Short Film World Premiere: 'Clayfist' Tackles Complex Social Issues with an Unflinching Eye

Sometimes a film comes along that feels so timely that it's almost painful to watch, like it speaks to the issues of here and now in a way that hits a little too close to home. Our here and now is the United States in the wake of the riots in Baltimore, and that film is Clayfist, which is premiering for the first time right here on No Film School. 

"The most important thing for me was that my perspective was an honest one. I felt a responsibility to tell a story that was relevant to what I was witnessing." -- Skyler Lawson

Directed by Skyler LawsonClayfist is an exploration of social issues that have been prevalent in the United States since the late 60s, but which have begun boiling to the surface in the past year. Every week, reports of unarmed black men being gunned down by police, of growing economic inequality, of a mental health system in decline, and a Veteran's Affairs department that can't provide adequate care after years of war. Clayfist encapsulates all of these issues and then some, but not in a way that preaches or proselytizes, but in a way that asks painful questions of the audience and doesn't offer any easy answers. 

What makes this film successful in its social impact, however, is not its broad scope, but the depth of the characters and the inherent complexity of the father/son relationship at the heart of the story. It's a startling reminder that these are real issues that affect real people.

We'll be sharing more about the making of Clayfist in an upcoming post (it was made on a shoestring budget with an older camera that is widely regarded as obsolete), but for now, I'd love to hear your thoughts about this film.     

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One of the best shorts you've posted!

May 27, 2015 at 3:25PM

Mustafa Johnson

Beautiful film. Very powerful.

May 27, 2015 at 3:31PM, Edited May 27, 3:31PM

Travis Calvert

Truly an amazing short, I was able to get the characters and their point of view without having to be told anything through exposition dialogue. It was also a very powerful moment having the son use what his father knew as "parenting" to help pull his father out of the situation. The underneath elements are there as well, if his son was not able to detain and control him, it was a very good possibility that the officer might have used deadly force, which might be what reinforced the son to not just call the cops. Neither to anyone's fault, because of the economical pressure that has been placed on this family which cycles back upon itself resorting into the fathers actions both past and present.

May 27, 2015 at 4:08PM

Gvickie Xiong

Only critique is (in the article) issues happening more so since the early 1600s ;), haha. But yes. Good post. Great post. Love it.

May 27, 2015 at 4:16PM

Ben Meredith

This really made me feel a lot - there were some especially powerful moments where the tension and suspense created by the visuals and great soundtrack really added emotional depth to the story. I really liked the cyclical elements of the father/son relationship. I wish the sound levels had been a tiny bit more consistent, and it seems like there were some focus issues, but otherwise this is a fantastic, well-made short.

May 27, 2015 at 8:20PM

Christian Druitt

Focus issues? Sound levels? You must be watching one of your own shorts, dude. Don't be a critic if your work is subpar.

May 28, 2015 at 10:22AM



I love the concept since I have personally seen loved ones in my family in a very dangerous mental state.

Hits home.

May 28, 2015 at 9:35AM


Interesting short, I am certainly curious to learn more about it, however, I have to admit...
I don't get it!
I understand the "mental health" side of the equation, but the story fails to engage me with regards to any "prevalent social issues", it would seem the film FF and ends before those elements are expounded. Maybe I'm just out of the loop, but the dead Blue Jay is completely lost on me.

May 29, 2015 at 6:16AM

Greg Akeson
Executive Producer

Maybe the blue jay represents the father/son relationship? It's a beautiful, flying bird, but it's dead and probably not from its own doing. Xavier and his dad could've had a beautiful, loving and supportive relationship, but the war hardened his dad and later the alcoholism and meds tore them further apart.

June 2, 2015 at 10:28AM


Aside from the expository dialogue this was a beautiful meditation on the underprivileged and invisible.  For me it's strength was its silence,  just sitting with these characters tell me much more then dialogue designed to inform or legitimize these realities. 

A crucifix perched next to a boxing poster reminds me of the contrast in American culture and value. Love and vengeance what a confusing cocktail.  This is my first post on NFS, not interested in entering debates regarding personal opinions, but for what it's worth I congratulate the filmmakers and everyone involved on this project. I hope we begin to see more challenging subjects like this one..  

May 29, 2015 at 11:29AM


Nice job. Here is what I gleaned without any dialogue or expensive props : We are in the 1970"s, dad is a Vietnam vet, mental illness obviously, drugs alcohol abuse, and the cop is probably gonna fire on the two.
you did a good enough job establishing that dad was a vet by the broken flag box - a very nice touch. so much so that I didn't need to be told by the son that "its not the war." Also, as soon as the son told the sister not to call the police, I immediately knew this was to avoid being victimized by the police. Not sure about the blue jay, that is, it didn't really do much to move the story along for ME. All and all, this is a great little film, touching on at least three different social issues without spoon feeding. nice job sir! One thing for future films: when a pistol is discharged in low light, you are gonna see a pronounced muzzle flash. It would have helped sell the gunfire even more than the foley alone. Im gonna think on a low budget solution for indirect muzzle flash (i.e.,we don't have to see the actual muzzle flash, if the pistol is not in clear view- as you filmed it. but would be nice to see some flash) GREAT FILM

June 3, 2015 at 5:59AM, Edited June 3, 5:59AM

eros hoagland
writer/director in training, DP, still photographer

Skyler did a fantastic job with this film - this article is how I learned of him - and he's now working on a feature. You can download his podcast at

February 4, 2016 at 7:23AM