Tyler Maddox Simms Interview

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BWUC: Can you start by giving me a brief bio of how you got into filmmaking?

Tyler: I’m from Cleveland and since I was about seven years old I’ve always wanted to be in movies, make movies, [and] write movies. When I turned 18, I moved to California. I went to college out here. I just started working. I got a job as a production assistant and just worked. That’s pretty much how I got into the business.

BWUC: I’m sure you learned the ins and outs of the industry as a production assistant.

Tyler: Yes, I surely did. I’ve done every job on the set. Including catering. I’ve done everything. And I really was blessed and able to find where I fit.

BWUC: What was the benefit of having such a diverse experience in filmmaking?

Tyler: Anything you have to work for I believe you appreciate it. I grew up in the projects. I’m not from a wealthy family. I’ve had to work very hard. I think that was a blessing because I know the filmmaking process, the ins and outs, in detail. I’ve actually worked various positions before starting to write and direct my own films. Again by working, having diversity as far as what I can do, and having to work for it has really been a plus in my life.

BWUC: So, since you know what it feels like to have to do the grunt work, does that change your relationship with your employees and how your filmmaking process goes?

Tyler: Yes. I think so, I would definitely say so. I understand. A lot of times when you’ve never done anything but direct a film or produce a film you don’t know what other people are probably going through. And sometimes, unfortunately, directors have the reputation of being short or rude sometimes and I’m not. I deal with a group of people that are challenging and I respect them. I understand that it takes a team to make a movie. The director does not make the movie. The writer does not make the movie. It’s a team effort.

BWUC: What were some challenges and triumphs over your ten year tenure in the industry?

Tyler: You said trials? Girl, aint enough time in the day to tell you about the trials. The triumphs I can tell you about. Trials, I’ve had many. I’ve been turned down a number of times. When I first started I had a script that I would try to pitch to major companies. I had the door closed. Just not even open. I can’t even say closed, just not even opened. It was extremely frustrating. I questioned at that point in my life if this was really what I want to do. But, I just couldn’t give up. I think my faith has kept me steadfast. Meaning, I don’t believe you get conviction in your heart to do a task and not be equipped to be able to do it. So I stayed at it. I stayed at it and didn’t work this way so I went around that way. It didn’t work that way so I jumped over here. I just never quit. And eventually I’m at a point now I have a great distribution deal. I control the creative process of my films. I can make a film and it will be put in various stores. Wal-Mart has been a great supporter of my films. But most filmmakers have a problem. You make a film but you can’t get it sold. Or you have to beg to all these people ,please take my film, take my film. I don’t do that. I make a film and my DVD’s are able to be distributed. My core belief for my company is just good wholesome family entertainment. We see enough ethnic, I make mostly black films, and I feel we’ve seen enough of the other side. Just like with all cultures there’s a rainbow, a spectrum. So I like to show the family entertainment. Something I can sit down with my daughter, I have a seven and half year old daughter, and watch. I don’t like swearing. There are black people who are doctors and lawyers; I like to show those people. Not saying everyone is. I like to show, portray a positive look on African Americans in my films.

BWUC: I have one more question to piggyback off of that. You mentioned that you make black films. So I would just like to know if you consider yourself a black filmmaker. Recently there has been a debate among filmmakers as to whether or not that label is appropriate. Some people are trying to distance themselves from that because they say they just want to be seen as a filmmaker. So can you me your perspective on that issue?

Tyler: So here’s how I feel about that. I’m a filmmaker. That’s the core. I love to make films. I love to make good family entertainment films. All of my films to this point have been around ethnic, people of color, black people. I’m not saying I’m in a box because I can make a film about anyone, of any ethnicity but  I like making urban films. I like what I do. But I’m not closed to anything else as long as it’s a good story [and] the story is aligned with my beliefs. I’m a filmmaker, so  when I said I make black films I don’t just make black films. I don’t set out to make a black film. I don’t read a story and say “Oh, this isn’t a black film I won’t take it because its not a black film.” No. Just all my films I’ve written [are about black people.] Usually one writes about what they know. I can’t speak for other filmmakers but I write about things that I know. Or things that I believe or want to see. That’s pretty much who I am. So no, I’m not in a box. I’m just a black filmmaker, a filmmaker. But I’ve written about things that I know and things that I’d like to see. That’s basic family entertainment, good core beliefs in these films.

BWUC: So you do identify as a black filmmaker?

