By Jack Wellington

Deon Taylor is a self-made movie maker. Born in Chicago, Illinois and raised in Gary, Indiana, Deon and his mother left the Midwest because of all the violence they experienced. Several of his friends on his freshman basketball team died by gunshot on the streets of Gary. They made a move to Sacramento, and he eventually earned a basketball scholarship at San Diego State University and then played basketball professionally earning a spot in the NBA Entertainment league. It was then while playing abroad for the NBA that he decided with no formal training that he was going to become a filmmaker. With no experience, no contacts, and merely a drive to succeed Deon inserted himself into the world of movie making and hasn’t looked back since. He formed Hidden Empire Film Group in 2000, and his partnerships have created many critically acclaimed projects since its inception. He is living proof that if you want to live the dream, you have to fully immerse yourself and go for it with all the drive that you have. STRIPLV sat down with Deon and asked him about his latest project Traffik and found out what inspired him to create this suspenseful film, and what’s next for this prolific writer and director.

STRIPLV: Could you explain to our readers what it takes to be a fully independent filmmaker?
TAYLOR: Being fully independent is more than just saying you’re independent. (Laughing) It means that you have to wear all the hats. So you have to go and find your own money. Most of the time you either write your own script or go find the screenplay that you could capture or buy. And it also means putting a movie together. Making it, casting, photographers, actors, everything that goes into making a movie, you have to go and do it on your own. And there is no luxury of a studio that has relationships. There is no luxury of being able to go up to that top actor and saying hey I want you for my movie. It is all from the ground up. It’s an extraordinary process, a process that tends to break a lot of people. A lot of movies are started and not finished. A lot of movies are ideas on someone’s shelf. So to be able to say I am going to do this, and actually, do it and get to the end is far more victorious than just getting it to the theater if you ask me.
STRIPLV: What advice would you give to an aspiring filmmaker that wants to jump into this business?
TAYLOR: The advice that I would give to a filmmaker to try and get into the industry is passion. There is nothing no one, no agent, no manager, no financier; there is nothing that will give you greater success than having passion. It’s priceless; it’s how you are going to make your movie, it’s how you are going to cast your film, it’s what when you turn the cameras on it is what’s going to make it shine through the artists to represent you. It’s a big deal man, it’s a word that is easily thrown around, but passion is when you are 18 hours into a movie, it’s ten degrees outside, the crew is ready to go home, and you need to get one more shot.
STRIPLV: Now you were self-taught, so what was the day when you said I could do this I can become a film director what ignited that?
TAYLOR: I was in East Germany playing basketball, and it was freezing cold out. I remember watching one of the many movies I’ve been watching for forever, which was Platoon. And I just thought man I got an idea to write a movie and I wanted to do it. At the time I didn’t know anybody in the entertainment industry. I knew no actors, no one who wrote, directed or produced. I flew home for the offseason, and I remember I was just like, “I wrote this movie, and I’m going to do it.” I remember people laughing me out of the room they are like what are you talking about? The pitch was great, but then I had no other element, I had no script, I was just there living in the moment. Now when I look back, I’m like “Damn Deon that was so stupid.” But it was that stupidity; it was that passion, it was that hunger, it was that fearlessness of me not knowing what I should be doing that, that allowed me to do it if that makes sense.
STRIPLV: Why the movie Traffik? What motivated you to write, and then turn what you had written into a movie?

TAYLOR: My daughter was the driving force behind Traffik. I wrote the movie strictly off the fact that I started getting information in the area about young kids being abducted and trafficked in my area. Human trafficking was foreign to me. I was like “That ain’t us. We cool, you know what I mean.” Then I started learning very quickly that man that is you. That is the world, and domestically this is a very big problem. There are thousands of abductions every day into human trafficking. It just triggered in me, and I started writing and tried to figure out how to shoot a film that could live in the thriller world, but also explain how this happens.
STRIPLV: As a black man what is your responsibility as a filmmaker?
TAYLOR: That’s an interesting question. As a black male, as a man, I think to just be the best me that I can possibly be. I like what I’m doing. What I am trying to be responsible for as a director is to tell stories that are relevant to me, and stories that can move and ignite change. We do a lot of stuff with color. I made a movie Supremacy that dealt directly with white supremacists and a black family. Traffik is out of the box based on the fact. Not a lot of people understand what trafficking is. Not only is it a broad problem, but it affects 62% of African American women. So me being able to put the hat on and do this is actually pretty cool.
STRIPLV: You shot the film primarily outside of northern Sacramento California. What was it like shooting there? How hard was it to shoot at the locations you chose? Because I have to tell you the movie looks fantastic and the sites play a big part of the overall story.
TAYLOR: Yes, Sacramento was chosen because I live there, and I was shocked to find out that it is a hub for trafficking. But it was also great because Sacramento and northern California are covered with trees and vistas winding all the way up to Tahoe coming out of the bay area into San Francisco. It’s just a beautiful stretch. So, the locations became a character for us. Then what also became beautiful for us were the vistas. Getting up to the houses being able to shoot in these amazing properties where its just wild and open. Then when it gets dark, the same incredible openness becomes very scary, and you now understand how vulnerable you are. I thought that was a fantastic twist in the movie, and that let us ratchet up the heat and the terror as the film becomes dark.
STRIPLV: Now Traffik is the focus now, but what comes next for you?
TAYLOR: What’s coming up next for me is a movie I am really excited about called Motivated Seller with Michael Ealy, Dennis Quaid, and Meagan Good. It’s coming out later this year. And we are starting production on a movie called 38, which I think is a very important movie. It’s shot in south central L.A. and actually takes the audience on the other side of the blue line. With all this black lives matter going on and police officer’s killing young kids, we are going to examine how it feels to be a black cop in the streets over this course of time. I am excited to have Dante Spinotti shooting it and we are excited about doing it.

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