Category - Reel 2 Real

Director Adam Darke Tells The Story of The First Openly Gay Footballer

Director Adam Darke gives his view about his recent documentary Forbidden Games: The Justin Fashanu Story. This film is about Justin Fashanu, the first and only openly gay man to have played professional soccer (England version is Football). Darke recounts the preparations and difficult moments that went along with the filmmaking process. Fashanu struggled with his sexuality and how society viewed his identity. In 1997, his life was cut short after he was up on charges for raping a 17-year-old white male in Maryland. He shortly went back to his hometown to commit suicide. This film address self-identity and how homosexuality is viewed in a male dominated sport and is currently streaming on Netflix.


ATM: Do you think Justin’s traumatic childhood affected him later in his life? He mentions not having someone to understand him or love him as qualities he missed in his childhood.

AD: I don’t think it’s possible for anyone’s childhood to affect them but it’s possible for their thinking about their childhood to and that is what I believe happened with Justin whether it was conscious or subconscious. From what we learned about his upbringing it looks like he never received the unconditional love and validation that every child needs. His mother sent him to a foster family and he never reconciled that, as he admitted himself. Therefore, he seemed to always be looking for external things to give him a sense of who he was; football, money, fame. In the end he ran out of road.

 ATM: Do you think Justin substituted Football for the feeling of abandonment, misunderstanding, and love that he did not receive from his mother?

AD: Not necessarily. He was good at football. Big, strong, and fast with a lot of talent. I’m sure he enjoyed it and it became a vehicle for adulation and love as he became famous but initially I sense he was drawn to the game out of enjoyment. Later, as his career faded, and his life became more complex, he certainly looked to football as a way of making himself feel better. Through the money he would earn, the appreciation, the sense of identity yes.

ATM: Why do you think the world was not ready to accept a black male in sports? Justin being black, and gay made him a double minority to the world.

AD: That was the moment in time, the era. There weren’t many black footballers on the pitch, there weren’t many black faces in the crowd. It was a tough time to be a black footballer and he was one of the pioneers. He was incredibly brave, but you could feel the hurt when he talked about monkey chants from the terraces. Later, when his sexuality became an open secret it was even harder. There were no gay footballers that were known about and British football grounds were bear pits, vitriolic, and unforgiving. He appeared to take it all with good humor but behind the public façade it must was very painful.

ATM: Do you think Justin felt pressured by the rumors in the media to come forward about his sexuality not being aware of the consequences?

AD: He was informed by the tabloid media that he was about to be outed as gay and saw it as an opportunity to make money. He was very clear about that in the archive interviews. I don’t believe that coming out as gay was a moral decision by Justin. It was financially driven. His career was on a downward curve. If it had been a moral choice, he would not have negotiated a large deal and come out in The Sun. As Clive Anderson says to Justin in the film, “it’s hardly the house journal of the gay liberation movement”.

ATM: If Justin would have continued to hide that he was gay, do you believe he would still be alive today?

AD: I don’t know. It’s impossible to say. My feeling is that Justin had a lot of unresolved pain from childhood and that affected his behavior and life choices until the very end. In my opinion he didn’t feel loveable and so he always found a way to return to that place, even if that was painful for him. We all have our subconscious drivers and I don’t think he was aware enough of his to change his behavior and thus the outcomes. Whether or not he killed himself because of a culmination of his life choices and childhood pain or because he feared arrest and imprisonment it’s impossible to say. We will never know.

ATM: Why was Justin being a black gay male in a male dominated space such a threat to his image and career?

AD: Because there weren’t any black gay players! He was the only one. It wasn’t ok to be black and gay in that era. Absolutely not. It was a white, macho, working class sport. In the modern era he would be embraced as a trailblazer but back then he was ostracized. He was an outsider. Football, sport in general, did not want a black gay star.

ATM: Did Justin bring out a softer side to a black male playing in a male oriented sport and environment?

AD: He was certainly intelligent, engaging, charismatic, and that was very disarming I’m sure. I’m not sure anyone knew how to handle Justin. He was physically imposing, tough, a former boxer. He could hold his own against any player and yet at the same time he was thoughtful and charming and gentle. He was unique. In truth he had it all he just couldn’t see his own beauty and others weren’t ready to see it.

ATM: What interpersonal qualities did you learn when directing this film?

AD: Most of the growth in that area was off camera dealing with the Fashanu family as well as Justin’s friends and colleagues. They all had their own perception of Justin and we had to be very sensitive to that. Along the way we found out many things about Justin’s private life that those close to him didn’t want to accept. I felt a degree of guilt about that but tried to be honest and open throughout the process. There are still many people who were close to Justin that don’t accept this version of his life even though we spent two years investigating every aspect of his life.

ATM: Describe your experience as a director this film.

AD: Challenging! At every turn the story became darker and more nuanced. It started out as a much simpler story. We knew the headlines about Justin’s life but were shocked at what we found the more we looked. It was a hard story to tell. The narrative of the two brothers was such a strong pull. We wrestled with that and had to let that go a little as this was Justin’s story primarily. From a production point of view, we were indebted to Fulwell 73 who came on board as production partners and helped to shape the film. Leo Pearlman is a remarkable man and now a good friend.

ATM: What do you believe Justin’s normal was considered?

AD: I think it was normal for him to feel like an outsider and somebody who didn’t fit in. His childhood experiences point to that. Being left by his mother and put into care, growing up as a black child in a white foster family and in an area where there were very few black people at that time. When he made the breakthrough at Norwich there were very few black players, few black faces on the terraces among the supporters. Later, when he realized his sexuality there were even fewer black, gay men never mind black, gay footballers. So, I make up that his normal was being different, being an outsider, and I strongly suspect that most of his life’s journey was aimed at countering that and creating a place where he would be accepted loved and validated for who he was. It’s very very sad.

ATM: How do you believe Justin was subconsciously at war with himself?

AD: He didn’t know who he was because that was never mirrored back to him. He lacked a sense of identity and tried to find it in external things; money, fame, football. He was searching for peace in all the wrong places. The door to the soul opens inwards right?

ATM: His brother became a part of the people that misunderstood him during a time in his life where he needed someone to understand him. What do you think Justin’s words would be about male sexuality in sports today?

AD: I think he would be hugely an important voice in sports today and that’s part of the tragedy. He would have awareness, empathy, compassion, and strength having gone through it all himself. What happened to Justin has, I’m sure, prevented a lot of players since from coming out.

ATM: As a director on this horrific story and life about an extremely talented male, how did you handle such delicate information?

AD: We spent a lot of time in discussion and deliberation. We were very cautious and took advice where needed as some of the information we were privy to was very inflammatory.

We wanted this to be a balanced film about a complex man. One that celebrated who he was but also confronted some of the poor life choices he made whilst trying to explain and give context as to why. That was always a difficult balance.

ATM: Explain the pre-preparations for this film.

