Young Alumni Commissioning Project helps CVPA grad share her grandfather’s story through film


Award-winning composer and songwriter William (Bill) Salter is the subject of the feature-length documentary, Just the Two of Us, named after his Grammy Award-winning hit song. He is also the grandfather of the filmmaker and George Mason University alumna Jada Salter. 

Jada Salter (right), Bill Salter (middle right), and family. Photo provided.
Jada Salter (right), Bill Salter (middle right), and family. Photo provided.

Salter created the film after receiving a 2021-22 Young Alumni Commissioning Project (YACP) from Mason’s College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) and with encouragement from her professors as well as former classmate and executive producer on the film, Taylor Spears. Salter premiered the documentary at Mason on Feb. 3, as her 87-year-old grandfather watched remotely on Zoom.

“I really enjoyed the freedom of creating what I had envisioned in my head. I sat down [to write] my vision for the film and did not hold anything back,” said Salter, who majored in film and video studies with a concentration in editing.   

The application process for the YACP “happened overnight,” said Salter, who said she learned of the project the same day applications were due. “It’s all a blur now, but Taylor called me, and we spent all night just writing and writing trying to figure out the best way to describe this film that we had no idea how we were going to make.”  

Thanks to the commissioning project, 16 CVPA alumni have been granted awards anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000 in the past five years to support the creation of new artistic works in film, dance, visual art, music, and game design. 

Salter got the idea for the documentary after hearing Will Smith’s remake of the hit song that was originally performed by Bill Withers and written by her grandfather, Withers and Ralph MacDonald. She made a post on Tik Tok explaining her family’s history with the song, which gained a lot of attention. “Just the Two of Us” was simultaneously going viral on the social media app at the time. 

As a child, Salter wanted to be a singer, so her grandfather tried teaching her how to play the guitar. But she struggled to get the hang of it.  

“He told me ‘You don't have to be a singer. You don't have to be on stage directly. You can do something like me behind the scenes.’ Now I'm doing that and I'm very happy he gave me that advice,” said Salter, who transferred to Mason from Rutgers University in 2018 and graduated from Mason in December 2020. 

Although Salter’s film mainly focuses on her grandfather, who was born in Harlem, New York, in 1936, it also heavily features other family members and accomplished musicians, who impacted her grandfather’s life and career. 

Featured individuals include Salter’s ex-wife and Jada’s grandmother, Olive, and musicians including Dennis Collins. The film also includes footage of accomplished Motown artists recording and performing songs written by Salter and his partners. 

“I wanted to show just how much of a passion piece this film is to me; how it would honor my grandfather and his legacy,” said Salter. “I am his biggest fan, so I wanted to shed light on him and his work as not many people know who is responsible for so many songs that are listened to worldwide.” 

Following the screening at Mason, Salter spoke with Mason film professor Lisa Thrasher about the film. Salter said her film editing classes with faculty members Maura Ugarte and Amanda Kraus helped with her storytelling and script writing. 

“The best part of the film was seeing the love of her family and the way Jada conveyed how her beautiful family is a huge part of American history,” Thrasher said. 

Salter, who is currently a video producer at the U.S. Department of Justice, is brainstorming future projects including travel videos, more artists’ stories, and other professionals who have done groundbreaking work behind the scenes, “so they can get the shine they deserve,” she said.