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Deon Taylor: "We Are Told 'No' So Much We Are Forced To Do It Ourselves”

After seeing the film Traffik, you can understand why it’s nominated as an Outstanding Independent Motion Picture by the NAACP Image Awards. But to get a better understanding of this monumental moment, just have a conversation with Traffik's writer and director, independent filmmaker Deon Taylor, and you will not only understand why he was destined for greatness, but you will also see why persistence, believing in yourself, and never giving up are powerful qualities in the life of an indie filmmaker. We are sharing Taylor’s inspiring story to help encourage others to continue to work hard to achieve their dreams and goals despite the setbacks they may encounter along the way.

Taylor was born and spent some of his childhood in the Chicago, Illinois/Gary, Indiana area. His mother moved the family to Sacramento, California for a better life. While it was a difficult adjustment for Taylor at first, the sport of basketball gave him a place to fit in. His skills and passion for the sport took him overseas to play professionally. During his downtime overseas, he would watch movies.

The films Taylor watched motivated him to write down his ideas for a horror film. He was a natural at pitching ideas, but he had never written a script. Taylor took a mead tablet and the entire movie was written like a book. The writings from the tablet would be turned into his first film, Dead Tone. “Taking the pen to that Mead tablet and writing the first word, that began the journey,” Taylor said. From those first words on that tablet, to actually getting the film to a position to be made, took Taylor about three and a half years. Those years were met with closed doors and opposition.

"It took three and a half years of me flying to L.A., getting a hotel, or sleeping on someone’s floor or couch. {I was} begging people to meet with me, wearing the same suit over and over again. Trying to see what I needed to do to get a movie made. Ultimately, to realize that everyday, six days a week, everybody said no to me, about making a movie, investing in the movie, or said no about the idea. It was just a constant no. {I took chances where I flew into L.A., and didn’t have enough money to get home, because {I thought this} might be the meeting were someone says yes. The reality of it was everyone was telling me no. We are told no so much we are forced to do it ourselves.”

-Deon Taylor

It was a friend that encouraged Taylor to raise the money and make the movie himself. It was a lesson that forever changed how Taylor would create.

"My whole game plan changed. I wasn’t going to ask anyone anymore, could they make my movie? Do they believe in my movie, or could I sell them my movie? My hustle changed, and we became our own bosses. Because it was our money, I was able to really step up and take the chance.”

-Deon Taylor

Originally, Taylor’s personal interest in the film only included writing and producing the project. However, when director he hired for the project started changing the direction of the film, it was Taylor’s cinematographer who suggested the project needed to be directed by Taylor himself, and so it was.

"The first time I ever stepped on a movie set and said action, I had never picked up a camera, and {within} about three days, I had the rhythm. I realized very quickly that directing is about speaking to people and pitching them a vision, and helping them to understand it.”

-Deon Taylor

Taylor says his background of growing up near the Chicago area and his time spent in Sacramento has allowed him as a filmmaker to have a different edge, and to add authenticity to his filmmaking. "If you’ve personally had to sleep in a car, sleep on a floor, or not have shoes on your feet, it drives you a different way,” said Taylor.

Perhaps, it was this authenticity and his fearless ability to take a chance that assisted with the making of his NAACP Image Award-nominated film Traffik. Traffik is an example of how life can meet art. Taylor was trying to put together a thriller for his next project. Around this time, throughout the community, Taylor and his wife Roxanne started hearing and seeing things in their area in regards to human trafficking taking place in the schools, malls, and on highways. When he started doing more research, Taylor learned that communities in the United States have some of the biggest markets for human trafficking for young girls.

"Traffik was a tough movie to make, because you have to be crazy (which I am) to go make a thriller around human trafficking. The movie did well. It opened at number eight in the country. {Through} word of mouth, the movie started taking off. People were doing testimonials coming out of the theaters, talking about how good the movie was, and what it meant for them to take their daughters to go see it. The movie explained to people that black and brown girls are the most at-risk youth for human trafficking in domestic cities. It’s not about Russia or Germany, it’s about Oakland, California, it’s about Compton. It’s about Atlanta {which} is the number two hub in the entire world for human trafficking... I was most proud that we set up a commercial thriller that actually gave the energy and took the audience into another world, and taught them something. So that was a blessing.”