AD: Pre-production – we had an idea of the story from the outset but no clue how deep and nuanced his story really was. So, we would sit and talk about the narrative and what we were looking for from interviewees but at every turn we were surprised. Often, we would sit after filming and wonder what we had stumbled upon because every person we spoke to on camera seemed to have new and more conflicting information about Justin and his life. That made the edit terribly difficult because at times there was too much story. Sounds crazy but the narrative ark was just too complicated for a while. We had to strip a lot of it back and try to simplify the story which you probably wouldn’t get from the film because it seems to continually twist and darken.

ATM:  Why did you choose Justin’s story? What was so special and prominent about his story?

AD: Nobody had told the story of the first openly gay footballer and we felt that was important. We also knew how his life had begun and ended and that intrigued us as filmmakers. We wanted to know what had happened to shape his thinking and behavior and how outside influences had affected him also. He was a fascinating man, a talented man, an intelligent man, a conflicted man…and yet his story was far more complicated than even we knew.

Film Composer Federico Jusid

Federico Jusid talks with ATM about the highs and lows of working as a film composer. As an Argentina native, he is very passionate about breathing life in film scores around the world. His most famous United States work was on the film “Kidnap,” starring Oscar Winner Halle Berry. Jusid gained his interest in composing at the age of seven. Already earned his connections in the Argentina film business at a young age because of his family. His talent speaks a lot of volume in the United States and overseas cinema industry.

ATM: When did your film composing career start?

FJ: I started at 7. I started very young. I helped at studios at the age of 12 as an assistant. I did my first short film at 14.

ATM: Give a visual of your earlier pieces of music at this age?

FJ: I was 7 years old and very passionate about music, but I was not Mozart. My first few pieces were not like Mozart. My family in Argentina works in the film industry here. This is a very small industry. I had a lot of access to watching films. Film scoring is something that caught my attention at an early age.

ATM: How do you prepare your music?

FJ: For the concert hall it is one of my duties to read books. I practice on the piano a lot. After a few weeks I begin writing. In the film scoring process, it is more immediate, urged by times, and schedules. When I am given a film, the score must be delivered in 4 to 8 weeks. I watch the film probably seven times before writing. I watch as an audience for the first time. I try to gather all the feelings produced and start to think more as a composure the second time. I try to see the structure of the film and the characters. I try to unfold all the possible layers in the film. I write a lot of music every day. The most difficult part in writing a film is to define what the music will do for the film. Also, the role of the music. This is the first stage of writing a score.

ATM: What was the experience of working on your first American film.

FJ: My first American film was “Kidnap.” I had done American co-producer films before, but with mix casting. Halle was amazing to work with. Her performance was amazing and truly inspiring. The language of the film is different from European films. I have done previous years in action movies. Particularly “Kidnap” had an intense pulse, urge, and constant aggregation that the music had to address all the time. The music is constantly helping this urgency and the experience of this mother losing her child. Also, the difference is that European films do not need such a huge massive sound.

 ATM: Why are you so passionate about music?

FJ: I started early, and I never stopped. I did not study anything else. I was very certain in high school and college in wanting to be a musician.

ATM: Describe a life without composing music?

FJ: This is hard to imagine. It would feel like a loss of your most dear one. When your life is already attached to someone you love that makes your life so special. It would feel like a mourning. It would be hard to learn how to live again. When you do something from early on you become dependent.

ATM: What are some differences and similarities with working on scores for American and Foreign films?

FJ: Sometimes speaking musically from a character’s point of view. This character has emotions and expectancy. The differences are that sometimes I feel US films are more impatient with the character and story development. Most industry films need the story to evolve in a quicker pace than foreign films. Iranian films develop very slowly but intensely. The music has to evolve with the same slow tempo. The films that I have worked on so far in the US needed more pulse and intensity in the music. In Europe or South America, you will work for only one person, which is the director. Sometimes in the US you will work for a director, producer, and supervisor. They will all have a say together about the work. I like the oversimplifying about the cinema in the US, It is so broad. You have films from the Marvel that do so nice. I am relaying to the films I had a chance to work on in the US.

ATM: What have you learned from the foreign films you have worked on?

FJ: I have worked so long on foreign films, which are not foreign to me. They are foreign to you. Working on Europeans films I has the chance to do more diverse things on music. More traditionally thrillers like the “Hidden Face,” which was a Colombian, Spanish, and US co-production. The spectrum was so broad. I was lucky enough to experience different musical languages.

ATM: How does the Argentina film industry operates?

FJ: The industry in South American countries in Argentina, Columbia, Chile, Brazil are very depending on their mainstream of cultural affairs of cities. We do not have FOX or Warner studios that would invest millions on a film. Most of the productions are made with the support of cultural affairs of ministries and the partnerships of other countries. This is why they can do a riskier approach to cinema. They are not betting on a lot of money. It is an indie and artistic approach. It is good and bad.

ATM: I know that to you the US is considered a foreign country verses my perspective. How do you break into an industry like the United States as a film composer?

FJ: That is a great question. It is a mystery to all composers. The reasons why composers became renowned in the US is because a film gets the attention of the audience. Also, it is a constant idea of doing things the best you can. Eventually someone will come across one of your films and invite you to work with them.

ATM: Do you have any current films that you are composing for?

FJ: I am wrapping up music for a US film called “Life Itself.” It will release this fall. This film is directed by Dan Fogelman. He is the director and creator of the NBC show ‘This is Us.’ The cast is amazing. On the other side of the ocean, I am working on a co-production that is a French, Spanish, Argentina film. This film is about three men that were kidnapped because of their political ideas. I will probably finish in about 2 or 3 weeks.

ATM: What is one of the biggest downfalls to working as an industry film composer?

FJ: When we deliver our work and music it is not the last stage. The way we imagine the music in the film is not always the way it happens. Sometimes the criteria are different. When you think the music would be soft and delicate it would be loud. It is covered by car engines and crashes. “Kidnap” was one of the best experiences in the US as far as mixing. My results are similar to what I originally wanted.

ATM: What are three aspects a person needs when trying to become a film composer?

FJ: They should have the urge to be a good musician, filmmaker, and hard worker.

Oscar Nominated Filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon Talks With ATM about Opioid Epidemic

Elaine McMillion Sheldon was recently nominated for an Academy Award for her Netflix original film “Heroin(e)” for Best Documentary Short. Heroin(e) follows three women fighting to deal with the opioid issues in their hometown of Huntington, West Virginia. As a Peabody Award winner, she takes us on a journey about the issues and expresses the challenges of recovery. She gives three women recognition who society usually forgets.

ATM: What is Heroin(e) about and the message you were trying to send?

EMS: The film focuses on three women fighting the opioid crisis in their hometown. It is not a film about drugs or opioid in general. It is about how individuals have formed a resilience to handle large problems. We focus on these three women in the compassion they must help their community.

ATM: Before shooting this film, what key approaches did you want to take when showing a different side to the fight against drugs?

