Location: Oakland, CA
Hometown: Bronx, NY
Why am I here?
I am here to show the world my vision and perspective on life and, secondly, to jump-start my career of course.
A quick tour of my life.
I was born and raised in the Bronx, primarily on East Tremont and Boston Road, and before that on 174th & Longfellow near Bronx River - The home of hip hop. I went to Lehman High and then to Westchester Community College. At that time, my main focus was as far from film as it could be: I majored in Accounting and I was, more importantly, a jock-football, a hard hitting defensive back, to be exact. Football was my world, my love, and passion. I left New York for the sunny skies of Cali back in the mid 80's and began my ascension to manhood through my time as an undergraduate at San Francisco State University, while majoring in Economics and minor in Black Studies. Basically, back then, if I wasn't going to the NFL then I wanted to be the Black Donald Trump. Once I graduated, I returned to New York to work for the investment banking firm Sandler O'Neil & Partners where, in many ways, I learned my work ethic; as up 'til then success had come pretty easily to me. At Sandler, under the tutelage of trader and partner Jimmy Dunne (think Michael Douglas as Gordon Gecko), I developed the mind set for business and a killer instinct that has stayed with me ever since (Unfortunately, Herman Sandler, the genius and namesake of the firm, was killed in the 911 attacks.) I then bounced around the Wall Street life for a few more years until 1995. At that point, my best friend died and I decided that the corporate cog highway was not for me. I left investment banking and began to work with children. This was supposed to be temporary. However, it wound up being a 10 year career--teaching mostly wayward teens in the hoods of San Francisco and Long Beach, California. During this stretch, I worked toward becoming a filmmaker, returning to school --Chapman University-- graduating with a MFA in film production in 2003. That path has led me here.
Describe yourself in one sentence...
I am a man who attempts to live by an antiquated collection of ways, mores and values. In other words, I'm an "old school cat" in a new school world who is trying to stay on the path of enlightenment and righteousness in order to one day be considered great at the end of that day; or a passionate, scrappy brother from a tough neighborhood with a high survival instinct who fights tooth and nail for the things that he believes in.
Your theme song?
Depending on my mood, one of these will always reflect a scene in my life: "Manish Boy," Muddy Waters "Apache," The incredible Bongo Band "My Philosophy," KRS One "Mr. Magic, " Grover Washington, Jr.
First movie you ever saw?
Shaft is the first that I can remember.
Favorite line from a movie?
No way I can name just one, so here are a few that repeat on the regular: 1. "Sexual chocolate," Randy Watson in Coming to America 2. "I killed a man who looked like me, whose mother and father looked like my mother and father...and nothing happened," Lawrence Fishburne in Deep Cover
What made you want to be a filmmaker?
There are four major things that drove me to becoming a filmmaker:
1. As a child, I always loved movies. My pops was a huge movie buff and he, my mother, and I would go downtown to "The Deuce" [42nd St. in Manhattan] to see a film and have dinner on Sundays; It was a family ritual. In many ways, watching movies was a way to bond with my father. He would point out characters and scenes that he liked which, of course, etched those films in my mind: lots of Steve McQueen, Robert Mitchum, and John Wayne--you know, real tough guy stuff. Anyway, I believe that experience led me to a heightened awareness of the screen in terms of characters and dialogue and settings, as I would always look for references to the things my pop and I would talk about.
2. As a child, I always felt the world was bigger than the projects where we lived in the Bronx. So the movies were a way for me to dream about EVERYTHING, and travel ANYWHERE whether it was with Bruce Lee in Hong Kong or Steve McQueen in France racing cars in Le mans, or with Bogie or Shaft in Africa for that matter. I was always fascinated by WHERE the movie was taking place, the authenticity of the setting, which, coincidentally, has led me, rather obsessively I might add, to place an exceptionally high emphasis on location filmmaking in my own work. I really want the setting of my films to be the place that I'm portraying and not some set. I feel it somehow authenticates everything I'm doing.
3. Spike Lee's "She's Gotta' Have It" changed my life, as here, for the first time, I saw someone behind the camera that looked like me (literally, as I have been told several times). See, you have to understand the time. There were no DVD's, no behind the scenes, no uber hip directors on cable--in fact, there was no cable TV. Thus, movies for me was an actors medium. People went to see the JOHN WAYNE film, the SHAFT film, The BRUCE LEE film, etc., and no one ever talked about the director or probably knew what a director was or did, perhaps with the notable exception of Alfred Hitchcock. Nevertheless, even Hitchcock still kept moviemaking in the domain of the unknown as he was an old, austere, erudite, British dude--not someone that I would ever meet, felt a connection to, or that felt ...real; therefore, there was no reason to explore what he did. It just didn't register that HE had created the "reality" that I was looking at. So a Hitchcock film just meant that I had another opportunity to see a mystery featuring a favorite actor like Cary Grant, or Jimmy Stewart, etc. Anyway, during my junior year in college, in a darkened theater on 12th street in the village (NYC), I saw She's Gotta Have It, and everything changed. It took a while for the dust to settle but I soon connected the dots. That real person--the director--created the stories and, more importantly, the images that we see. I was smitten. However, the problem now was that I was a junior and was on the fast track to riches on Wall Street. How could I change direction now? There was no way that I was going to change majors and get into the Arts. That would have taken me another "two years" (LOL). So I continued on my corporate path but started to study film in my spare time and, now that the director was demystified, I studied them diligently. I also began to analyze film much more socio-politically as well as aesthetically. I did this for about another 9 years until...
