|AN INTERVIEW WITH FILMMAKER CHRISTOPHER SCOTT CHEROT
APRIL 7, 2008
Special for THE NEW TIMES HOLLER!
© Amir Bey, 2007
CHRISTOPHER SCOTT CHEROT, in his directorial and acting debut in a feature length film, HAV PLENTY
A promotional photo for HAV PLENTY
A promotional image for CHRISTOPHER SCOTT CHEROT'S G; the film was said to have brought F.Scott Fitzgerald's THE GREAT GATSBY to the hip-hop generation, with a thoroughly modern adaptation of the literary classic
THE NEW TIMES HOLLER! INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTOPHER SCOTT CHEROT
CHRISTOPHER SCOTT CHEROT at a local school in Mombasa, Kenya, 2007
©AMIR BEY, 2008
HOLLER!: How did you become a film maker and what was your evolution?
CHEROT: Just plain watching movies as kid and loving them. I grew up in Co-op City in the Bronx in the 1970's, and as a kid my mom couldn't afford a babysitter, so she stuck me in the old City Cinema movie theater near Lamston's on Bartow Avenue (the theater isn't there anymore.) I had to sit through the same rated PG movies three, maybe four times until my mom came back and got me, and it was there, before I was even ten years old, that I first studied some of the greatest movies of the mid to late '70's. This is where the love began. I have my mother to thank for that. Thanks, Ma!
Cut to sixteen years later: I'm still a student in school, and my mom takes out two more mortgages on her house to help me finance what would eventually become my first independent feature, Hav Plenty. This is where my career began. Thanks again, Ma!
HOLLER!: You’ve directed several films, including Hav Plenty, Box Marley, The Male Groupie, and G,/em>; tell me about Box Marley.
CHEROT: Box Marley was a great little comedy we did in the summer of 2000, between Hav Plenty and G, starring Hill Harper, Shemar Moore, Tracy Morgan, Neal McDonough, Tommy Davison, and Tom Arnold. Unfortunately, that's pretty much all I can say about it, since we are still struggling in court over ownership of the movie. But we had a ball making it, and one day it will make it to a video store near you. Yeeehaw!
HOLLER!:Some of your work, such as Hav Plenty are autobiographical; are your personal life experiences a main source for your ideas when it comes to independent work?
CHEROT: Any good writer always incorporates certain aspects of his life in his work, and everything I work on and create has flashes of my world in it. I'm checking Ernest Hemingway, one of my favorites, who only wrote about about he lived, even though most he wrote was fictionalized. And certainly my personal life was the inspiration behind "Hav Plenty", but after that hit the theaters, I have pretty much kept my personal life personal, and out of the spotlight. As I get older I like it better that way.
HOLLER!:Which one of those films do you feel is the most representative of the kinds of films you’d like to do in the future?
CHEROT: Every project I have worked on has been like school for me, I've learned something on everything, and that's how it should always be, I believe. If I have my way, I will always be able to work projects showcasing realistic portraits of black life: always some drama, always laughs, and always loving Blackness, the many experiences of being black in America, and ultimately the world. To me, those are the hardest, yet most rewarding stories.
HOLLER!: What studios are you working in/for these days?
CHEROT: My editing is taking me places near and far these days: in January and February of this year I worked on the "Premium Good" campaign for Pepsi, editing for their "Hip Hop" line, and in December of 2007 I worked on the Sundial Creations/Nubian Heritage campaign, a Black-owned line of grooming products for men and women to be distributed throughout Macy's and other major department stores. Plus, I'm always working little projects for friends of mine. That's always exciting to me.
HOLLER!: What do you see is the direction of mainstream filmmaking now?
CHEROT: Aw man, tough question. The obvious answer is: GREEN. LOOT. PAPER. MONEY. Filmmaking is a business, and like any business in America, the primary motivator is capital. That's tough to accept for some artists who like to "keep it real", who don't want to be ruled by "suits". The bottom line is, as long as you are generating funds for some major company, you will always have a job. The trick is to be able to create projects that satisfy the money-men, while still being able to stay true to yourself, and not falling to the "darkside", or what we simply like to call "buffoonery". But there will always be folks who are willing to hit themselves in the face with a pie for laughs, as long as there are companies that will pay them to do it. And truthfully, in my opinion, there's nothing wrong with that, if that's how you gotta pay them bills. But as for myself, I'd like to leave behind a body of work that does NOT include black people slipping on banana peels for laughs for a living. And that's hard to do in this thing called show-business, where slipping on the banana peel always makes money for Black folks. So I guess the personal answer to your question is: All I can do is keep on keepin’ on.
