Dirty Hands

After accidentally killing a trespasser and burying the body in his Brooklyn Community Garden—Erroll finds himself haunted by his past and his simple life begins to unravel.

  • Travis L Burgess
    Writer, Hayseed
  • Project Type:
  • Genres:
    Horror, Mystery, Thriller
  • Number of Pages:
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Language:
  • First-time Screenwriter:
  • Student Project:
Writer Biography - Travis L Burgess

Travis Burgess has developed award-winning feature films, screenplays, and documentaries with nearly fifteen years of experience as a writer, director, and producer. In 2021, he made his feature directorial debut with a whodunnit mystery feature film called Hayseed.

In 2010, he joined Coalition Films and served as a creative executive. During his tenure, he traveled with director Jeremy Xido (Cabula6) and Coalition Films to Angola, Africa, to produce the feature-length documentary titled Death Metal Angola. The film first gained attention at DOC NYC, New York’s premier documentary festival, and went on to play at over sixty festivals around the world. The Vladar Company acquired Death Metal Angola, and it had a theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles.

In 2014, Burgess co-produced The Preppie Connection, which premiered at the Hamptons International Film Festival and was released by IFC Films. The film was successful in recouping its investment and now is in overages. Previously, Burgess was an associate producer for CliffsNotes Films, an interactive series of animated short films based on the CliffsNotes study guides—Mark Burnett (Survivor, Shark Tank) produced the series. CliffsNotes received nominations for Best Animated Web Series, Best Interactive Social Media Experience at IAWTV Awards, and Best Branded Entertainment at The Streamy’s.

His screenplay, Dirty Hands, was selected as a finalist in the New Orleans Film Festival 2019 Screenplay Competition. Also, Dirty Hands was a top ten finalist in the 2019 Stage32 “New Blood” competition. His script for Hayseed was Second Rounder at the 2020 Austin Film Festival, a finalist at the 2020 Rhode Island International, and 2021 Atlanta Film Festivals.

For nearly ten years, Burgess worked with the tremendously talented screenwriters Ashley Rudden and Joseph Castelo, honing his skills as a writer. Together, they wrote UPSTATE, a crime-thriller that Park Pictures optioned.

Burgess lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Melissa, and their twin sons.

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Writer Statement

I grew up in a predominately white town, attended white schools, and socialized in a stark all-white culture. Over the years, after leaving my hometown, I've attempted to understand who I am in the world and whom I am not—listening to whatever raised my emotional antennas with the intention of forming my deeper values. Within this, I've tried to understand our nation's systematic oppression and institutionalized racism.

No one has shaped my views on race more than the great James Baldwin. In 1962 he wrote, "Whatever white people do not know about (us) reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves." I can continue to educate myself, but I'll never fully understand the kind of racial trauma and the history people of color carry around with them. I do know this; racism is a poison to the soul. Full stop.

In 2009, I moved to a historically African-American neighborhood in Brooklyn between Brownsville and East New York. I was Joel, the character in my screenplay—awkwardly attempting to fit in, trying not to be the tiptoeing gentrifier, or worse, an intruder. Just around the corner from my apartment was a charming community garden. I would pass by it daily on my way to the train. Then, one day, I stepped inside to discover a little oasis. A few locals were growing a variety of peppers, tomato plants, and herbs. Others had designated flower boxes with beautiful tea shrubs. A chain-link fence was all that separated this sanctuary from the mean streets outside. Soon, I was volunteering at the garden, which gave me an escape from a turbulent time in my life and fellowship when I didn't know anyone.

During that period, I began to think that the past, present, and future for many people of color may coexist simultaneously. And for many, their experiences are rooted in historical violence and a lack of fundamental freedoms. It's then easy to understand how a lineage of such inequality might constitute a collective PTSD. Ultimately, I tried to evaluate what it'd be like living with this ongoing threat and how at any moment, the advances made could deteriorate because of our society's instability.

I wrote what was to become the first outline for DIRTY HANDS during this time while volunteering, basing some of the characters on my newly found friends and neighbors. This idea of trauma, a collective PTSD, informed the writing of my screenplay's hero Erroll Bolden—a retired MTA motorman who now spends his days working in his community garden. In the story, Erroll understands the ephemeral nature of our society. And similarly, in botany, a plant needs generations—only growing during favorable periods, passing the unfavorable periods in the form of seeds. So Erroll is a conservationist for his neighborhood and a protector of its young residents. But he has a secret buried deep in his past, and a new threat may uproot his way of life.

We're in a curious moment in our culture where who tells which story is a large part of the conversation. I'm self-aware and understand I'm not uniquely qualified to tell Erroll's story. I acknowledge the criticism I'll inevitably open myself up to by telling this specific story. For all of this, I know it's my obligation to be thoughtful when making this film. I must surround myself with a qualified and diverse team, talent who will bring their ideas, beliefs, and experiences, and storytellers who want to make a great film because, ultimately, it's the hard work of hundreds of people who make a movie. I can approach this project from my unique perspective as a filmmaker and a writer who's lived in the same neighborhood. I've shopped at the same bodegas, washed my clothes in the same laundromats, and became a friend of a community garden just like the one in the script. I want to show the community that took me in and helped me (when I needed it most) in the best way I can. From the beginning, my goal has been to tell the most honest story possible—one with grit and heart. DIRTY HANDS is a love letter to my old neighborhood.