Xavier Burgin (a.k.a. @XLNB) speaks on storytelling and networking via social media
Who is Xavier Burgin? If you follow him on Twitter at @XLNB, you've probably been laughing at his stories for a while now. If you haven't read #TinaAndTheGucciFlipFlop, #TariqTheCheat, and #ThePattiPat, I encourage you to do so immediately. His long form twitter stories have gotten him featured on media outlets such as Buzzfeed, Global Grind, and Distractify. He's also one of the most renowned users of Carlton memes on Twitter.
I should also mention that Xavier is a graduate of USC's School of Cinematic Arts for TV & film production with films that have been accepted into The American Black Film Festival, HBO's Short Film Competition, and the Raindance Film Festival. He's also been accepted into Sundance's Screenwriting Lab.
X's stories catch on with people because of his conversational tone, the way he uses familiar memes and gifs to contextualize the plot, and his innate sense of comedic timing. They've caught on to the extent that he's currently sitting at over 57,000 Twitter followers, and counting.
Recently, I chopped it up with X to get more insight into his journey as a storyteller, how he's been able to see exponential social media growth, advice for creatives looking to get their thoughts out there, and more.
Your Twitter following has grown exponentially, thanks in no small part to the Twitter team highlighting you several times on their "Moments" tab. How did it feel to see that happen?
“It was dope to see something like that happen. It was very unexpected, but very appreciated. It’s nice, as a filmmaker and as an artist, to see your work get recognized in any way. I’ve been trying to build on that, to get myself out there and let people see what I’m doing. I want people to know that I can make great, relevant stories on twitter, but I can also do this on a bigger level. You always need to be building up to the next thing.
“A lot of times, it’s the thing that you’re not checking for as much that does amazing numbers. When I got on there and told my homegirl’s story, I just thought it was funny and wanted to share. I got on twitter at that point for my storytelling, to keep my wit and ability as sharp as possible. I definitely wasn’t expecting it to get picked up as the next social media phenomenon or anything like that. But, it was great to see it happen.
Are all of the stories you've told on Twitter 100% true?
“Every story I tell is true. I didn’t put out anybody’s real name, but everything actually happened. Whenever I tell a story in which I’m not the main character, I always ask them first. If they say yes, I change the name. If they say no, I back off. That’s why, when people ask me questions like, 'what did she look like,' or 'did y’all get it in,' I don’t answer those questions. I want to respect the people whose stories I am telling.”
You seem to blend comedic value with culturally relevant messages in your stories. How do you effectively balance the two?
“For me specifically, there’s always intent to anything. Every story has a message or a takeaway. As the filmmaker or artist, you either ingrain that message, or unknowingly create one that people run with. I’m never going to beat anybody over the head with a message. People don’t like that. I want to keep it as subtle as possible. If you pick up on it, that’s great. I’m happy.
When I think of a story and the people, all I’m thinking about is if this story is emotionally relevant. What stories will be hilarious? What stories will people enjoy? After people are entertained, then you can hit people with something honest and real. Then it will really resonate. Make people cry with laughter, then hit them with something that makes them think. It will resonate.”
"Make people cry with laughter, then hit them with something that makes them think. It will resonate."
In a sense, you're creating a different type of screenplay when you tell stories on Twitter. How do you approach storytelling on social media, as opposed to script writing?
“In twitter form, there are a lot of parallels. I can take stories that I’ve done and easily put them into script form. There are a lot of differences in the mediums. In the written medium, I can be in the character’s head. I can give you more of their thoughts. In the visual medium, it’s all about what you see. In a script, what the characters are thinking has to be conveyed visually or orally.
With Tina And The Gucci Flip Flop, I’m trying to figure out how to translate that. Some things aren’t easily translatable. For example, I can’t translate a picture of Alfonso Ribeiro. It just doesn’t work like that. There has to be some way it can be made applicable to a visual medium. As a storyteller I have to figure that out.
