For the release of the home invasion thriller TRAFFIK (2018), Craig had the great pleasure of interviewing writer/director Deon Taylor where they discussed everything from convincing actors to be in your movie to working with a Hollywood legend when you are a self-taught director. Read on to learn more:
Nightmarish Conjurings: How has it been doing all the press work?
Deon Taylor: You know, it’s different, man. I would say we’re out promoting the movie, but what’s been really cool is that I’m not really promoting; I’m just talking about the film. It’s not like I’m getting on the phone trying to sell it to anyone; saying, “You gotta see this thing.” It’s more like I’m telling people what it’s about, why we made it, and all that good stuff. It’s been actually really cool just to kind of really settle in and talk about the movie as a filmmaker versus someone trying to pump the movie up
NC: What inspired you to use the home invasion motif as your opening?
DT: Oh it’s interesting, you know, because I like those movies, but I also wanted to get to the climax with these guys coming into the house and making our couple run. The film was built that way based on the fact that obviously human trafficking is the backdrop of the film. What I wanted to do was place on top of that idea a thriller and a love story. I just don’t think there’s anything more scary than somebody knocking on your door and ultimately coming in. It’s the basis for pretty much all the horror movies you see. Our home is our private space, our private sanctuary, so when someone actually crosses the door line or draws you in, or pulls you out; to me that’s super scary. I wanted the film to have that type of raw edge. I wanted it to be where a lot of the elements that you’re seeing in the film are based in reality and also based on the idea of like, “What would you do?” It’s very interesting because the four individuals in the film Paula (Patton), Laz (Alonso), Omar (Epps), and Rosalyn (Sanchez) all have a completely different idea of what they should do in the situation. Obviously Laz is like, “Give me the phone and I’ll give it back”, Paula is like, “If you give it to these people they’re gonna kill us”, and Omar is more in the situation and trying to figure everything out. I think that element of them breaking into the house and like the roller coaster ride starting down the hill
NC: What inspired you to use human trafficking as the main thrust of the film?
DT: I picked it as the subject matter based on the fact that I’ve got a twelve year old daughter. As a Black, American dad I started getting these emails on my phone about a year and a half ago about kids being trafficked at the local mall. It was the first time I really put my sights on something like human trafficking. You know, you hear about it or you see it in different things like the news, but it’s one of those things were when you hear about it you just say, “Man, that’s crazy,” and then you continue to go on to the next thing. When it hit me was when I got an email about paying attention when dropping off teenagers at the mall because they’re being kidnapped and trafficked. That resonated with me beyond belief. I started looking more into it and found it was happening in my area. I even found out it was happening at a pretty high level in my region that girls were getting abducted as teenagers and being taken into sex trafficking. I remember for the next day I was like, “What? Why is nobody saying anything about this?” That was when I started writing the script. It took me a little while to get the concept down because I did a lot of research on what trafficking was and what other movies were out there on the subject. I was able to find a lot of documentaries or dark and serious works; you know things of that nature, which I could tell had not really resonated with the bigger audiences. I said to myself, “Well I don’t want to make a movie where no one wants to see it,” so I was trying to figure out how to do it and make it interesting. Then I remembered the movie Taken (2008) and how much I enjoyed that movie as a moviegoer because it was such a cool throwback with Liam Neeson going in and doing his stuff. Then I remembered that the backdrop for a smidgen of that film was human trafficking and they kinda glossed over that his daughter got taken. That made me think to myself would be interesting to actually have a window into the trafficking world, but built on something with more substance like a love story and a drama. It makes it feel more like it’s based on true events because there have been cases where women pulled up to a gas station, encountered someone being trafficked, and the victim couldn’t say anything. There have been multiple cases of people have found things or helped someone where these good Samaritans have been attacked or hurt or taken or killed and that’s when I started studying these trafficking rings. I realized that this is what I want to do, I want to build a story that was in this world that could be taken on as a thriller but have a grounded approach. Hopefully it will be a spark to a lot of people that watch it and I want them to go, “Wait a minute, does this really happen?” because, yeah, it does. Then at the very end we put the real statistics on the screen. I thought that was a really cool way to let kids take a pill that they don’t want to take and let adults go for a ride that’s really cool, but can still start a conversation. With that being said, it was a very hard movie to make because of the subject matter and because of the things that had to be true to form: things like how they shoot the girls up with needles, or how they rope girls, or how they put them in the truck, or how they transported the girls. What I think we did extremely well is put together a really good piece of art where people could actually watch it and digest trafficking; understand how powerful this is and it’s something we need to deal with
NC: How did you attract this great cast to the project?
