Multi-hyphenate Lyn Sisson-Talbert is one of the most accomplished female producers in Hollywood. She and her husband, David E. Talbert, have been crafting films together for years, but their latest is particularly special. Debuting November 13, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is Netflix’s first original live-action musical and the first classic holiday film to star a leading Black cast, including the likes of Forest Whitaker and Phylicia Rashad, with music from John Legend and Usher. Here, Sisson-Talbert chats about this important movie, diversity in the entertainment industry and more.
Why was Jingle Jangle an important story to tell right now?
David and I both thought it was an important story to tell because we needed to see a Black family leading in an original classic piece like this. As far as timing, with everything that’s going on with COVID, Black Lives Matter and politics, we need to bring some joy and light to the world right now. We also need some balance, something light and fun to focus on, even if only for a couple hours.
What was it like working with Hollywood heavy hitters like Forest Whitaker, Phylicia Rashad and Keegan-Michael Key on this project?
It was amazing. Forest came to the table first, and he is such a kind, gentle soul. Plus with his expertise in directing and producing, we had such great support from him not only as the lead actor but also as a resource to get his take on something.
Phylicia Rashad — she’s the mother of all mothers, you know? It was a dream meeting her when she came in for the reading; I got a little teary-eyed because she’s so regal and elegant and beautiful. She was our first and only choice, to be honest. We were just so proud and grateful to work with her.
And Keegan is hilarious. We work with a lot of people from a comedy background, but he’s a strong dramatic actor as well. It’s just so nice to ground a project with so many powerful actors; it really sets the tone.
This is just the latest film you’ve collaborated on with your husband. How do you find balance when your life partner is also your creative partner?
Well, sometimes I don’t find balance. [laughs] In any relationship it can be tough, especially when you have to go home with someone from work. But there are little things we do, like driving separately to set, because I need my time and he needs his time.
On set, it can be hard because I sometimes have to deliver bad news to him. I do have consideration for what’s going on with him creatively because I’m looking at the big picture of it all. The great thing is that he has my back and I have his, and at the end of the day, we want the same thing — we want to create something amazing that’s representative of who we are. That’s what brings us back to center.
What originally inspired you to become a film and television producer?
I have to say, this was not something I planned. I was a senior in college when David and I met, and it all happened very quickly — after three months we were engaged and the next year we got married. I graduated from college, got married and company managed my first tour all in the same year (it was David’s play tour).
When we met and he showed me some of his work, I was like, “Oh, you should do this. And you need to do this. And we should adjust this character. And this person should be in this wardrobe. Did you ever think about casting so-and-so?” I was just giving my take on what I was seeing, and little did I know that was producing.
I’ve always been a do-what-you-gotta-do kind of girl. My father was the first Black optometrist in Las Vegas, and I grew up watching him run his own business. So I brought that expertise and experience as well as my creativity and my love of art. I sort of fell into it; it was very unconventional. And I have been doing it ever since.
How have you stayed creative amidst the coronavirus outbreak?
We were in post when COVID hit, so it was kind of maddening. We were actually preparing to go to London with Phylicia Rashad to get some additional photography. But once I started doing some research, I had to call her and say, “I don’t think it’s a good idea that we go. I would never forgive myself if something happened to you. We’re going to figure out an amazing, beautiful way to tell these portions of the story.”
Then it was full-on lockdown, so we could’ve gotten stuck over there. It was the right decision, and it actually pushed me creatively because we created this amazing storybook element within the film. We had to be creative, because we basically had to move everything to our home while doing virtual school at the same time. Talk about craziness.
You’ve got to make breakfast, lunch and dinner, clean, and finish a film of this magnitude from home. It’s insane! I was in pajamas while doing Zoom calls about visual effects with colleagues in London, France and Montreal. It was a wonder for us to be able to pull off this type of film in this environment. Even scoring — we scored via Zoom to London with two screens (one for sound, one for picture), giving notes to a live orchestra while they were on stage.
Talk about a whole new way of getting it done. But the theme of this film is everything is possible, and I had that mantra running through my head while we were shooting it. There’s a song in Jingle Jangle called “The Square Root of Possible,” which basically asks, what is your formula to make anything possible for you? That’s how I felt throughout. I would sing that song, and I would figure it out. [laughs]
In what ways do you hope the entertainment industry evolves?
I hope it evolves into a place where there are many more opportunities for diversity both in front of and behind the camera to create original stories by people of color featuring people of color. This film took so long to make because people didn’t believe that it could sell; they didn’t believe that a leading Black cast in this big idea of a film would make money.
The industry has changed with streaming services and access to so many different types of programming. With streaming, you’re actually able to see how many people clicked and watched, so it shows that there’s an audience starving for a certain type of programming. I want Hollywood to continue to be open and say, “This worked, and we need to create more shows where everyone’s represented.”
What voices and stories do you think are important to amplify now and in the future?
Definitely Black women, men and children. And just from a different worldview in general. I love movies that are grounded in a certain culture and show a specific experience, whether it’s a Black family, a Jewish family or an Indian family in Bollywood. These kinds of movies teach us that we’re actually more alike than we are different.
What advice do you have for those hoping to break into a creative field like film production?
My advice is to keep pushing, to create, create, create. When I was coming up, streaming platforms didn’t exist. I didn’t have a phone with navigation on it. So there is no excuse today. You can create your own show. Look at Ramy on Hulu; look at Issa Rae with Insecure on HBO. They’re showing a very specific experience and creating shows around things that they have gone through, whether it’s religion or relationships. They created a vehicle for their stories, which is amazing.
I think that you decide. If you’re deciding to do it, then do it. Look at these people who have done it — you’re not reinventing the wheel — and start getting your pieces together. Start creating your shows or your art or whatever it is. Get support from your friends and family — put them in it, have them tape it, have them help you. Reach out to people on Instagram and YouTube to see if you can bring your team together to create what you want to create. There’s always someone to see it or click on it. There’s always someone to connect with. Just do it, because now there’s really no excuse for not getting it done.
And finally, what exciting projects are you working on?
I have two companion books that go along with Jingle Jangle that are available for preorder right now. The first one is a picture book called The Square Root of Possible: A Jingle Jangle Story. I’ve wanted to do a children’s book for a really long time, and this was the perfect opportunity to do it to go along with the film. I’m working on another picture book as well. And there’s a middle-grade book that goes along with the film called Jingle Jangle: The Invention of Jeronicus Jangle. Plus I have the audiobook of that story being read by the wonderful Phylicia Rashad — which was a real full-circle moment.
But right now, it’s the big marketing push for Jingle Jangle with the holidays coming up. It kind of doesn’t stop, but I’m really excited to try some of these other creative fields now that the door has been opened. I’m just really grateful to have options to see which way I want to go. Anything is possible.