In the film mode, I’m more interested in telling stories in a way that is emotionally fulfilling. Twitter is more based on giving people something funny. I’m always going to be able to tell a message in any medium, but I also need to make sure that my audience is happy and wants to hear more.”
You call your film company Que The Lights - a connection to the fact that you crossed Omega Psi Phi. Do you have any plans to get into plots with Greek connections moving forward?
“That name was created right when I was getting on the yard. My interest in film just correlated. I wanted people to get a feel for both aspects of me. It’s more of a play on words than anything else. It’s been with me for so long, and it signifies where I come from. It also has sentimental meaning to me. It reminds me of how far I’ve come and how hard I’ve worked over the past five years.”
If you were talking to complete stranger who was entirely unfamiliar with what Twitter is, how would you describe it?
“I would describe Twitter as people spewing out their brainwaves, to a degree. Putting ideas and thoughts out there. It’s a flow of information. You can pick out different stuff that interests you, and interact with other folk who you vibe with. I would tell my old folks that Twitter is like doing Facebook statuses all the time, even though that’s not the case.”
You already have well over 100,000 tweets and counting. Are those hours spent on social media worth it, to you? How do you quantify that?
“Absolutely. Professionally, this platform can give me a way to self promote and self actualize myself to the people who are out there. Back in the day, as a filmmaker you had to go to festivals and other events to get yourself out there. That’s still very valid, but in addition to that I can get support the grassroots way. I can meet people and get them to know who I am, and build a huge fan base. Then, when I submit my work I can already show that I have people who believe in my work and want to see my output. If you haven’t cultivated an audience, and people who want to see that, then what are you doing? People enjoy other people who are interesting.
Personally, it has opened up my eyes and allowed me, as a person of color, to really understand what I’m going through, what we are going through, and what matters to us. It’s helping me to grow, and become more educated, intellectualized, and socially conscious. I didn’t get a lot of this when I was in college. Meeting with these people, talking to these people, especially women of color, has given me knowledge I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else. It’s made me a more well rounded person who understands issues, and I feel blessed that it has allowed me to do so.
Twitter is based on who you choose to follow and interact with. You can have a terrible time if you’re always angry and cultivate people around you who echo that; you go into a rabbit hole that is non-knowledgeable and anti-intellectual, with ideas that are far from the truth. Or, you can flip it and be around people who want to learn and grow, and grow with them.
Is it daunting to think about how much agency you have to shape your image on social media?
“I like it. I enjoy the fact that I have a semblance of power to direct my own life and where it will go. On a micro level, that’s great. I want to direct and put out these films. I want you to not only understand these films, but understand me as a person. That way you can understand what the film is conveying, and also understand what the filmmaker is conveying.
When trying to build the personality of who you are to your audience, you also have to be valuable. Take Ava DuVernay, who directed Selma among an array of other notable films. She is brilliant because not only is she making brilliant films, but she’s also taking the time to cultivate who she is, and what she wants to be seen as to her audience. That makes a huge difference in how people see you. All filmmakers should be doing this – taking control of our images and crafting it into what we want them to say to other individuals. If you don’t, folks will craft their idea of you anyways.”
"Use social media as a means to get your art out."
Do you have any advice for those looking to use social media as a means to facilitate their career or life goals?
“Specifically for artists, my absolute advice is to use social media as a medium to get your art out. You need for people to see this stuff, and you need to keep working at it over and over again. Put it out there. Whether or not you build an audience is up to you. It might build quickly, it might build slowly. Regardless, put your stuff out there. It forces you to keep improving, and as you start to gain notoriety it will push you to get better and better. If you are a writer, filmmaker, storyteller, there’s no reason all these things you’re trying to push can’t be on a space where people can consume it. At the end of the day, you want that notoriety. What matters first and foremost is becoming a better artist or writer.
Use social media in some way to push your art, which will push you to become better.”
Keep up with @XLNB via Twitter, and check out his film company at QueTheLights.com.