“Honor your gifts.”
Like many other forms of expression, Hip Hop has been eaten and digested by the never-ending hunger of capitalism – regurgitated, neatly packaged and used to sell everything from cereal to political campaigns. Its roots of rebellious anger towards the ‘man’ and his rigged, oppressive system quickly assimilated aspects of art, poetry, dance, and fashion to produce a culture and lifestyle the world hasn’t seen since rock & roll. As the form has evolved, its associations with the struggle and ‘making it out’ have become distorted by predilections of making it rain, luxury cars, jewelry, and violence.
But there are some people who are going back to the core of the genre, and are using Hip Hop once again as a conduit to explore life, community and what it means to be an artist. People like actor, writer, producer, and Brooklyn emcee Mtume Gant. His award winning short film SPIT is an abstract and visually bold deconstruction of the human condition that looks at the pressures of finding success, and fulfilling emotional promises.
What’s your name, what’s your sign? – Big Poppa (The Notorious B.I.G.)
Growing up did little Mtume always want to be a filmmaker?
I started off as an actor. My mother enrolled me into children’s theatre at a young age and it just stuck. Growing up in New York in the 90s there were a lot of opportunities to get into acting, and as a teenager I got a lot of film work. I always dreamed of making my own movies but I thought it would be something I would try once my acting career kicked off. But, you know, life throws you curveballs.
Over time I began to really hate the acting biz. I hated the scripts I saw and I just decided one day that I was probably meant to make my own films. I fought it for a few years though.
What up gangstaaar? – What up gangsta? (50 Cent)
SPIT is inspired by Hip Hop but does not wallow in the imagery typically associated with the genre. Where did the idea for SPIT come from, what was the inspiration behind it?
SPIT came from my experience with Hip Hop in New York City. The subgenre community I built myself in as a Hip Hop artist. I wanted to make a film about an everyday artist, and not one of these films where the everyday artist becomes famous, blah blah blah, cliché stuff. The inspiration is all my friends who live this life. I mean every Hip Hop artist you see in the film is a friend of mine, so this is a film about community and the loss of it. There have been so many discussions about how things are dying in NY, especially the true school Hip Hop scene. So it’s all of those emotions and the different extensions that come from it.
Cause five hundred dollars can’t get you that… how you get that? – Wouldn’t get far (The Game)
Finding good ideas for a film is one thing but raising the money to make it is something else entirely. Tell us about how you raised the money to get SPIT into production.
SPIT was crowdfunded using the platform Indiegogo and then later Stripe. Indiegogo was really effective; we created a campaign focused on the idea of the film and its influences both thematically and artistically. Over 45 days people could see how I was going about creating the film and how we needed their support. Initially our goal was to raise $5000, but we passed it by 25%! It was very compelling as I was worried if it would work.
Since then we have used Stripe to raise money for additional funds because touring a film around and submitting it to festivals can be quite expensive. And of course some of my own money has gone into it, but that’s the nature of the beast. Get it done by all means necessary.
Remember me, the one you got your idea from? – I Ain’t No Joke (Rakim)
Do you have a specific process to your writing, any rituals that you just have to do before you get into it?
I try to do my initial work in very quiet, calm environments, just so I can hone in and focus. It changes for me each time; I try to be very kinaesthetic with it. I make sure to turn off social media and leave my phone alone, but I keep the Internet on because sometimes doing a quick Google search for an inspirational image can be good. I always have music playing, what the music is varies, but I just need rhythm. Once I have the initial writing done I take a stab at it every day. Even if it’s one sentence or just an edit that happens. I stay connected and keep it in my system so I’m looking at the planet I’m in from the perspective of this piece, and how can I take everyday life and help it inform what I’m working on.
Oh you fancy huh? – Fancy (Drake)
SPIT is a visually rich film. You use a point of view style framing throughout that gives it a very distinctive look. What made you choose this bold technique?
I watched a film called Leviathan, it’s a documentary film about fishing boat workers and it’s all done with GoPro cameras and, no voice over. For ninety minutes you get to truly experience what life is like for a fishing boat worker. I was just so into it. I felt all of it, the duration of that life, the harshness…all of it. So when SPIT came to my head I knew I wanted the same experience, I wanted to make a film where we are not LOOKING AT someone in pain, but looking through their pain filled eyes. So we could move away from judgment and move into empathy.
I also knew I didn’t want to do a whole lot of explaining or pandering to the audience to make them understand intellectually what is going on. The POV helped me in making it an active experience where they move with the character, kind of like a quantum leap where they discover by experiencing the person’s interactions.
Who got the props? – Who got the props? (Black Moon)
Before getting behind the camera you have built up an impressive list of credits as an actor. How did you find acting in your own film and directing your fantastic cast?
I was a little worried about acting in my own film at first but the film’s POV style meant that I was not in front of the camera that much, besides I had great support from my wonderful cast. In some ways my acting was my directing as I set the emotional tone for everyone else and they would react accordingly. Working with everyone was a dream. They are so professional and just got stuck in. I like it when it works that way. It feels like birth and not dictation. It enabled me to perform the way I wanted too, unlike how I usually get to perform as a working actor in film and TV.
How you gonna win if you ain’t right within? – That Thing (Lauren Hill)
The tagline for the film, and its core theme, is ‘always honour your gifts’. How important is this concept to you and how did you communicate it to your cast and crew?
Always honor your gifts is the crux of the piece. But in the film I present it as irony. It’s a statement made by a character called Osborne, to his son Monk, the character that I play. But due to what happens to Monk it exists as a haunting question. Can we honor our gifts in this climate? If we honor our gifts what happens to us? Is honoring our gifts worth it? I make no attempt to make definitives with this piece. All I try to say is that your gifts exist as much as you do, and they can live and die as much as you can. I let my cast and crew marinate on what these things meant to them, because each of us experiences these things in different ways.
This or that? – The Choice is yours (Black Sheep)
So which one do you prefer, acting or directing?
I think I just like to work on strong projects. It could be acting or directing, but if it’s not something meaningful and full of artistic integrity I don’t care as much. My preference is an attempt for excellence by the parties involved. Where I land matters not so much. What is good about directing however is that you are able to have more ownership over what you do, so in this society it probably works for me better.
Can I get an Encore?
What’s next for you, do you have any new projects coming up that you are working on?
I’m doing a short project with Third World NewsReel. It’s another artist-focused piece but this time non-fiction with more of a social justice angle. I’m in the early stages of writing my feature screenplay called “Nest” and aiming to go into searching for funding for it this fall. I’m excited about the story. I won’t say too much except that I’m exploring the nuances of the black American family in a way not seen on screen. I’m spending time getting SPIT screened. I’m trying to get this puppy in as many places as possible.
If you had 24 hours to live, what would you do? – 24 Hours to live – (Puff Daddy and the Family Feat DMX)
The clock’s run out. Fire and brimstone is raining down all around you. How would you spend those last precious moments?
Spend it with someone I love, even if it’s someone I love but have never told. I’d probably admit it to them and make sure I go to death with zero regrets and unresolved issues with people. It would be very people oriented, lots of communion.
Are you mad cause because I’m asking you 21 questions? 21 Questions – (50 Cent)
Ha! Nah, it’s quiet enjoyable.