Pride On Film: The Black Harvest Film Fest Filmmakers Profile – Charles Murray

Photos Courtesy of Charles Murray

Charles Murray is a writer that has worked on several successful television shows like Third Watch, Killer Instinct, Day Break, Criminal Minds, and Castle; he currently writes for Sons of Anarchy.   The Gary, Indiana, native moved to California in the 1980s and has spent a decade cultivating his craft of rich storytelling.

THINGS NEVER SAID is Murray’s first feature film.  It stars Elimu Nelson (House of Lies) and Michael Beach (Third Watch), Omari Hardwick (Sparkle, For Colored Girls) and Shanola Hampton (Shameless).  THINGS NEVER SAID tells the tale of Kalindra (Shanola Hampton), a poetess who dreams of taking her poetry to New York but is held back by deferred dreams and a dangerous marriage.

THINGS NEVER SAID will play at the Black Harvest Film Festival on Tuesday August 6 th and Wednesday August 7 th.  PrideIndex had the opportunity to chat with Murray about how the film came to be, why this Midwestern ended up in Hollywood and what’s next for this film.

PRIDEINDEX (PI): How are you doing today?

CHARLES MURRAY (CM): I am doing fine.  How are you?

PI: Good, Good. I am very happy, excited, and ecstatic that you have agreed to do this interview because I wanted to make sure I did this interview for the  Black Harvest Film Fest. I am a big spoken word artist. No oops… I meant to say spoken word fan.  Let me clarify.

CM:  (Laughs) You could be both.

PI: The only problem is that once we try to get around to that competition thing I’ll get up there with other artist and they’ll just blow me out of the water.  I’ll just stick with just being a spoken word fan.

CM: I hear you.

PI: Tell about the film THINGS NEVER SAID, and what is your role in it?

CM: It’s about a spoken word poet/poetess named Kalindra Stepney who is trying to figure out who she is and what her life is.  Her marriage to her high school sweetheart is at a dead end.  She eventually meets up with another reticent spoken word poet who has gotten out of that world for his own personal reasons and the two of them embark on an affair.  The two of them end up helping each other discover what their true journeys are.  I wrote, directed, and produced the film.

PI:  You wore many hats then I see.  Was there any temptation to also star in this film?

CM: (Laughs) No, not me! It’s like you said when you know where your sweet spot is you stay in it.

PI:  Where did you get the idea for THINGS NEVER SAID?

CM:  I sort of based it on my mother, Beatrice Murray.  There were a lot of stories that she told me while growing up.  She was not a poet, but her journey was very interesting. Her relationship with my father inspired the majority of the story.

PI:  Was this a biographical film?

CM: It is not a biography; it’s more of an inspired piece.

PI:  You took the words from my mouth.  What would have been wrong with this movie had it been a biography?

CM:  There would not have been anything wrong with this film had it been a biography, but I chose not to.  Once you as a writer mull over a story, you try to gauge what you could get from it at its strongest point.  And so for this, it felt better if I used my mother’s life as a springboard and not necessarily focus on telling her story as it was.  It was a writer’s choice.

PI: Tell me a little bit about the back story; how long did it take to produce this film and what was the journey like?

CM:   I wrote this script in 2003. I’m a television writer; I have written for shows like Third Watch, Criminal Minds, Castle, and now I write for Sons of Anarchy. During the course of a long period of time, I have been trying to get this story told.  I’m sure you’ve heard more than your share of stories from others about how difficult it is to get black dramas made. Well, it has been a long process with this story, trying to get financing for this film but getting turned down and trying to find the right actors and trying to link up as many things as I possibly could to get it off the ground.  Two-thousand three became 2006 which became 2010, which became 2011, but everything fell into place in 2011. I chose to make the film for under $1 million; it actually cost about a half million to make. In the end I’ve found all of the resources and got it done.

PI: Have you shown this film at any film festivals or anywhere else?

