Someone once said, you should intern as much as you can until you know you’re ready. I believe in that statement and have seen many great people succeed including filmmaker Michael Pinckney. I got the chance to talk with one of Spike Lee’s protege talk about his upcoming film “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Kills You“, his company Black Noise and working with Bobby Brown. Make sure you check out the interview below to see how he’s taking steps in Black Hollywood.
In between working on films as an AD and directing shorts, I finished it while I was working on “Inside Man”. I wanted the technical advisor for “Inside Man,” who was a homicide detective for 25 years on the force and basically telling us what’s right and wrong regarding cops to feature just to make sure that it’s true to life.
SouthernNewYorker.com: Congrats on your film “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Kills You”. This film sounds suspenseful, full of action and reminds me of a Hip Hop “New Jack City” meets New York Undercover. Can you please let the readers in on a little bit about the film and direction?
Michael Pinckney: I liked how you did the analogy; my analogy was a cross between “Krush Groove” and “Seven”. When I first initially started writing this, that’s what I wanted to do. I’m a big Hip Hop fan and I love slasher thriller films. I wanted to kind of marry the two and that’s how I came up with “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Kills You”. I got the title across from Biggie’s, a track from his song “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Kills You”. Basically with the psychology that you’re more famous dead than you are alive. Tupac sold more albums dead than he ever did when he was alive. Also, the psychology of rappers that rap about violence and death so often, what if somebody is out to kill them? Then they kind of sing in a different tune then. They could be a little scared, but they can rap about violence and dying like is nothing. When somebody’s out to get them they change their tune real quickly.
SNY: How long did that film take for you to not only write but direct?
MP: It’s weird because I wrote it originally as a short film and I’m an assistant director so I was working on “25th Hour” and “Bamboozled” with Spike [Lee]. I actually wrote it during “Bamboozled” and Mos Def was in it as you know. So, I told him “I’m writing this for you” and he said, “Great sounds like an amazing story.” I wrote it as a short film for him and he was just really jumping into the acting thing. Then he kind of blew up and I kind of decided to make it a feature, so I wrote it and finished writing. In between working on films as an AD and directing shorts, I finished it while I was working on “Inside Man”. I wanted the technical advisor for “Inside Man,” who was a homicide detective for 25 years on the force and basically telling us what’s right and wrong regarding cops to feature just to make sure that it’s true to life. So, I gave him the script and asked him to read to make sure the dialogue sounded right, to make sure the cops I had in the film sounded like real cops and I was using the right language. He loved the script so much he said, “I want to help you make this film” and he produced the film, which brought all the investors on to invest in this film. That’s when we decided to ask Spike, give him the script and say would you executive producing this? He said, “Sure.” It slowly came together and it was a long road because raising the money wasn’t easy.
SNY: There aren’t many black directors who get noticed in Hollywood. How was the experience working with Spike Lee and what are some major steps you had to accomplish to get where you are now?
MP: I started out as an intern when I was 19 years old and my first job was a Spike Lee film. I came up through the ranks from an intern, to production assistant, to an assistant director. I worked on close to forty to fifty films and I’ve been lucky enough to work with not only Spike. I’ve been able to watch him since I was 19 to now and I’ve worked on over a dozen films within commercials, TV shows. I also worked with Bill Duke another great black director, Robert Townsend, Levar Burton, Mario Van Peebles. So I was actually lucky enough to work with a lot of the black directors and a lot of directors in general. Lee Daniels, I worked on “Precious” so I always absorbed knowledge from these guys because I was a student of film whether I was an assistant director. I always took lessons that I can use as a director, so it would just pay my dues and I paid my dues. That’s why when I was asked can I executive produce, he said yes because I didn’t just come out of no where. I paid my dues for over a dozen years putting in work and watching how it’s done. He knew that at the end of the day I can make it happen because I’ve seen it done hundreds of times. It’s amazing that I think back and working with Spike, he’s a technical master. He’s a seasoned, he’s a particular efficient director he’s a scientist when it comes to directing. Lee Daniels, he’s a scientist when it comes to actors, so everybody has their own style and I took from everybody’s style. I took things that would work for me and develop my style of directing with a combination of all of theirs. I’ve just been blessed over the years and to be able to do this, to work with great people. I worked with Denzel, Spike did four films with him, I’ve done five films with him and he’s seen me since I was 20. Just being able to come up and people see me grow up, come into my own has been great. They all wish me well.
SNY: Growing up I had a few favorite films “Black Orpheus”, “Color Purple” and “School Dayz.” Is there any film that made you appreciate their direction visually and artistically?
MP: One of top five films is “Taxi Driver” and “Seven”. Of course I’m a [Martin] Scorsese fan; I’m a David Ventura fan. There’s nothing like seeing a film when everything falls into place. When the directing is impeccable, when the acting is great, the set design, the cinematography, when everything lines up so perfectly and you see a film that hits you. That really has an affect on you, I mean that’s what really inspired me. You know sometimes you see some films that everything worked and sometimes you see a film that everything is good, but the acting isn’t that great. Then you see a film where everything is perfect you realize it’s like fate. Everything falls into place you get an act of fulfillment. After you shoot the film it’s kind of like, this film couldn’t have been made with another actor. It had to be this actor because everything had to fall into place for you to even get this actor although he wasn’t even going to do it. All the planets have to align sometimes and that’s a special thing.
SNY: I heard about your company Black Noise Media which nurtures young aspiring film makers and gives back to the community. How important is for the youth to share their stories on film and use that outlet to express themselves?
MP: I started out as an intern from Brooklyn and Spike gave me that outlet. If I wasn’t given that chance, it would have never happened. Whenever Spike does films he always has interns. He always has fifteen to twenty interns working on a film and their working under professionals in the fields that they’re interested in. Whether it’s the camera department, wardrobe department or whatever so they get on hand experience and they get to actually see somebody doing it for real. School can’t teach you that, you have to have that on hand experience. It was so important that I got to see people who look like me do it that inspired me. I definitely think it’s so important for young people to actually see me because I talk to schools all the time, I’m talking at Temple [University] and showing some clips on the film. You see a person that looks like you walk into the classroom talking about all the great people they’ve worked with and all the places they’ve been. Then it becomes real, it’s not a dream anymore. I think that’s so important.
SNY: Lastly, what new projects or developments are in store for Michael Pinckney?
MP: Yeah, I have a couple projects in development, in stages. I just finished writing the “Bad Boy of R&B: The Bobby Brown Story”. I was writing it for a year and a half with Bobby [Brown] off and on, it took a long time. I finished the first draft for that so we are trying to raise money for that and I got a film called “First Kill”. I also have this TV pilot/film called “Police Women” that we shot a trailer for that we’ve been pitching and getting a lot of great feedback. Some other TV shows, I’m trying to get a lot more into TV. A show called “Swag”, we’ve been pitching and getting a lot of good feedback. This year is going to end well and next year is going to be amazing. Nobody else has a trilogy, so I’m going to do two more installments.
Interviewed by: Shiyana Bellamy
Conducted on March 6, 2012