Not Your Average 72 Hour Filmmaker
By Lenell King
After wrapping his new film, “72 Hours”, Christopher Nolen talks about how he almost chose a different career path and the struggles of being an independent filmmaker. However, with surrounding himself with positive people and being in total control he wouldn’t have it any other way.
LENELL: Congratulations on wrapping up filming for “72 Hours”. Can you tell us what the movie is about and who is in it?
CHRISTOPHER: A reformed womanizer, Cleavon “Von” Burkett (Timon Kyle Durrett) was living the good life with a beautiful wife (Erica Hubbard) and dream job until one day he wasn’t. With his health taking a back seat in his busy lifestyle, it soon catches up with him as he’s faced with God, (Harry Lennix) after a heart attack. In an attempt to bargain for a second chance at life, Von has 72 hours to right the romantic wrongs he's made to all of his exes. With the help of his best friend, (Brian Hooks) and the determination to live, Von embarks on a hilarious journey to seek redemption and soon realizes that heaven nor hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
LENELL: We recently spoke with two cast members, Cynda Williams and Thea Camera, who both gave you high praise for being a very focused and driven director. What is your strategy for bringing a character to life in your films?
CHRISTOPHER: My strategy as a director is really all about focus and preparation. I prepare several months before I shoot. I mean literally a lot of months. My preparation includes making sure the story flows from beginning to the end. Making sure that every character in the story has a great meaning and purpose. Also, making sure that the characters are relatable to my audience, and preparing all of my shots as a director to be able to tell a compelling story. Touching bases with my actors on a daily bases and being able to be in communication with them regarding their characters is important to me. I love my job as a director!
LENELL: We were told that being a filmmaker was not your first choice. As a matter of fact, we were told that you were on a different career path; tell us a little about that?
CHRISTOPHER: Ha! Well, let’s see here; I got my bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana and I worked for a little bit in the field of electrical engineering. Then, I got my Master’s in mathematics and another Master’s in Educational Administration. I worked in the education field as math educator to junior high, high school and college students. Believe it or not, I started out acting and modeling when I was little and learned a great deal about what directors and producers do. They are the ones who put everything together for the actors to perform. I immediately wanted to direct and produce so I can create stories and opportunities for us.
LENELL: How did you discover your love for the arts?
CHRISTOPHER: I actually loved the arts from the minute I started acting and modeling. I really enjoy performing for my audience and creating.
LENELL: When we spoke to Cynda and Thea they stated that there is something special about the creative community in Chicago. They said it’s like a family here where everyone is super talented, but you hardly ever find an ego. It’s a real support system. Do you agree?
CHRISTOPHER: First and foremost, Cynda Williams and Thea Camara are awesome! I want to personally thank them for their compliments about me. Secondly, I want to send a huge shout out to my ensemble star cast of Christopher Nolen’s 72 Hours. Thank you Timon Kyle Durrett, Erica Hubbard, Harry Lennix, Terri J. Vaughn, Brian Hooks, Cynda Williams, Tangi Miller, Brely Evans, Chyna Layne and Thea Camara. This cast was simply AMAZING in every way. I also want to thank my crew for doing a wonderful job for me as well. Sorry for rambling, now back to your original question.
Well, to be honest I have been blessed to work with positive and professional people in my hometown of Chicago. I always want to find hard working and positive spirited people to work on my sets because I like to build a family atmosphere on my sets. That’s important because we will be together all day to make movie magic happen. Again, I stay away from the negative people and naysayers as much as I can because unfortunately they are out there but I have to stay away from them.
LENELL: Being an independent filmmaker, especially one of color, do you find it more difficult to get your movies seen or financed as opposed to having a major Hollywood studio behind you?
