People of colour, queers, femmes, and women have been represented in the media as immaterial since the dawn of the printing press – this, or not represented at all. This continues to this day, and filmmaker Vincent Martell has something to say about this. In 2016, he founded Vam Studio alongside his partner Jordan Phelps, which centres around these very bodies that have been both excluded, ridiculed and portrayed as surface value tokens. 
They find work for individuals in these underrepresented groups and produce their own gorgeous cinematography that recalls work of the greats, while also possessing a unique hue that is very much their own. Exemplary of this is Damaged Goods – you can watch it entirely on YouTube, which was released earlier this year. Directed by Martell and written in collaboration with fellow men of colour Zak Payne and KB Woodson, the mini-series portrays the struggle young people face authentically and unapologetically, representing people of colour as multi-faceted human beings – and rightfully so.
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In what ways do you think that lack of LGBTQ+ individuals and people of colour in the media impacts audiences? Do you feel that if there was more representation of this kind, people would tend to be more respectful?
Representation of LGBTQ+ and people of colour in media is crucial to showing the reality of the world we live in. We’ve been misrepresented, ignored, mocked, and used as caricatures since the very beginning of TV and film; and quite frankly, we’re fucking tired of it. Myself, and many other artists from marginalized backgrounds have been far too patient in seeing fundamental change happen from the top. There’s this grassroots effort in the production industry, especially in the underground community, to create change on our terms and within our own communities. If change is to happen, it must happen as a community of LGBTQ+, POC, and women/femme artists first. Respect on a global scale will potentially come, but our intention should never be to create ‘respectable’ art for mass consumers.
You founded the Vam Studio production company in 2016 due to this lack of representation of marginalised groups. Three years on, what impact, if any, do you feel that the studio has had on the industry?
In three years, we’ve gone from creating film productions and narratives centred around underground artists in our community to building a roster of filmmakers in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and now London. Our production studio has always prided itself on having the most diverse team of filmmakers in the world and it’s allowed us to produce work with intentionality and diverse perspectives. If anything, we’ve shown how unique a production company like Vam is, and I’ve seen the industry take note and adopt many of our common ethos. I’m not looking for credit but I am looking for action from the film industry at large.
Things like creating safe sets, starting our morning meetings by asking for preferred pronouns, standardizing equal pay regardless of gender and sexual orientation, including young aspiring queer and filmmakers of colour to shadow departments before they jump in the industry aren’t progressive tactics to us; they’re just who we are. Hollywood and the production industry are slowing catching on to these things and I think Vam has in many ways been leading the charge in the shadows.
Which character in Damaged Goods do you feel that you can relate to the most?
All of them and none of them at the same time. I constantly think I’m a mess and I think it’s important to give characters of colour the space to be total fuck-ups. I forget to take my PrEP. Before I became a filmmaker, I was constantly reprehended for smelling like weed. I can count on way too many hands the number of times I’ve hooked up with someone and instantly regretted. I went to therapy and lied for a year because I have major trust issues. I used to deal weed to pay my way through college. I still sometimes am late on rent.
These are all scenarios that inspired many of the plot outlines for each of our characters in Damaged Goods. Me and my writers Zak Payne and KB Woodson wanted this to feel as authentic as possible, so we made it our mission to write from what we know. Anything outside of that was pulled from first-hand experiences from our friends.
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I love the beginning of every episode where ‘Damaged Goods’ flashes on the screen in multiple different styles and typefaces. Was this a reflection of the diversity of the cast and crew or just a fun and alternative title situation?
Just a fun alternative inspired by Gaspar Noé. Many have replicated that title sequence, but I wanted to construct it under a queer perspective. In turn, you get a lot of pretty colours and ejaculating dicks cut quickly within the title.
At the end of each short episode, I couldn’t help hoping that it would go on for longer – are you thinking of doing longer episodes in the future? If you’re planning on making another season that is!
Our second season is currently in pre-production and we plan to shoot in the fall. I think this is a huge accomplishment seeing as though we released the first season four months ago. We want to push the subject matter a bit further; we want more queer sex and nudity, more recreational drug use, trans representation, more celebrations of black and brown bodies absent of trauma and tragedy.
We’ve been contacted by a few networks and production companies in Hollywood who are interested in seeing Damaged Goods developed into a TV series, but before we’re thrown into the world of strenuous development deals, we want to continue to make art for the sake of art. Hollywood can wait, we want to continue to create this series for our community first. 
