Were you faced with any opposition from family and friends?
Absolutely… And being from Harlem, my community, my family, no one has taken this step to make a film. So, a lot of times it was looked at as a dream and not a goal. People looked at me like I was crazy. I quit a very good job to pursue this passion and when we had some setbacks people really thought I made the wrong choice, and that’s when I started to get the ‘I told you so’s…’ But, I was very big on staying self-sufficient even as I pursued this dream. So, I took on freelance work and did whatever I could so I could rely on myself and that way those opinions don’t carry that much weight, especially, when they’re not the one’s supporting you financially. When you’re supporting yourself financially it’s easier to ignore the naysayers.
As a first-time film director, how were you able to attach such heavy hitters to the movie?
The script! I’ve always been overwhelmed by the response the script has gotten. I love it, I’m proud of it, and I feel like I put my all into it. But, you never know if people are going to appreciate or respect your material. When these heavyweight actors with such impressive resumes would read my script and be floored by it, I would be floored by the response. It was an organic thing. Black actors— actors in general—speak to each other. They would read the script and see their friends and colleagues for roles and say, ‘Have you considered someone for this role?’ and it just snowballed from there.
What would you tell a new director in search of his dream cast?
I would tell them to create something that speaks to the talent, and then they’ll work for the work and not just for the pay. These actors that are in this film got paid a fraction of what they are worth. I wont give out specific numbers, but it would be considered minimum wage compared to what they normally get. They took it because the role spoke to them and they wanted to be a part of the project. I didn’t know that was going to happen. After I gave them the script, I would be somewhat bashful about the second conversation—the money conversation. By the time I got to the conversation, most already said, ‘I know there is no real budget so don’t worry about it, we’ll work it out. I want to do it.’ When you start hearing stuff like that, it gives you confidence to reach out to other actors because then you can say we don’t have a lot of money, but we have these actors attached already. Just like any other business, it’s competitive. You don’t want your colleagues and contemporaries to grab a project that can grow really big and you turned it down because of money, when in turn adding this to your resume might lead to a lot more money down the road.
Once shooting started, how long did it take?
It took four years. We had a lapse in funding. We secured half of the funding, and we had a commitment for the other half, but midway through production that investor pulled out. Regardless of the commitment and the contracts being signed, he said he just couldn’t do it. It left us all in a tough space, but it went back to us refusing to give up, and the next few years, we went out and fought to raise the money. Finally, we found that angel investor who put in the finishing funds, and we were able to get it wrapped (as far as shooting). Since then, we’ve had to secure additional funding to get it in film festivals, get it distributed, and market the film. It’s important for all filmmakers to know that once you get it shot or in the can, it’s still not done. And if that’s all you budgeted for, then the budget is incomplete. When you’re budgeting for a film, you don’t just budget for how much it cost to shoot and edit the project. You budget for everything it takes to get it out as an independent film; I learned this the hard way.