Pride On Film: The Black Harvest Film Fest Filmmakers Profile – Steven Caple Jr.

The 19th Annual Black Harvest Film Festival takes place from August 2 through 29 at the Gene Siskel Film Center located at 164. N. State Street in Chicago.  The festival is a celebration of stories, images, and history that highlights the experiences of the African American community.

PrideIndex will present interviews with nine filmmakers including Steven Caple, Jr., director of A DIFFERENT TREE; Charles Murray, director and writer of THINGS NEVER SAID; Phil Donlon, director of The MAN IN THE SILO; Eric Haywood, director of FOUR OF HEARTS; Reginald T. Jackson, writer/director of SOUL MATES; Ralph K. Scott, director and co-producer of BARBASOL; Alexander Etseyatse, executive producer/director/writer of 419; and Jon Ross and John H. Rogers III, co-directors of MOUND BAYOU: JEWEL OF THE DELTA.

Black Harvest Film Festival Part 1: Steven Caple Jr.

Photos Courtesy of Steven Caple Jr.

Director and writer Steven Caple, Jr., first picked up the camera at an early and began to act out scenes from his favorite movies as a way to express himself.  The Cleveland native attended Baldwin-Wallace College, where he earned his B.A in Marketing and Film Studies. In 2011, Caple enrolled into USC’s School of Cinematic Arts; he’s due to receive his Masters in the Fine Arts in December of 2013. Earlier this year, Caple won the HBO – American Black Film Fest (ABFF) Short Film Competition for A DIFFERENT TREE. The film was written by USC School of the Cinematic Arts MFA film student Victoria Rose and produced  as part of Caple’s  546 classroom assignment for graduate students.

A DIFFERENT TREE follows Pearl Washington (Morgan Ashley) as she must complete her family tree assignment for school, which forces her to face the pain of having a fatherless childhood. She feels ashamed and alienated because unlike the other children in her class, half of her family tree, is completely empty.

A DIFFERENT TREE will screen at the Black Harvest Film Festival on August 2 and August 25. Caple and the film’s lead actress Morgan Ashley will be available for questions after the screening.  Caple talked to Prideindex about this inspiring story’s universal appeal, his filmmaking mentors, and plans for the future.

PRIDEINDEX (PI): Tell me a little bit about you and how and why did you become a filmmaker?

STEVEN CAPLE JR (SCJ): I am originally from Cleveland, Ohio. I became a filmmaker as an outlet to share my stories that I originally wanted to tell.  I am able to place a part of me in each of the films that I actually direct which is kind of cool and interesting. It shows people that or exposes a certain area of the world or subject that people really have not seen yet in a different light. It is a great way to express yourself and how you feel and your point of view on things.

I am not as talkative as other individuals, so I am silent and off to myself a lot of times, so I use this as an outlet to express the way I feel on any given subject or person or anything.

I picked up filmmaking at 10 years old.  My mom had this video camera and VCR.  When she brought it to the house, I could not stop mimicking my favorite movies like Boys in the Hood.   I was constantly reenacting films that I liked.  It was love and after that I remember going to college and my mom asking me, “What you going to do with your life?” It was a serious question at a very pivotal point.  I told her that I really was not interested in too much, but that I was interested in this film stuff and I really was not sure if I could anything with it and she suggested that I try directing.  Ever since then, I sort of had this tunnel vision of trying to pursue this directing career with the support of my mom and younger sister and have not stopped with undergrad; I studied marketing with film studies, so I did lots of critical stuff.  On the side, I did lots of short films and just tried to get noticed in the Cleveland filmmaking industry. USC School of the Cinematic Arts noticed it; I sent an application out there and they accepted me, so it was all game from their at that point.

PI:  I guess you took the next question right out of my mouth.  (Laughs)  How did you get to Los Angeles from Cleveland?

SCJ: (Laughs) I had no way to get out here. For one, my mom did not have a savings account set up for me to go to college or nothing like that.  She had nothing for me set to go to college, so after I graduated I knew that my next step was to get away from Cleveland.  The films that were coming to Cleveland were being shot there were only offering you to be a PA (Production Assistant) if you had a way to get there, but there was not anything elaborate for people who were filmmakers or a way for you to get in to be the director, producer or writer.  So I applied to NYU and USC School of the Cinematic Arts.  I hope that USC won’t kill me for this, but I wanted to NYU originally  when I googled the schools for information. USC was the number one filmmaker school at the time, so I just knew that I was going to get into NYU, but I was declined by NYU, so I went straight to USC School of the Cinematic Arts when I found out I was accepted. I used it as a way to the means to move out here to California.

PI: How long ago was that?

SCJ:  Exactly 2 and a half to 3 years ago.  I am coming up on my last semester right now.

