(This feature is part of an ongoing series of Reeler profiles of New York films and filmmakers at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Click here for a complete list of this year's interviews.)
What's the background on your film?
The name of the film is A Nick in Time. It's the story of an old-school barber in Brooklyn who has to tell a story to a troubled young man who walks into this barber shop wanting a haircut but whose intentions don't seem to be that forthright. So he digs into his past and tells a story from his own life in the hopes that he can save the kid's life.
Where did you shoot?
I shot in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, on Bedford Avenue -- at a barber shop known as Head Hunters. The owner of the shop, Mark Johnson, I gave him the script when I was looking for a location. I found this great place and was very specific about what I wanted: a shop that looked like an old barber shop from the past but could be retooled to look like modern day. But it had to have all of the old-school things that a lot of barber shops no longer have: the chairs and the styling, things like that. So that's where I shot -- two days in January 2006.
So what was it about the metaphor of the barber shop for you that made it the essential place to set this particular passage of information from elder to junior?
Barber shops are unique; it goes back to my experience as an African-American kid growing up in this city -- or anywhere. Barber-shops are what I would call a social meeting place -- a training ground -- for African-American men of all ages. It's kind of like a transient place where people come and go; the one place where you can have a hustler a police officer and a business man all meet, you know? And they can all share a commonality of experience -- a conversation, entertainment and all those things. It's just that meeting place where all these different elements come together.
So as the setting was familiar and, to some degree, autobiographical, how much of yourself was in your narrative as well?
I think the lead barber in my film comes from a person from my past: a barber whom I knew growing up and who was one of the people who cut my hair. He's a cool older man and was the kind of guy who was older and could relate; you could talk to him about a number of things whether you were younger or older, and you respected him. He kind of had an air about him that was very... He carried himself well. That's the character I most identified with the most when I was writing the story.
Other characters are amalgamations of people I knew growing up in the neighborhood -- the troubled youth. A lot of guys I used to run with or used to know are no longer here; some are incarcerated. Some of them have chosen a different life, and some have gone the right way, but all those kinds of different experiences from friends I've known in my own walk in life helped me prepare the troubled youth character. And the police officer character kind of was just somewhat autobiographical -- drawn from people I know who've gone into law enforcement, and still these are guys who at one point in life needed to make a decision, and they chose that particular path.
You're a commercial filmmaker professionally, right?
Yeah, I work as a senior producer at Ogilvy & Mather. I've been there for about eight years. I do client work; I just got back from a huge shoot for Ford -- four continents, five countries in about 25 days. IBM, DHL, Motorola, you name it. If it came through Ogilvy & Mather, I've probably touched it.
So is this the crossover moment for you? Are you interested in pursuing narrative and feature films?
I went to film school here in the city (at the School of Visual Arts), and for me, coming out of film school, I was already actively working for music video directors in New York. One of the things I wanted to do was stay in the business, and I left the music video side of the business because I had exposure to advertising while I was working for music video directors who were directing commercials. I decided to do a path in advertising as a way to get to the director's chair.
After doing advertising for so long, I realized my calling was narrative film, long format; I decided that no longer was I going to pursue a path as a commercial filmmaker, but instead pursue a path as a narrative filmmaker. And I've always been a writer, so I decided at this point in time I was going to direct and write my own script and move toward features; that's where I think my talents lie.
Hence A Nick in Time.
Exactly. (My writing partner Shakima Landsmark and I) actually wrote the script back in 2001, and I guess after that we sent it out to some screenwriting contests, which we won a couple of. That's how I knew the script had legs and that it held up as a short film. From there, between working, it's just been trying to put enough money together to produce it.
And after all that, it hits Sundance. What was your reaction?
It's starting to hit me now in terms of the grandness of what it means to get into Sundance. I think that for me, because I'm an artist, it would validate the work I had -- that people like it. Getting in was it. But now I'm realizing a whole lot more people are looking at this thing or wanting to know who you are as a result of getting into Sundance; I'm realizing that this thing is a lot bigger than I ever thought it was. And it's starting to feel pretty cool. I'll just put it like that. It's cool; I'm looking forward to the experience to really absorb it --being around other filmmakers, being around my family who are coming out to Park City with me, my friends who very close to me, my crew, some of my actors are going to be there. So for me, I kind of look at it as the culmination of a lot of work by a lot of people who believed in not only me but believed in the project itself.
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