A trio of longtime friends from Alabama have joined forces with various other talented filmmakers to produce Wet Seal Cigarettes, a short film about a man who appears to be losing his sanity while trying to maintain his individuality in a consumerist society. Wet Seal Cigarettes, a fictional cigarette brand, serves as a crucial element in the story as the lead character struggles to overcome the pressures he faces on every corner.
“This short film takes every opportunity to inspire the individual to be more than what they consume, whether it be their environment, media, or even the illustrious Wet Seal Cigarette,” Nicholas G. Sims, who serves as the star and executive producer of the movie, told Blavity.
According to the producers, Wet Seal Cigarettes “blends and bends cinematic genres to create a world where consumerism is eating individualism alive.”
“In a series of genre-bending events, Nicholas Bordeaux has to fight to remain sane in a surrealistic New York as he resists a new world order and the temptation of the coveted ‘Wet Seal Cigarette’ within this spunky French New Wave Short Film,” the film’s synopsis states.
In his previous scripts, Percival Bernard, a writer for the short film, has featured many characters who are often seen with cigarettes in their hands. Now, in the writer’s latest project, cigarettes serve as an even more important part of the story.
“My characters always smoke cigarettes somewhere in a scene. I was like they’re smoking cigarettes so much, why don’t I make the cigarettes kind of like a character,” Bernard said. “So in anything I make, whatever cigarette they’re smoking, that’s going to be a Wet Seal Cigarette. That’s the fictional brand. It was an idea just to write a film about those cigarettes and kind of create this world behind it that encompasses what the vibe is.”
In the case of Wet Seal Cigarettes, the film conveys a dreamlike world, featuring authoritative figures and other peculiar characters who pressure Bourdeaux into giving into temptation.
Sims has been pursuing his own dream of becoming a movie star since his childhood days in Mobile, Alabama. The filmmaker took a major step forward when he recently joined two of his friends to launch a Black-owned film company, Pyramidal Productions. The company’s goal, according to Sims, is to tell stories of underserved groups.
“We’re trying to create a lens for them to tell their stories…it may not have been told somewhere else,” the Pyramidal founder said.
The filmmakers chose a Pyramid as the logo of their company, reflecting the symbol that’s often associated with African history and culture. But there’s also a reason why the Pyramid is shown upside down.
“I turned the pyramid upside down because I wanted to look at it from many dimensions,” Sims said. “Because when I say we represent people of color, I’m not just talking about Black people. We represent people from all underserved communities.”
Bernard is also another one of the three friends who co-founded Pyramidal Productions. Bernard said he started writing screenplays at 16 and continued to work on his craft during his college years. The Alabama native, however, struggled to find people who would support his work and understand his passion. Everything changed when he reconnected with his childhood friend Sims who was willing to read Bernard’s scripts and offer support.
“That’s what I needed, nobody else was trying to read my stuff,” the Wet Seal Cigarettes writer said.
Blake Greene, another filmmaker who grew up in Mobile with Sims and Bernard, is now serving as head of productions for Wet Seal Cigarettes. Greene and Sims, who remained close throughout their childhood, reconnected with Bernand in 2019 and vowed to launch a film company.
“All three of us grew up together in Mobile and we haven’t seen [Bernard] since middle school. When we ran into [Bernard], he told us his perspective about writing and everything. That’s when we built the production team together,” Greene said. “Here we are today.”
The three childhood friends are now joined by Baltimore native Earl Weaver Jr., who serves as producer for Wet Seal Cigarettes. Like many people around the world, Weaver was feeling stressed while staying in quarantine during the pandemic. But he found relief after finding a viral short film created by Sims.
Weaver said he was able to relate to Sims’ skit, which sent a message about showing compassion to people who are struggling to find hope during the pandemic.
“I stumbled across a viral video of Nicholas that went crazy all over the internet,” Weaver said. “The video resonated with me because I felt like the character that he portrayed. You can empathize a lot with what the protagonist was dealing with. That led to me reaching out to him personally and asking him how he got into film.”
Weaver, who had been working on his filmmaking skills in college, stayed in touch with Sims and later jumped on the opportunity to work on Wet Seal Cigarettes. The film, shot in Brooklyn, turned out to be a vital experience for Weaver and the rest of the young stars.
“The whole entire production showed us exactly what a producer is,” Weaver said. “By the time we got to the end on the last day and [Bernard] shot his last shot of the film, I saw him fall to the ground. I can just tell that was just a phenomenal experience seeing him direct it and also being able to immerse himself in the whole thing all the way to the end.”
Much like Weaver, another rising star named Chloe Lexia Worthington didn’t know the Pyramidal team members when she joined the cast. The young actress first saw the audition listing online and noticed that the team was looking for a French-speaking person.
“I applied because I’m half French, my mom is French and I’m a dual citizen, so I do speak French fluently,” Worthington told Blavity.
As she dove deeper into the script, the bilingual star became even more enamored with the opportunity.
“I was excited by the initial synopsis of what it was, but when I got further into the process and I was able to read the script, I was like ‘I love this script so much,’” Worthington said. “I could see it visually. It had such a strong visual element to it that I really loved.”
Worthington’s character, Darling, tries to guide Bourdeaux as he struggles to find his sanity.
“She’s a very interesting counterpart to Nicholas Bourdeaux because she feels like part of a dream that he’s having,” Worthington said about her character. “He’s going through the world in this way and she’s trying to get him to think of things in a certain way, in a way that he might not even understand.”
Bernard, however, faced a dilemma when he created Darling in his script.
“I was thinking to myself, is this person trying to help Nicholas Bourdeaux or is she trying to deceive Nicholas Bourdeaux?” the writer said.
Darling, according to Bernard, turned out to be a character who serves as the shoulder Bourdeaux can lean on. Still, Bourdeaux faces an uphill battle while trying to survive in a world where he’s being constantly watched by authoritative figures and being pressured to smoke everywhere he goes.
“He’s constantly questioning himself throughout the film because he knows what he wants to be, but how can he be that in a world where that’s not accepted,” Bernard said.
While shooting the film in Brooklyn, the Wet Seal Cigarettes crew stopped traffic multiple times.
“You would hear honking because people were sitting at green light and watching us film,” Bernard said.
The filmmakers were especially thrilled to see Black kids who appeared to be inspired when they walked by and saw the crew on set.
“Black kids would walk by while we were filming and their eyes would go up because they’ve never seen that before. That let them know, ‘Hay, you can do this. You don’t have to play sports, you don’t have to rap. You can be a film geek,” Bernard said.
The Wet Seal Cigarettes producers have submitted their project to more than 45 film festivals. They hope to show their work to the public in the coming months. The filmmakers are also waiting to see if they can get interest from streaming platforms.