-Deon Taylor

Paula Patton was the first leading actor to sign onto the project. “Paula came to the movie with a lot of enthusiasm. She did every one of her own stunts. She really worked extremely hard,” Taylor said of Patton.

Taylor went about casting the film “the independent way”. By getting individuals' phone numbers and scheduling meetings, he was able to cast other leading stars alongside Patton, such as Omar Epps, Laz Alonso, and Roselyn Sanchez.

Taylor was on set when he learned Traffik was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. There were happy tears shed, possibly some reflection, and a feeling of just being recognized was a win unlike any other.

“We are just happy that someone nominated us and put some energy into thinking about us,” Taylor said. “To see someone of that magnitude recognize your work, and recognize you as an independent film of the year, it just really, really resonated with me as a filmmaker. When you do something for fifteen years with your head down and you work everyday, and you get past anyone giving you the recognition, and then when you finally do get it, you’re just happy and humbled that someone did recognize your work. We won by them just saying we’re nominated.”

The next film premiering from Deon and Roxanne Taylor’s Los Angeles-based production company, Hidden Empire Film Group, is the psychological thriller The Intruder starring Meagan Good, Michael Ealy, and Dennis Quaid. The film is set to take the audience on quite a ride with a lot of twists and turns as a couple learns that their dream home might come with more than just a nice view.

In fact, continuing to work hard is next on the agenda for the Taylors and their entire team.

"We are a family operated company. We make movies like a family. So when people come to set, it’s about friendship and comradery. Everything is about {putting} good energy into it. Because when you are making an independent film and you have dark moments of trying to make a movie, you need people that are going to push through because they love the people they’re working with, and we’re all in this together.”

-Deon Taylor

Whether it’s discovering his passion for film, while he was working on his passion for basketball, or becoming a director when he refused to let his vision be compromised - or giving himself the yes, when all he heard was a constant no - by connecting the dots and fulfilling his passion as a filmmaker, Deon Taylor is an inspiration, an innovator, and now a 2019 NAACP Image Award nominee. You can watch Traffik on iTunes, HBO Now, Prime Video, and other streaming services.

Be sure to tune into the NAACP Image Awards airing live at 9/8C on TV One Saturday, March 30, 2019. As for ‘The Intruder’, it is set to be released in theaters on May 3, 2019. Check out the thrilling trailer right here:

The I See You Awards® is grateful for this opportunity to talk with Taylor and we're wishing Hidden Empire Film Group much continued success!

In fact, Taylor’s story of struggle, survival and ultimate success speaks to the exact reason why the I See You Awards® was created. We understand the struggles that indie filmmakers face in bringing their projects to the big screen. We are dedicated to recognizing and rewarding the hard work and accomplishments of independent filmmakers.

Now in its third year, the I See You Awards® will begin on Thursday, August 22 and conclude on Sunday, August 25, 2019. They will be held at the Emagine Theater in Royal Oak, Michigan, just outside of Detroit. Filmmakers interested in submitting their projects for consideration are invited to visit our Submission Guidelines page and/or our FAQ Page for all the details. Short films, feature films, documentaries and screenplays are eligible.

I See You Awards® Schedule of Events

Thursday, August 22

Full day of film screenings

(Screening Schedule TBA)

Friday, August 23

Film industry seminar and networking

Saturday, August 24

Free Day to explore Metro Detroit

Sunday, August 25

Black Tie, Blue Carpet Awards Ceremony

The 3rd Annual I See You Awards® are sponsored by the Michigan Film & Digital Media Office, Emagine Entertainment and WWJ Newsradio 950, with additional partners The Lee Group and ES Communications Agency.

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