CHRISTOPHER: Indeed! Being an independent filmmaker of color it is very difficult to get a film made. Getting the financing is literally the toughest thing to get. When you are independent you have to “independently” find money to make your film/dream happen. Making films are expensive and the little money we do get we have to make it stretch every day and every second. Personally, I truly enjoy being an independent filmmaker and I look forward to directing more independent films. I also look forward to directing studio films as well in the near future with bigger budgets.
LENELL: Over the years we have seen quite a few African American film makers make their mark on Hollywood. Of course you are blazing a trail, is there someone that you find to be a mentor or inspirational? Or is there someone‘s work that you admire?
CHRISTOPHER: Yes, I have several mentors in this filmmaking industry and I have totally appreciated them tremendously for being there for a brother when I have questions. I have been totally blessed to have mentors/friends to work with and talk to regarding this tough film industry. As far as admiring people’s work, I surely do admire a lot of people’s work. My list is very long but I will name a few: Tim Story, George Tillman Jr, Ice Cube, Tyler Perry, Thomas Carter, Kevin Hooks, Carl Seaton, Mark Harris, Kenny Young, Spike Lee, Will Packer, Rob Hardy, F. Gary Gray, The Hughes Brothers, John Singleton, Gina Price Bythewood, Reggie Bythewood, Anthony Hemingway, Brian Hooks, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Carl Franklin, Antoine Fuqua, Malcolm D. Lee, Christopher Erskin, Lee Daniels, Reginald Hudlin, Warrington Hudlin, Ava DuVernay, Craig Ross Jr., Forest Whitaker, Denzel Washington, Kasi Lemmons, etc. I know I forgot someone and I do apologize if I forgot you. You see this is why I have a difficult time answering these types of questions. I always forget someone.
LENELL: What makes your films different from others? How you decide on what topics to bring to the screen? For some it may be issues that face the community, especially the African American community or is it all personal experiences?
CHRISTOPHER: I think what makes my films different are the characters and stories. I truly like to have characters in my stories that are real and that my audience can really relate to after they watch my films. The strategy for me in selecting topics is very simple. I write, produce and direct films that I can relate to and my audience can relate to as well. I just really enjoy telling stories regarding us as much as possible in a positive light as well.
LENELL: What advice would you have for aspiring actors/actresses or filmmakers?
CHRISTOPHER: The advice I would give to actors right now is to literally keep working hard and don’t give up. I am serious when I say that because I know being an actor is very frustrating but you can never give up. Always continue to work on your craft. Take some more acting classes and continue to learn. Also, actors need to stay humble because they are always being watched. Another point I want to advise actors on is to promote the work you are in. When you are promoting your work, other directors and producers see that and will want to work with you because you are promoting and taking pride in what you do and going that extra mile. STAY HUMBLE, PASSIONATE AND PROFESSIONAL.
The advice I have for filmmakers is to surround yourself with great professional and positive people in every position from producers all the way down to production assistants. Make sure you have a good producer, director of photography, editor and sound operator. That is very, very, very important! Also, just continue to create as much as you can and just go out there and be like Nike and just do it. Experience is one of the greatest teachers. I cannot stress how important it is to get good professional and positive people around you. Get great actors who are humble and take direction well. Also, learn how to stay on budget and not go over it. Learn how to say “NO”. Some filmmakers don’t know how to say “NO” and then they go waaaay over budget. Unfortunately, the word “NO” is a life saver.
CHRISTOPHER: After “72 Hours” is complete, we will be doing heavy promotion for the film and then in June 2015 I will be directing and producing my next project entitled Christopher Nolen’s “Zodiac Sign.” After that, I will be directing another film and producing three other films. Then in the summer of 2016, I will get back in front of the camera as a lead actor. I am ready for that challenge as I will be directing that film as well. I am blessed to be able to have these opportunities. GOD is awesome in real life.
As you can see fans of films are in for a treat as long as they have passionate directors such as Christopher Nolen who loves telling stories and taking his audience into a fantasy world of characters. Follow his trail on Facebook… https://www.facebook.com/christopher.nolenii