By Daralyn Jay
You’re a hot, young actor with some highly recognizable film credits like “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “A Walk to Remember” and “Love Don’t Cost A Thing” as well as a string of television guest star and voice appearances on your IMDB page. Plus, you’ve got cash flowing in from your commercial spots. So, what do you do next? Buy your dream sports car, move to “The Coast” and hit the party circuit? If you’re Al Thompson, you fire up your computer and sink all your hard-earned currency into writing, producing, directing and starring in your own Web series, “Johnny B. Homeless,” inspired by your adventures coach-surfing in L.A. “Commercials are how I’m able to fund my Web series creations. A lot of actors don’t do that.”
It is clear that Al Thompson is not like a lot of actors. Introduced to acting in high school, he fell into work as a stunt double, filling the void of younger African American stuntmen. He also appeared in an NYU student film called “3D” that happened to screen at Sundance, leading to Hollywood attention and Hollywood roles.
Fast-forward to life after those IMDB credits. Thompson is decidedly focused on making his mark as a Web series content creator…and beyond. “I want to continue to make quality entertainment in the vein of old-school television—when we didn’t have reality shows. Every show had a cool, intro theme song…All the shows had really great catch-phrases, like ‘Watch you talkin’ about, Willis?’”
He is well on his way to earning the comparisons to mega-film and TV producer/director J. J. Abrams and pioneering filmmaker/producer Robert Townsend that he’s been receiving. “Johnny B. Homeless” went on to win an Audience Award at the 2009 New York Television festival. This year, it was picked up by Comedy Central to air on “Atom TV” and Atom.com. More recently, Thompson has been crisscrossing the country, attending film festivals to promote his new Web series, “Lenox Avenue,” which debuts this fall. Shot just six months after “Johnny B. Homeless,” the stylish dramedy features such red-letter names as Vanessa Bell Calloway (“Hawthorne”) and Michael K. Williams (“The Wire”).
A native Harlemite, Thompson explains his impetus for creating “Lenox Avenue.” “It’s about three guys in different stages of their relationships, living in the new Harlem. We don’t get to see that 25 to 30-year-old male unless they’re being made fun of in a sense.” He also learned from the mistakes of his NYU and Columbia filmmaker friends. “They wouldn’t have anything next because they put all their heart and energy in this one short film. So for me, from the beginning I wanted to make sure that I had a second project that was already ready to go [and] also to be able to display talent in producing and directing dramatic content and not just be stuck in the bubble of being known as the guy who created ‘Johnny B. Homeless.’ ”
At the rate he’s going, Thompson has nothing to fear. He will premiere yet another new Web series, “Baby Daddy Memoirs,” at the 2010 New York Television Festival and is fast becoming an expert on creating Web content. He notes that at last year’s event, there were two African American content creators out of approximately 40 showing their work. “It took me a while to realize that I am one of the few people in the forefront of creating Web content, especially an African American doing this…It’s such a different vibe to get 10-15 pages from your agent to review for an audition. I could have done a day and a half sitting down at the computer, writing a series that I can develop.”