This has been my daily mantra for the past two weeks. I’m in the middle of my first director for hire project and it is a dream come true in many ways. It is merging my two favorite loves: sports and film. Before considering that I’m merging these two loves, the simple fact that I can write director for hire is a huge blessing. There are many incredibly talented and hard working filmmakers out there looking for a chance to be hired solely as a director where that opportunity has alluded them to his point. I’m aware of this and I’m humbled and thankful for the opportunity. This chance has also been a big learning experience that will only make me better.
The main lesson I’ve learned is the demand to be creative for things behind the scenes. I would say that 99% of the time our creativity is focused solely on what we see on the screen. I’m reminded going through this process that you need just as much creativity on the logistical side to even have a chance at being creative on the artistic side. This is especially true in work for hire because there are so many more variables that are out of your control that you still have to manage. You have contractual obligations. There are accounting departments. There could be insurance complications you have to work through. All of these factors demand a creative approach to negotiate in a successful manner. You have to be able to assess the situation, detail your options and make a decisive choice. Nobody is gonna care that you have to get insurance from three different places. No one watching your film is gonna care how you logistically navigated through a production day. The only thing the audience wants is entertainment and education. That is it. The one silver lining is these are skills that make you a strong director on the artistically as well. The key is understanding that your job isn’t limited to the fun stuff.
Fortunately, I surrounded myself with a really good team that is dedicated to making this project the best it can be. This fact isn’t a new discovery for me, but rather an affirmation of how important it is to collaborate with good natured, talented and hard working people. It doesn’t matter if you’re directing a work for hire, a personal passion project or a random YouTube video. Make sure that your team is strong and is dedicated to bringing your full vision to life. Good luck.
So I just ran across a picture of mine when I must have been three or four years old. In the picture I’m holding a wiffle ball bat and wearing a Yankees helmet (in the house mind you). Baseball is my number one love. It is the first thing that I fell for and it is the first thing that sparked my imagination. Looking at this picture I remembered the first daydream I ever had. I’m about to embarrass myself, but I don’t care. When I was about six years old I made my mom buy me a catcher’s mask. I loved catchers. They were the dopest players on the field because they had all of the catcher’s gear, but the mask was my favorite. I would always guess if the catcher had a mustache or not when I would watch the game. If he had a mustache I hated him. I think I was drawn to the mask because I was painfully shy as a kid and I felt like you could hide behind it. I think that is the main reason why I loved Darth Vader as a kid (I also prefer villains over heros, but that is a different blog post). Anyway, I had this catcher’s mask. I had a favorite vest that was grey, blue and red. And of course I had my Yankees hat and baseball glove. So every afternoon I would drag my babysitter Kim to the park. I wouldn’t play with the other kids though. I wore my vest backwards like a chest protector, put on my mask, put on my glove and imagine I was the catcher for the Yankees and play a full blown game…by myself. So here I am squatting down and calling balls and strikes with a pitcher, hitter and umpire who didn’t exist. I would go to the bench when my team was up at bat. I can’t imagine what I looked like to the other kids. I know Kim sat far away from me in the park. I won the World Series every afternoon. I really thought at the time that I was gonna play in the major leagues, but what I didn’t realize was that I was building the foundation for the love that came into my life later on: film. I wouldn’t trade those games in for anything. It made me who I am. I still think I’m a champion. I owe it to my younger self to never let that dream go.
I’ve had a long, but incredible week. That doesn’t happen very much. Long weeks have become the norm, but to have such an affirming, inspiring, exciting and eye opening one certainly is not. There were a lot of events and media coverage of Spike’s new film Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. For those that don’t know, I served as the editor on it. I was fortunate to be a part of some of this week’s events and it has been humbling. I have been able to meet and reconnect with some wonderful, talented people while also forging some new relationships. I’ve also had the opportunity to share all of our hard work with the world, which is amazing.
This week was also special because I witnessed my close friend Asaf Ganot’s New York Fashion Week show for his fall/winter collection. Asaf asked me to shoot some backstage footage of the event. The creative energy and intensity was inspiring. It was educational. It set a standard. I’ve seen Asaf grow from a college student athlete to a professional basketball player to an innovative force in the fashion industry.
These moments are a great reminder of something that gets lost in the shuffle. The accomplishments and adulation are tremendous. It is why people pursue their passions, but the bigger thing may be the journey. I’ve reflected quite a lot this week and marveled at how the process has produced so many great things on so many levels. It makes us better people. It makes us better artists. It fosters larger communities comprised of people of all backgrounds and personal stories. The journey is the big payoff and I’m appreciative that this week reminded me of that.
As all of you know, the grand jury’s decision on the Michael Brown case was announced a few days ago. It was devastating, but expected. I believe Officer Darren Wilson murdered Michael Brown. I believe Darren Wilson should be behind bars. My beliefs have no bearing on his fate or that of Michael’s family. I also believe that I have a responsibility to do something about this injustice. Some have taken to the streets and some have taken to social media. I must take it to film. And I don’t mean making a movie about the case (of course that is always an option). This decision is a reminder of what my role is as a filmmaker. My intent is to question, challenge and engage mass audiences. My role as a director is to depict humanity in all of its honesty, complexity, beauty and conflict. And to be clear, I do not just mean for black people. I have had the privilege to share experiences with all types of people both domestically and internationally. I am by no means a cultural expert, but my world view is shaped by relationships with many great people and some not so great people. With that said, I refuse to stereotype and exploit who we are, but I do accept presenting the various facets of who we are. I assume the responsibility of wielding this influence with great care. I want to use my talents in a way that combat damaging depictions of people in mainstream media. I want to explore why people behave the way they do with the hopes of others getting a better understanding of one another. I want the world to be better and my contribution is through this dope medium of film. I hope you all continue to have a safe and wonderful holiday weekend. Let’s strive to be better.