CM: Yes. Black Harvest is our eighth film festival. We’ve done The Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, the Roxbury International Film Festival in Boston, and we’ve been to the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival and the Langston Hughes African American Film Festival in Seattle.  We’re showing at the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival on Wednesday August 7th.  The film has played on the circuit. We have done pretty well in terms of the response and how people have connected to it. Audiences’ response has been truly positive.

PI: What’s next beyond the festival circuit?  Have you signed a distribution deal?

CM:  LionsGate Films/CodeBlack Films have bought the DVD/DOD rights.  My partners and I are going to do a limited theatrical release starting in September.

PI:  In which cities?

CM:  We’re going to start off in Los Angeles on September 6th.  Then we’re going to slowly move from LA to New York. Right now, we‘re arranging that strategy to best benefit the film and give it exposure.  I can tell you for sure that we’re planning on making Chicago and my hometown of Gary, Indiana.  I went to school at Columbia College in Chicago and a lot of my high school buddies are in Chicago.  We’re hoping to have a successful limited run.

PI:  Let’s take a step back and talk about your background and your family.

CM:  I was born and raised in Gary, Indiana.  I did a semester at Columbia College in Chicago way back when Gheri curls and Michael Jackson were really big.  (Laughs) I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker when I was eight years old, and I pursued that from then until now.

PI:  How did you end up in Hollywood?

CM: I have always wanted to be an independent filmmaker and literally wanted to make films outside of LA.  I realized the structure was not built for that so I moved to California in the late 1980’s and then came to LA in 1995. I had been writing the entire time and slowly but surely people started to recognize my work.  I worked as an assistant for a while and eventually someone decided to hire me on the staff of Third Watch.

PI:  How is writing for a scripted television series different for writing for a feature film?

CM:  On a television show, you’re writing with peers. You’re in a writer’s room with a group of writers to help you create a show idea. You’re serving the larger ideas and arcs of a show runner. (The person who created he show or the person oversees the show on a day to day basis.)

There is a difference between writing for an independent film and writing a film for a studio.  If you are writing for a studio, you are writing for a group of people who are trying to get you to execute one idea although you could be doing it solo.

But when you are writing an independent film, you are writing with the understanding that it’s your idea and you are trying to service that idea to its greatest good.  Eventually, you hope to put the script before the camera and execute your idea in a way that makes it palpable to who ever you hope your audience is.

PI:  You wore many hats with this project; how did you keep from losing your mind?

CM: I am not a “lose my mind sort of guy.”  I feel like once you set something in motion the only thing left to do is to get to other side.   You strategize, compromise, and work in such a way that you don’t let things get out of hand.  Otherwise, you’re going to have to do a whole lot of clean up in the end. I try to put myself in a position know where I am at each moment and work to accomplish one particular goal.

PI:  Speaking of accomplishing a goal, you’ve gotten this film made, it’s being shown and you have a distribution deal. If you had the opportunity to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

CM:  You could always do things differently, but I would not change my cast or the process.  If anything, I would just hope for more money and would have wanted more time to work on things.  At the end of day if you do something successful, you just want more time to polish things up and to give it more love.

PI:  What notable awards or accolades have you won?

CM: At the American Black Film Festival, we’ve won the Audience Award, and at the Pan African Film Festival, we won the Special Jury Recognition – Narrative Feature Award.

PI:  That’s wonderful. It would be nice to win something at the Black Harvest Film Fest since Chicago is right next door to your home town.

CM: Honestly, I have never been an awards guy.  I just want the work to be appreciated for what it is and that does not necessarily mean that it would be granted an award. Not getting an award will not mean that THINGS NEVER SAID is any less successful.  There are lots of great films out there that have not garnered any awards but it does not take away from their greatness.

PI:  Should audiences expect a sequel or a follow-up film?

CM:  No sequels.  As for a follow-up, who knows?

THINGS NEVER SAID will be shown at The Black Harvest Film Fest on Tuesday, August 6th and Wednesday, August 7th.  Click here for more information.