February 16, 2017

Alumni Profile: Xaiver Burgin

By Rebecca Usoro

When Xaiver Burgin (SCA Production ’15) was selected for the Sundance Institute YouTube New Voices Lab, the first thing he mentioned was how excited he was to be among the inaugural group for the lab and how his work at SCA helped him get there.

“[In the production program], I really became to understand how to direct – how to work with actors, and how to be on a set and how to command the set and get my vision across.”

He was quickly met with success upon graduation. His 546 film, Olde E, was nominated for a Student Academy Award and is currently undergoing the festival circuit. Another one of his short films, One Time, was chosen as a finalist in the HBO short film competition and premiered on the cable channel’s streaming service on February 1, 2017. Xaiver also had the opportunity to participate in Ryan Murphy’s Diversity Directing Program and shadow the writer/director/producer on set during the last season of American Horror Story.

“I was [also] a finalist for the ABC/Disney Directing Program and a finalist for the Sony Directing Program. I didn’t get those. I was up against folks who had already done or two features. But when I didn’t get those, quite literally, the next day I hear that I got into the Sundance labs. So, it’s been a lot of amazing things. But the biggest thing that happened was Twitter.”

When he was finishing school, Burgin had to start thinking about getting a job. He knew he wouldn’t have the time or the money to make films anymore. He wondered:

“Is there any other way I can reach the public as a storyteller?”

So he started telling “Twitter Stories,” full length stories written in a series of 140-character tweets. One of his stories went viral and he amassed 25,000 followers. That number grew to the 57,000+ followers he has today.

“You make this great short film at USC. Maybe it wins some awards, maybe it doesn’t. You need to find different modes and mediums to get your work out there. You need to be a multi-hyphenate. Find those ways to get your name out there and build yourself, not only as a filmmaker, but as a brand that makes someone interested in you as a person.”

Burgin continued working on writing with his mentors Zahir McGhee (co-executive producer, Scandal) and Mara Brock Akil (creator/showrunner, Girlfriends) at the Sundance Labs in November.

“A lot of folks think you go into the lab and you’re just constantly working on your scripts. That’s not the case. What actually happens is you do a bunch of workshops: creative writing workshops, things that help you learn about yourself and how to write for yourself, directing workshops. Then on the third day, you sit down with your mentors and talk about your idea, your project, where you should go, and what you should be doing. They really talk to you about, ‘Who your characters?’ ‘Can you personalize them?’ ‘Can you make them more about you and bring your thoughts and emotions to them?’ So most of the workshop is actually about building yourself as a person and learning how to ascribe that into what you’re writing. Then when the labs are finished, they say: ‘Now, go write.’”

Burgin plans to rewrite the project with his partners, comedian Trey Moe and actor Thomas Wright, using the feedback he’s received from his mentors. They are currently in the process of writing another six episodes, then writing a pilot version of the story. The project, entitled Lame Lance, is a coming of age comedy about four best friends trying to navigate adulthood and relationships against the backdrop of their historically black college.

Burgin still hopes to make feature films. But he recognizes the value of working in the micro and macro. He’s also currently working on a Kickstarter campaign to turn one of his Twitter stories into a live action short film.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I make films because I have a voice. If I have a voice, then that means that these black and brown kids that follow me [on Twitter], that listen to me, have a voice as well. Beyond anything else, that’s why I’m doing this. That’s why I keep on going.”

And indeed, SCA is excited to see the places he’ll go.