If you watch the trailer for “Unfinished,” a project released this week on the BET+ app, prepare for intense visuals, dramatic dialogue, and a nightmarish mystery. The characters seem tortured, confused and desperate. Some even look dead and ghostly. It has all the makings of an urban horror/psychological thriller, which might seem odd considering it was directed and co-written by someone who is often known for his punchlines.
“I’m really a comedic person; it’s my past,” said Ronnie Warner, who was born in Hillsborough and grew up in the town until he was 13. “I was a comedian for about 12 years and my first movie was a comedy. That’s the route I took when I moved to Hollywood. But as a businessman you have to know this what the market is looking for.
The market, and Warner’s distributor, told him that thrilling but less gory gratuitous horror movies that question reality and your own well-being have established themselves as a popular trend. “Unfinished” is by no means a comedy, nor was it an extension of his talents for him to undertake such a project.
Warner is best known for his roles in the films “Puff, Puff, Pass” (2006), “This Christmas” (2007) and “The Love Section” (2013). Over his more than 20 years in the film industry, Warner has expanded his abilities to include writing, directing and producing. This multi-pronged approach has not only allowed him to work on a variety of other projects, but the versatility allows him to wear many hats on his own projects. In addition to being a writer and director on “Unfinished,” Warner has an acting role in the feature film. He credits his grandfather’s entrepreneurial spirit with influencing his desire to learn and excel in many filmmaking roles.
“My grandfather was a well-known contractor in Hillsborough. He built the post office on King Street. There is even a street named after him on Corbin Street, called Warner Lane. So there is a strong entrepreneurial spirit in me. The idea of being a producer excites me, of being invited to come and see your project from start to finish, to help find financing and to put it together. The way I use myself is I have all these things I can do, so I use them as tools,” he said.
For his most recent project, once he figured out the type of film he wanted to create, Warner began to brainstorm an idea he needed to shed light on a subject he had become more aware of since his moving to the west coast. Although he wanted “Unfinished” to be thrilling and suspenseful, Warner wanted the film to carry a message.
“I didn’t want to do empty things,” he said. “I want something inside that makes sense. I think some of the best work that we watch has things that we can find in the narrative that maybe relate to something important to us as an individual. It’s what we gravitate toward, even if it’s fantasy. In this particular case, what I saw in this film was a great opportunity to deal with mental illness and addiction.
In Los Angeles, Warner said, homelessness is more widespread and out in the open than in other parts of the country, especially in places like Hillsborough. The more he was exposed to people struggling with homelessness, the more he recognized the importance of the role of mental illness in his life, especially schizophrenia.
This experience led Warner to another realization, specifically in relation to homelessness: a general lack of empathy. He wanted his film to offer another perspective on mental illness and also show how alcohol, opioids and other forms of self-medication can make symptoms worse.
“You see a lot of people walking around talking to someone, and we can see they’re not really talking to anyone,” he said. “but you can clearly see that they are talking to someone in their head. What I wanted to do was create something where the viewer could also see these people. What would that look like? Now you are able to somehow experience what they are going through.
The film’s story centers on Zora Matthews (Noree Victoria) and her struggles coping with the death of her father. Zora suffers from schizophrenia and learns that her father, a famous author named Thomas Morgan Matthews (played by Warner), also battled the same condition. When she flees to her late father’s hidden home after a fight with her husband (Devante Winfrey), Zora encounters locals who tell her things she never knew about her father, and she discovers her unfinished novel and debate to finish it herself. The stress leads to nightmares and elevates his schizophrenia. She resorts to alcohol and taking prescription drugs to cope with her life now out of control.
Sound complicated? Sounds far-fetched? Warner hopes that in addition to finding his film entertaining, people will recognize different ways in which a person’s mental health can be affected by a variety of factors, whether genetics, addiction or related events. to stress.
“I hope this helps people better understand that, especially with homelessness, it’s not a situation that people necessarily choose to put themselves in,” he said.
Warner said he had written other dramatic and serious scripts, but “Unfinished” was the first to be produced and released. And while he found the process rewarding and cathartic, acting remains his first love.
“I will always be an actress – that’s what comes naturally to me. I see the world through a comedy lens. Comedy will always be where I land, even though my next project I’m working on right now is another psychological thriller. I’m kind of digging into that genre at the moment,” Warner said.
While a love of comedy may have come naturally to him, Warner’s father was less than thrilled with his son’s decision to pursue stand-up comedy and a career in entertainment. Warner’s father had been a successful businessman and had hoped his son would also seek a career in business.
After high school, Warner enrolled at Guilford College in Greensboro. It came to nothing, so he joined the Marine Corps for a while. After that, his father again encouraged him to think about the family business, which was growing. So Warner gave that route another shot and started taking business classes at NC Central.
But his mind was still 3,000 miles from Los Angeles. Warner sat in his calculus class and worked on a screenplay he was writing. When offered a job at a local comedy club, Warner gave up on working for the family business.
How did his father make this decision? “He was completely against everything. He would have been less upset if I had said I was going to be an ax murderer.
Over the next several years, Warner had regular opportunities to perform at clubs across the state and along the eastern seaboard. By the late 1990s, Warner was living in Washington, D.C. He was beginning to attract more positive attention and better bookings.
Warner was offered the middle spot for a three-comedian show called “One Night Stand.” The comedy set was popular and marketed on the radio, even as far south as Hillsborough. Ronnie Warner is named after his father, so when townspeople heard radio commercials touting Ronnie Warner’s comedic routine, they were confused and asked senior Ronnie if he had started stalling -up.
Having his son receive so much attention for an upcoming performance helped change Ronnie Sr.’s attitude about his only child doing stand-up. So much so that he called his son and offered to take him to the club in a limo.
“It was the absolute best show. It was one of those shows where you step into a zone and you know early on that it’s going to be a good night. I knew within the first five minutes. I pointed out my dad, he got up. He received a standing ovation. It was the best thing, a moment I will never forget.
That evening also changed his father’s perspective on his Hollywood career. Eventually Ronnie Sr. fell ill and moved to Los Angeles where his son could care for him. By this time, the young Warner had gone through his own expansion, including acting, writing, producing, and directing. He had developed his own entertainment company. Ultimately, Warner said his father was proud of what his son was doing and had accomplished.
The Black Entertainment Network (BET) played an important role in Warner’s career. Early on, he was hired as a screenwriter for the network’s first two award shows. Its reputation with BET has remained solid, and the company has even brought forward the release of “Unfinished” to coincide with Oscars week, a time when movie production companies show what they believe to be their best films.
“I’m really super proud of that,” he said. “That’s why it ended up being released last week, and it was sort of a short notice for us. But no matter what, I wanted to make sure I paid homage to my roots, to my city native.
Warner said he still has friends and family in the area and recently visited Hillsborough, a town he loved to brag about and still cherish.
“Unfinished” is available for download on the BET+ streaming app. It is recommended for mature audiences as there is strong language and scary imagery.