PI:  So you’re literally a young filmmaker, wet behind the ears. If I were to ask you to pull your ears back a little bit then Similac or Enfamil (baby food) might run down from behind them?

SCJ: Exactly. Add a little bit of water. (Laughs)   I am very new to the game so to speak but not the craft; if that makes any sense?  I am understanding more and more about the craft. I am learning how to perfect…. well not really perfect, but expanding my directing and storytelling capabilities, but I am still the ways of talking and communicating and learning the in and outs of the game, networking and getting in the system, learning the game and how to play it.  Since we won the HBO ABFF Competition, I am learning even more about this is very interesting industry.  Yeah you could say that I am fairly new and I am sure that we could talk movies all day.  We could talk directors, writers, producers the whole nine.  But it is something that I love; it is just natural to me. It’s just there.

PI:  Tell me a little bit more about the HBO ABFF Competition?

SCJ: The  HBO ABFF Competition as we all know is out of Miami; it’ s one of the premiere black film Festivals in the United States.  Everyone tries to get into to it, especially the short film competition.  There is stuff like Sundance, Tribecca, and these great film festivals but so far as the short film competition there are very few that help you get a distribution deal and you for sure get the exposure from several people and on top of that you get a grand prize if you win.  So there are few film festivals like that and HBO and ABFF collaborated and had this wonderful contest that I have applied to twice before.  This is the first time getting in, so this is my first time I was at the festival, and it was just mind-blowing experience the way HBO treats their filmmakers is just crazy.  You go from living in South Central LA attending USC to having a limo pick you up and drive you to the airport and you ride your plane to Miami and get another limo there to pick you up and take you to one of the most prestigious hotels  and just live it up the entire that you are there.  You are meeting good people and meeting actors, studio executives, and other filmmakers, which was one of the best parts to see other films and all of African- American descent. It was good to see so much talent in one city one area at one time it was just like crazy.

While we were there, my producer (Tarik Jackson) and writer (Victoria Rose) came out to the screening.  And the day of the screen, my actors Tracie Thoms and Jason E. Kelly came out. Jason’s father came out and supported the film, so it was good to have a sense of family and network there.

PI: Who are some of your mentors in the film industry? And who would you like to work with?

SCJ: Oh that’s a good one. (Laughs)  I have several mentors. At one point everyone that I met who was successful I would ask them, “Hey could you be my mentor.” (Laughs)  I have mentors in different categories.  I have a producer mentor that the school gave me named Walter Hermada; he’s at New Line Cinema. He has done several big budget films. I have a personal mentor; he’s like a friend and dad to me named Charles Kanganis. He directed Three Ninja’s, and A Raisin in the Sun.  His movies are like classics. Charles has been sort like my guide and helping me to maintain  who I am as a person.  Then I have friends who became mentors like Nate Parker; he’s an actor in Red tails and helped out on the project a lot and was always there to give me advice.  Hill Harper helped out. He’s an actor and author as well and does the whole nine.  There are so many other people as well.

PI:  Do not leave anyone’s name out they’re gonna get mad at you. (Laughs)

SCJ: I know.  Yeah, you know they will see this and say to me you left me out, but the whole point is that the people who are now my friends are my mentors and they are like family now.  The energy we have they bring to the table and they are not expecting anything back.  With some of them, they might say you don’t have to put me in the film’s credits’, but I say no I insist because they have donated so much of their time.

I don’t want to forget to name our other producer Corina Maritescu. Corina is a talented director/ writer who produced this film along with Tarik Jackson. She’s been selected by USC to film a documentary so she’s been very committed to pre- production and coming out to festivals when she can.

PI:  Describe your ideal film and who are the actors or actresses you would like to have involved in the project?

SCJ:  I want to work so many actors and actresses I feel like this is a cheating question.  (Laughs) But I do have a few names.  Right now I would like to say that I would love to collaborate with Jaden Smith. I wanted to give Jaden a deep, dark, and challenging role….sort of like his dad will in “Six Degrees of Separation.” He’s talented and kids look up to him. Therefore I would like to use his skills and status to reach other kids…target the youth.

And then there is a producer out named Devon Franklin. I have been reading his book…. just to read about his journey and how he got into the game is like crazy.  He looks at everything like a blessing, and he doesn’t put his work before his faith that’s something that I am very intrigued by.  That’s something that I am modeling my career and structure after.  I would like to work with him one day.

And there is a whole list of other actors that I won’t get into right now.

PI:   I am taking a look at your Facebook page right now and thinking  of questions.

SCJ:  Oh no (Laughs)

PI:  Talk about A DIFFERENT TREE and your filmmaking journey with that film. In one word what was it like?

