Spike Lee Was My Hero: Losing My Religion...The 1st Draft

Posted On Tuesday, November 26, 2013

One thing that damn near no one knew about me til a minute ago is I ALWAYS wanted to be a director. I remember the 1st time I got that jones, it was back in '87, I was dolo at the movie theater down 16th & Market (back in the day when you could get robbed down 16th & Market) and I saw Spike Lee's "School Daze." I had snuck and watched Spike's 1st flick "She's Gotta Have It" numerous times (I was only 11 when it 1st dropped so moms didn't want me peeping all the sex scenes) but it didn't have the same effect that "School Daze" had on me. "School Daze" not only sparked my interest in film making but it also sparked my interest in attending a HBCU. The thing that really got me was the way Spike was able to influence me the same way hip hop did. I've always told anyone who would listen, that I believe that Spike Lee was just as important to late 80's, early 90's hip hop as NWA and Public Enemy were. Spike was able to use his camera the same MC's used their mics to talk about the social issues that were going on in our communities and that’s what I wanted to do...influence folk. The only problem was, a 13 year old getting loot to buy a camera and make movies seemed even crazier then a 13 year old finding a studio to make beats and record vocals. (remember this is ’87 LOOOOONG before Fruity Loops & Garage Band! Hell, a TR 808 drum machine was $3,000! And that was a lil more then what my weekly allowance would pay for.  Nowadays you buy a $350 ipad mini & you got a studio!) But thanks to my peoples Marv and Cool DJ Frank I met my dude Hollis who rested out West Philly who had a home studio that he let us use for next to nuthin' so that whole finding a studio to make beats actually came to fruition. And with that chance meeting with Hollis, my film making dreams went right out the window, cause from that point on I was a producer and nuthin’ else. 

See for me, I never wanted to be a jack of all trades and a master of none. If I was just “aiight” in something, I stopped doing it cause I wanted to be the best at whatever I did. I used to rhyme, used to hoop, used to DJ, used to break, used to draw and do graf but I was just aiight. So I figured, why waste my time trying to get better at those things when I was able to see that I was never gonna be the next Isiah Thomas, Kool G. Rap, Crazy Legs or Bua when I could use that time sharpening my production skills. So, fast forward 23 years and me and Fanat are finishing up his debut album “Right Back At It” and it’s time to get some promo flicks done and some video shot and the prices cats are throwing at us were mind blowing to the point I’m thinking, if I gotta pay $1,000 for one video I might as well cop a Canon T2i for $1,000 and shoot as many videos as I want. And thanks to wifey’s blessing, that’s exactly what I did. Now the only problem was…how the hell do you shoot a video? But anyone who knows me knows that one of my mottos is “no excuses.” See, I grew up in an era where there was no “Scratch Academy” to learn how to DJ or Ski Beatz Machine classes or DVD’s you could buy to teach you how to use the ASR-10 or MPC. In my day you had to teach yourself. Me and Cool DJ Frank learned how to DJ by watching Krush Groove, Beat Street and hip hop videos and we tried to emulate what those DJ’s were doing. So I figured I'd do the exact same thing with this directing game. I started spending hours watching videos from artists I dug, writing down the scenes I liked and then I raided my DVD collection and started watching all of the movies I loved with the director’s comments on. I subscribed to American Cinematographer magazine and downloaded any and every book I could find on the film game. (BTW, "Save The Cat" is like The Source back in the 90's if you wanna be in this film game) And then one cold winter night, we hit the streets of DC to shoot my first video for Fanat’s "Renaissance Musician" and even though it's a rough video, it was my first time being behind the camera...directing. And don't even get me started on the million dollar question which is, how am I going to edit this video, that I don't know how to shoot in the first place? 

It’s funny cause I always hear most creative folk say they HATED their first beat, film, painting, rhyme, etc. but to this day I LOVE this video! I’m sure a film professor or even a film student would tear this video apart from the lighting to some of the spacing but for a dude who never filmed anything in his life, I felt like I should’ve at least won a B.E.T. Award for this jawn! From that video, came me taking a trip up 95 to Philly to shoot the video for "Prudence" for my homegirl Viral Audio, two short videos for me & StressWon’s "Stress" and Jay Rugga’s "Money Got Lost." Since I was still producing for over 10 different groups, (yup, you read that right over 10) I started to get frustrated cause I didn’t have as much time to shoot. But ya’ll know me, no excuses…so since there were always artists at my crib in the lab recording, I decided to start a video series called “The Process” which basically breaks down each of these artist’s process of writing their rhymes, song, poetry, etc.