Omar and I talking after the screening for the Brooklyn episode of “Weekend Fix.”
There are times when you meet a person and you know instantly they’re going to have a big impact on your life for a long time. Omar Benson Miller is one of those people. I had the pleasure of working with Big O on the set of Miracle at St. Anna in Italy back in 2007. With the position I held on set, I was able to work with Omar pretty intimately so a friendship was born away from the camera. The things that impress me the most about him is his passion for the craft, his business sense, intelligence and humor. Simply put, Omar is the total package.
I had a chance to attend a screening for an episode of Omar’s new show on the Esquire Network entitled “Weekend Fix.” It is a dope travel show for millennials. Omar and his friend Andres, travel the country and build their weekend itineraries through social media interaction. You can see an episode of it here. What I took the most out of the viewing was how much effort and dedication Omar put into seeing his vision executed and distributed. We worked together on a pilot for another show that ran into a lot of roadblocks along the way. It had great potential, but the timing and situation wasn’t right. To see him push through that setback and end up with something just as strong with the full commitment from an up and coming network is inspiring. The room for the screening was packed and the positive energy was evident. Omar didn’t allow his creative spirit to be deterred and he ended up with a fantastic product with cherished experience. His perseverance has now put him in a position where he can build a strong brand AND pursue even greater artistic endeavors. It just goes to show that character is just as important as talent. Salute and congrats to Big O.
I hope this post finds you all well. With the great fortune that I’ve had professionally over the last year; I wanted to share some of the things I have learned because I believe it can make all of us better filmmakers, artists and people. As some of you may know, my career has taken a major turn over the last year. Since last October, I have served as one of Spike Lee’s editors on numerous projects including “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus,” “Katt Williams: Priceless” and most recently “What Is The Triangle? A Spike Lee Orange and Blue Skies Joint.” What I thought would be awesome to discuss is the ways in which you can take something that is good and turn it into something better, even great. I’m not offering a guarantee of course, but I am dropping a challenge. Will you do the things necessary to squeeze everything out of your project and yourself? This challenge isn’t just for you, but myself as well. Lord knows, I need to get better with every project. Let’s see where we end up.
I used to believe that being great was achievable strictly on talent. You are either born with the ability to be great or you’re not. I’ve realized in the past year that this is only one piece of a much larger puzzle. The first lesson learned is the sheer amount of labor and commitment it takes to maximize whatever it is you’re working on. You can never be satisfied in the development process. You have to be meticulous and honest. Honest in the sense that if something isn’t working you can’t be married to it. You have to be willing to find a better solution and grind away until you find one.
One example is when I cut “Katt Williams: Priceless.” Spike shot with eight cameras so the options were plenty. Being a young editor, working on my first project with so many cameras and working on a comedy special my natural tendency was to think on a macro level. What camera angle is the best for this part of the show and how long do I stay on it to help set up and deliver a joke? That makes sense right? Well, I quickly learned screening with Spike that you had to think on a Macro AND Micro level. What is going on in the corners of the frame, what is going on with the camera movement, how many times have we seen this angle in this amount of time. All of these factors mattered when making a decision on what we were going to see on the screen. It took a couple weeks repeatedly looking at the SMALL things before we arrived at a point where we exhausted all of the available footage. Looking back on it, I did a pretty good job at the beginning, but that meticulous attention to detail is what made it way better.
We all need to ask ourselves, have I done enough to make this as strong as this can be. Have I committed to it enough? Have I given myself enough TIME to see it all the way through? These are critical things we have to ask ourselves while we’re thinking about visual strategies, budgets, marketing, fame and fortune. Have you thought about them enough?
Let me know what you think in the comments. I would love to hear from you all.
“What we can tell you is that it’s an artistic, cinematic experience by a genius movie director and completely open to interpretation. Suffice to say in this film, which is beautifully shot by Dan Patterson, meticulously edited by Randy Wilkins and wonderfully scored, its “less sacrilegious to drink blood, than to spill it….”
– Black Enterprise, June 2014
What a journey the last ten months have been for me. Last August, I was an assistant editor working feverishly on Spike Lee’s Mike Tyson Undisputed Truth while working equally as hard on a Seed and Spark crowdfunding campaign to raise money for our web series Docket 32357. Fast forward to today and I am the editor on Spike’s new film Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, while our web series has premiered online (see it here) receiving wonderful feedback from the public. I feel like I’ve matured by ten years in ten months. I can’t really describe what I’m feeling at the moment because I am still in the middle of a whirlwind. I never thought my name would be mentioned in a film review by Black Enterprise for editing a legend’s film. I quote honestly never thought I would create web based material allowing folks to binge watch a story that I love so much. It just goes to show how far persistence, hard work and commitment can get you. I hope the trend continues upward. I want to increase my impact and I want to inspire. I want to be a standard for artists and the general public. I feel really good about things right now and I feel even better that I’m surrounded by wonderfully talented people who push me every day. I hope you all get a chance to check out Da Sweet Blood of Jesus when it hits theaters and check out the Docket 32357 Web Series now!