encountered,” said Tran. “But since doing time here I was able to knock down some of those barriers for others.”
Twenty-five year old Anthony Gomez is one of those young recruits that will grab the reigns once the veterans leave. He says he has benefited extensively from the trailblazers who forged the path ahead of him.
“Since being here I’ve learned videography, editing and production. Tech skills and video production. I am glad to have a platform I can use to share impactful stories of [the incarcerated],” Gomez said.
His experience in the Media Center has even transformed his perspective on his own imprisonment.
“How being incarcerated looks [to me now] makes me feel like I’m living the life I should have been living on the streets – I’m manifesting the purpose I should be doing.
Another new face in the organization is Ryan Pagan, current Program Lead, who said he was an introvert before joining the team in 2021. Since then, he’s been learning more than just the craft of movie-making; he’s developed a sense of personal enrichment and even the skill of public speaking.
“It’s easy for me to navigate in this field now because the foundation is already set in place because of those guys,” said Pagan, referring to ForwardThis founders Tran, Edmond Richardson, Jesse Rose, Deandre Brumfield, Brandon Terrell and Maurice Reed..
For Rose, Pagan’s growth is a reward in and of itself.
“My contribution to the ForwardThis film program will be measured by the development and success of those who come after me,” Rose said.
ForwardThis staffers exemplify what it means to give back; through teaching the art of filmmaking from start to finish, they continue shooting toward the future—one clip at a time.