As one of the few Black cinematographers in Sarasota—and in Florida—Sean Presley understands the importance of representation for Black directors in the film industry. Independent Black filmmakers are few and far between, but Presley is hoping to change that with his work. Since 2020, his company, Sean Presley Projects, has created more than 80 promotional videos, two short films and reels for Hollywood celebs.
The rapidity of Presley's success still amazes him. The road to this success, however, was not always easy.
"I lost my job and became a stay-at-home dad during the beginning of the pandemic," he says. "I needed something to do, so I picked up my camera and started filming."
Presley grew up in Sarasota and was deeply passionate about the local arts scene. He sang in the Sarasota Youth Opera, acted at The Players theater and worked on projects at West Coast Black Theatre Troupe. He's toured with the troupe and with Florida Studio Theatre, and worked on smaller commercials and acting gigs in the area. But it wasn't until he was given a camera, at age 13, that he realized he preferred being behind it.
"A friend from church who did videography work started teaching me basic filming skills," says Presley. "I fell in love with it and worked on freelance projects all throughout high school. It was great."
Once Presley graduated from high school, he connected with an independent Hollywood filmmaker named Jarvee Hutcherson, president of the Multicultural Motion Picture Association. He visited California and got to meet several Black artists and actors, further solidifying his pursuit to represent the Black community in film. He cites directors like Spike Lee and Tyler Perry as his inspiration.
"My first project under Sean Presley Projects in 2020 was the Black Owned Business Promotional Tour," says Presley. "Over the course of three weeks, I filmed 10 businesses that people don't know much about and put them together into a cinematic-style film reel. It was the perfect way to showcase them."
He posted the video online shortly after. The feedback was so incredible that he was named "talent of the month" by the Suncoast Black Arts Collaborative.
Since then, Sean Presley Projects has developed more than 80 promotional videos and two short films, including work for MTV's Siesta Key star Brandon Gomes. Presley's current favorite project is a horror film that's still in the works. He plans to submit the film to independent festivals this spring.
While it's favorite film he's done so far, he says was also his most challenging because of the concept and the use of streetlights to light the entire film. (Local viewers will recognize the Hollywood 11 parking garage and a dark cigar smoke-filled bar in downtown Bradenton.)
While Presley has met a lot of his goals, including working with celebrities like Grammy-award winning artist Fred Hammond, Le'Andria Johnson, R&B group Capture, Musiq Soulchild, Llyod, Tank (who was signed by P. Diddy) and more, he's still aiming higher.
"I hope to make Sarasota a hub for more artists like me," he says. "My ultimate goal is to open a Black-owned and operated film house that shows films made by minorities." He says the film house would also be a nonprofit, where adults and kids could take free filmmaking classes and learn drone work, lighting and basic camera skills.
"These are opportunities that people of color don't always get the opportunity to be exposed to," Presley adds. "I want to uplift our community and show them there is value to this type of work."
For more information about Sean Presley Project or to book his services, click here.