SACRAMENTO – Sacramento director, producer and screenwriter, Deon Taylor has been honing his craft and making thought-provoking, independent movies for more than 20 years through his production company, Hidden Empire Film Group which he launched in 2000.
Among Taylor’s many film credits is the outstanding 2014 drama, “Supremacy” featuring Oscar winner Mahershala Ali (Best Supporting Actor, “Moonlight”), Danny Glover, Derek Luke and Julie Benz. “Supremacy “garnered critical acclaim for taking an unflinching look at racism.
However, it’s Taylor’s latest movie “Traffik” that’s also generating plenty of buzz for shining light on the hot-button issue of human trafficking.
Filmed primarily in Sacramento, “Traffik” stars Paula Patton (“Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”), Laz Alonso, Omar Epps and Roselyn Sanchez.
In “Traffik,” Patton plays a news reporter at the fictional Sacramento Post newspaper. Her editor, (William Fichtner, TV’s “Mom”), has little use for human interest stories and wants her to write more lurid and sensational pieces.
Well, those stories aren’t easy to come by. But, when Patton and her boyfriend John (Omar Epps, TV’s “Shooter”), head to Lake Tahoe for a romantic getaway at the home of John’s sports agent friend Darren (Laz Alonso, “Detroit”), they are soon caught up in a volatile situation which ultimately leads Patton to unravel one of the biggest news stories of her career.
Sacramento Observer Correspondent Lana K. Wilson-Combs recently interviewed Deon Taylor and “Traffik” star Laz Alonso.
Taylor and Alonso discussed what attracted them to the movie and what it was like working with Patton, Epps, and Sanchez. They also talked about Hollywood’s new “Black Renaissance” and what it means for African-American actors and filmmakers.
Read on to find out what else these talented young men had to say.
Q. First, congratulations on your excellent movie, “Traffik.” Deon, I thought “Supremacy” was your best film to date, but now I’m convinced “Traffik” is. It’s well-written, incredibly cast and feels very timely. What inspired you to make it?
A. Deon–Thank you very much. I never thought I’d ever make a movie about human trafficking. But my inspiration actually came from my 12-year-old daughter. My family lives in Granite Bay and my daughter came home from school one day with a letter about how kids in the area are being targeted for human trafficking. I had no idea that Granite Bay had such a problem. We had received notes before asking parents to be aware about guns and drugs being brought to school, which is obviously scary enough for a parent to deal with, but I was blown away by this news. And the more I started doing research on the topic and reading all these stories about human trafficking occurring at gas stations, the mall and at nearby houses in my area, it really triggered something in me. I wanted to tell this story in the best way I knew how which is through film. “Traffik” has a horror and suspense element to it, which is the type of movie I enjoy making. Yet, the timeliness and relevance of this one, I think really took it to another level of filmmaking for me.
Q. Laz, what attracted you to this role?
A. Well, working with this guy next to me for sure. Deon Taylor is such a visionary filmmaker and one of the most underrated ones working today. I read the script and couldn’t wait to jump into this role. I liked the arc he gave my character. Yeah, Darren is kind of a jerk, but playing this guy was just an exciting opportunity. Plus, while I’ve done both television (NBC’s “The Mysteries of Laura”) and movies, I’m committed to films that strike a chord with people. That’s why I also starred in “Detroit.” Movies like Traffik” and “Detroit” are independent films that you’ll think about and talk about. “Traffik” just takes you on a number of twists and turns. It’s a suspenseful and emotional ride.
Q. Laz, you also starred with Paula Patton in the romantic comedy, “Jumping the Broom.” Can you talk about what it was like working with her in “Traffik?”
A. I’ve never seen so much growth in an actress, like I have with Paula (Patton). With this role, I lost Paula. She wasn’t the person I thought I knew. You talk about Method Acting. She was completely into this character. I mean totally. It wasn’t until I actually saw the completed movie that I really noticed what she brought. No knock on any of her previous work, but I honestly think this is her best work ever.
Q. Deon, what did you think of Paula’s performance?
A. I cast these people because I love what they do. Omar Epps is amazing; Roselyn Sanchez is also terrific too in the movie. I told Paula, (Patton) don’t be scared and don’t hold anything back. She ran with this character. She was relentless. So was Laz (Alonso). I told everyone, you only get one shot at this because I never could afford a reshoot (Lots of laughter). Really, it’s a testament to their craft. The energy was just heightened on set. It was dope.
Q. Deon, in this film you also beautifully capture some of Sacramento’s landmarks, but I have to say as a former entertainment reporter for the now defunct Sacramento Union newspaper, I was taken by Paula Patton working at the fictional Sacramento Post. Some of the scenes looked as if they were shot in the Sacramento Union, but it’s been gone for years, so where was that newsroom scene filmed?
A. We actually shot that inside of the Sacramento News & Review building. So, a big thanks and shout-out to the News & Review.
Q. This question is for both of you. In the past few years, black movies, notably romantic comedies, have enjoyed a nice run at the box office and it was a pretty big deal. But, it seems Hollywood is embracing black filmmakers and actors more and it feels different now. Does this time around seem like a renaissance of sorts with the number of movies we’re seeing such as “Get Out,” “Moonlight,” and now “Black Panther.”
A. Deon–Absolutely. It’s an incredible time and you’re right. There’s this new Black Renaissance happening, yet we’ve always been here. We just never had the shots we’re getting now especially now that these are hit films. Look at “Get Out,” a small budget movie that totally defied Hollywood’s conventional dynamic, Look at Tyler Perry’s “Acrimony” and “Black Panther.” My goodness. “Black Panther” beat every record in the world. It overtook “Titanic” to become the third highest grossing US release of all time. So, yeah, Hollywood has to take a step back and look at women, Blacks and Latino actors and filmmakers in a different way now. There’s an energy that’s growing for black writers, producers, etc. We’ve got to keep it going and support it.
A. Laz—I agree. Deon is so right. I’ve learned in this business that you never have a permanent seat at the table. However, now, we are setting our own table and cooking our own food. That’s what is different now. As an actor, I don’t want to jump at any old role just for the sake of being in a movie. There are so many talented writers, directors and producers eager to tell their stories. They are fascinating stories too. I feel fortunate to be part of this resurgence and I am thrilled to see Deon Taylor continuing to push the creative boundaries and make important and exciting movies like “Traffik.”
Be sure to catch “Traffik” which opens nationwide in theatres April 20.
By Lana K. Wilson-Combs
Sacramento Observer Correspondent
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is an entertainment writer who occasionally submits movie features for the Sacramento Observer. You can also hear Lana’s movie review segment on the Kitty O’Neal Show every Friday at 6:40 p.m. on KFBK Radio station 93.1 FM.