- You adapted Zora Neale Hurston’s classic story, “The Gilded Six Bits”, for film which was aired on Showtime. Tell us how this project was created?
Although “The Gilded Six Bits” features Chad Coleman (“The Wire”), T’keyah Keymah (“That’s So Raven,” “Cosby,” “In Living Color”), Wendell Pierce (“Treme”, “The Wire,” “Ray”) and Novella Nelson (“The Antwone Fisher Story”), it was actually my graduate thesis film at NYU. As for how I chose the story, I had decided when I was in undergrad at Norfolk State that I wanted to make Hurston’s story into a film because though it was set in 1933, the focus of the story wasn’t racism. That was refreshing. Granted, racism was a major issue in the 30s, but African Americans still loved, worked hard and enjoyed life during that time as well. “The Gilded Six Bits” is special because it’s a love story that shows an aspect of black life rarely seen in literature from that period. And because period pieces, black period pieces in particular, are box office kryptonite, I knew that I had to make the movie in film school because no studio would touch a project like that. So I wrote the script and went after the actors that I felt would do the best job of bringing the characters to life. Fortunately, they all committed to the project. Ironically, I’m currently Executive Producing “Bama and Fred” which stars Novella Nelson (and Ted Lange who played Isaac in “The Love Boat”), and I first met Novella when I was directing “The Gilded Six Bits.” “Bama and Fred” will be finished this summer.
2. You are a filmmaker, author, visionary, and professor, as well as many other titles. What to you is your most challenging role?
Father and husband, without a doubt! All of the other titles that you listed compete with my first responsibility which is to my wife and four kids. I have to constantly balance staying ahead of the curve vocationally with loving my wife, and partnering with her to raise our children. It’s not always easy. My children don’t care that I have a deadline, they’d rather sit on daddy’s lap, or tell daddy a story, or have daddy come and look at the museum that they built in their bedroom. And my wife also wants to sit and talk without me pecking away on my laptop. She often jokes that my computer is “my other woman!” Nevertheless, I am a faithful husband with a strong marriage and wonderful kids. But I have to constantly work at it.
3. Your first novel, Unsigned Hype was a substantial success for you, I hear you never strived to be an author, how did this book come about?
My literary agent Adrienne Ingrum had been approached by one of her friends in the business that was looking for a story that featured a teenaged black male protagonist, but that wasn’t overly saturated with sex, drugs and violence. And because all the other writers that Adrienne represented were women she asked me if I could do it. I was writing a screenplay at the time, but decided to give it a shot because the producers that were attached to the screenplay that I was writing were in Louisiana making “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins.” Admittedly, I never would have chosen to write a story with a teenaged protagonist. But since that’s what Adrienne was looking for that’s what I came up with. And Baker Publishing Group gave me a two book contract when they bought the manuscript. That meant that a second book would have to be written. In retrospect, I see that writing novels is the best way for a writer and director of films to have greater control over their movies. Why? Because authors own the copyright to their stories and, in my case, the film and television rights as well. Contrast that with what happens when you sell an original screenplay to a studio – you sell away everything, copyright and all. So being an author/filmmaker, in my opinion, is the best to ensure that the stories that you write for one medium are faithfully translated into another medium.
4. You have been nominated and given many accolades and awarded titles, which award and acknowledgments have meant the greatest to you?
There are two. The starred review in Publishers Weekly for Snitch was significant because that indicated that I could write an engaging novel a second time. That may sound odd, but because of all of the enthusiasm that my first novel Unsigned Hype generated I felt an intense amount of pressure to, at the very least, write something just as good. I wanted desperately to avoid the sophomore slump even as I set out to write something that was even better than Unsigned Hype. Being an author yourself, you know that it’s impossible to know if what you write is good until you release it into the world. We make art for public consumption. So when the review came down the pike I was able to breathe a sigh of relief because the people who responded favorably to Unsigned Hype would not be disappointed when Snitch was released. Following closely behind the PW starred review would be Unsigned Hype being recognized as “culturally responsible literature for young minds and hands” by the National Black Child Development Institute. That was a big one, because I have four kids of my own and I am deeply concerned about what youth, and even adults, are reading, watching and listening to. In my opinion, the overwhelming majority of media today is decidedly negative. So to receive that distinction in this climate is huge.