EMS: The conversation that is happening around addiction and the opioid crisis is extensive. Every day there are headlines and photos. We did not want to recreate the previous conversation, but a more frontline perspective showing the ups and downs of someone’s daily life. Also, show what one must go through to help someone rather than give statistics. We wanted to show the perspectives of these women fighting every day.

ATM: Take us through the brainstorming of the film.

EMS: I start of from a topic point of view. I was interested in making a film around solutions to the epidemic of the opioid crisis. It was a matter of discovering the people to tell this story. We necessarily did not have a script or idea in mind. We really were following the women’s lead and understanding what they faced. Also, how we could capture that without hurting what they did.

ATM: There have been many films on this issue, why do you believe a film like yours has not been released?

EMS: It was important to us to tell a sensitive story of what individuals faced. We did not want to make disaster images and images that would increase the stigma of addiction. We wanted to bring people in the conversation that currently felt isolated from it. I have seen schools, churches, rehabs, and prisons use this film as a tool for education to start a conversation. This is the most rewarding part of it all.

ATM: What authoritative qualities did you learn from Fire Chief Jan Rader?

EMS: Jan is an amazing leader. She is compassionate and has a level of empathy that you would hope every public servant has. She leads with compassion, which is a great model for any woman or man in America. Also, to not judge or to not see your role as a place to pass judgment on people, but to see what capacity you can do to help them.

ATM: As a West Virginia Native describe your emotions as you captured moments in this film.

EMS: It is a difficult topic to cover. As a native, it is almost daily that news reports come out that we are at the bottom of every list, whether it is for economic growth or at the top of a drug overdose list. The goal was as a West Virginian that lives here every day was that I needed to see people working for change. This is not a community I dropped into, but this is a community I live in. I personally need these women to help me understand how we will get out of this. I hope America sees the same value in this.

ATM: Did you have any personal connection this opioid epidemic?

EMS: It is something that has impacted my classmates and friends. I have never had trouble with addiction. I feel very lucky for that because I recognize those suffering from substance abuse disorders have a daily fight. I have lost classmates due to overdoses. I have friends who are in long-term recovery. It is something that has been a part of the environment and at a distance for me. I got closer to it over the past two years to understand that my classmates were facing through these three women.

ATM: How did this film help you become better as a filmmaker?

EMS: It allowed me to further increase my flexibility. As a documentary filmmaker, it is important that you follow what is happening and not go in with a precognition of what you are trying to create. These women took us on a journey that we were not really prepared for. We lived in the moment with them and captured things as sensitive as we could. It helped me stay on my toes and to make quick decisions. Also, to make the right decisions to help ethnically represent what was happening.

ATM: Are you currently working on any other film projects?

EMS: We are shooting a doc series. We are about to release a feature documentary about four men in recovery from heroin addiction over the course of 18 months.

ATM: This is the time where women are becoming the central focus of the media for the first time. How did you work to bring attention to the gender that was previously not focused on or gains less respect?

EMS: It is important when watching Heroin(e) that you see women leading and leading with respect. Also, with dignity in a compassionate way. I am happy we can offer this portrayal to the world to show women in a leadership role. Jan is the only female in a male fire department. I admire Jan’s resilience throughout the years. It is an incredible time to release a film like this because we are paying attention to women’s contribution and women’s discrimination. Having the women on the red carpet with us is a dream come true. They have been in the trenches for so long with no recognition. This is about them and people like them across America.

ATM: How will you continue to fight this epidemic?

EMS: We will continue working with communities and influencing education around this and get more people talking. The solutions that we are working for Huntington, West Virginia will be different for Los Angeles, California. Having these conversations that are cross-cultural and cross communities will help us better fight this crisis.

Oscar Nomination

ATM: Describe the moment when you received the news that Heroin(e) was nominated for an Oscar?

EMS: In the moment of finding out about the nomination we were shocked. We were sitting at home and having our coffee. We were waiting to see what was going to happen and did not have expectations. It was not something we imagine. We were all facetiming and messaging the women as it was happening. It was a joyous moment for all of us to know that the Academy sees value in these women and topic. Hopefully, we can bring this conversation to a broader audience because of it.

ATM: Have you prepared your acceptance speech?

EMS: I have been told to this week. I am a little superstitious. We are apart a group that covers tactful topics. I feel like we have won already with being nominated. Communities are honored to host an Oscar nominee film in their community. It is a win win either way.

Sheldon is a leader and supporter of this very issue that affects the nation. Shel continues to educate the world and bring attention to women’s discrimination and contribution. Heroin(e) is a must see and this film will instantly allow an individual to take a stand.

Interview with Industry Stuntman Nick Epper

Nick Epper recently worked as a stuntman on the set of “Den of Thieves”. Epper performed stunt doubles for Pablo Schreiber’s character Merriman. He recounts memories from working on the set and explains the tumultuous factors and qualities a stuntman needs to acquire in order succeed in the film industry. Additionally, Epper also discusses the truth about the underlying inequality for stunt people in the film industry.

ATM: Tell us about your experiences working as a stuntman on the film “Den of Thieves”.

Nick Epper: It was great. We trained in a lot of different aspects and skills that included driving and working with fire arms. “Den of Thieves” allowed me to employ all my skills in one project. We did a lot of gun work and driving.

ATM: How long did you work as the stuntman on this film?

Nick Epper: I was on “Den of Thieves” before they started filming and almost to the end. I would say nine weeks total.

ATM: Describe what a typical day is like when preparing to do stunts?

Nick Epper: Depends what project you are working on. It could be long hours. On “Den of Thieves” we would get on set before sunrise and would not leave until dark. It would be for about 12 to 14 hours.

ATM: Why does it take 12 to 14 hours?

Nick Epper: The film crews shot two units. They would have a main unit and a second unit to speed the process up. On the main unit, they had all the cast and characters. They shot a lot of stuff that did not require stunts. For the second unit, they would take all the stunt doubles, which included me, and shot a lot of the sequences that was more action packed. We did a lot of work on that unit as a stunt double, which is why we spent time working through the night.

ATM: Which scenes did you do stunts for?

Nick Epper: The shootout at the donut shop. I drove an armored truck. We did another shoot on the freeway during traffic.

ATM: How is it done so we do not notice the stunt doubles?

Nick Epper: The actors do a lot of the close-up scenes. They used us for the far away shoots. They shot us from behind, so you do not see our faces. They use drones to capture us.

ATM: What does it take to be a stuntman?

Nick Epper: It takes talent, grit and patience. It is not an easy thing to get into. When you are first starting out there must be a lot of patience. You must be able to get your name out there and highlight your skills. Also, build a reputation for yourself. It takes humility and being tough. Toughness would be one of the top ones.  You must have tough skin. You must be tough mentally and physically.

ATM: Why do you have to be tough mentally?

Nick Epper: There is a lot of rejection in this industry. For every call you get for a job offer, you might only do one out of ten. Rejections make you feel like you are not good enough.

