April 12, 2018 Interview – Deon Taylor
Never let fear guide you, sometimes a step into the unknown is necessary to make dreams come true. A professional basketball player, Deon Taylor took that very leap into darkness when he stepped away from a successful career in order to pursue a passion for filmmaking. Diving in head first, Taylor not only wanted to direct film, he wanted to write and produce. To many a hype dream, he took his passion and molded it into a successful production company called Hidden Empire Film Group all while putting out such films as 2014’s Supremacy and 2016’s Meet the Blacks. So, in a way, Taylor is living proof that dreams do come true, you just have to make it happen.
Still moving forward, his latest film Traffik is set for release on April 20th and it could be one of his most intense and eye-opening statements to date. Recently we caught up with the filmmaker to talk his passion for creating, his new company Dark Circus, the story behind Traffik, plus more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in writing, directing, and producing films for some time now. First, tell us, what inspired you to pursue a career in film.
Deon Taylor – You know what, I was just playing basketball, and at the time my life was dedicated to the sport. My mom would always smack me in the back of the head when I was younger because I would be quoting movies around the house. (Laughs) I had no idea what that passion was at the time until I got a little bit older and I was sitting in an apartment in East Germany on a basketball team, watching movie after movie, and I thought, “I’m going to write my own scripit.” That sparked me. I had no idea whatsoever, I knew no one in the film industry, no one ever said to me, “You would be a great director.” I just had an idea and I pursued it. Looking back then, now, man Deon, you were absolutely insane to do what you did. I quit basketball, I flew back home to Sacramento, and I wrote my first original screenplay on a mini tablet. I told all my friends I want to pitch this movie to you guys. Obviously I could pitch pretty good and they said “Man, that sounds good, what are you going to do with it?” I told them, “I’m going to write the script.” Everybody just laughed and laughed.
I kept pursuing it, I eventually flew to LA and met some people and pitched my movie. I looked up, it was 6 years later, and I was still pitching the same movie. I realized the only way I would be able to get a movie made was to actually go make it myself. I used this tagline, “I’m the product of no.” I was told no so many times I began to build my own way into the dream that I had which was to be a writer, director, and make a movie. Once I made one, the passion grew on me even more and I wanted to keep going. It was a blessing from the fact that I never went back to the studio. No one ever gave me an opportunity so what was working for me was making my own product. Until this day, I have never made a studio movie. Now I am being offered studio movies, which is fantastic, but I never officially worked for a studio. It’s all been a product of me being told no and building my own way through energy and faith.
CrypticRock.com – Wow, you really have paved your own way. That is really inspiring! You have worked in various genres ranging from Comedy to Horror. Your latest film, Traffik, is due out on April 20th. A high tension Thriller, what inspired this project?
Deon Taylor – I love all genres and I think that is another blessing about creating your own space. No one has ever said, “This is the movie you need to be making,” or, “Oh, you are African American, here, you should be making this movie.” I just float around, whatever I feel I want to make, or what I am interested in, whatever sparks me is what I do. That has been a really cool blessing. Traffik was actually a film inspired simply by my daughter. I have a 12 year old daughter, I am a dad, I am very close with my daughter – I’m the basketball coach, the counselor, the dance teacher. (Laughs) One day I got an email about kids being trafficked at the local mall. I said, “What is this? Trafficking?” I had never paid any attention to the subject matter, I knew what it was, but I always thought like everybody else, “Oh that’s a foreign country.” Trafficking kids, not kidnapping, not grabbing them, but trafficking.
As I dug more and more into the story, I became increasingly scared and increasingly drawn to why this was around my neighborhood. I think over the last 2 years, there were 15 incidents of trafficking within a 10 mile radius of where I live. That’s when I dug more and more, I was blown away to learn about it. I learned it is not international, it is domestic. To learn it’s not human trafficking, it’s sex trafficking as well. To learn the young lady who is doing my girl’s nails is possible human trafficked here. I was just scared. Understanding there were 7-12 year old boys and girls being taken, drugged, taken across the country, some being killed, some enslaved in sex worlds for years before being found. It drove me to, I have to write something for this. As I started writing for the project, I quickly realized no one wants to see a trafficking movie. (Laughs) How do you make it shiny? How do you want to make people say, “Let me see what that is.” As I learned more stories based on true events, that is when I realized it’s a ring, this is how they work and operate, there is money at the end of this. Ok, how about this couple falls into this ring, and here’s how it goes. That’s how I created the film.
CrypticRock.com – It is a very scary subject matter for sure, especially for a parent. The film creates a tension. Obviously this is a real to life horror because human trafficking is something that is a major problem. You had a fantastic cast for this film including Omar Epps and Paula Patton. Paula portrays a strong and fearless character in the film. What was it like working with her along with the rest of the cast?
Deon Taylor – Paula, I cannot say enough about. I know a lot of directors talk about that, but I can’t tell you how incredible she was. This is a tough movie! A lot of people will say, “She was great.” No, Paula’s performance was incredible. She came in, she did all her own stunts, but more importantly, she lived in this world, which is scary at times. She was fearless and she projected fearless in the movie. She was able to find a moment throughout the film where she was scared for her life, but she was fighting. I thought the tension and tone she was able to deliver was pretty incredible.