Tyler: Oh yes I identify with my films. I can’t say all my characters in all my films that I personally am intertwined with, no. But yes I am an African American filmmaker.  I can identify with African American films.  Therefore, I write about, [well] so far I’ve had the opportunity to write films that are around urban [issues].

BWUC: The reason why I asked that is because although I’m not a filmmaker myself I don’t have anything against filmmakers who choose to use that label. What’s most important to me and what I appreciate about your work is when black filmmakers are able to demonstrate the black community’s humanity. By that I mean you can look at a role and say I can imagine Matt Damon or Angelina Jolie, a person who may not be from that ethnic group can relate too because it’s not about this one specific experience it’s about the human experience. So that’s what I meant by that question

Tyler: I totally agree.  I think so many times in films African-American people have been dehumanized or degraded or de-something.  I think it’s really important as a filmmaker to express. I think it’s a gift when you can write something, whether it’s a newspaper article or whatever it is, it’s a gift of expression. So I believe, this is just my own personal belief, if you are blessed with a gift then you should use that gift for something good. Now, I can easily write about you know pimps, prostitute s, and crack heads. I’ve seen all that. I know about it. I don’t want to see any more of that. I want to see black folks doing jobs like your job or my job or taking care of their families. There are a lot of people that do that, go to work. Again, I would not put myself in a box saying I’m a black filmmaker. I just make black films.  I like what you said the humanity experience. I like making films and if it so happens to be about black folks then so be it. Or for black actors in that spot light as opposed to say popular white actors then so be it. It’s a story of humanity and we are all human not matter what color we are

BWUC: How did you get to direct and write your first film?

Tyler: I went, after I could not get a studio to put up the money for my film, I went and I put up money myself and I wrote, I found my crew, my investors and I filmed.

BWUC: Have you ever used Kickstarter? And do you feel like that’s important for black filmmakers?

Tyler: No. I don’t know a lot about Kickstarter.  I’ve seen what Spike Lee recently did and I think that’s awesome. I don’t particularly want, if I don’t have to use Kickstarter, I don’t want to use Kickstarter. I think part of your mystique about films or actresses or filmmakers, you know the whole entertainment experience, is because it’s not hands on. It’s not I’m going to write 400 people a thank you letter and give them a hat and t-shirt. That’s just my opinion. So maybe one day I will do a Kickstarter, but as for right now I basically I pay for my films.  There’s an attorney that’s a friend and also one of my executive producers we get these films done and use all of our resources.

BWUC: What lessons have you learned over your decade of experience in the industry?

Tyler:  I’ve learned a lot of lesson. As with any business, people grow. As you live life you also grow. So, as I have grown as a human being my experience in filmmaking has grown side by side. What specifically do you mean by grown?

BWUC: What has helped you find your stride in the industry?

Tyler: By not accepting no. By never hearing the word [no].  Not entertaining the word no. I really solemnly believe where there’s a will there’s a way. Not allowing myself because I’m a woman because I’m black to put stifled to be put in a box. Or any way that I feel like I can’t do something because I am black because I am a woman that doesn’t even come into play. I’m going to do it. We’re going to find a way to get this done. I believe hard work really pays off. That’s like an old cliché but it’s really the truth.  A lot of people want to just jump out here, “I’m a movie star, I don’t want to do this.” It takes work. You have to really work. I don’t think a lot of people especially younger people really understand that it’s a process. Unless you’re blessed and your daddy is Steven Spielberg or something. It’s a process for me and it has been a process

BWUC: How have you seen the state of black film change while you were in the industry or do you feel like it’s still the same?

Tyler: I think it’s changed. People like Jeff Clanagan, Spike Lee. I mean there are so many filmmakers other women too who are filmmakers. And by having digital as opposed to ten years ago when being able to make a film on digital as opposed to film wasn’t accessible.  So, by having social media and online access to your own distribution I think it has grown. I think doors are open. You can make a movie on your iPhone. Things have definitely opened up. Anyone that says that it hasn’t I wouldn’t agree with.

BWUC: So you feel like it’s changed for the good.

Tyler: Oh yeah. It’s continually changing. It’s growing. Doors are opening. You can look a pessimist and an optimist perspective. I take the optimist perspective. I believe doors are opening. We’re breaking down walls and these old [myths that] black films don’t make money as well.  Tyler Perry, if you look at Tyler Perry’s returns on his movies that’s a lot. They do make money. People said for years that black films don’t make money. But Tyler Perry has proved that wrong. His films do extremely well.  The guy who just did The Butler and Precious [is another example.] Black films make money. That’s two people I can just think off the top of my head that are proving that to be a fact. So, if this is a business, and I think a lot of people [and] filmmakers especially don’t realize how much of it is business. Because I didn’t for a long time.  But it’s a business and when you can prove numbers that means you have an audience. There’s a consumer. That means more opportunities will open up and will be open for us to take advantage because we can prove these films do make money.