5. What is your very next project about?
Actually I have two irons in the fire that are getting substantial amounts of heat. Producer Stephanie Allain Bray (“Hustle & Flow,” “Black Snake Moan” and the forthcoming “We the Peeples”) is attached to produce the film adaptation of Unsigned Hype and Snitch, which I will write and direct. I am writing the screenplays for both as we speak. That said, my next project is likely to be a film (or two) because both books have generated a considerable amount of interest.
6. Booker T. Mattison, how do you feel the world views you?
A lofty concept indeed! I’m not convinced that I am on the world’s radar just yet! LOL! But to answer your question, those who are aware of my work probably view me as singular minded and dogged in my approach to creating art that clearly communicates my worldview. And my worldview is shaped by my belief that God exists, he interacts with human beings, and he has an opinion on everything. My protagonists are forced, through the intensification of carefully crafted complications in the plot, to at least acknowledge that fact even if they don’t accept it. But sometimes that struggle is misunderstood. One review of Unsigned Hype said that, “Tory’s Christian conversion was telegraphed from the beginning.” That was a surprising assessment because I haven’t yet written a story where a character has a Christian conversion. I would also say that those who personally know me would say that I’m helpful. I consider it my duty to sow into the vision of other people, and to freely share with others what I have learned. A wise man once said, “What do you have that you did not receive?” That’s the way I feel so I have no problem sharing knowledge, wisdom and understanding. At the end of the day everything good that has happened in my life is a gift. To suggest otherwise (no matter how hard I’ve worked) is the very definition of arrogance.
Booker T. Mattison is an author and filmmaker who wrote the screenplay for and directed the film adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston’s classic story “The Gilded Six Bits,” which aired on Showtime. It starred Chad Coleman (“The Wire”), T’keyah Keymah (“That’s So Raven,” “Cosby,” “In Living Color”), Wendell Pierce (“Treme”,”The Wire,” “Ray”) and Novella Nelson (“The Antwon Fisher Story”). The Hollywood Reporter said of the film that, “Mattison’s direction and feel for her characters match up to Hurston’s sterling piece of fiction. The short is full of atmosphere and strongly developed characters.” He has also written and directed music videos that aired on BET, MTV Europe and The Gospel Music Channel.
Mattison’s novel Snitch will be published May 1, 2011. Publishers Weekly said that, “Author and filmmaker Mattison’s sophomore outing reads like its ready for screen adaptation… Mattison has a superb ear and his skills keep on growing.” His debut novel Unsigned Hype was published in June 2009 and is in its third printing. Producer Stephanie Allain Bray (“Hustle and Flow,” “Black Snake Moan” and the forthcoming “We the Peeples”) is attached to produce the film adaptation of both books.
Mattison received his Master of Fine Arts in film from New York University where he trained under the tutelage of Spike Lee and Anna Strasberg, and was the teaching assistant of Bill Reilly. He received his Bachelor of Science in mass communication from Norfolk State University.
Mattison has taught Literary Criticism at the College of New Rochelle in New York, film production at Brooklyn College and Advanced Directing, Screenwritng and Directing Actors at Regent University in Virginia.
On the streets of Jersey City there is a simple code. You don’t talk to the cops. You don’t snitch. Period. But when young bus driver Andre Bolden witnesses a crime on his route, he is compelled to make a choice. If he keeps silent, he might lose his job and be gnawed by his conscience. If he snitches, he could lose his family—even his life.
This explosive story explores the clash between a working man and the code of the street. Gifted storyteller Booker T. Mattison has crafted a realistic tale full of tension and raw suspense yet infused with spiritual truth. Snitch rewrites the rule to mind your own business, peers into the hearts of those who seek revenge and redemption, and celebrates the ability of a community to triumph over violence and intimidation.
1 thought on “Filmmaker Booker T. Mattison speaks on his journey”
Nice interview! I want to read Bookers books!