Every Friday, Indiewire's new Springboard column will profile an up-and-comer in the indie world who made a mark that deserves your attention. Select profiles will include photography by Daniel Bergeron, exclusive to Indiewire. Today we talk to writer-director Steven Caple.
Fresh out of film school at USC, Steve Caple is setting out to tell honest, everyman stories, focusing on universality over what others might consider more cinematic. His student short "A Different Tree," about a young girl yearning to meet her biological father, has made a triumphant festival circuit since premiering at American Black Film Festival, and is slated to appear on HBO. Caple is already in pre-production for his next project, a drama about inner-city kids who take to drug dealing to finance their skateboarding passion. Very personal in every way, Caple's work has drawn comparisons to award winning filmmakers, including his classmate Ryan Coogler, but what is most important to his is being able to create his own voice while telling universal stories. Indiewire spoke to Caple about his opportunities with HBO, the state of diversity in independent film, and what his plans are for the future.
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I experienced a lot growing up. I'm from Cleveland, Ohio, single-parent home. I just dealt with a lot. I always had a clear perspective as a kid. So what I try to do is I mentor a lot of students, I'm always connected with the youth. And I still feel young, myself, I can’t even talk as if I'm really old. Just interacting with these kids is something that I’ve always had just there, and there's always stories there. I can tell adult stories with adult things, but through the eyes and perspective of young kids.
Ryan Coogler is a friend of mine. We both attended USC, so he was very helpful in showing me around the ropes and stuff like that. As far as his visual style in the way he writes and directs, I could say I've been influenced by Ryan. I've seen everything from his shorts from school to his feature film debut "Fruitvale Station," which was amazing. But he definitely is someone who I admire. There's really a few independent filmmakers who really capture a voice and you can really understand their intentions behind their filmmaking that really inspired me to make film.
The writer [of "A Different Tree"] was Victoria Rose. We did the film as one of the course requirements at SC. It was her true story, almost verbatim; like everything that happened to her was in the script except for two minor changes. But she trusted me, she handed me over the film and was like "as long as you can make people feel for it you can do whatever you want." Her female voice, mixed with my ability to tell a story in general really worked out I think.
HBO, and a few other stations and networks as well, have really collaborated with film festivals to help emerging artists. With HBO, they were part of a film festival called the American Black Film Festival. I'd been trying to get into American Black Film Festival for a very long time now with different shorts that I've directed in the past. "A Different Tree" was always a goal. It has to be a premiere at the festival. It was a nice way to expose your work because I knew the possibilities if you win, you can have your piece on HBO. It kind of switched up the approach to getting the film out there a little bit.
I actually just finished a one-act stage play workshop in New York. [HBO] flew me out to New York, I had to write a 15-page script for a stage play, which I've never done before. It kind of challenged me. I won't say it was a test, it was they were like "Hey why don't you come out and come to try something different," so that definitely kept me in the loop. They're very nurturing to independent filmmakers, they're constantly out there seeking for talent, and trying to develop it within their system. They're really good and known for that. So I definitely plan on working with them in the future.
I think the most important thing when trying to break through is developing your talent. That's one of the reasons why I've directed so many shorts and went to USC and study different films. Because, first I want to develop my talent, develop my craft, start to create my voice and my style. Can black filmmakers tell stories outside of the black world or the black realm? Or what they perceive as the black world? I definitely think there’s that ability to do so, even with women. I know women who can write films about men just as strong as they can write films about women. It's just a matter of getting that shot, and people believing in them.
What’s next is to take the test footage of "Land of Misfits" and get the first feature off the ground, and then the second and then the third. Then start collaborating with a lot of people and start getting ready for my career. I'm really looking into television and and creating TV shows. As of right now I'm trying to push to have a lot of my films made in Cleveland, Ohio. Which is where I grew up at. Not just because they have great tax incentives, but because I actually want to go back and make movies about Cleveland.