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Five Questions With Director Deon Taylor

2014 LA Film Fest Interview

Jun 12, 2014 Web Exclusive
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After earning a biology degree from San Diego State University on a basketball scholarship, and then playing professionally in Germany for a year, filmmaker Deon Taylor established himself as a director in the horror genre, with titles such as Nite Tales (2008) and Chain Letter (2009). He was looking to transition into drama, in search of stories with complex themes and topical issues, when producer Vince Cirrincione brought Eric J. Adams’ screenplay for Supremacy to his attention. The story, about a white supremacist who takes a black family hostage in their own home, is based on true events. With an ensemble cast led by Danny Glover as Mr. Walker, the patriarch of the family , and Joe Anderson as Garrett Tully, an Aryan Brotherhood member, Taylor’s film persistently escalates in drama and tension, alternating between nightmarish and humanistic in its exploration of race relations, prejudice, and learned behavior.

Supremacy premieres tonight at the LA Film Fest in the LA Muse section. It screens at 9:45 p.m. at L.A. Live Downtown.

Chris Tinkham (Under the Radar): Your film is inspired by true events. Eric J. Adams wrote the screenplay. What surprised you about this story either through your own research or your discussions with Eric?

Deon Taylor: After reading the screenplay of Supremacy, I was intrigued by the family. I became somewhat obsessed with learning more about Mr. Walker and his past. What surprised me the most was understanding that Mr. Walker wasn’t so much different than Tully. Both of them had difficult childhoods and both were completely bullheaded about their beliefs. This was compelling to me.

What was most important to you about the way Garrett Tully would be depicted?

The most important thing that I wanted depicted about Tully was that he was simply a young man that had continuously made wrong decisions. I wanted the audience to see that, beyond the tattoos and the learned racist behavior, he was still a young man who simply had no direction and believed in something he felt was familyeven if it was wrong. He was a lost soul. This story is more common than we know with black and white kidsgangs, cults, cliques, etc. You would be amazed at how many young, innocent, intelligent kids whoin looking for love, acceptance and, most of all, familygo down the wrong path.

Were there any memorable discussions, questions, or concerns among the actors about the hateful words that Joe Anderson had to spew as Garrett?

There were many discussions surrounding the words and tattoos that Joe Anderson used and portrayed. As a filmmaker, I had to be extra sensitive to these moments. You have to understand that these words and thoughts that are used during the film are bulletsand they hurt. My goal was to be real and not to sugarcoat what really happened in this house, and what words were really used. I found myself speaking with Danny a lot during these moments. Danny, being no stranger to racism and having had experience with race in film with The Color Purple, allowed me to lean on him for energy and knowledge. It was very important for me to be sure I was delivering the right message to fight against ignorance.

There’s sustained tension among the characters throughout the film, and the actors appear to be in tight quarters. How do you go about maintaining a positive mood on set when the camera isn’t rolling?

Supremacy was a hard film for so many reasons. Keeping the set in a certain mood was always a challenge. I approached each scene very carefully, oftentimes shooting with one camera and focusing all of my attention on that one moment, making sure I would not have to revisit it. I also found myself using a lot of my interpersonal skills on set. I would spend lots of time talking with the actors and making sure they were all comfortable. And if they weren’t, I would simply revisit the scene and rework it in order to communicate the point of the scene in a different manner. I felt it was really important to listen to the actors, as it’s a team effort. You must be in sync or it doesn’t work.

You have an accomplished background in basketball. Do you have any interest in making a basketball or sports film?

I really have interest in doing a sports film. Currently I’m working on a film entitled Free Agents, which is a dark drama about the underworld of professional football players, sort of Training Day meets Any Given Sunday. The project does not hold back in the slightest, and we have recently attached a few former NFL stars to consult on the project. We are looking to get this film into production this year. I’m very excited about this one.


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