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Exclusive interview with Deon Taylor, director of SUPREMACY

Deon Taylor, director of the move, SUPREMACY
Deon Taylor, director of the move, SUPREMACY
Deon Taylor

Director Deon Taylor brings us his thrilling drama, SUPREMACY, starring Danny Glover and Joe Anderson, along with a stellar supporting cast, had it’s world premiere at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival.

SUPREMACY, tells the story of a high ranking Aryan Brotherhood gang member named Garrett Tully, who is released from Pelican Bay, a maximum security prison, after being held for 14 years in solitary confinement. Upon release he is met by a woman named, Doreen Lesser, a groupie of sorts who is absolutely out of her mind. Along the way to their brotherhood meeting point, things go awry, and Tully makes some really bad decisions. Leading them to make the decision to take a black family hostage, only to find the family they picked is of an ex-con, Mr. Walker, with a very interesting family orientation, and a quick whit. We watch as the dynamics between captor and captive change, and life changing decisions are made.

SUPREMACY, is a movie that, if you allow yourself to be open, and understand that racism isn't just a white person problem, will hit your hot buttons regardless of what ethnicity you are. Deon takes on some very sensitive subject matter, with both grit and grace.

Shot on 16mm and with a background in making horror movies, Deon brings us a real life suspenseful horror story that showcases decisions, mistakes, misgivings, regret, and a wide range of human emotions, as well as actions, while tackling racism in all communities. That is no small feat. With a stellar cast that includes in no particular order, Danny Glover, Joe Anderson, Dawn Olivieri, Julie Benz, Anson Mount, Mahershala Ali, Nick Chinlund, Evan Ross, Derek Luke, and Lela Rochon, SUPREMACY is a must see.

Originally from Chicago, Taylor and his brother were a child of a single mother. In his sophomore year his family moved to Southern California. Taylor was a basketball player and stayed in good academic standing while in school, and he parlayed that into academics by completing his biology degree at San Diego State University, on a full basketball scholarship. He remains active playing basketball on the NBA Entertainment league. Deon hopes SUPREMACY will, "The film will spark much needed controversy, conversation and shed light on some very dark timely issues."

On June 19th Well Go USA Entertainment announced the acquisition of the North American rights to SUPREMACY,

I had a chance to sit down, and have a very candid interview, with director Deon Taylor, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film festival.

Dana: First of all, I have to start by saying that I loved the movie.

Deon: Oh wow, thank you so much.

Dana: So, let us start on that note, because the subject matter is sensitive and I’ve heard many types of reactions. (We both laugh.)

Deon: Don’t make me cry right here, in this hotel lobby. (We both laugh and smile.) Thank you so much. Thank you, very much…

Dana: I noticed while watching SUPREMACY that you built tension very well. Then after I saw it, I looked you up, and found out that you had made horror movies before. Do you think that prepared you for making such sensitive and, at times, gritty while intense, content?

Deon: Very much so. You know what? I’m a self taught filmmaker, I’ve been rubbing sticks together making stuff for a very long time, and trying really hard to find my footing. I love the genre space. I love horror. I love thrillers. I love supernatural. I like what it does to people. I like the fact that when they are done right, people get to go to the theater for 2 hours and lose themselves. I think that is really cool. I think that is why there is so much anticipation around the X Men movies, because for a minute you can just drop the bills, if you have kids, it just kinda goes away.

Dana: What drew you to this project?

Deon: When I got the script for SUPREMACY, that movie kinda changed my entire life. Because what I thought I wanted to do… I had been thinking wrong the whole time. I had been thinking wrong the whole time. So, I read the screenplay. When I originally read it, it felt like a horror movie, but a real horror movie. I had to kinda think to myself, like, what is the scariest thing that can happen to you? And to me, even as a man, the scariest thing I can think of is, in the middle of the night you are sleeping and someone comes and kicks your door down, and comes into your house. Then what makes it even more scary, is that they are coming into your house, not to take something, but possibly to just take your life.

Dana: Yes, that is a scary situation for anyone.

Deon: That really… I had to deal with that for a few weeks after reading the script. As a person, outside of film… I kind of get emotionally involved with things that way. Where I will take it home with me and think about it. I’ll be sitting somewhere and be like, OH! It scares me right?! That is the first time I knew I wanted to make that movie. Then what took me to another level is when I thought about what the movie really represented. Who Tully was… who that family was… and exactly who I would be speaking to, that audience. That is when it really changed my life. I knew at that point that I loved the genre of horror and thrillers and all that, but I knew this was my purpose, to create something that had a voice.

