David E. Talbert, a master playwright, author, and filmmaker, challenged an audience of mostly Norfolk State University students to think differently. Talbert, whose most recent film was the musical fantasy Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, was in town for NSU’s Department of Mass Communication and Journalism’s MCJR Week and as part of the HBCU Next Tour.

“I don’t think there’s any group of people more talented than at HBCUs [Historically Black Colleges and Universities],” Talbert said. I think the disconnect is how to connect the dots between my talent, my imagination, my dreams to how do I realize that. I think that’s the only missing piece. That’s why I came here… to help demystify it.”

While engaging and electrifying the audience with the lessons that he has learned as he pursued his dreams, he provided encouragement and insight into Hollywood and how to be successful there.  

When asked what students need to learn in life before going to Hollywood, he answered that it was not a matter of learning but embracing. “The biggest piece is not that you have to learn, but what you have to embrace is that you belong,” he said. “No one is doing you a favor. You’re doing them a favor. And the relationships that you want to have are relationships of exchange,” he explained. “They’re getting as much as they’re giving.”

He went on, “What you have and what you know is just as valuable as what someone else has, and someone else knows. You belong,” he said. “You belong.”

Talbert urged students to get internships while they’re in school. “In addition to knowing that you’re doing someone a favor, you must have practical time in your craft. You must find internships. You must take the time while you’re in school to not only, in theory, know that you’re great at what you do but practically be in environments where you get the chance to see not only what you know but what you don’t know.” If you do that, he said, students will be able to hit the ground running rather than starting from zero. 

During the question-and-answer session, Talbert was touched by several students. In a couple of instances, he phoned friends—Kirk Franklin and Paula Patton—to have them answer questions. In other examples, he accepted a sweatshirt from a student and held a private conversation with another student who needed encouragement.

Talbert’s journey in filmmaking began with his directorial debut in Sony Pictures’ First Sunday, leading to successive hits with Searchlight’s Baggage Claim and Universal’s Almost Christmas, each becoming the number one comedy in America upon their releases. His most significant achievement came with Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, acclaimed by the Hollywood Reporter as one of the 50 Greatest Holiday Films of All Time. His current projects include writing and directing for Netflix and Universal and creating original Disney, ABC, and Legendary content.

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