ATM: Is “Den of Thieves” the only movie you have done stunt work on?

Nick Epper: I have a few feature films under my belt.

ATM: Can you name a few?

Nick Epper: I’ve worked on “Logan”, “Django Unchained” and “The Lone Ranger”.

ATM: Why do you believe the media purposely doesn’t focus on stunt people in your expertise?

Nick Epper: There has been a fight for it. There is a prolific stuntman in our community who has been fighting for the last 20 to 25 years to get stunt people recognized at the Oscars.

ATM: Without stunt people, many films would not get done? Some of these actors are not capable of doing their own stunts so the stunt people are just as important is an actor or director?

Nick Epper: Absolutely, I 100% agree. We have some recognition, but the biggest one that is missing is from the Oscars. A lot of movies could not be made without the hard work, sweat and tears from the stunt department.

ATM: Last one. The media mostly portrays stunt people as only jumping from cars or dodging bullets but there is more to this?

Nick Epper: There is a lot more work and dedication that goes on in the stunt industry.


Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote On The Open House

Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote are the Directors, Writers, and Actors for the newly released Netflix film “The Open House”. The film stars “13 Reasons Why” star Dylan Minnette. Dylan plays a young male named Logan who tries to handle grief after losing a close family member. While trying to close with his lose, he experiences episodes of paranoia, anxiety, and other issues. His mother tries to help him in this hard time as she too has lost someone. Both characters work together in efforts to strengthen their bond


ATM: What was your reason for writing and directing this film?

Matt: Suzanne and I have always wanted to be filmmakers. A few years back I had started writing screenplays. I decided rather than send the screenplays off to people that I wanted to wake up to myself every day. I have learned from years of acting you cannot wake up to choose to go on set. Whereas, in writing you can wake up and choose to work. I had this idea that until I get this break, that I want to be making content. When I met Suzanne, she was the same way. We decided to do this together. We had it out to a lot of investors but figured out that was not the best route.

ATM: How long did it take for the filming process of The Open House?

Matthew and Suzanne: We prepped for three weeks. We divided the shooting schedule in two parts. Everything was a total of four months.

ATM: What personality traits did you imagine the main characters to possess?

Suzanne: The characters are going through loss and grief in the entire movie. This is a big theme we wanted to carry throughout the movie. One thing we talked about before writing it was that people deal with grief differently. For Logan, we felt a lot of the grief came out in paranoia and anxiety. Also, blaming his mother for issues. For Naomi, we really wanted to portray a sense of denial, but also loneliness.

Matt: Yes, loneliness is a good one. I think loneliness in an awkward mind can be projected as selfishness if it is not handled correctly. We wanted to see that side of a human dealing with grief where it does not look all pretty.

Suzanne: Especially when you have a son. She lost a husband and he lost a father. We wanted to show how they both supported each other with grief.

ATM: Describe how both of you brainstormed and wrote the screenplay for this film?

Matt: We were both working full time. We would go to our day jobs. We would come home at night to watch all scary movies: thrillers, horrors, and psychology thrillers. We were trying to figure out the type of movie we wanted to make. I had a concept that already creeps me out about open houses. We both decided we wanted to ground it. We would go to our jobs full time, come home watch movies, drink wine, and work through things. It was a magical process. To come home and do what you love to do.

ATM: How come the killer{s} face was never really revealed? Was it the handyman?

Matt: We want the audience to really see how two people experience grief through their point of view. Everyone is kind of a suspect in your life and everyone wants to be close with you, but you don’t want to be close. There is a lot of that paranoia. Logan’s paranoia comes from that grief. We wanted to leave it to the audience for suspense.

Suzanne: In filmmaking, a person should walk out of the theater or living room feeling angry, sad, happy, scared, frustrated, and hopefully talk about it. We purposely did not want to tell anyone who the killer was, but we wanted people to make up who the killer was for themselves. We have gotten some amazing fans writing to us about their own ideas and plots about who the killer could have been.

Matt: To answer your question more about why we did not expose the killer is because we wanted to make a film about death, which something that was very fascinating to us. We have both experienced loss in our lives. This man could be a killer that goes from open house to open house killing people. He is also represented as death.

ATM: Why did you decide to kill the dad off? How do you think it would have been if the mother died off instead?

Suzanne: The dad dying shows how death moves into the lives of the characters. This is the reason their lives had changed. For us this had to happen. I have never thought about that. Really good question about if the mother would have died.

Matt: I think there are a lot of tests on psychological relationship between mother and son. Also, between father and daughter. Originally, this was a mother and daughter story. As we talked more about the psychological angle of the story, we wanted to break the bond of the father and son. If it does not exist anymore, then it is destroyed. Putting a mother and a son together who love each in a hard situation but making it even harder because the son does not have a father to go to. The mother does not have her husband to go to. You kind of turn these two people against each other.

ATM: What scenes do you feel you did the best in as the directors and writers in the film?

Matt: Hard question.

Suzanne: That’s a very hard question. Our cinematographer brought our vision to life. I think we accomplished it.

Matt: There was one day when we did not have our crew with us because everyone had the day off. We had to get a hand full of people to help on set. We had about five people for the scene where the guy gets into bed with the mother. We were not only directing, but we were doing a lot.

ATM: In most horror films, we are expected to know what happens next, but this film keeps a person on their feet to wonder what happens next? How did you do this?

Matt: We really love films that connect the audience. A lot of it came from the research we did and the films we watched.

This film challenges the relationship norms between mother and son, which is not common in horror films. Also, this film allows people to reimage how a mother lives without her husband and how a son continues to grow as a male without with a father. The end of “The Open House” will leave you confused about the killer, but in the mist of this confusion an individual should walk away from the film sad, relieved, and scared.

Den of Thieves’ Christian Gudegast

Director and Writer of “Den of Thieves” Christian Gudegast talks with ATM about the reality of being a director and writer. “Den of Thieves” is a newly released film that stars Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, O’Shea Jackson Jr., and 50 Cent; Curtis Jackson. The film is a gritty crime sage that follows a superior unit of LA County Sheriff Department and Los Angeles’ most notorious and successful bank robbery crew. “Den of Thieves” is circled around this notorious bank robbery crew’s mission to plan a heist on the Federal Reserve Bank. Gudegast discusses with ATM the brainstorming and rough cuts dealing with the making of the film.

ATM: Take it back to the beginning of the making of Den of Thieves.

Writing Process

Christian Gudegast: I first started writing the script in 2004. Most of the characters are based on people I already knew. I wanted to make a film based in Los Angeles, a crime saga revolving around these criminals and police that I knew. I saw a photograph in the Los Angeles Times of a Federal Reserve Bank money tub that had 30 million dollars of cash. This image fascinated me. I started researching this Federal Reserve Bank. I decided to write this story about the intersecting lives of cops and criminals around a heist of the Federal Reserve Bank.

