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Jeff W. Byrd Goes From Spike Lee Apprentice To Co-Executive Producer Of 'Yellowjackets'

After having a successful first season, the Showtime/Paramount+ series Yellowjackets has kicked off its second season with a new co-executive producer and director onboard, Brooklyn-born Jeff W. Byrd.


Jeff W. Byrd

Byrd’s career in the film and television industry spans over thirty years. Long before becoming a part of the Yellowjackets’ production team, Byrd got his start under the tutelage of iconic filmmaker Spike Lee. Like Byrd, Lee was also born and raised in Brooklyn and connected while Lee was filming one of his early movies.


While passing by the set of Lee's film, Byrd’s father pushed him to make a move that would change his life forever. “I remember I was telling my dad, I wanted to be in the entertainment industry. I was playing football in high school at the time ... and I got a partial scholarship to a small college in New Jersey. I was really interested in film and TV, and I remember we walked by a set, and my dad said, ’You need to go over there, that's your job. You see that crew that's working over there, they are a film crew, so go and ask them for a job,” Byrd said.


Byrd approached the one Black man on the crew that he spotted, Charles Houston, who happened to be Lee’s gaffer. Houston told Byrd that Spike's 40 Acres and a Mule was soon beginning production on their film, which would be Mo Better Blues and they were looking for interns. Byrd went down to Lee’s 40 Acres and a Mule studio in Brooklyn dressed in a suit, which led to him working in the office department of the studio.


After working on Mo Better Blues, Byrd went on to work with Lee on Jungle Fever and Malcolm X while working on music videos and commercials in between. When discussing Lee, Byrd stated that Lee pays attention to everything and knew everyone in the crew’s name even if he hadn’t met them.


Further speaking on the support that Lee provided him, Byrd stated that the Do The Right Thing director offered to let him use equipment from 40 Acres and a Mule. “I remember one day at the end of the set. Spike said, ‘Hey, everybody. Just so you know intern Jeff. Jeff raise your hand. Jeff is shooting a music video this weekend so if anybody wants to work on it let him know. I don't think he's paying anything but you guys should let him know if you want to help out.’“


If there is any one piece of advice Byrd took from working with Lee it is “Just try it and see if it sticks and if it’s something that you like.”


As his father gave him that early push to pursue his dreams in entertainment, Byrd found a family connection in joining Yellow Jackets. “I always can access women's stories really well, because of my sisters. Then throughout the years as I was growing up, coming home and hearing them telling me stuff and to a certain degree, obviously, outside of the eating and the killing and the things that happened on the show a lot of the main female cast kind of represents certain aspects of things that I see in my sister,” Byrd shared.

Jeff W. Byrd

”I love the show because it really kind of delves deep into the psyche of humans, and what we say out loud but then what we're really thinking in our quiet time, and I'm a fan of that. Kind of those kinds of shows, when you say out loud at the front, but then there are things that are hidden deeply in our minds that we're trying to contend with and that we're wrestling with and trying to get ahead of so that we stay, on the straight and narrow,” Byrd added about how the show tackles relatable mental health struggles.


Aside from his producing and directing, Byrd is a co-chair of the Director’s Guild of America’s African American Steering Committee. Through his role as co-chair, which he shares with Gina Prince Bythewood, he expresses leadership in helping to voice concerns of overlooked Black directors in the DGA presenting those concerns to the main governing board of the DGA and helping to create solutions to the issues faced by Black directors.


Byrd noted that not more than half a century ago, Black directors were not even granted membership into the DGA. In recent times, the DGA’s African American Steering Committee has made efforts to push the DGA to speak up for the Black community.


“The DGA normally does not make a statement on things that are not directly related to the film and TV industry but because the ASC and its members were so passionately moved by what happened because any one of us could have been George Floyd, at our behalf, the DGA made a statement about the George Floyd situation.”


While work in Hollywood has recently come to a pause in light of the Writer’s Guild of America strike, Byrd plans to get back into the swing of things with the upcoming third season of Yellowjackets and a film starring Rosario Dawson and Alexandra Shipp called Midnight.


Photographer: Zoa

Wardrobe Stylist: Amour Williams Hair: MJ

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