Bad to the Jones - Black Filmmaker Marlon Ladd

Splurge Magazine, July 1st, 2015

Marlon Ladd

On a hot summer Saturday in 2010, Marlon Ladd and his friends faced down a raging mob of zombies on a long, dusty country road in rural Oklahoma.

The five heroes, all survivors of a zombie apocalypse, were outnumbered. The zombies came from the tall grasses, from behind abandoned automobiles and down the road. Their faces were contorted with blood, their eyes burning with hunger and bodies tight with rage

On cue, the mob of zombies charged. The five heroes charged in to meet them, and a bloodbath ensued. “CUT!”

Marlon Ladd of Edmond, who plays one of the two brothers in the movie “Bad to the Jones,” is one of Oklahoma’s hottest rising African-American filmmakers, and for a director/actor who is becoming most known for his zombie film, he’s not actually a fan of horror.

“I’m not,” he said. “Nothing really scares me. But, I entered a short film contest, and the theme was horror. I thought, ‘You don’t see too many black people in zombie movies,’ so I made one.”

The short film was such a hit that fans everywhere demanded that Ladd create a full-length movie based on the two outrageous brothers in “The Jones’,” along with their ragtag cohorts, and the “Bad to the Jones” was born.

The zombie flick, available on DVD and Netflix, is also listed as the best zombie web series on YouTube, and now the Oklahoma filmmaker is neck deep in filming “Bad to the Jones II,” a continuation of the plot and characters of the original horror/comedy film.

“I always wanted to do my own film and take it directly to the people,” Ladd said, admitting he was taken advantage in the past due to bad distribution deals. “In 2013, we put ‘Bad to the Jones’ as a YouTube series, and now it has 655,000 hits. People love it.

Now award-winning and armed with knowledge, Ladd is ready to take on zombies and the world, and in part, help boost Oklahoma as the place where independent filmmakers like himself can thrive.

The Birth Of A Black Filmmaker

Marlon and his brother Chris Edwards lived their childhood on camera. Ladd’s father had an 8mm camera and filmed everything the boys did, from basketball games to rough-housing.

“When I was 12, I decided I was going to make a film with all the neighborhood kids. It was a karate action movie,” said Ladd. “We had a blast, but I had no film in the camera. My first film was not to be.”

Growing up in Oklahoma City, Ladd earned a Pre-law and political science degree at Rose State, an English degree from Langston University and earned his Masters in English and Creative Writing from the University of Central Oklahoma.

In 1997, he was in a project called Nightshade Passing with Bryan Sabolich, who taught the budding actor the behind-the-scenes magic of filmmaking.

“After he showed me how to do it, I decided, ‘I’m going to do it. I’m going to make films,’” Ladd said. “For my first short film, I had to rent everything. I used friends as actors.”

Ladd’s first full-length feature was a movie called “Black Marshal: The Hunt for Dozier,” a movie about Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves, one of the legendary black cowboy lawmen in Oklahoma’s wild west. He filmed the western at the Read Ranch in Chandler, using re-enactors to give the movie authenticity.

During the production, Ladd learned to edit film, and he completed “Black Marshal” in 2000. The big premier of the movie was held at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, complete with red carpet star power.

BTJ - ccpic5

The movie was shown at Oklahoma City’s first deadCENTER Film Festival and ended up in a three-movie pack available at Walmart and other retailers, but Ladd was only given an advance of $1,500. In 2006, he produced another film called “Recoil.”

“I was married, had just moved into a new house and I took all my money to make the film,” said Ladd. “We had a bunch of financial problems, and I had checks garnished. I started having marital problems, because my first wife wasn’t very supportive.”

Ladd, who was working in law enforcement, had decided to quit his lucrative career in 2005 and focus on filmmaking. He was able to distribute “Recoil” through Netflix, but was also going through a divorce and a foreclosure. He began working as armed security while still pursuing his dream. The introduction of the DVX camera changed everything.

Looking Up

When Ladd began working with the new technology of a DVX camera, he also found a forum to enter film contests through the DVX website.

“What I found out was that I wasn’t very good as a filmmaker,” said Ladd. “That was a hard blow for me. I entered the competitions, and users would critique the films. They gave a lot of constructive criticism that was hard to hear, but I realized they were right.”

Using tips and suggestions, Ladd entered more and more contests, getting better each time. He also found love again, meeting his current wife and film partner Jacqueline Edwards at the credit union where he worked as a security guard. Despite 19 years age difference, the two were made for each other.

When the DVX website hosted a new contest with the theme of horror, Ladd thought he’d enter despite not being a fan of the horror genre.

“I thought, ‘It’d be fun. You never see black brothers in a zombie apocalypse.’ I wrote the script, and when my brother came over to read it, he was laughing out loud,” Ladd said. “We placed second or third place. I never expected it to be so mainstream, never imagined people would like it so much.”

Ladd began working on the full-length movie, “Bad to the Jones,” featuring primarily black actors and local residents as extras. Filming wrapped up in 2011, and on May 3, 2012, the red carpet premiere was held at Oklahoma City’s Tinseltown Theatre.

The film stars Marlon Ladd, Chris Paul, Cara Black, Phillip Borghee, Ricci Jett, Kenneth Nolan and more.

“There’s been so much interest on the YouTube series that we are now making ‘Bad to the Jones II,’” Ladd said. “We have more experience now, and I want it a certain way.”

Now, Ladd hopes to be among those who turn Oklahoma into a filmmaking success.

“Oklahoma is a great place to invest in,” Ladd said. “We have lots of artists here, and we can make filmmaking really big. One day, I hope I can bring in that kind of success for Oklahoma.”

For more information, visit Ladd’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/user/marlonladd.

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