4. My best friend Derek "Dirty" Crumpler died. He was 30 years old. Again, understand in my environment--I have known plenty of people whose lives have been cut short. I've known a lot of death in my life, starting with my parents and spreading to many an associate, normally to the street life --violence or drugs-and even I have been painfully close, too close than I care to admit, and yet never had I known of someone my age to just die, expire. It turned out that Derek had a blood disorder, hemophilia, which, coincidentally, has a life expectancy of 30 years. He never told me and I had been his best friend since we were in Junior High. It was a trip. He knew he was going to die and just had fun along the way-although, in the end, it was pretty painful for him. What courage! Anyway, his death really affected me because it made me look at my own mortality. I asked myself right then and there as they put "Dirty" in the ground, if that were me instead of him, would I be satisfied with my life? What would my tombstone read? "Here lies Mateen O. Kemet: He Made Money, He Sold Bonds. He recycled old money and kept the system oiled. I wouldn't have struck a blow, commented on what I saw while here, nor left a mark or tried to improve this place in some unique way." In small print, there may have been a disclaimer. He had something to say but never really said it in a way that people could hear him. And what good would that be? So right there on that cold, gray, rainy day up in Westchester County, in the mud of an isolated, suburban cemetery, I decided I was going to become a filmmaker and promised myself to one day make something timeless and great...or die trying."
When you make a film what do you want the audience to leave with?
A deeper perspective on a particular subject which, in turn, hopefully leads them to a slightly different angle on life than they had when they walked in the door. I want my audience to ponder and discuss, to have questions, not answers. Then maybe when they leave the theater they will collectively create the answers later or see a reference in life that gives them the answer to the film.
When I'm behind the camera...
I'm in a zone. I see my fantasies play out as my character comes to life and, in a weird way, I see a still photo and want it perfectly composed. Then, at "action," I see that photo magically animated. I feel empowered.
What do you think it will be like working with other Directors?
I am very interested to see other directors' methods of working, particularly with actors. Also, it will be really interesting to see my competitors' skill sets. I've already had a small taste and I've been really impressed. This is exciting.
Movie that best encapsulates who you are?
Terminator - I'm Reese in the terminator. I am in a fight for my life with a killer machine who will never rest until I'm dead; in fact, the machine has to kill me in order for it stay "alive" in the future or even for it to have a future, but I keep fighting because that is all I know how to do. Plus, like the movie, even though I am outgunned, I know that as long as you fight you always have "a puncher's chance" (Note: I know I just described Sarah Conner, but Reese is the one who did the fighting). Terminator 2 - In the sequel, I'm Arnold. After feeling good that I've won a few battles against the "machines," I build myself up to be machine-like, capable of amazing feats (through mind, body, and spiritual development i.e. kung fu, ancient philosophy, and personal pursuit of life knowledge, etc.), only to realize, after all my training, that the SYSTEM has built a new sleeker, more deadly, more efficient model for me to take on that is far superior, and now I have to scramble like hell to find a new skill set with which to fight and stay alive....no rest for the weary...damn.
While On The Lot you have a week to make a film every week. What's the biggest challenge?
To make a complete film in one week from script to screen is one of the hardest things that can ever be asked of a filmmaker. So one challenge is just completing it. Moreover, the biggest issue for me is that I do not have enough time to prepare, I have to shoot on pure adrenalin and instinct while having no time to sit and really think about what I want to say in my shots, or take the time to feel my actors.
When you get the power, how will you use it?
To overthrow the world like Pinky and the Brain.
What's more important talent or ego?
Talent, because ego can be manufactured on falsities, whereas talent you either have or you don't...its tangible. Talent can produce ego, but ego cannot produce talent!
Re: Mateen Kemet
I think Mateen will be a good filmmaker. Who knows? He seemed to emphasis his 'black' status and representin' his people and such which I didn't feel was necessary at this level of competition. But then the film he made was stereotypical black teen snatches old lady's purse. It was funny, only because the old lady was his Gramma, I guess, but I would have like to have seen a different perspective than that right off the bat. I would have liked to have seen something fresher showing his lead in a more positive light. Still funny, but in a more positive way.
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