Pre-Production Process

We went into pre-production in September of 2016 in Atlanta. The movie is set in Los Angeles, the big challenge was finding locations to somehow make a movie that is about LA in Atlanta. The weather is 200 miles inland from the coast. It is 1200 feet, basically a city in the forest. That was very difficult. After driving through the city for six months we were able to find all the few locations that did look similar to Los Angeles. I think we pulled it off. We shot the movie in Atlanta from February through May and in the end, we shot for a week in Los Angeles.

ATM: Before production, what were your prefigured thoughts from the beginning? How did you think the movie was going to end up? Did it change along the way?

Christian Gudegast: Yes and no. The look and style of the film were established long before production. I am a photographer, so I went out to photograph the entire script in still photographs. I went to the actual locations with the actual characters the movie is based on. I photographed them in their environment with the same lens we shot the film with. The same look and the same angles. So, the look, feel, music, and soundscape was all sort of pre-planned. What changed was the realities of production. You must think on your feet because you are not able to do certain things for many reasons. So, we had to adjust along the way here and there. That obviously did change the way we shot scenes. Some scenes we could not shoot, or we had to alter how we were shooting certain sequences.

For example, the Federal Reserve Bank sequence, we are first introduced to it by Merrimen when he is talking about it.  We cut certain shots of the Federal Reserve while Merrimen is in the warehouse explaining to his fellow criminal how the Federal Reserve works. That used to be one long steady camera shot that floated through the entire Federal Reserve. One week before we were going to shoot that, the Federal Building in Atlanta had an active shooting situation. It was canceled days before we were able to shoot there.

ATM: What inspired you to write “Den of Thieves?”

Christian Gudegast: What really inspired me were the people that I knew and their personal stories about their lives in the role of cops and robbers. I wanted to set a film in Los Angeles that was real and based on the stories of these real people that I knew.

ATM: When you sat down and saw the finished product of this film. In what ways did you self-critique yourself?

Christian Gudegast: In an endless number of ways. I’ll say it is about 80 percent of the initial vision. The challenge as a filmmaker is to bridge the gap between the initial vision and the final product. There are so many challenges in production and post-production with budget and locations. It’s just the realities of production and schedules of actors. You must make changes along the way. That is just the reality of the film business. I am my own harshest critic but knowing the challenges of making this film we are all very happy with the outcome.

ATM: There have been many heist thriller movies. In this film, were you trying to re-invent or create a new way for us to perceive these types of films?

Christian Gudegast: Create a new way. We wanted it to be original to ourselves. We did tons and tons of research about the Federal Reserve. We worked with armies and consulting tech advisors to figure out the most possible to pull this out.

ATM: Do you think you reached the goal of showing us a new way?

Christian Gudegast: I do.

ATM: Describe the preparation for the Alameda Corridor scene.

Christian Gudegast: We prepped that months in advance. WE trained all the actors in a facility and on land about 40 minutes outside of Atlanta. They trained there ass off for months. Merrimen and all the criminals were training on one side. The cops were training on the other side. We kept the two crews separate. During training, we had them do that action over and over again. When we got to go to the location in the middle of a city, we took over three city blocks and we blocked all off. We put in 250 cars. By the time we got to the set, all the actors did all the stunts because they knew what we were doing.

ATM: Why did you feel 50 Cent; Curtis Jackson was the right one to play Enson?

Curtis Jackson “50 Cent”

Christian Gudegast: Enson, the character as written on the page was very tough and very intimidated. He was the muscle and strength around Merrimen. When I met Curtis, he was exactly that person from the streets. He is a big tough dude who is absolutely totally real. He had a certain presence and energy to him that was like the character written on the page.

ATM: Not for just 50 Cent, how do you know for sure O’Shea Jackson Jr., Pablo Schreiber, Gerard Butler were the right fit to play the main characters? 

Gerard Butler

Christian Gudegast: We spent a long time casting for the film and we went through ever actor and character very carefully. When I met Gerard, he was the first to become attached to the film. We went to dinner several times to talk about the movie and the character. As we sat there to talk about the character, he would start to behave in certain ways that I envisioned him to.

Oshea Jackson Jr.

Oshea’s character Donnie  on the script was a difficult role to play. He had to be streets, tough, very intelligence, but at the same time he had to have an incident quality to him. He has all of these things. Oshea is funny, younger, and very very bright and cool. He is from LA and the streets. His dad is from NWA. He has that street cool kind of vibe to him. He checked all the boxes.

Pablo Schreiber

Pablo, who plays Merrimen is hyper intelligent and very intimidating. Pablo was all of these things. He was a D1 athlete and played basketball in college. He is very fit and strong. He has a piercing stare. He has great authority, which is exactly Merrimen’s character. That was the second I knew he was the guy.

ATM: Many people might not understand exactly what a director goes through. Take us through a full week of what you did as the director “Den of Thieves?”


Christian Gudegast: A week of being a director for pre-production is the following:  you’re up every day at about anywhere between the hours of 5am and 6:30am in the morning. Then you get to the production office. The production office is broken down into departments. You have the props, arts, stunts, hair, and makeup departments. We would have meetings with all the heads of departments to have updates to discuss the status of locations. We went over location scouts, finding where we were going to shoot the film. Once we found the location we would talk to the art departments about their sets. Sometimes we would have to built the sets and figure how to dress the location. We would paint and add props. We would cast every day. The casting roles deals with the speaker roles all the way down to the extras. For example, in the Rivera Bank scene, there were several extras there and there were people like bank tellers, customers, and security guard. All these roles the director selects. People come in to meet with you and it takes a long time for every role. You are sitting in with 10 to 20 to 200 people. You slowly meet all of them and choose the people that are going to be in the film.


When you get into production, depending if you are shooting at night or day, usually we are shooting during the day. You are up at about 5am and you are on set at about 6:30am-7am. You quickly grab a bite to eat on the set. I always walk the set to check it for the art department. I check how the set looks and to see if it is dressed properly. If it is all correct and if all the details are there. Then I talk to the DP and view the shoots for the day for this set. Then, I go to the actors who are at hair and makeup currently. We talk about the scenes we are about to shoot. When they are ready, they come onto the set at 8:30am. Then we start blocking the set and walk and talking in the scenes. The crew is watching us do this. While we are rehearsing the camera team makes marks on the ground. They mark where the actors are and will be as they go through the dialogue and scene. That is for the camera teams focus polar.

Post Production

During post production, I would get up later at 9am to 9:30am. I would get to the office at about 11:30am. We would review everything we shot with my team of editors. We review all the different shots, angles, and performances. Then we start selecting our favorite shots and performances, and line readings from certain characters. We start to assemble the scenes. Then we go to about 7pm or 8pm at night. When I get home at night I take with me a lot of the footage and I am constantly reviewing everything. The coverage of the scenes and the actor’s performances. I make selections of what I like. I send my notes to the editors in the morning. It goes like this for about six months. When we are done with picture editing, we move to sound. We bring in the sound music and sound effects. If any dialogue from the production sound is unclear, then mix together all the dialogue, sound effects, background sound, and the music. Then we do the DI, which is when you color the film.  Finally, you do a final pass of the photography of the movie.