Dana: Without giving much away, I have to say that I liked how you re-appropriated the N word.

Deon: Yeah, it was really cool… Yeah, the end of that film… I wrote it the day I shot it on the spot. That was one of those things where, like, you are just really blessed. You are in the grove, kind of like an athlete. Like a basketball player making all these shots. Getting in the rhythm where you can’t miss. That day was one of those days where we were like, everything was clicking, and I am so happy it did because it was the last day of production. We didn’t have any more money to return to shoot anything, and I actually called the set. We broke everybody away (off the set) to get that scene right.

Dana: It was a different ending before the last day?

Deon: It was the same ending but it didn’t have that heart. It didn’t have that purpose. It was just words on the paper. It didn’t land right because the whole movie leading up to that, it was like… we were fighting. Fighting to find the energy, fighting with the camera to make sure it was raw and rough. I was fighting with the actors to give performances… Then you get to this moment and you are like, nah that’s not what we’ve been doing…. Like, we are not just going to say THAT. It has to… I wanted the end of the film to like… I wanted Danny (Glover) to be on the level that he was in the Color Purple. I wanted it to have meaning, and then I had 12 YEARS A SLAVE, in my head. I wanted it to mean something. Even in our little independent level, like, you shoot these films and you don’t know who will ever see them but I wanted it to be something special. So, when those words came across the screen I wanted people to be like wow that was really touching. And that is what is was. He was THAT, and that is what THAT word means. And it was kinda like, we’ve used it the whole movie and I wanted to flip it on Tully at the very end. Like, the thing that you despise the most, the thing that you’ve been saying the whole movie, the thing that you feel like is the end all, be all word… Like, guess who that is… and I think that broke him (his character). It was so great.

Dana: I really liked that you were able to make it come across that way on screen. I think it is a difficult subject to address, and then also make it work.

Deon: I mean there is so much stuff, and when you make this type of film… You are right, it is hard and it’s one of those movies, like I had to second guess myself a couple times. Like D, are you really going to turn the cameras on and shoot this? (Laughing) Because, Brother, you might not be able to comeback from this if you don’t do it right. You know what I mean? Not that I’m coming back to anything, but I think that is the thrill of being at the LA Film Festival, and an independent director. I made my own way, and my heart felt this way, and I made this movie. I wasn’t really worried, like oh will someone ever hire me again? Cause guess what, I’ve never been hired. (We both laugh)

Dana: How has this film, and making movies changed your life?

Deon: you know, but it was special and that is why it was a life changing film for me. When I was younger I was running around playing basketball, when I made the decision to stop playing basketball… I didn’t think about it. I had been chasing this dream since I was a little boy. From the streets of Gary, Indiana to Chicago I had been playing basketball my entire life. Then I went to college through basketball then I ended up going over seas’ to play basketball and I was chasing the NBA. Right? Trying to get to the NBA… that is all I know, get to the NBA, get to the NBA. It’s funny how life treats you, or the lessons that you get in life when you least expect it. I remember getting out the shower one day in Europe. I was making no money. It was terrible, but I was doing what I love and I didn’t care. And I just stopped and looked in the mirror and at that moment, I had like “that moment.” It was like, when do you have those moments, right? It was the moment when I was like, you know what man, it’s time to do something different. And it was one of the scariest moments of my life because I didn’t know nothing else. You know what I mean? (I nod in agreement) This is all I know but at the same time I listened to my inner voice and it was like, that is enough man, you can chase this for the rest of your life and maybe not get it… and for this movie, there is a lot of energy like that for this film because here I am self taught, you’ve never been to film school in your life, but you have an amazing gift from god. I feel like I have a gift of knowing where to put the camera. I don’t think anyone walks in be like, I know where to shoot. I’ve been watching movies my whole life. So it’s kinda like, at that moment god was like, yo, go after that dream because you obviously love it and this is going to be your second life. Right? I mean how many people be like, I’m going to stop playing basketball and become a filmmaker. Like, who does that? So, I went home, told all my friends, they like, “Man get the hell out of here get back on the basketball court!” I’m like, “No man I’m going to do this!” So with this film, this movie represented that for me, because it was the end of genre, no more messing around, no more trying to figure out what it is you gonna shoot. This is your lane. You gotta do stuff that makes sense. You gotta do stuff that has a message. You have to do stuff that makes the audience go, wow! So to your first question, the genre helped me get that because without having those chops to make you feel a certain way in the seats, I wouldn’t have been able to pull this movie off.

