AllHipHop Interviews Traffik's Film Director Deon Taylor
A prolific writer, filmmaker, director and idea generator, Deon Taylor is a self-taught, creative genius. His work is innovative, his writing is cutting edge and his vision is iconic. He is forever creating and is a force to be reckoned with in the conglomerate world of entertainment.
Deon is always thinking outside the box, juggling creative projects with ease, and his intelligence is so profound; it's a no brainer that Taylor continues to run his own thriving film and production company, Hidden Empire Film Group (HEFG) formerly known as Deon Taylor Enterprises (DTE), which he launched in 2000.
Taylor has formed a partnership with Roxanne Avent, a thought-provoking visionary, an amazing producer and executive with a powerful business aptitude. With Taylor's superb insight, knowledge, desire and fire, this union who writes, directs, and produces all of their own projects will be a partnership to watch and learn from.
His new movie-Traffik centers around characters named Brea and John, who embark on a romantic weekend getaway to an isolated estate in the mountains. They are pleasantly surprised when two of their friends, Darren and Malia, also show up unexpectedly. Their plans for fun soon give way to terror when members of a violent biker gang invade the peaceful countryside. Banded together, they now find themselves in a fight for their lives as their assailants will stop at nothing to protect their secrets from the outside world.
AllHipHop: Hey, what's up Deon? What's popping?
Deon: How are you doing man?
AllHipHop: I'm doing fine, my brother. I'm actually doing fine.
Deon: Alright. Nice to meet you, man!
AllHipHop: I saw the movie. The movie is good and quite interesting my brother. How did you get started in film?
Deon: It's interesting man because I was a basketball player. I'm from Gary, Indiana, and I basically ended up just having the idea when I was playing basketball. One day I was like I really would love to figure out how to get into this business. It actually all started when I was over there playing. My girl, at the time, would send me a bunch of movies. This was before Netflix and Hulu ... where you can just sit and watch movies from your phone.
She sent me DVD's and I couldn't get enough. I would go to basketball practice and get out of practice and watch 3 movies in a night. What ended up happening used to be like a drought where I'm waiting for movies to come. One day I just started watching because I didn't want to watch TV at all. I just started watching the making of the movie on the DVD's, and that inspired me. I beme a bigger fan of the DVD's and the making of the movie. What ended up happening was, I started watching how the movies were made before I even watched the film.
I would determine, at that stage, and this is a wild story, I would determine at that stage if the movie was good or not after I watched it based on the fact that I could see the cuts, the elements or how they edited it. If it was seamless, I'm like that was crazy. Me being who I am and at the time I didn't really realize what was happening to me. God was actually speaking to me and telling me this is what you are going to do. It took me years and years to understand that. Actually, a couple of years ago was when I was like wow! This is the course I was supposed to be on.
I left Germany, and at the time, my Mom was in Sacramento because she had moved out of Indiana to be a little bit closer to me in California because I went to San Diego State. I went everywhere in Hollywood telling people that I had this movie idea. I wrote my own script on a tablet. I had no idea of what the final draft was going to be like ... I didn't know nothing. I laugh now because some of the meetings I was in, I was like damn, do you even know? I'm surprised they didn't laugh you out the room. You know what I mean? But, all I did was to grow my heart, energy and passion. It's almost like I was dumb enough and naïve enough to think I could do it.
You know what I mean? But I had enough heart and passion to continue doing it. What I tend to tell people a lot of times is when you grow up with a sports background, you sure will be a good sportsman. Hope you understand what I’m saying?
AllHipHop: Yes, I do.
Deon: When you really attack sports in the right way ... I remember because I was an All-American. I did all that. I remember coming from Gary with no shoes, with a nappy on my head, just getting a free jersey and them dropping me in the gym with 150 of the most elite kids in the country. I remember being like okay, this is what it is. Soon as they rolled the ball out, you know what time it is. It's like okay, here's what we’re doing so you forget your shoes, you forget you didn't eat. Oh I didn't have the lights was off last month at Mom's house, and you just attack. I credit a lot of that darkness and a lot of that energy to what I'm doing now. When I got to Hollywood, years and years of being told no, I felt the same way. I felt like I was in a corner and you got to fight out and hustle, jump and make my shot and that's how I attacked this marketplace.
Even till now, it's been 10 years completely 100% independent. We've never had a studio take a movie out. We never sold a movie to a studio. My whole thing has always been we're making a movie from A to Z and then the second gift was trying to figure out how you get distribution. We fell on our face multiple times and then in 2016, we did the unthinkable. I made a little bitty comedy called Meet The Blacks. We shot that movie for no money. Everybody in Hollywood was giving me these ... you know, they were giving me that deal ... where you're like no! I'm not taking that.
We had been around the block so many times with movies and getting told no and getting screwed over and I said I'm not doing that no more. I was like, here's what we need to do. We're going to figure out how to take this movie out ourselves and everybody was like huh? Like Scooby-Doo. It was the first time, and this was the culture, this was the first time I knew what that movie represented. Before I had made a horror movie called Chain Letter which was really dope. I did another movie called.