DT: I just was begging and I kept on begging people. I mean people run around for years with a script trying to make the money to get it made. I wrote the script, I went and found my own money to make the film, and then the most critical part comes with the casting. As an independent I’ve always just really been kind of like putting my backpack on and getting out there to really try to find the people that I want. Paula Patton was someone that I actually thought would be great for the film, but it was very hard to her into doing the movie. Originally the script was not like she wanted it and she was like, “Man, it’s interesting, but I just don’t know.” I kept on begging and begging until I finally got her phone number, texted her, and we figured out a way where it made sense to her and me in terms of how we wanted to see things develop in the script. One thing that’s cool about independents is that you’re always writing the script. I’m the type of filmmaker where I’m writing on set if something feels like it needs to be adjusted. It’s not like a corporation where they’re like, “This is the script and no one changes it.” It’s just not like that in independents. If we feel this way about a scene we can say, “Let’s make that move or let’s say this or let’s take that out.” That was the really cool thing about making this movie because it allowed Omar Epps and Paula Patton and Rosalyn and Laz to be connected to the script because they were able to have a say. It allowed me to shape the script to them and their strengths; it allowed Laz to be an asshole more, it allowed Paula to be her light more, and it allowed Omar to have the moments he needed to have. Really, I just begged all of them. If you called all of them on the phone and asked, “How did you come to do this movie?” they’d say, “Deon just kept begging me”
NC: What inspired you to cast Missi Pyle, someone normally associate with comedies, in such a serious role?
DT: She’s great. I was looking at a bunch of actors and actresses and I loved Missi. I’d never met her in person so I asked to meet her and these people set up a meeting for me. Now I’m like 6’ 3” and when she came in she was like 6’ 3” so I’m already like, “Wow!” you know what I mean? Then we sat down and she was the most beautiful person, the most kind heart, super funny, and so I made my pitch. I said to her, “I just want to talk to you about this movie because what’s cool about it is, I don’t think you’ve ever done something like this.” I think that really connected with her because she was like, “You’re right.” Now to see someone in a movie transforming or doing something different than what I am used to, I’ve always thought was really cool. I just felt like she was the perfect person for the job. As a matter of, fact Missi was the only person I met for the job. When I met her, talked to her, visited with her, and saw her serious side I was like, “Man, you’d be really beautiful pulling this off.” It really helps that she’s intimidating just because she’s a tall woman. I just liked all of it about her: I liked her face, I liked her demeanor, I liked what she represented, I liked how she played the role, and though she doesn’t get her big powerful moment until later in the film, I thought she was just fantastic
NC: Being a self-made independent director, what was it like working with the legendary cinematographer Dante Spinotti and what did you learn from him?
DT: That’s a great question. Yeah, as self-taught independent filmmaker Dante was exceptional; he’s become someone very near and dear to me as a friend. In fact, we’re now working on another movie together right now. It was amazing because here we are a seventy two year old Italian man and me, a forty year old black filmmaker who has taught himself working together. Dante’s experienced working with Michael Mann for multiple years and he’s been nominated for multiple Oscars and now he was now pit against me who was really energetic, feisty, creative, jumping around, and not by the book. It ended up being the perfect marriage. It was great because what I was able to learn from Dante was the importance of location and how valuable the camera and lighting were to the scene. A lot of the stuff we did in the movie was we really played with the light to make you feel a certain way. We started out the movie light, sexy, and beautiful and then turned it into a noir world only lit by car lights, lamps, and moon light to change the tone. As a filmmaker I took and learned these tricks so our collaboration proved to be very educational for me. What I think Dante learned from me is that there are no rules. At times me and him did about eighty setups in a day and he told me he had never done that in his entire life. I believe the independence of the movie was something he had not done since he was a kid. I remember after working an eighteen hour day me and him just sitting on some folding chairs and laughing. It was great to see him so invested in something. Being able to have this great man shoot this movie was a phenomenal experience for me and something I will cherish forever
TRAFFIK (2018) will be in theaters on April 20th.
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