Nadine Matthews | Shadow and Act
Deon Taylor wrote his first feature film on the team bus going back and forth from his basketball games in Germany. He hadn’t been going to school for film or screenwriting when he did…at least not formally. It was the nineties and his girlfriend would send him boxes of DVDs regularly so he could entertain himself in a country where everything but sports and film got lost in translation.
“I could watch three or four movies in a night,” Taylor recalls. “At that time, every movie had like the making of and the bonus stuff on the movies. The making of, interviews, behind the scenes, and exclusives.”
Taylor who just recently completed production on his latest film, Motivated Seller, starring Meagan Good, Dennis Quaid and Michael Ealy, began to enjoy the DVD extras as much as he liked the movies themselves. He says, “I would actually watch the ‘making of’ before I watched the movie. That’s how I learned how to make movies. Steven Spielberg and James Cameron were my teachers”
The Gary, Indiana native had been a lifelong fan of movies. By the time he entered high school, the family had moved to California where he played basketball for his high school. Chuckling at the memory, he says, “Growing up in high school and college, I was always the guy who was like the movie encyclopedia. I’d always quote movies, get kicked out of class for saying dialogue from movies. I was that guy.”
As much as he was passionate about movies and as much as those around him were aware of his passion and acumen for film, he like many young working-class American men at the time, was encouraged to set his professional sights on basketball.
“I was a highly recruited, highly touted basketball player. There was a very cool coach in my city who became like a father figure to me. I ended up getting a full scholarship and after college I went on to play professional basketball in Germany.” He was in Germany for four years and that was where his passion quickened. “There is where I picked up a pen and a camera and got the film bug and went crazy about becoming a filmmaker.”
Indeed, Taylor spent all of his off-season time working on film sets in sometimes the lowliest of positions. “I’d go to LA. And I had a buddy who was making straight-to-DVD movies. That was when these cheap, low-end, fun, well-acted movies were being made for DVD. I ended shadowing him on some movie that cost like $30,000. I ended up holding lights and moving equipment and going to McDonald’s and buying 300 cheeseburgers (for the cast and crew). I said to him, ‘What is this that we’re doing?’ This is not what I saw on the “making of DVD extras.’”
Though it was tough, Taylor never became disheartened and is today grateful for those lessons. “I really got a down and dirty basement education on the work of how you really make a movie. Quite frankly, it was the coolest experience of my life.”
Now many years and over ten films later, Taylor is an accomplished director, writer and producer. His production company, Hidden Empire Films, is responsible for such fare as Meet The Blacks starring comedian Omar Epps and Supremacy featuring legendary actor Danny Glover and Oscar winner Mahershala Ali. That first film that he toiled over while traversing Germany to and from his games, Dead Tone, was made in 2007. He has since worked with and gained the respect of the likes of Oscar winner Dante Spinotti cinematographer on dark, gritty classics LA Confidential, Heat, X-Men: The Last Stand and TV shows such as Prison Break. On making a movie with Spinotti, he says, was one of the biggest moments of his career so far. It was also the moment that removed any doubt. “When I worked with him, he was like ‘you know what you’re doing’. I realized I was just as knowledgeable a filmmaker as anyone else he had worked with from Michael Mann to Brett Ratner.”
Roxanne Avent is co-owner of Hidden Empire films and is Taylor’s producing partner. They have also been friends for over 25 years. “I’ve worked with a lot of different people with a lot of different personalities, and Deon hands down is one of a kind. How his energy is and how it rubs off on other people. As a person, you just want to be around him.”
One of the people Taylor looked up to while he dreamt of having a career in film was Daniel Pearl, cinematographer for the classic horror flick, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. They met on the basketball court and hit it off. Taylor recalls Pearl telling him, “Dude, I’m coming to do your movie man.”
The horror genre is one close to Taylor’s heart. Though he is branching out, many of his earlier films fall under the horror/suspense umbrella. The reason has to do with smart business as much as it has to do with his love of the genre. “Most people in other countries might not understand our jokes, our drama, our relationships but everyone understands door kicks open man swings axe!”
Motivated Seller was brought to Taylor by the producers of another canonical horror film, Saw. It is a suspense thriller featuring Ealy and Good as a married millennial couple who believe they just bought their dream home in Napa. Taylor was a fan of Good and approached her about doing the film.
“I felt like, ‘Why don’t I see more Meagan? She’s been in movies with big stars, she is a big star, she’s been a part of franchises that have made hundreds of millions of dollars, she is one of the top five most beautiful black women we have in the business. I wanted to see her in a role like this. She was excited and accepted the challenge.” Mere weeks later, they were in Vancouver shooting. Though the film doesn’t touch in race, Taylor says, “I thought it would be really great to see a successful black millennial couple on screen. It would be great to see an upstanding black family opposite Dennis Quaid.” Quaid, who is featured in the upcoming season of American Crime Story, stars as the film’s antagonist.
Taylor’s critique of the current climate in the film industry includes the observation that there is a great deal of opportunity for filmmakers like himself. “It’s a changing of the guard,” he declares. “A lot of the studios are putting a lot of money into these gigantic tentpole movies. After Christopher Nolan made Batman and it was that successful, it turned into ‘Superhero Hollywood.’” A vacuum has opened where these larger studios are no longer doing “mid-range” films. That’s where my company comes in because we are also that under $5 million boutique model because it is an art to be able to make a quality picture for that amount of money. They forgot about the regular people who go to work every day and just want to see a funny movie”.
Motivated Seller is scheduled for release in late 2018.