I did all this stuff where you could actually tell me it wasn't going to work and then I would be like well maybe it won't be cut. I didn't know it like that. When I finished Meet The Blacks, I knew what that was. It's like watching LeBron in the park when he was 16. You're like no man, he’s on his way. He isn’t jumping out the gym so when they told me that what I had was not this and not that, I was like no, I beg to differ. This is not going be that.
We got our own money. We took that movie out theatrically. The movie ultimately opened #4 in the country. It beats out 30-45 studio films in 2016 in terms of money revenue.
It goes on to become a really successful film. What that movie did for me and my family and my partner, Roxanne and Robert Smith ... what it did was it validated us because now what happens in Hollywood is that people that would now see me come in a room
Number 1 they understood chill out, we're trying to really take advantage of us. We understand that's the nature of the business, but treat us right.
Number 2, what it did was it let everybody know this dude is crazy enough to where if I don't get it, he'll take it out himself. That will allow us to be able to play on an even field in the space as African-American filmmakers, producers, and directors. It has been a blessing.
When I finished that, I told Roxanne, who's my partner and Robert Smith, I was like yo here's what we are going to do. I'm going to run and it's going to be hard and we might fall out and die, but I said on a crack, but I said we got these four projects and I'm not going to come out of production until they're done because the idea will be in 2018 is to have a slate of movies so we can compete with the Lions Gate, with the Blumhouses, with the Paramount.
I want us to be a mini-boutique company the same way Tyler built his company, the same way Blumhouse built their company. The only way that you can compete on that level is if you have multiple projects dropping. Not just one.
My battery became that. My energy was that because the one offs were not working. You make one movie and you step out like, oh man I really hope you like this. Oh, they didn't like it?
Okay, well how about... no, we will go and we're going to do something that no one else has done in the space which is going to be a Deon Taylor thing that I hope people understand. People are like what is that and I say man I play in all genres.
Most of the time what happens is when I name ... and these are all iconic people I will name ... when I say to you Spike Lee, you automatically in your mind register a Spike Lee movie.
When you say Deon Taylor, what I want you to think, is whoa. Drama, awards, oh wait a minute ... comedy ... oh wait a minute ... thriller, horror. I want to be where I am seamless in the space to where you can't tell me what bucket I live in. As a filmmaker, what I'm pushing for is I'm a storyteller. At the end of the day, as long as I have my three basic scenarios in my film, I can play in any genre. What is that? Humanity, life, love and redemption. As long as, doesn't matter if I made Traffic, all the way across the board to our new film with Michael Ealy and Dennis Quaid, The Intruder, which is a horror thriller. It's the same principles, but I don't want someone to define me as black filmmaker. That's what is happening in Hollywood with all of our black filmmakers, right?
AllHipHop: You are correct.
Deon: If I tell you Steven Spielberg, you go, oh wait ... let me see...
Deon: Right. The Color Purple, right? Where does he live? Ready Player One, right? What genre is Steven Spielberg? He's in all of them because he can afford to be in them. For me, I want it to be that for us. I wanted to be the guy where yo man D's got a horror movie coming out. D got this coming out. I want it to be where if I see something and I like it, I should be creative enough and smart enough and intuitive enough to be able to deliver that. That's the spit man. What I'm trying to do.
AllHipHop: How did you get with Jamie Foxx? How did you hook up with him?
Deon: A long time ago. basketball to me is a fraternity. I met Jamie playing in the NBA entertainment league. As a matter of fact, me and Jamie got really close because I played against his team in the championship of the NBA entertainment league and he was tasked to guard me. They beat us. He had a great team and they ended up beating us. It was great. They had a really good team. I think Tank was on their team. Obviously you shake hands with somebody and that's what you do, you got me?
AllHipHop: What inspired you to do the Traffic project? How did that even come about?
Deon: What happened was I got an email one day on my phone and I have a 12 year old daughter. This thing was telling us in our community to be careful dropping your kids off at the mall and I said why? I read into the letter and it was kids are being kidnapped and trafficked. I was like what is this? As an African-American man, me and my girl was like well they don't get us? That's something that white people get, right?
I was as dumb as that sounded. As I read more and more, I realized this is not. 75 to 85% of the kids that are being trafficked are African-American and Latino. I was like whoa! Look at this and I thought it was an international problem, but no, it's domestic. Then I started doing more and more research and I learned like okay here's what's going on.
It's another level to this where these girls are actually being taken and drugged and sent across the country and being sold as slaves. When I started researching it more and more, I have just seen how close and how dramatic trafficking was in the U.S and then I wondered why we're not doing more about it.
AllHipHop: Right! Another question I have. Why did you choose to kill all of the male leads off? Was it to make a statement about women overcoming serious problems?
Deon: Sometimes in life you have to lose everything that you have, everything has to crash ...everything has to crash and burn and blow up and be destroyed in order for you to become the best, the new you. That movie represents that to me.
in other words, here's Paula ... she had the job, she thinks she's got it going on. Here's a guy that really loves you. But shes not really ready to commit to love because she has a choice, right? And what ultimately happens is her entire world gets turned upside down, everything is taken from her, to understand, here's what you're supposed to be doing and here's the best you.
Deon: What that represents ... and that's what I put in the film ... that's why you lose Omar. Let's strip everything. Take it all from you and just lay there like your dead. Naw, you’re not dead. You're just being reborn. That was the energy in terms of what that represented in the film to me.