Writer Quinn Wilson And His New Film Company

The previous Chicagoan filmmaker Quinn Wilson talks with ATM about his new non-profit film production company What Matters Productions. Wilson’s film company’s goal is to connect with brands to fund productions and focuses on global issues that need more attention. Wilson takes us on a journey about the how, why, and what involving What Matter’s Productions. In addition to running to a non-profit film company, Wilson recently earned a television writing job with Comedy Central. Wilson discusses how he received the job and working as a CEO.

ATM: Tell us about your new non-profit company What Matters Productions.

QW: What Matters Production Incorporated goal is to match sponsors and brands to help tell their stories. For example, I was at a refugee camp in Greece February 2017. We made a four-minute documentary about the refugees in the camp and we told their story. There are companies that share our video content online with their audience. We have done work all around Chicago. The brand is getting two pieces of viral exposure.

 ATM: How did you get the vision for this company?

QW: It took a while. It was not instant. Originally, the very first piece we did was called “Calvin’s Story.” This documentary focused on my friend who was surviving homelessness in Chicago. He was a black gay male living in America. We did the film to highlight what he went through. We distributed online and raised eight thousand dollars for him to attend school. He ended up finding a stable house. We ended up giving the rest to a homeless shelter. We discovered awesomeness about making these types of films. We are good at making these types of films. We raised 20 thousand dollars for the film in Greece. We love telling these stories through film. We are looking for sponsors and brand partners to make a taxable donation.

ATM: How do you feel What Matters Production can change the world?

QW:  We all want to take our skills and use it in a way to inspire the world. We can be a small piece of this larger ripple. There are so much amazing non-profits out in this world doing amazing things. The business world in many ways is broken. The government has found ways to continue spending money on the military to control the power. We want to help them tell their stories. We want to highlight these other institutions and organizations work.

ATM: Name some accomplishments that your company has already received?

QW: We have raised over 25 thousand dollars for homelessness in Chicago. This made homelessness history. These are monetary achievement. We made a project urgings government to keep antibiotics away from farm animals. Antibiotics are inside the cows. When kids eat the cow meat, they to get the antibiotics inside them. The bacteria become resistant. Two million are getting sick and 23 thousand people are dying because of this. We made this film with the US Pirg and they used this PSA film to lobby to the government and private businesses. Since this film, businesses like Chick Fil La, Burger King, KFC, Subway, McDonalds, and Pizza Hut have resolved antibiotics in our meat. We saved lives.

ATM: Any upcoming projects?

QW: We just signed a project for Family Matters, a non-profit on the Northside. A lower income neighborhood in Chicago located in Rogers Park. An afterschool program in a hotel talking about micro issues with racial inequality. This film will come out at the end of February 2018. We are about this embark on a trip to Europe. Also, we are planning to do work in Sierra Leone. We will do work in Kenya, working with Africans. We plan to do work in India, in efforts to help domestic abuse by teaching woman to drive. We teach them how to drive so they can get out of their abusive relationships.

ATM: Since the first moment you picked up a camera to film, did you ever think your film career would reach this level?

QW: That is a good question. No one has asked me that. No, I did not. I started in 8th grade, I did a rock cycle science project. Instead of writing a paper, I decided to turn it into a made. At this moment I decided I wanted to do this the rest of my life. This was so fun. I thought features and comedy would be in my film career.

 ATM: Discuss your Comedy Central writing job?

QW: IO Comedy Network was co-hosting an event the New York Television Festival. At this event was Comedy Central, ICS, TruTV, Mosaic, and a lot more. I pitched to these companies at this event. Comedy Central said my work was great and asked me to write for them. They signed me to a contract, wanting me to pitch them stories. If they like it, then they’ll pay me.

 ATM: Thanks for letting ATM interview you.

QW: You are welcome.

Bolivian filmmaker Violeta Ayala

Bolivian filmmaker Violeta Ayala fears for her life after she exposes the truth of the Bolivian government and society.

Bolivian filmmaker Violeta Ayala talks with ATM about two of her latest documentaries, “The Fight” and “Cocaine Prison.” Her first film highlights the harsh and discriminations of people with disabilities in Bolivia. Ayala follows a group of protestors travelling to La Paz in efforts to speak with President Evo Morales about this issue. While on their travels, they were faced with riot police and physical beatings by Bolivian police officers. In “Cocaine Prison” a brother, Hernan and his young sister, Daisy are forced to be succumbed in an environment filled with drugs. A brother lives his life as a drug mule and gets caught up into this lifestyle. Daisy fights to help me get free from one of Bolivia’s most notorious prison, San Sebastian. While her brother is in prison trying to get free, the sister is faced with a lot of temptations to join the cocaine trafficking industry. Both films unleash the truth about the Bolivian government and society.

ATM: Take us back to when you first got the idea for this project.

Violeta Ayala: It was a film that was not planned. We were in Bolivia also working on my other film “Cocaine Prison.” I remember a friend of mine told me about people were hanging on the bridges. I said to myself “why are they doing this?” What’s going on?” It was a striking image seeing people hanging in their wheel chairs. They had been protesting for months in La Paz, not far from my house. I saw them, but I only put money in their cups. When I started talking to them about hanging on buildings, I realized it was a problem. They said they are going to go to La Paz to protest. People in wheel chairs with no arms and no legs going all the way to La Paz. I did not think this was possible.

The press started to accuse me as being someone from the United States who financed this protest, paying 100 dollars per person to protest. If that was truth, then I would have the whole country protesting. We walked with them for 35 days. We believed that when we got to La Paz the President Morales would speak with them to make peace. It was a physical wall for them not to enter. For 110 days they slept on the streets of La Paz and fought against the government for their rights. It was unbelievable. They took pictures of my partner and I and saying we were CIA agents. I am an indigenous woman from Bolivia with only a little of privilege. The government could not stop the protest by force. The harder they tried, the harder they fought. I came in the protest with pity, and I came out seeing they had so much pride and humility. These were the strongest people I had met in my life. It was an eye opener as a human being.

ATM: What emotions stirred in you when you witnessed how the disabled people were treated?

Violeta Ayala: It let me see how discrimination started. I realized the government started using a lot of the media. The Bolivian media is pretty much in the hands of the government. They say people with disabilities have free houses and they are working with the Americans. Then you see people on the streets. I made this film to show how people with disabilities were living one thing and how the media was influencing other things. Police officers were shouting “Go back home. You all are worse than animals!” In this moment, I realized you hate what is different than you. No one ever thinks you can be in this position. Also, that the day you could become a person with disabilities. It was sad to me to see how police were hitting people with disabilities.

