Sundance Film Festival 2022
F^¢K ’€M R!GHT B@¢K
U.S Live Action Shorts
A queer Black aspiring Baltimore rapper must outwit his vengeful day-job boss in order to avoid getting fired after accidentally eating an edible.
Hi Harris thank you for talking to The New Current, how has this time offered you any new creative inspiration or opportunities?
Yes, it’s actually given me both inspiration and opportunities. Right at the beginning of the pandemic I made a podcast musical of a piece I had already been developing called BLEEDING LOVE which ironically is about a world where it’s too dangerous to go outside, so everyone is cloistered in their apartments, which went on be one of the top Performing Arts podcasts on Apple Podcasts.
Theatre everywhere had shut down and were looking for new ways to reach their audiences, so I was hired by Queens Theatre and make a film/theatre hybrid film called I SEE YOU AND YOU SEE ME which premiered on PBS/WNET that was about people living in Queens during the height of the pandemic - we shot it in the summer of 2020 basically in hazmat suits. It was very cathartic for me and for the artists I got to work with on the project. And of course F^¢K '€M R!GHT B@¢K, which we had to figure out how to make during the pandemic.
Congratulations on having F^¢K '€M R!GHT B@¢K in the U.S Live Action Shorts at Sundance 2022, how does it feel to be at the festival and be part of such an amazing line-up of films?
It is quite literally a dream come true. I have always wanted to show at Sundance. Back when I was trying to make my first feature and nothing was moving, I channeled my emotions into a movie called THIS MOVIE WILL GET INTO SUNDANCE which was a meta narrative/doc which starred me as me, with my friends playing themselves, about me trying to make a movie that wasn’t getting made, and trying to get that movie finished by the Sundance deadline. Meta upon meta. Unfortunately, that movie did not get into Sundance. But I feel incredibly honoured and grateful that Sundance chose my work amongst this really incredible lineup of films.
This will be F^¢K '€M R!GHT B@¢K World Premiere & you are nominated for the Short Film Grand Jury Prize, does this add any extra pressure on you?
Honestly, it’s just incredibly humbling and I am grateful beyond words.
"My special skill is getting performance out of actors - I have taught acting for years and currently teach directors how to work with actors at Columbia."
Can you tell me a little bit about how F^¢K '€M R!GHT B@¢K came about, what was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
My friend Doris Casap, who EP'd the film and produced it with me, was friends with DDm and wanted to do something with him for a long time. He does many things - perform, music, politics - so she had a lot of ideas of what that could look like. Knowing she wanted to do something with him, I came up with a feature film idea for him to star in. Doris and DDm loved it and so Doris and I went down to Baltimore to visit with DDm and do research. On the way back to New York, I proposed that we do a short film first. I took the first act of the feature film idea and looked at how to make it a complete journey. I used what I learned about DDm on the trip as inspiration to flesh out some of the details of the story. DDm worked with me to make sure the dialogue was authentic. That was in June, we shot for 3 Days mid-August, and then I edited around the clock for a month to get it into the Mid-September Sundance deadline. The film’s themes come from DDm and I having parallel experiences. I am gay and grew up without money, have worked in offices while trying to pursue my art, so have been confronted by a system set up to keep people like me down my whole life, where people in power want to make sure people like DDm and me are kept small. I still face that kind of suppression. So the film aims at speaking about these very serious issues -- but through comedy.
When writing a script for a short film do you give yourself much flexibility or do you like to stick to what you've written?
My films are pretty strictly written so that my films can be clear and sharp. Many jokes I make sure to get takes word for word, because precise rhythm is so integral to comedy. I do encourage my actors to also say things in their own voices, and I also encourage improv. With this film there was a lot of wonderful comedic improv, which unfortunately all couldn’t make it into the film because it’s a short - but some of it did!
What was the experience like working with DDm on this project?
DDm is a dream as a human and an artist. He is incredibly talented, a very disciplined hard worker, and just the nicest, warmest guy you’ll ever meet. My special skill is getting performance out of actors - I have taught acting for years and currently teach directors how to work with actors at Columbia. DDm is a very experienced performer, and this was his first film. And so we had some chats where I set him on the course of how to approach acting, and then he is such a natural and such a hard worker that he took it by the reigns nailed take after take. He’s very gifted.
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?
Absolutely. I think that is how we as a culture progress. By showing audiences things they haven’t seen. By getting inside worlds they don’t usually have access to. But making them think and see things in new ways.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I was an actor for a long time, but I have been a writer since I was a kid, and I have coached and taught actors for over 15 years. I was writing musicals in my mid-20s while acting in theatre. I was reading screenwriting books to try to fix a musical I had written. I started acting in indie films and realized that I knew how to write films because I had been studying these books to fix my musical. And so I started writing film. And then I started making it. And I fell in love. I eventually wasn’t acting anymore and was focused on filmmaking, and realized in retrospect I had transition careers without noticing. I just love actors. I love writing for actors, directing actors, creating jobs for actors, and so by making a filmmaker I get to create platforms for actors to shine. I love that.
How much has your background as an actor helped you write and direct our projects?
It is everything. I use the skills that I learned as an actor in order to write, in order to direct and in order to edit. I see them as one straight line. Following the thread of what the protagonist wants and making sure that authentic journey follows a straight line from beginning to end of both the film and the process. I use my actor impulse when I write, in guiding how I direct, and then quite literally when I edit where I will act out the film with the footage in order to best understand timing.
Are there tips you would offer someone wanting to get into filmmaking?
Read everything you can about how to do it, watch every video you can. So much information is out there. If you keep challenging yourself to grow, and the more you grow, the better you are able to achieve your dreams. If you haven’t yet achieved your dreams, then keep growing.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from F^¢K '€M R!GHT B@¢K?