Emergency: Screenwriter/director duo combines comedy thriller and black bromance

Director Carey Williams and writer KD Dávila tell IndieWire how they subverted the tropes of teen party movies for the entertaining thriller comedy.

“Emergency” begins with a fairly familiar college comedy premise – a party challenge.

Best friends and seniors Kunle (Donald Elisa Watkins) and Sean (RJ Cuyler) set out to meet every big Greek party on their campus circuit in what was long ago dubbed the “Legendary Tour”. But as two young black men in a not-so-normal college party movie, the fun is over before it begins. Their epic night is abruptly interrupted by the sudden appearance of a young white girl who the boys find passed out in their living room. Joined by boyfriend and comedy pal Carlos (Sebastian Chacon), this trio faces an impossible dilemma: call 911 or not.

What follows is a darkly comic social satire that teeters on the verge of horror at every turn – a scathing reflection on everyday events that can become horrific too quickly for young black men.

This premise earned the short film of the same name a Sundance Jury Award and won the award for Best Narrative Short Film at SXSW in 2018. The film marked the first collaboration between director Carey Williams and writer KD Dávila, who met during Film Independent’s flagship inclusion program Project Involve, which counts among alumnae Jon M. Chu, Justin Simien and Lulu Wang.

Given the huge interest in the short at SXSW, Williams announced they were working on a feature before he even spoke to Dávila about it. “I had the idea practically that day when he started telling everyone I wrote it,” the screenwriter told IndieWire. “I thought, well, the only version I see that makes sense is one that does it all in one night. So this is the limitation I impose on myself. … I like to take a concept that you’ve seen before and try to turn it on its head in a way.”

The short ends with the actually tantalizing incident of the feature, with the guys finding the girl and discussing their options. While the innocent Kunle’s instinct is to call 911, street savvy Sean insists that getting the cops involved is definitely not going to be in their interest.

The function follows what happens thereafter.



Quantrell Colbert/Amazon Studios

“[I knew we had to] Get them out of the house and into the world, because a big part of that is these young people of color thinking about how they’ll be perceived in the world,” Williams said. “We wanted to talk about the absurdity that these guys really need to think about this – how are we being perceived when we’re trying to do the right thing and help this girl to safety? So getting them out of the house was a great way to explore that fear that they have to think about, which is absurd, and hopefully humor will come out of that.”

Dávila was nominated for an Oscar this year for her short film Please Hold, about a Latino man trapped in an automated prison after a wrongful arrest. of systemic racism. Williams says that while his tastes typically lean toward drama, the humor in Dávila’s script both intrigued and challenged him.

“I was like, ‘I’m scared of this one because it’s a humorous version of something that’s just not funny,'” the director said of his first encounter with the script. “We do not want to take this situation lightly. I know I don’t. But I was like, ‘I think the humorous angle of it is what makes it special.’”

A true collaboration, the duo worked together to expand the story. Dávila is Mexican and raised in Los Angeles and had witnessed firsthand how colorism affected members of her family, but she relied on Williams’ experiences to inform the specifics.

“I checked in at [Williams] a lot of. I suggested concepts for scenes and always guided them by him,” she said. “He’s a black southerner and he brought a lot of his experiences to me and … I put them into the film.”


Carey Williams on the set of “Emergency”

Quantrell Colbert/Amazon Studios

One of Williams’ biggest sticking points from the start was basing the narrative on Kunle and Sean’s friendship. Though he laments the loss of certain funny scenes, everything outside of that central relationship had to go.

“It’s really a love story for me. I wanted to show a complex relationship of young black men on screen that I feel like I don’t see that much of,” he said. “Because we have to be so tough, we feel like we have to protect ourselves at all times. And that’s true, but not being able to express our emotions can be very detrimental to our mental health and psyche. So I wanted to show other young black men who are seeing this that it’s okay to be emotionally vulnerable to your friends, your loved ones.”

It was hot from the start: Dávila’s screenplay was on the 2020 blacklist of Favorite Unproduced Screenplays by Upcoming Screenwriters, and Temple Hill Entertainment and Amazon Studios announced in April 2021 that they would be producing it. In January, the “Emergency” crew returned to Sundance to premiere the feature film, where it was met with positive reviews and another win for Dávila in the form of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award.

Thanks to the script and dynamic performances by three relative newcomers, “Emergency” walks a fine line between highly entertaining and a pinch of reality. While the film doesn’t end in total tragedy, the palpable shift we see in Kunle speaks louder than any more dramatic ending. Comedy or drama, the film is a product of the unique fusion of Williams and Dávila’s visions, achieved through expertly weaving vital real-world themes into an equally satisfying college comedy.

“It has to be something that really makes an impact and not only makes people feel like they’re being seen, but also makes them think and question,” Williams said. “I don’t feel like my art ever needs to feel like an answer. It needs to feel like a question and spark a debate. Something people will say, ‘Oh, I never really thought of that.’ Something that will last.”

“Emergency” is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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https://www.indiewire.com/2022/05/emergency-amazon-black-bromance-carey-williams-kd-davila-1234728467/ Emergency: Screenwriter/director duo combines comedy thriller and black bromance

Lindsay Lowe

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