An intimate scene from VAM Studio's new web series, Damaged Goods | Photos courtesy of VAM Studio

The first time I met Vincent Martell, the Chicago-based director and co-creator of the new web series Damaged Goods, I was struck by his presence. He carries himself with the sublime ease of someone who is certain about who he is, what he has to say, and how he’s going to share that with the world. He’s unapologetic, intentional, and pushing for the collective dreams of his community.

Some of this confidence stems from the success he’s had over the last three years as the founder of VAM STUDIO — a full-service production company launched in 2016 with the help of his life partner Jordan Phelps.

“VAM in its essence is based on community. The community, specifically within Chicago, has supported me and brought me up. I’ve made it my life’s mission to do that same work,” Martell told the TRiiBE.

Damaged Goods premieres Tuesday, March 26 at 9pm CST on YouTube. It’s centered around four creatives of color who are attempting to figure out their identities while surviving in Chicago. The web series is being co-distributed by VAM Studio and OTV | Open Television. Read our interview with Martell below.

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity)

How did VAM Studio manage the production of Damaged Goods? It’s much larger in scale than previous projects.

Vincent Martell: VAM is always willing to explore and take the risks no matter how big they may seem. As a Black filmmaker, it’s important for me to continue to push myself and create things that are bigger than myself. That’s what Damaged Goods is. It’s co-written by K.B Woodson, who’s my cousin, and Zak Payne, who is also the creator of a web series called Kissing Walls. Both are incredibly gay. That’s a thing we all have in common, and it’s a beautiful perspective that we share. When we created the script, we wanted to make sure that we had the freedom to just go there.

Do you think you can become comfortable with taking risks, or do you always have to sit within the tension and discomfort of pushing in a new way?

VM: I think it’s a bit of both. It’s incredibly terrifying to create content that is unapologetic, but I felt so incredibly safe throughout this process because of my support system and crew. I think part of my job is bringing on people who are incredibly talented and intelligent, and another huge part is trusting them with my vision. [Damaged Goods] executive producers are so incredibly supporting and nurturing – Sam Bailey and Fatimah Asghar from Brown Girls [web series], and Todd Reynolds. Also, I had an amazing director of photography to lean on, Hannah Welever. She, with me, built a crew that just wanted to create this [Damaged Goods series] with love, they knew the story and they loved what we were trying to do and I think that makes it so much easier.

Damaged Goods is about identity. Can you share a bit about your experiences and things that have shaped your identity?

VM: Women have a lot to do with my identity. Specifically, Black women have everything to do with my identity. As a gay Black man growing up in America, it’s incredibly difficult to figure out how to navigate the world in the most authentic way. Black women always supported and loved me and showed me that I could be my authentic self.

The University of Barcelona was another beautiful, a-ha moment for me. My mom scraped together [the money] to get me this opportunity to study abroad. I went to Barcelona. It was incredibly stressful because I was always super cautious about spending money because I didn’t have it. But I got enriched by a culture that was so vibrant and so incredibly beautiful. As a filmmaker of color, those are opportunities we don’t get.

Are you trying to bring public awareness to the issues that marginalized individuals face or are you trying to connect to people who’ve lived similar experiences?

VM: I make my work for my community. I’m incredibly intentional about that. Damaged Goods is not a series for everyone. It’s going to piss off a lot of people, because I’m specifically speaking to marginalized people and creatives of color and I’m very unapologetic about that.

Vincent Martell
I think there’s something valuable in staying true to who you are and the audience you’re serving.

VM: When you stay true to yourself, you create more authentic art. The thing I’m most excited about with Damaged Goods is the authenticity of it.

How did the completion of this project change your relationship with yourself and your dreams?

VM: Damaged Goods has inspired me to think even bigger than I have, and to manifest even bigger productions for my team. That’s why I hustle so hard. It’s not just me and my dreams. It’s all of our dreams, collectively.

Information about screening events can be found on the Damaged Goods Website.