East Texas filmmaker Grayson Lackey’s lens on “working class dysfunctional drama”

Filmmaker Grayson Lackey on set during a project for Kyser Capos called “Locals” in Dallas and Austin in 2021. 📷 Tyler Ellison

In 2014, Grayson Lackey was in high school working hayfields in the summer. In 2015, his first short film debuted in the Downtown Tyler Film Festival. He has since directed four short films and is working on a fifth. He has also filmed a number of commercial projects for clients including The Tyler Loop. Grayson Lackey, 24, has been part of the Tyler film scene for almost a decade.

Through the years, his films have mapped his interests. 

“Especially in those early years, I made films about what I was thinking about at the time just in my own life,” Lackey said. “So you can kind of track … …what I was focused on at the time, whether it was spiritually or just knocking around ideas in my own head. You can see that track, and making the film would close the chapter on that part of my life.”

Lackey and his brother grew up on a cattle ranch and helped work their grandfather’s hayfields. His family wasn’t involved in the creative arts, but in the evenings, he would get the chance to watch movies. 

“We were a big movie-loving family,” Lackey explained. “So we have a huge cabinet full of DVDs and we would watch them just about every night as a family.”

That routine led to his life changing in 2011, when he watched a movie called “Warrior.” The movie is about two distant brothers played by Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton who end up battling each other in an MMA tournament. 

“It broke me. Like, completely, just emotionally.” Lackey said, “I had no idea a film could make me feel so much. And sort of right after that, I remember going to bed that night thinking ‘I want to make people feel the way this movie made me feel.’”

He set out to do just that, practicing making videos and short films. In 2014, he started serious work on a short film, “Don’t Run Away,” about a boy having to make a serious choice in  life. 

Grayson Lackey shoots “Locals” in July 2021. 📷 Tyler Ellison

“I was so disheartened after I shot that because I thought it was terrible, that what I shot was horrible,” Lackey explained. “And then … what I learned most about it, honestly, is that I need to be learning from every single project that I do. 

“And that is useful. I don’t have to come out and make the greatest thing in the world, I just need to learn from what I’m making.”

He submitted it to the Downtown Tyler Film Festival where it was selected and shown. That event  resulted in another pivotal moment for Lackey when he met filmmaker Chris Rollins.

“I met him at Don Juan’s after our films showed,” Lackey said. “I came up to him and I was like ‘Hey man, I liked your film!’ and he was like ‘I liked yours too!’ and we started chatting and then we’ve been friends ever since. He was at my wedding.”

Lackey also met filmmaker Justin Reese, then chairman of the film festival. 

“He sort of was the first person to take me under his wing, and essentially he was like ‘Hey, you need to keep doing this,’” Lackey said. 

Grayson Lackey filmed the music video for “Be A Light,” by songwriter, musician and Tyler rabbi Neal Katz.

And he did. Following the film festival, Neal Katz hired Lackey to make a music video to Katz’s original song, “Be A Light.” The project introduced Lackey to getting paid to make videos. After that, he began actively searching for clients. 

“I was kind of an ambitious young kid, you would say. I would literally go door-to-door at businesses… and just walk in and say ‘Hey, I want to talk to your manager and talk about your video commercials and I think I can do them better,’ essentially,” Lackey said. “I got told ‘no’ a ton, but some people let me do it … I didn’t even have my driver’s license at the time, my mom was dropping me off.”

Grayson Lackey and Kenny Rigsby shoot “Out of the Loop season 5,” a storytelling series presented by The Tyler Loop. 📷 Chris French

Among his commercial endeavors, Lackey made another short film called “The Last Hope,” which he also entered into the Downtown Tyler Film Festival in 2016. That’s where Lackey met another filmmaker who would become both a mentor and his biggest collaborator: Kenny Rigsby.

“I remember a specific project with Kenny where he and I shot this little promo thing together and then he was gonna let me edit it. He was watching over my shoulder one day, and he looked at how I was organizing the footage and he was like ‘Oh, no, no, no. I need to teach you something,” Lackey said.

 “He said it in a nicer way than that, but essentially we spent a day, and he taught me how to organize a project and how to put files in where they need to be,” he said. “It was very much a mentor-mentee.”

Grayson Lackey and Kenny Rigsby partnered to create “Tha Problem Child,” featuring professional boxer Kenneth Taylor. 📷 courtesy camera44productions.com

The two have collaborated on a number of projects, including “Tha Problem Child” about professional boxer Kenneth Taylor which featured Rigsby as director with Lackey as director of photography. Through these collaborations, Lackey found he especially enjoys documentaries.

“With a documentary, you don’t know necessarily what the story is. You don’t know much of anything and you’re just sort of walking into a situation and finding a story within whatever the situation is,” he said. 

“We’re working on a project right now that we’re still shooting after two years. We’ve really built a relationship with the person that we’re filming and that’s been really wonderful and beautiful. It feels less like a filmmaking job and more like I’m just living life with somebody.”

He continues creating fiction projects, including his most recently released short, “We Are One” which is one of his personal favorites.

Among East Grayson Lackey’s favorite works is his “We Are One, a “poetic and intimate” short film with a “sci-fi aesthetic,” Lackey said. 📷 courtesy camera44productions.com

“We were trying to take the sci-fi aesthetic,” Lackey said. “ Taking that idea of a big world in a sci-fi story and making something really small and poetic and intimate was the goal for that project. That was something I really knew I wanted going in and because of the people involved, we actually were able to get it done.”

The website description of “We Are One” describes the short film as a “blue-collar, working class, dysfunctional drama” — a hallmark of Lackey’s work wherein his respect for working class people going through struggles is evident. 

“We Are One” showcases another predominant throughline of Lackey’s work: adept knowledge and attention to camerawork and color. In his personal endeavors and his contracted work, Lackey’s attention to visuals makes each project a feast for the eyes, whether in the deep shadows of  “Counting Up” or the saturated blues of “We Are One.”

Throughout his filmmaking career, the hayfields remained part of his life after high school graduation and during the height of the pandemic. His ties to working class life continue influencing, informing and, in some ways, has enabled his filmmaking. 

“I’m very much surrounded by those kinds of people, like, that’s my family in a lot of ways. And I think, too, specifically blue-collar in films many times are very cliché or very flat” Lackey said. 

“Many times they’re people who don’t show their emotions very much,” he said. 

Then, he recounted a mood shift riding in a truck after a long day unloading hay. 

“All of a sudden we would have really interesting, beautiful conversations and see, really, the depth of these guys and that they feel things just as much as anyone else does. And so trying to showcase that in my work is something I hope to do more of,” Lackey said.

Grayson Lackey’s short, “Steady Hands,” celebrates the lives of working-class men. 📷 courtesy camera44productions.com

He is now working on a number of projects, including his next short film “Steady Hands” which he describes as “an inside look at the life of working-class men,” and is still collaborating with Rigsby. His body of films is posted at camera44productions.com

Lackey’s resolution to give people the same feelings that “Warrior” gave him is present through his work. 

Jonathan Rauscher is a writer and video maker residing in East Texas. He has previously worked at the Talon at UT Tyler and has a Bachelors of Science in mass communication from the university. When not writing, Rauscher enjoys watching movies and doing nature photography. He is also an Eagle Scout.

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