Continuing on with the What’s Your Story? feature I started a few weeks ago… a brief recap: I posted a call for your individual stories as artists in this business, whatever your trade is; whether stories of triumph, tragedy, lessons learned, regrets, etc. Read that post HERE to catch up if necessary.
Your responses have been coming in, which is great! Keep’em coming. I’ll continue to post as many as I can.
The 6th submission comes from writer/director Aaron Philip Clark; dive in below for his story:
Ever since I was 12, I wanted to be a filmmaker. And in the black community, announcing you want to be a filmmaker or an artist in general usually elicits various responses. One, the classic, “Is there any money in that?” Two, “You’re too smart. What about being a doctor or a lawyer?” Luckily my parents pushed me to be what I wanted and the only opposition I encountered was from outsiders. I was also lucky enough to make good friends in film school, and while we were in our first year at North Carolina School of the Arts, now UNCSA, we made a mockumentary film.
The film was called “The Armada”. It centered on the race riot of 1898 in Wilmington, NC. Our director, Rev. Jerry M. Grimes, had a great idea. Inspired by the history of La Cosa Nostra, he imagined an organization formed after the riot as a way to keep blacks safe in the South. A kind of watch group, armed with guns and Bibles. It would be called “The Armada”. But like many organizations, overtime it would be changed by corruption and members who thirsted for power; rendering The Armada just another mafia-like enterprise.
The film was accepted into the Hollywood Underground Film Festival in 2002. It was major for us. We met agents and stars, and everything in between. We were on our way, so we thought. And a year later, now living in Los Angeles, I was told by a friend that Spike Lee would be giving a lecture at McKenna College in Claremont, CA. With the film and a stack of business cards, we headed out to Claremont. Spike delivered an entertaining lecture and at the end he decided he’d sign some of his DVDs for fans. I fought my way to the stage, against the current of people who were trying to exit. When I finally made it to the stage, a woman I took to be Spike’s assistant for the event, said he was done. For a moment, I thought I would give up. But my friend wouldn’t hear of it, and pushed me to the front. With security eying me, I asked if Spike could spare one second more. He turned away and began walking to the other end of the stage. I shouted: “I know Leander!” He was Spike’s assistant editor on numerous films. “He’s your teacher?” Spike asked. I told him he once was but I had left the school and moved to L.A. Spike smirked and agreed to watch the film, and I left Claremont so filled with optimism I could hardly stand myself.
I followed up with 40 Acres and they assured me Spike would watch the film. Weeks passed and I never heard anything. I sent letters and continued to call. I gave up and figured it wasn’t meant to be. I was crushed. Growing up, Spike had been the pinnacle for me and my friends—he was what we aspired to. Sure, we looked to other filmmakers, Julie Dash, John Singleton, and Oscar Micheaux. Yet it was Spike who had a level of cool that we just connected to. He was apart of a movement, the Brooklyn Boehm, and we wanted so desperately to be apart of something like that. I had told myself, if I could just get the film to Spike, he would see our genius and help us reach our goals. Of course, that was the fantasy of a 19-year-old. That experience, that incredible letdown, taught me that there isn’t going to be just one defining letdown—there will be many. And reaching success as a filmmaker isn’t a sprint, but it’s a marathon. I have no idea if Spike ever watched the film and honestly it doesn’t matter if he did or didn’t. The truth is I wasn’t ready for the opportunity it would have brought at the time. I needed to grow and mature as a writer and filmmaker.
These days I do more writing than filmmaking. Having written a successful crime novel, I enjoy writing more than being behind the camera. But it’s still in my soul and I’ve directed a few documentaries here and there. If anything, I’ve learned to take my time, to make my art and be concerned with only that. In the end, Hollywood rarely answers when you knock on its door. Instead, you want Hollywood to come knocking on yours. It just takes a little time and patience.
Aaron Philip Clark