How did you get your start in film?
I went to a small school in Salina, Kansas (Marymount College) and studied theater there. I was always interested in film, so I wrote plays, and my first major play was called Night Street. When I went to NYU for graduate school and got out, I set out to really turn that play into my first film. It took me a long time to make that film, but it was my first film. Then, I kept making movies after that. Some of the best advice I ever got was to keep making movies the best you can, and that’s what I did. I made a film called C.S.A. (Confederate States of America) and it got some success – it went to Sundance – and that’s where I met Spike Lee.
What was the difference going from a small university in Kansas to New York from a film aspect?
There wasn’t any film in Kansas, you know. There were people that made commercials in Kansas City, but I didn’t have connections with any of that stuff. I grew up in Junction City, Kansas, so that was far away from all of that. So going to NYU, my main goal was to learn how to write a screenplay and that’s what I got. It was my first time being around equipment, movies being made, etc. That was the best thing about it – meeting screenwriters and filmmakers. So the distance between your goal of becoming a filmmaker and screenwriter and where you were was reduced, and that was a good thing.
How did you meet Spike Lee? And how did Spike Lee reach out to you for the making of Chi-Raq?
When C.S.A. got in Sundance, we shared the same agent. Spike had heard about the film, asked to see it and really loved the film, and so he became a presenter of the film – so in the credits, it says the movie was presented by Spike Lee. After that he asked me if I had any other screenplays and I told him, “Yeah, I have a screenplay called Gotta Give It Up,” and that was the script that was the basis for Chi-Raq. Read more.