Speaking of the future, what does Vam Studio have in store for us?
We’ve solidified a loyal support system and now it’s time to prove that we’re a cinematic force. In addition to expanding our roster of filmmakers in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, we’re now looking for European filmmakers who would benefit from having our support system and resources. We’re refining our productions to prioritize short films, features, digital, and TV series with bold points of views. We’re also looking to produce several productions abroad, so establishing ground there with a respectable and intentional approach.
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You’ve said before that you were influenced by the UK series Skins for the conception of Damaged Goods, how do you feel that the two compare?
Although I admire the boldness of Skins, the series was/is incredibly white-washed. Damaged Goods is rooted in the queer POC experience. Our series isn’t rooted in trauma or tragedy, it’s centred around marginalized people and lensed by a crew entirely of women and femmes, queers, and people of colour. Us living and being our most authentic self is revolutionary, and I think that’s the beauty of our series. My goal is to really push this further for the second season.
After Moonlight’s plethora of awards in 2017, do you feel that the future of queer POC representation in mainstream cinema is becoming more genuinely celebrated and less of a token?
I idolize Barry Jenkins and Moonlight is one of the most beautiful gifts given to cinema. Moonlight has and continues to normalize stories centred around atypical narratives from people of colour and I’m incredibly grateful for that. With that said, I would challenge the industry to open their eyes to queer and POC stories that aren’t rooted in traumatic circumstances. I want to see images of POC’s living unapologetically and celebrating life.
Your use of alternative cinematography methods and saturated colour in your work reminds me of Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void and most films by Wong Kar-Wai. Do you find being compared to other directors tedious?
I think the filmmakers I admire the most are the ones who can steal from the greats but make it their own. Filmmaking is a privileged art form, created by and positioned for those with money and connections in the industry. I didn’t go to film school; my first introduction to the film community was while stumbling across a DIY film screening while studying abroad at the University of Barcelona, so watching films from Noé, Kar-Wai, and Andrea Arnold was my education. Pull from what you know but make sure to make it your own.
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In the pilot of Damaged Goods, you have Marlo say, “you can’t find balance, so we’re going to create it.” This seems to be symbolic of your creative philosophy. Would you say that this is your aim, so create balance?
It’s always my aim to create balance but I’m shitty at it. I’ve learned that my life is atypical and it’s a realization that I’ve just come to accept. I’m a gay black filmmaker and entrepreneur with work being produced at an incredibly daunting pace. My creative philosophy is also determined by my team and managing all the energies that come with it. Many days I’m drained emotionally and mentally, many days I feel like a fraud, but I keep going because I know that my work means something to a lot of people out there.
I know I’m creating opportunities and getting a ton of marginalized artists paid well and above their rate at times. I know I’m funding dozens of projects that generate income within black and brown art communities. I know I’m creating a network and legacy that already will live long past me. I know I’m amplifying visibility for my community on a global scale. The balance might not be there but the sacrifice is.
You’ve said that it’s not your goal to make work that appeals to the masses, but I would say that a mass of people would indeed relate to it. If you’re a woman, queer, of colour, and/or struggling with the pitfalls of life, you will definitely relate. I think your work definitely relates to mass media, it’s just that the cinematography we’re accustomed to seeing usually glosses over these things or excludes elements of ‘difference’; aspects that aren’t really all that different at all. Have you found that your work has influenced a wider community than you first anticipated?
Yes. I set out to make art for my close-knit community of artists and that turned into communities of people reaching out to hold screenings in South Korea, Australia, London, Berlin, and a few US domestic cities like Los Angeles, Portland, and New York. I see that these stories are universal and people are catching on quickly.
Do you ever get tired of being asked questions concerning race and sexuality?
Yes. Sometimes, I envy how exciting it must be for my white counterparts to get questions that aren’t related to identity politics. With that said, I imagine that these words may hold great value to other, or younger, marginalized artists trying to navigate this industry alone. Growing up, I had no template or example of a black or brown gay filmmakers speaking unapologetically about their life. I know how much I would’ve benefited from hearing that perspective so I make it my mission (for the time being) to answer questions concerning race and sexuality and hopefully freeing someone else who may be going through similar circumstances. I never had that, so in many ways, I’m now that representation for my younger self.
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