It is disgusting to witness this sort of treatment toward people who are at a physical disadvantage. The violence in the film is only ten percent of what really happens. I put the camera down shooting how a police officer was kicking a man in a wheel chair, who was paraplegic, saying “Get up, I know you can run.” We all know they cannot run. The police want to provoke us. For me as a woman you are subjected to sexual violence. The policeman grabs them by their asses and their shirts. It is about showing your power over people you think you can oppress. People fail on supporting people with disabilities, not just the government, everyone should be there protesting. We are all guilty for this moment in history for Bolivia.

ATM: How do you think the Bolivian police, media, and government can stop abusing their power?

Violeta Ayala: This is happening all over the world. People who are black and have a disability are treated the worse. We are in the world where everything is shaking. I made this film, so the police officers can reflect on themselves, to see who the animals really are. A lot of people question me in my work. They ask why I talk about racism and why I talk about this. I say because it hardens my life today. If we do not challenge the police or challenge the power, then we will not see change. The children of the police can look at these policemen and say, “This is the kind of father I have.” I do not believe in being politically correct. I do not care about the power because it does not care about me.

ATM: In the film, there is scene with a disability man crawling on his bare hands and knees in front of police barricades, what was your thought process when you directed this scene? Did you at any moment wanted to put down your camera to stop filming and help?

Violeta Ayala: No, because on this day, they all were naked as a way of protest. They showed the reality of them. This is a way they are using mechanisms to make attention. I must tell what is happening. I am not there to stop what is happening.

ATM: If you were in the same position as the Bolivian disability people, do you think you could be courageous in protesting as they did?       

Violeta Ayala: I am getting a lot of threats to my life saying I am ruining President Morales government and giving him a bad face by making this public. They say they are going to kill my daughter. I found out through investigations that there were Facebooks accounts from the government palace. This is very scary. I would have the strength to protest because I have the strength to document it. If I knew it in the end maybe I would not because when you must give so much. I cannot put them in my shoes because I am not a (pause) well I also have a disability. I have a muscle thing. I cannot tie shoes. It took me a while to dress myself when I was little. I do not think they even knew what they were getting into when they started this protest. They in a way made the government of Bolivia naked. They took all their clothes of the government of Bolivia.

ATM: Why do you think “Cocaine Prison” is the first film that combines cocaine and poverty together? Why do you think other filmmakers have not yet explored this idea?

Violeta Ayala: I think that war on drugs is a global problem. We talk a lot about drug addiction because it mostly effects the white population. We do not talk about the rest. It is nice to talk about Pablo Escobar and that kind of glamorization of the drug trade, yet we do not talk about who are in the middle. It was very important for me to tell the point of view of the ants, which is where it started. I did to not try to explain everything without saying what happened to Nixon and how he affected what happened in Bolivia. He declared the war on drugs. I wanted to focus on the problem in my country. I wanted to show how Mario and Daisy are like the little ants in this business, they are replaceable.

People have this imagination about the drug world, but we are dehumanized. We have lost our humanity in the eyes of the mainstream media. I wanted to show we have families and this is a global business that effects everyone. I would like to see a film like this made in the United States about the key to drug trafficking. I wanted to show the big complex problem through their eyes. The war on drugs is about control, racism, colonization, and slavery.

ATM: While shooting “Cocaine Prison” were their new things you learned about your hometown Bolivia?

Violeta Ayala: I learned the prison was like a microcosm of the country. Inside the prison you have the worst and best parts of humanity. I learned that corruption is much more serious. I do not believe we will have democracies in Latin America until the war on drugs is over in countries like Bolivia, Columbia, and Peru. Cocaine money founds our economics and underground economy. It is inheritably corrupted and so everything will be based on that. Everything is a hypocrisy. The war on drug is not just harming the Latino and black population in the United States, but it is harming all the Americas. We cannot see a future. The rich just become richer. The ones who are benefiting are politicians, bikers, and the economy. Only the one percent.

ATM: Honestly, do you ever think the fight against the war on drugs will ever end? At least in your lifetime?

Violeta Ayala: Maybe not in my lifetime. People take drugs and don’t even know why or what they are taking. In 100 years, we will look at people and ask what we have done to our children. Everyone is suffering. I deeply believe the good is always better than the bad. In the past alcohol was prohibited and it did not make any sense. We can fight this. We need to stop making people of color and minorities guilty of everything. They cannot keep paying this price. You will go do these things to have opportunities to live life. Think about crack, you go to jail. Whereas if you were caught with cocaine you did not. Most of the people with crack were black. This cycle of violence, control, and power keeps reciprocates to all the Americas. I have not seen white people in Bolivian prisons. They never got caught. They are the ones doing it and benefiting. It is not about catching anyone. It is about control and pretending to stop war on drugs.

Interview with 24 HOURS TO LIVE Director Brian Smirz

Brian Smirz makes his directorial debut with the movie 24 HOURS TO LIVE starring multiple Oscar nominee, Ethan Hawke (Before Midnight, Boyhood) , Chinese actress Xu “Summer” Qing (Looper), Paul Anderson (The Revenant), and Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner).  Smirz cut his teeth first as a stunt man and then as a 2nd Unit Director on the movies X-MEN: APOCALYPSE and FRANTASTIC FOUR.

In 24 HOURS TO LIVE, Ethan Hawke portrays a career assassin who is given a chance at redemption after his employer brings him temporarily back from the dead. The catch? He only has 24 hours to make things right.


What are the challenges that are unique to filming an action movie vs. a comedy movie?

“Action sequences are very time consuming to shoot and take a great deal of planning and rehearsal. There are almost always safety concerns and often there are practical and/or visual effects needed for a shot to be complete. Actors must rehearse and train with stunt professionals so that they feel comfortable and safe, which in turn will help make a scene believable. As an example, the car chase in 24 Hours to Live is less than 3 minutes in length but took a total of 6 of the 42 shooting days I had on the film. There were green screen shots, layered visual effects shots, practical effects, stunt doubles, towing shots, and even shots in which a stuntman drove the car from a seat mounted to the roof of the car through traffic so that the actors could concentrate on the scene. In contrast a comedic scene that is 3 minutes in length would most likely be shot in 1 day, unless of course there was action involved. “

The fight scenes are exceptional. Since you have a background in stunt work, did this help when directing an action sequence?

“My background in stunts was invaluable to directing the action sequences on this film, especially with its relatively small budget and short shooting schedule. On bigger budget films there is most always a 2nd unit that shoots the bulk of the action sequences because of the complexity and time needed. We did not have a 2nd unit so it was imperative that we had a clear plan of execution that we could stick to.”

It looks like it was filmed on 3 continents. I would image that could quickly become a logistics nightmare?

“I am glad that you believed we filmed on 3 continents, but that is the magic of film making. The entire film was shot in South Africa. Florida was shot at a local beach just outside of Cape Town which is evident by the low level surrounding hills. The two Hong Kong scenes were both shot in Cape Town with sets that were built by our production designer, Colin Gibson. Stock footage was used for the establishing aerials.”