BWUC: You’ve given me a lot of background information. Now can you tell me more about your latest project Who’s Watching the Kids?

Tyler: It’s been my first attempt at a more or less kid’s movie. It’s about two kids that are from Malibu that basically get dropped off in the hood with their Uncle Larry. And by in the hood I mean South Central L.A. They basically are going to a babysitters and decide they don’t want to be there. At the end of the day what the kids realize is appreciate what you have no matter where you’re from. Because they run into a couple of different characters while they are in the quote unquote hood. But by the time they do make it back to Malibu they definitely have an appreciation for what they have. Also, Malik Barnhardt has a real positive statement. He plays the father of these two kids. He’s a doctor and he’s marrying Karen Malina White from the Cosby Show and Lean on Me.  She’s a doctor as well. So, what Malik is stressing to his kids is that it doesn’t matter where you are from. Because he grew up in the quote unquote hood. You can do whatever you want to do. You just got to do it. You have to want to do it. It was a lot of fun working with Lavelle and Elise Neale .The kids were challenging but very nice. It was a process on this one.

BWUC: Is there anything in particular that inspired this film

Tyler: Again, I have a seven and half year old daughter. Most of the stuff, all the films I make I want my daughter to look at it 1) get something from it 2) never look at it and be embarrassed or like ughh my momma made that. She watches my first film Beverly Hood today and she still laughs. And that is my inspiration. I got a kid, everybody I know has kids. So why isn’t  there more out there that our kids can watch? Not saying that Hannah Montana and all the Disney shows aren’t awesome. But when you look at the film, it is currently in Redbox and Wal-Mart, and when you go to the shelf you might see 3:100 films with children with ethnicity.  That doesn’t balance to me in my head because a lot of these kids when they’re growing they develop self-image from what they see. Without going any deeper into that subject I want on this particular film I wanted just to have something whether it was black or white whatever color they are to watch as positive.

BWUC: Why should people see the film?

Tyler: It’s just a cute little film. I think kids might get it more so than adults. It’s entertainment. I’m not trying to solve any world issues. It’s just an entertaining movie.

BWUC: And it’s something that families can enjoy together. Do you have any advice for young black women interested in pursuing filmmaking?

Tyler: Oh yes. I have a boot camp that I do. It’s called a Film Boot camp. And my boot camp basically is for inner-city [youth] Most of the kids who take this three day boot camp are from foster homes.  This year there were about 9 girls. One of the girls she was 14 and she was into prostitution. It was heartbreaking for me but I didn’t look at it from a heartbreak [perspective.] I thought you need some help. You need some direction. And it turned out that she, that they, want to get in this film industry. So, what we do, we write a script and we direct our short.  What I would say to young women,  I don’t know if you’re speaking of that young, but any younger woman that wants to get into this as a business is 1) be prepared you don’t get nowhere [easy.] You can’t ride on looks. You can’t ride on your body. You have to be prepared and ride on your education, on your knowledge, and on your experience.  That’s the first and foremost. What I would tell all young women is be prepared. If you’re prepared that’s half the battle. You have to have a rhinoceros skin because when you’re rejected it’s not personal. You gotta just keep on moving keep on going 3) by being a woman some people look at it as we’re a minority. I look at it as an asset because 9:10 we can out think most men. When I walk into a meeting and there’s men I use my femininity as a plus, as an asset. I’m not trying I can’t out talk you I can’t out wrestle you but I can think and I’m prepared. That’s what I would tell young women or women getting into it. It’s about being prepared, knowing what you’re talking about, and being realistic. If you’re just making your first film and you go in and ask for 30 million dollars chances are it ain’t gon happen. But if you bring some numbers in, bring your short in, and just be overall, without going off into a full tangent on that, just being realistic about your expectations and being prepared. Because when it’s your time you gotta be prepared.

BWUC: The last thing. As you may know the name of the website is Black Women Unchecked. So, I would just like to hear what you think of when you hear that phrase. What does that mean to you?

Tyler: I like it. It sounds renegade. It sounds like you can express. It sounds like women that aren’t in a box, that are multi-tasking type of females who can conquer the world. Checked in my mind means “Oh, I have to check that person.” Unchecked means you can express.

BWUC: Thank you, you hit the nail on the head. That’s what we were going for.