There were moments in the movie where Roselyn (Sanchez) and Paula had to take a step out from filming. When you are talking about 14-15 girls in the back of a semi-truck and there is only a camera in there with them, where you hear all the girls gasp, you have to say “cut” and go quickly run, open the doors, and let everybody take a break. Or the moments where they are in the cave and they need time to get themselves into position to shoot this. That also takes an hour because they are hyperventilating because they really are in a cave. It’s scary stuff, but incredible filmmaking for them.
I am just excited to deliver it. I am happy the movie is doing what it’s doing. Outside of any box office, we didn’t make it for that, but I am happy at this point, and this is me being an artist, people are talking about it! People are saying, “Yo, is that real?” It really delivers and tells you, this is going on where you live at. This is a powerful moment for me and the more we can dial people up and get appalled at what they are seeing they will help find more of these kids or stop some of these people who are walking around and grabbing young girls and trafficking them.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly makes you think for sure. The subject matter is probably something a lot of people have not really thought about much, but it changes that. You are right, it is a tough movie. Back to Paula, being someone as yourself from an athletic background, did you suggest any conditioning to her? She went through a lot in the film. Was she in good shape going in?
Deon Taylor – She was in great shape. What I think threw everyone for a loop, when we got myself, her, the cast, and Dante, the cinematographer, when we got to the world of the young lady coming to the door, we had to get our minds in shape. (Laughs) We had to get our minds in shape for these incredibly long nights, obviously we were on a shoestring budget. Our producer, Roxanne (Avent), was beyond amazing on the film.
We really had to get our minds in shape for the film. Luke Goss had a very hard time playing the role – he’s the nicest guy, a married man. Doing some of the stuff in the film goes against everything you believe in. That to me was the hardest thing. It wasn’t the camera, it wasn’t the nights, it wasn’t the cold, it was the mental fatigue. You have to be this way, this is exactly what it is, this is how we have to move. That was the only part that had to get us in shape.
CrypticRock.com – Understandable, it is mentally draining on the audience as well since all this stuff is unfolding in front of your eyes. It will be exciting to see what people think once Traffik hits April 20th. You have an exciting new label called Dark Circus. Tell us a little bit about it?
Deon Taylor – I created a banner which I entitled Dark Circus. What I wanted to do, because obviously I love Dramas, but I also love Thrillers, Comedies, and things of that nature. I wanted to do with the label… I thought Get Out (2017) was phenomenal for multiple reasons. I have been making movies, not like Get Out, but movies that have minority and multi-ethnic cast members. I felt like Get Out represented that. So what I wanted to do with my movie Meet the Blacks (2016), and after Traffik, I have a new movie called Motivated Seller with Dennis Quaid, Meagan Good, and Michael Ealy. I wanted to look to create a banner that looks to attracts those kind of films. Movies that are multi-ethnic, movies that could have a black and white lead, movies that could have two black leads, Latino leads, Asian leads, etc.
I just wanted to create a banner that focused solely on that, that’s what Dark Circus is going to represent. It is going to represent Horror and Comedy. I wanted it to be something that spoke to the masses, versus, we are only doing this kind of movie. That is what that label was built for and where I will be sticking different projects. My Hidden Empire Film Group umbrella, will be more of the mainstream films like Traffik, things of that natural. Dark Circus is actually where I want to make an imprint for the community.
CrypticRock.com – Very cool. It is exciting to hear about all of it. It will be great to hear more as it happens. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror/Sci-Fi films. If you are afan of these genres, what are some of your favorite films?
Deon Taylor – Event Horizon (1997), with Laurence Fishburne, one of the scariest movies, one of my all-time favorites. One of the scariest movies all-time, outside The Exorcist (1973), with Barbara Hershey, a movie called The Entity (1982). Huge fan of the first The Strangers movies in 2008, I thought it was just top of the line filmmaking – the way they move the camera, the scares, the jumps. Also, Aliens (1986), I am just all over the board. (Laughs)
Comedy wise, Coming to America (1988) is one of the funniest movies of all-time. Beverly Hills Cop (1984), one of the funniest movies of all-time. Then I jump over to Step Brothers (2008), still one of the funniest movies I’ve seen. (Laughs) I am genre guy, so I like floating in air. If I had to name a Thriller, something I really watched a lot of when I was getting ready to make Traffik, was The Vanishing (1988). I thought that was really an incredible film that was suspenseful, very well done. A very small movie, but very impactful the way they ended it. Those would be my choices.
CrypticRock.com – All fantastic choices! You can certainly see The Vanishing as an influence for Traffik. So glad you mentioned The Entity! Not many people have seen or recall that film.
Deon Taylor – Oh man, if I could remake that film, it’s on the top of that list. It’s not only a good film, but it’s a true story. You watch that movie, even right now, the performances are amazing. It’s just scary as well. It’s a very cool movie.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly is, the way it is filmed and the fingerprints on Barbara Hershey’s chest, etc, it is amazing how they did all that without the special effect capabilities back then.
Deon Taylor – That alone is amazing! Just understanding that it’s not CGI. That imprint on her breast, her hand, and arm, that has stayed with me for 20 years. I could recall that scene when you said that. Crazy!