Dana: So this was low budget?

Deon: Yes. We shot the film for…

Dana: You don’t have to give me the exact amount (we both laugh)

Deon: We shot it for under 1 million dollars. I shot it on 16mm film.

Dana: That’s why it looks so good! Film!

Deon: (laughs) we shot it in 19 days.

Dana: And it was all shot in LA?

Deon: Yeah, it was all shot here. It was really cool. It was my first time ever shooting out here. It was like wow, getting a chance to shoot out here was amazing. This is Hollywood. It was amazing, it was really cool to see how people come to work and go home like a regular day. I usually shoot in Northern California, it was interesting to see, like people come to work and then just go home like it’s a regular day. Usually when I shoot, people go to hotels and you know, you got to do all that stuff, like transportation… Here it was, they could just, go home… That is why I think that LA is so cool and I’m really hoping that independent film makers find a way to shoot here more because that is what is great. Most of the greatest people on earth that shoot films live here. And it’s like, why do you have to keep leaving the city to go shoot stuff? But you know, when you don’t have any money it is what it is.

Dana: I know that you have to get going, but I really want to ask you a more sensitive question, because SUPREMACY deals with racism and “the N word.” Do you think that it will ever permanently re-appropriate or have a different meaning or ever hurt less? Do you think that word will ever not be racist? There are some people who believe that some day it will change, and obviously others who disagree. Feel free not to answer this, but I feel it’s a relevant question based on the content in SUPREMACY. I hope that didn’t come out wrong…

Deon: No, I think that… I don’t think you could ever… I don’t think that word will ever loose its power. It’s interesting because I’ve heard that word my whole life. Part of the controversy around the word N… is , it is a word and a term that is used of endearment amongst black friends, it’s just thrown around. It is so puzzling that a word that you hear everyday, if you hear it from another nationality it becomes, like someone poured gasoline on you. And it’s sad… because if you think of what the word represents and where it came from. You know, for me, as a young black male I think about these things a lot. It’s sad that we’ve taken something that…that was the last word our grandmothers and grandfathers and a lot of people heard before they died. And we take it now… and it’s been in-breaded into our culture and into our DNA like it’s a cool word to use. It’s kinda like that word is just as offensive. It still means the same exact thing. You know, to answer your question I don’t think it will ever lose it’s power. It’s sort of like the swastika. There is no cool way that you could ever put that on something and be like, that’s a cool design, like, NO. It hurts. The same thing when you see the Rebel Flag, when someone flies that flag it’s kinda like, you know the confederate flag, and you black, you look at that and you automatically know what that person believes, it doesn’t feel good EVER, it kinda puts you in a trance, it’s interesting, you know? They have all these people talk about what the word N means, and how N should be used and not used, and that’s a tough one. And my daughter, I’m setting the stage now. She is 9. I’m setting the stage now to talk to her about the word. And I think the only thing you can begin to do is start with the next generation on trying to pull it back. But do you think you can all the sudden be like hey no one is going to use the word N, high five on 3!!! No, hell no, that’s not going to happen and we’d be crazy to think we could do that. But that is why in SUPREMACY… that is why I stopped and re-wrote and that is why that movie means to me what it means to me. It was a way to take that word and while you are sitting in the theater and you are offended and are clawing at the seats and you are like, how can this dude do this and put this movie together, and why would he? And you are going through all of these emotions and at the very end we found a very clever way to flip that word on it’s ass, and say what do you think about it now? I thought it was really cool. I thought we really hit the mark on that. If I ever get to make another movie it’s like, YO, you really gotta find that cool moment again.

Dana: Well, I really enjoyed the movie. I watched my screener link 3 times, to be honest with you.

Deon: I’m so happy that you liked the movie. I really am, because you know what? I felt like the film, the character Tully, was built for everyone.

Dana: I like that Tully wasn’t one dimensional. It shows that he did have conflicting…

Deon: Yeah, because you know what, this is learned. It is learned man, it’s Black, it’s Latino, it’s Asian, it’s any young kid that’s joined a gang. That is what that movie represents. Any young kid that went to a gang, and felt like that’s their family, that’s their culture, it’s us against the world, and now you go to jail once, twice, three times, now you on death row and the gang aint there no more. Right? And that is why I wanted to strip back and show at the end of the film, this is a young kid. That is a young boy who learned everything the wrong way. And it’s so sad when you look at these kids out here right now. I feel so bad, that as a people we are in this place right now that we have kids running into places and shooting it up, and college kids that are doing all these crazy heinous crimes based on the fact that they see it on TV, see it in a video game, or that they FEEL that way and they don’t have ANYONE to go talk to, to un-feel that way. And that’s what I’m saying about family. It’s like, man, I got all these crazy feelings, like my mom would have sat me down, outside of me getting a whooping for something I did bad, I miss the old school where someone would sit you down and say hey, you, you all right?