Without giving away the plot line—are you satisfied with the ending? Couldn’t that doctor have removed that thing from his arm?

“The movie is meant to be fun, not taken too seriously. I tried to instill subtle humor throughout and felt the ending fit that tone. “

When did you become interested in being a director?

“In 2002 while filming Xmen 2, I was given the opportunity to direct several of the action sequences including the Lady Death Strike fight with Hugh Jackman and Kelly Hu. I really enjoyed working with both of them and have been interested in directing an entire feature since that time.”

What do you look for when choosing a movie to direct?

“I look for interesting characters in unique situations. It is also very important to have a good production company behind the project. Working with Basil Iwanyk and Kent Kubena from Thunder Road Pictures was a big factor in my wanting to direct this film. They are a first class group all the way.”

Do you feel that stunt people do not get enough credit?

“I do think there should be some sort of category for action at the academy awards as it is probably the only group of artists that is completely left out.”

Empire’s Rekkhan Talks About His Starring Role in the Fox Hit Show

A look into how the star landed his breakout gig.


Rekkhan got his start on Empire as an extra, and worked hard to prove his worthiness of a speaking role. Aside from acting, Rekkhan works as a music artist and producer, making him a natural fit for the Empire aesthetic. A treat for fans of the show—in this interview with ATM, Rekkhan details his experience with Bryshere Gray (Hakeem) and their special connection on set.

Rekkhan’s latest single, “Rise Up,” (also known as Chitown Anthem) is up for four nominations in next year’s Grammy Awards. 2018 looks to be a busy year for the starlet—as a few movie roles are also in the works. His main goal, though—to make a positive impact on those around him.


ATM: Tell me about your experience on Empire, which is shaping up to be one the network’s hottest shows.

Rekkhan: Last season, I was restricted to working with certain individuals. I was working with Nessa and Xzibit. I’m Xzibit’s right-hand man, and our job was to infiltrate the company. Now, I work with more artists on the show. This is my third season—I came in on the end of the second season. Xzibit and I did a lot of stuff last year; we created a lot of chaos. I’m a music producer and an artist, and making a transition to acting is the reason they like me—because it comes natural [to me].


ATM: Take me back to your first day on working on set. What was it like?

Rekkhan: My first day on set, I was an extra. We were setting this grand scene—I was playing a security guard. [There were] so many extras and people. I was super nervous. In my first official scene that day, I was standing next to Taraji (Henson), and Terrence (Howard) next to her. While I was trying to have my game face on, they were making jokes like a married couple. They’re joking, and I was trying to keep a straight face. Terrence was like, “You can laugh,” but I was like, “No, I’m trying to keep my job.” It was a 2-day shoot, [but] it was so long, it [felt] like a 14-hour shoot.


ATM: Did you ever think you were going to be a part of the past season?

Rekkhan: I got a call from my casting company at my warehouse job, and I see the number—it’s restricted. So, my dodging lifts, and I’m trying to get to the bathroom. The founder of the casting company says, “Your name came up in the production meeting of Empire. The executive producer wants you to play this role.” I’m still in awe in the bathroom, and I am trying to keep it to a minimal [level] because people are in there. The executive producer, the one next to Lee Daniels, said, “She wants you.” I wanted to ask questions—but at this moment, I just didn’t ask. It [made for] an awkward moment for the rest of the day—I was happy and smiling. My casting company helped me out a lot, and even to this day I’m still taking it in. There were over 100 extras, and now I have a role. We talked for a while, and I came in the next day. For the first scene, I came in with Xzibit’s character. I didn’t know the executive producer personally; I had only heard her name. I still don’t know how [it happened]. I was pursuing Empire since season one. Then, when I found out they were shooting in my season, I had to figure out how to get on it.


ATM: Now that you’re part of the cast, do you laugh at Taraji’s and Terrence’s jokes?

Rekkhan: Yes, I laugh a little. Terrence plays a lot of pranks on set.  One prank was when he wanted a lighter for a cigarette, and he asked me [for one]. I didn’t have one, and he said “You are fired,” and he never followed up to say if it was a joke. And I was like, “Now, I’m finally here and I get fired?” He was so serious with the joke.


ATM: Is it hard for you to distinguish your character from your personality when you’re off set?

Rekkhan: I have people approach me thinking I’m a demon because of my role. Last season, I was still [nervous] with my job because I didn’t know if I was going to be around [long]. I was getting approached at the store. Everybody went crazy because I didn’t want anybody following me home—they think I have gold bricks in my home. I had to manhandle Nessa on a couple of scenes. I went back to work, and people were asking questions about why I did it. I was handling guns and a lot of material, and people said I looked great. For someone to look at my scene and say it looks authentic says a lot about my acting.


ATM: How is it working as Xzibit’s right-hand man?

Rekkhan: We have fun. Xzibit is a fool; he is joking the entire time between takes. After they say “cut,” it’s back to laughing. I look at Xzibit for inspiration [on transitioning from] a music artist to [having] an actor’s perspective. He is a good man, and being his guy is good. Last season, I was like, “I’m going to mess around and get killed.”  Every time I went on set, I had to look at the script to see if it was my last day. I was bad. Then, on the season finale, I was like, “This is going to be it. If something happens, it’s going to happen to me and not him.” It has been a stressful couple of seasons.


ATM: What has been your favorite moment on set?

Rekkhan: Me and Hakeem have one of the best scenes on camera. Performance-wise, me and Yaz just click. The best scenes are with me and Xzibit and me and Hakeem. The performance scenes are great. I want to pinpoint a certain scene, but I cannot. Every time I go, it’s like a new adventure. [Most] recently—the Hakeem scene. He brings in so much energy, and every time we interact, it gives me that moment. He would either shake my hand or say “Give me a pound” to include me in the moment. I was in so many scenes that they had to take me out some. They had to figure out where to place me, so that’s when they started writing me in the script.


ATM: Aside from acting on ‘Empire,’ you also rap. Can you explain this lyric from “Rise Up”: ‘It was about us protecting ours against them?’ Who is “them?”

Rekkhan: Establishment. I do not want to go to a dividing line. Everything comes at us a lot—everyone had a problem with us blacks for some reason. You can blame slavery. No, it’s also us against us. No one wants to work with each other. Once you divide the people up, you can do anything you want. Everyone has the problems with us as a people; we are the most imitated people on this planet. People don’t want us shine or survive. You can even see this with the constant interactions with the police—I have never gotten pulled over without the police having his hand on his gun. As long as I have been on the earth, I have never been around when there has been a nice interaction with a police officer. They are always on guard when it comes to us. I have a lot of friends and family that are police officers, but there are police that are giving the good police a bad name. Today, there aren’t feelings or shame. It’s all about trying to capture the attention. People are trying to get people to notice them, [but] they use the wrong idea or method to get notice. In the beginning, it was us against them—now, it’s us against us.