HOLLER!: How is cable TV and recent communications developments affecting your work?
CHEROT: It's all positive. The more venues we create, the audiences we will reach. Right now, thanks to YouTube, and the internet and personal websites in general, there is always a way to showcase work. My short film, "Andre Royo's Big Scene", has been all over the internet, and my other short, "The Male Groupie", has been on HBO for the last two years. With a few friends, I am now working on a website that will exclusively air short movies for all to see for free. It's going to be pretty cool.
HOLLER!: So far your films and much of the work that you’re doing for TV and films are centered on African American themes; do you find that limiting? Are there themes that you’d like to explore that are not “black”?
CHEROT:There are so many stories we have not told that I would never find them "limiting" (although studio execs will tell you differently!) I am fascinated by African-American story politics: how simply placing one black person within the center of any given story changes the dynamics of that story incredibly, whether we as an audience choose to acknowledge it or not. And there are so many stories we haven't heard told.
At the same time, however, I'm compelled by ANY strong story, especially one with themes of personal redemption through self-realization, and certainly this is not singular to black folks. In that respect I will always be open to exploring other cultural storylines.
IHOLLER!:s there a lot of pressure for you to make the kinds of films that the major studios want you to make? How do you get beyond that to do what you’d like?
CHEROT: Weeeeellll, the only "pressure", I guess, would be money. Do I want to make a lot of money? Sure. Would I take a million dollars to make a piece of garbage? At this point in my life, no. Maybe earlier in my career I would have....MAYBE.
Fortunately, at this point in my life, my editing in the "studio world" affords me to make my own choices in the "independent world", and in that respect I am lucky. But there will always be folks who are willing to act the fool for a lot of cash, that's why there are so many negative images still out there.
HOLLER!:Have you done any overseas work?
CHEROT:Not that I've been paid for, no. But I love me some traveling. Took another trip to Africa last year with some friends, spent a month in Mombasa. Think we got it hard here? Spend some time in Mombasa.
HOLLER!:Oh? What's going on in Mombasa?
CHEROT:I've been to Africa several times in the past few years, and every time I go I learn something new about the continent, the countries, and especially myself. I went to Mombasa, on the eastern coast of Kenya, for the first time ever last year. Mombasa is literally equatorial Africa, and its beauty is almost surreal. But while I saw the standard beach front resort hotels and occasional tourist traps, I was stunned by the level of poverty I saw there. Barefoot children on the side of the road using their pet goats to search through garbage. These were the children you see on the late night infomercials with distended bellies and flies buzzing around their faces. Black poverty in America means something very different than black poverty in Africa. And when I visited the schools in the surrounding villages, which were sometimes no more than simple huts with thatched ceilings, I was stunned to witness the reverence and respect these same children gave their education. I realized with alarmed clarity that for some odd reason in black America, contempt for education often rose in direct proportion with the level of poverty. But not even poverty-stricken Africa seemed to have that problem!
And now I believe it all ties back in to our American status as a society of consumers, our see/want/get mentality, as opposed to the aspire/achieve mentality, and the importance we put on our possessions as Black people. Look here, don't get me started on my soapbox, come on now.
HOLLER!: During the summer of 2007, you lost your home in one of the fires in Southern California. Did you also lose any of your work?
CHEROT: Yeah man. I lost a lotta stuff. It was rough. Couple of computers that I hadn't backed up. Fortunately I was able to save a little.
HOLLER!: In my interviews I usually ask artists who they like, who’s influenced them; I’ll ask you the same question, but I also want to ask: who don’t you like, what do you not like to see in film and video?
CHEROT: Filmmakers I dig: all the great storytellers. Scorsese (of course), Robert Zemeckis, Billy Wilder, Norman Jewison come to mind at first. Watching Warren Beatty's "Heaven Can Wait",/em> as a ten year old in the Bronx is what made me want to make movies (sorry, Spike, it wasn't you). But more than the framed image, I love the printed word. I love all black cultural criticism: Bell Hooks, Henry Louis Gates, Michael Eric Dyson, Cornell West, black folks telling people The Way It Is, but always keeping the love. Man, I wish I could make movies the way Toni Morrison writes books. Some day I will.
Who DON'T I like? Come on now, I ain't answering THAT hotbed of controversy, a lot of those dudes I know and see regularly. All I can say is that I know I'm not the first to say I sure hate seeing Black folks acting clownish on screen. And that doesn't mean there are only Black people out there making that kind of movie.
HOLLER!:What kinds of independent projects are you working on now?
CHEROT: Rebuilding my burned down house! And that will be truly independent for real, for real! FEMA, where you at!?