Steven Caple Jr. and the cast of A Different Tree

SCJ: (LONG PAUSES) It was definitely good but I am trying to think of a better word to describe it.  It was memorable. I really cannot find one to describe it. (LONG PAUSES) I guess I would say “Unity” because it was a family film and we kept a professional atmosphere during pre- and post production.  There were no quarrels on set; we were like family.  Let me think of one word to describe it. (LONG PAUSES)

PI: Disney.

SCJ: Did you say Disney? (Laughs)

PI:  (Laughs) Yes. Was it a wholesome, family-like atmosphere with butterflies and all that stuff?

SCJ: (Laughs) It was. (Laughs) It was extremely Disney. I’m thinking of some of the songs from the {Disney} commercials right now. I am trying to think of this one particular word.

PI:  We will just have to come back to this one.

SCJ: Let’s do that. (Laughs)

PI: Have you ever thought about working in front of the camera?

SCJ: (Hesitates) In my first couple of shorts, I could not find actors because I did not know how.  When I first started off, I was 18, a young buck.  Right now I am taking acting courses to help develop my skills as a director.  A few instructors have advised me to consider doing acting as a career because they feel that it is a natural ability that I may have. I have not gone out any auditions yet. I am not sure that I will, but if someone were to ask me to be in this short or play this part or to make a cameo I certainly will. The fact that others think I look like Michael Ealy… I don’t know if that helps out at all.  (Laughs)

PI:  Your film will play here in Chicago at the Black Harvest Film Festival. How did you become aware of it? Have you ever been to Chicago before?

SCJ: I have not; I am excited about going to Chicago.  I heard about the Black Harvest Film Festival from my roommate/best friend out here named Derek Dow who is from Chicago.  He had a feature and a short in Black Harvest last year.  He is very tied to the filmmaking community out there in the Chi.  He’s from the South side, something that he reminds me of every day.  He takes pride that he is from Chicago and I cannot wait to experience that while I am in Chicago. I meet a lot of people out here in Los Angeles that are from Chicago. I heard about it from him he said that you’ve got to send your film to this.  I got an email from Sergio Mimms, who said, “Hey, I heard about this short film that you did; I want you to submit it and I did, and they were like “This is the kind of stuff that we are looking for we are trying to find these universal stories with black authors or black talent. He said the film had great production values and it was inspirational.

I think I am going to use that word “Inspirational” to describe my experience on that film. (Laughs) Yes, that’s the word we’ll go back to that earlier question.

I am going to be in Chicago for Black Harvest on opening night August 2.  I’ve also submitted A DIFFERENT TREE in the Chicago International Children’s Festival and that’s later in October, so if I get accepted into that, then you guys can believe I will fly in for that one too.  I think that it is going to be a wonderful experience.

A DIFFERENT TREE stars Morgan Ashley, this is her first film, her first time acting, and now she’s starring in television commercials. Morgan was born in Chicago, has family there, so she will join me at Black Harvest Film Festival.

PI: What other film festivals do you plan on showing A DIFFERENT TREE?

SCJ:  A DIFFERENT TREE has recently been accepted into the LA Shorts Film Festival and the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Fest in Martha’s Vineyard.  And we are waiting for responses from other film festivals. We were literally done with our film in January, and because we missed the deadline for Sundance and all of those huge festivals, were going to wait the second go round.

PI:   So it sounds like you have a busy schedule to show film in the festival circuit?

SCJ:  Yes.  I am trying to make it to as many of the festivals as possible, so that people can put my face to the film. Also I am trying to get the writer to come out their (to the Black Harvest Film Festival) because a lot of people do not know the writer Victoria Rose.  A DIFFERENT TREE is based off her true story; she grew up without her father and she met him for the first time at the age of 8 years old.  She jogged down a lot of her memories and experiences based off that.  I have been trying to get her to the festivals so that audiences can see who the story came from because it is kind of like her testimony.

I love the response of these audience members. Apparently this is a strong topic and very relevant; people relate to it.  Just to hear audiences’ testimonies at these Question & Answers sessions after the film and to hear how they have responded to it has been great.  Again, it’s inspirational. I was just expecting to just make a great short film, but there has been a coincidence where we have affected someone’s life. We have made a difference in someone’s like there was an incidence when someone who’d seen the film went out and tried to find his father who they’ve never met before and actually succeed at it.   He sent us this long email with actual pictures of him and his father. The gentleman was 50 something years old!! It is those kinds of stories that make you as a filmmaker want to keep on making films. It also makes you want to go to the festivals and actually vibe with the audience; it’s not just about being a ghost in the filmmaking world it’s about making the audience back up your product.

A DIFFERENT TREE will screen at the Black Harvest Film Festival on August 2 and then again on August 25 to purchase tickets click here.

To learn about A DIFFERENT TREE Kickstarter Campaign click here.