Then one day, my dude Leonard hits me up telling me about DC Shorts, a free film festival in DC. Did this dude just say FREE?!?!? So of course, me and wifey hit it up and after the first day of conferences I had already made up my mind that next year I wouldn’t just be attending DC Shorts next year, I’d be coming back as a participant. Before this festival, I had never heard of a “short film.” All I knew about was the 90+ minute films you pay $12 to see in the theaters. But during the festival, I was watching shorts they were anywhere from 5 minutes to 20 minutes, and I thought…I can do that. In my mind writing a script for a 90+ minute film was too intimidating. Especially for someone who’s never taken a writing class in his life but I mos def felt like I could write and direct something that was gonna be 10 minutes...yeah, I could do that.

So, ya’ll know me, if you can’t afford a writer’s class what’s the next best thing to do? I went online and downloaded scripts for “Pulp Fiction” and “Django Unchained” (I’m a HUGE Tarrentino dude) and I would watch the movie, while following along with the script to learn the basics of screen writing. I had an idea in my head for a minute for a movie called “Losing My Religion” loosely based off of me and my dude Darnyle, so I figured there’s no better time then the present to test out my pen game. So after 3 days of doing nuthin' but writing, I had the 1st draft of the script done at 25 pages. The only problem was to submit the script to DC Shorts, it had to be 12 pages! So now I was challenged with deading half of my script without losing any of the dope content. But after editing it, I realized there was a lot of fat to trim off so the final script was dope to me. Now, the key word in that sentence was “me” cause no one else had read the script. So I had to get a copy to my Goon Squad (I call 'em that cause right before Coach Chaney "resigned" from Temple he said he needed more "goons" on the court to knock people on their ass...and that's what I want from the people in my circle...I don't want ANY "yes men", I want folk who will knock me off my high horse quick, fast in a hurry) who are 5 folk who are in my circle that will tell you the absolute 100% honest to God truth sparing no feelings at all and that’s what I needed before submitting my first script to this festival. A couple of hours after sending it out, it was unanimous, EVERYONE of ‘em LOVED it! So with my Goon Squad's approval, I felt REAL good about my chances of being one of the 8 finalist outta 100’s to make it into the festival. I was told I’d get an email by July 1st and DC Shorts was on point cause on the 1st I damn sure had an email, but it wasn't the email I wanted to get. As soon as I saw the whole “thanks for your submission to DC Shorts BUT…” I was done. I knew my script didn't make the cut.

I didn’t even bother to read the feedback on my script for a good week. To be honest, I didn’t care what it said. I’m a VERY black and white person, either you won or you lost…I’ve never been one who cared about anything else and since I didn't win, I didn't care about much else. A couple of weeks later, I decided to check out what these cats had to say about my script and when I peeped that I got a 91 (one judge actually rated it a 100 and the other one rated it a 82) I was at a loss for words. 90% of me was pissed like "I got a f-cking 91 and I didn’t get in?!?!?!" The other 10% was like…damn, a 91 is pretty good for the 1st script written by a dude who doesn’t know how to write scripts. My wife was telling me what a huge accomplishment this was for me but I felt like I was Nick Anderson at the free throw line back in the ’95 NBA Finals. For the next 3 months, I didn’t think about the film game at all. I was 100% back in my music bag doing beats and finishing up cat's albums. But about a month ago I got an idea for a new script called “Teach For America”...so I started writing. Then a week ago, I got an idea for another script called “Rainy Day Money”...and I started writing. So now I’m back in effect on my screen writing jawn and I'm REAL focused. I'm now cool with the fact that I didn't come out the gates blazing like Michel Carter-Willimas did in his first game as a Sixer. But that doesn’t mean I’m gonna be the Harold Miner of the film game either. I don’t know what script I’m gonna start shooting first, but my lil sis has been on me to keep submitting them to different film festivals and for the longest  time I was like “naw” but right about now, I’m in it to win it like my dude Hollis would say. I’m mos def gonna be documenting the “process” of shooting my first short here and prayerfully ya’ll will rock with me and support on this journey cause it’s gonna be just that…a journey.

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