Dana: I have a 10 year old son. And I make sure that we talk about everything. And the nice thing is that I am able to raise him, I’m purposely raising a child that is not racist.

Deon: That’s right. That’s right.

Dana: He is a future man and I am responsible for how he turns out to the best of my ability.

Deon: That’s right. That is your job. As a parent, it’s your job to be a parent. What you said is incredible because some people don’t think it’s their job to be a parent.

Dana: I agree!

Deon: It’s not texting with them and sending selfies, and all that. Parenting is saying sex is not cool when you are 10 years old. Parenting is telling a child, you don’t talk about that person next to you because he doesn’t have what you have. Parenting is letting your child understand that everyone is not able. You know what I mean?

Dana: Absolutely. Exactly.

Deon: And guess what, it’s okay to cry, and it’s okay to not have, and it’s okay to struggle. That is what parenting is. And I think that is what this film, and what Tully represented. He was one of those kids that didn’t have any of that and I wanted to show it. I wanted him to be ignorant and silly and stupid and all those wonderful things that you can think of in the beginning. I wanted him to be hair raising because that really exists. When I was doing my research I was like man… this is in EVERY culture.

Dana: Yes. We lived in a place where no one was racist, or at least they didn’t act racist at all, and no one talked or teased about their, or other peoples nationalities, at all, it just never came up with the kids at school due to the parenting. So then we moved to a different area, where people are less kind and less aware of these social things… it was a culture shock to my son. He hadn’t realized that racism still existed, he had learned about it, and he began to become under the impression that only white people could be racist. So we had a few conversations so he understood that any culture could be racist.

Deon: Every culture. I mean that. The Tully story could have been a young black kid that was in a gang, that came into a white house. You know what I mean? This is real and I wanted the movie to have that type of purpose and I thought that Danny and Don, I thought the performances were really good.

Dana: Yeah they were good. You got some really good actors on your project. I liked in the end when she (Dawn) broke down, and I think she literally said something like, “I wasn’t taught how to do this.” Because to be honest her character is just a big mess, but there are people like that, so I was glad to watch it.

Deon: “I wasn’t taught how to do this,” that is right! That was written on set too. Like, these are the people that fall between the cracks, and more than we want to believe, there are 80-90% of the people falling through the cracks and they don’t know how to do stuff that me and you have had to balance, and the mindset to be able to learn. Like how do you become a journalist? One way is to go to school but that isn’t going to get you a story. I’m a filmmaker, and I have to go button my shirt, walk out here and say how you doing? And you have to fall on your face and keep falling down, but you keep getting up and brushing yourself off and getting up and saying, “Okay I’m not going to go that way again. I hit my head last time, I’m gonna go over here instead.” And some people get in the head and they don’t know what happened so they don’t get up, they stay down. I think this movie is really important for that world. We’ve had some really positive reactions.

Dana: Was this movie based on a real story?

Deon: It’s all a true story. The film is 100% true. Tully is now in prison on death row. The family is great, they are still alive. Mr. Walker died a couple years ago of natural causes at about 78 years old. But this is all a true story, the family is part of the story and had their hands in the script, and the making of the movie. They are really good people. I was blessed and fortunate enough to talk to them while shooting this film, so I was able to do it the right way. So, yeah it’s a true story.

Dana: Do you have distribution yet?

Deon: We have offers so we are seeing the way it goes. For me personally I am just hoping that people really see this film and they see the performances. I’m hoping the people who make decisions around here take a good look at the cast, I think they did a wonderful job. We might be opening the Pan-African film festival, which would be a big deal, but I really just want to focus on finding a home for the movie and pushing it out now. I think it’s one of those stories that you want to hear and see, and people will be intrigued by it.

Dana: Awesome. Thank you for being so candid. This was a great interview and I’ve enjoyed our conversation!

Deon: Thank you! I’m glad we got to do this one. It’s nice to talk to someone who gets it.

Dana: Likewise. I wish you continued success!

For more information you can check out the links below:

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