INTERVIEW: Steven Caple Jr. reveals how he stays grounded being in the "industry" [Part 2 of 3]

steven caple jr

In case you haven't read part 1 yet, check out the button below. If you're all caught up, keep reading for part 2 and also congratulations to Steven Caple Jr. on being named 1 of Forbes Magazines 30 under 30.

If you're all caught up, keep reading for part 2 and also a huge congratulations to Cleveland's own Steven Caple Jr. on being named 1 of Forbes Magazines 30 under 30. Keep doing it for the culture Steven!

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From the OH: What films have been most inspiring or influential to you and why?

Stephen Caple Jr:  That’s a tough one, I’m a movie buff.  The movie that inspired me to entertain was, Bad Boys with Will Smith.  It’s odd as crap, it’s not like poetic but Will Smith inspired me to definitely get into film. As a child, that movie came out in like 1994/1995 and I was 7 or 8 so seeing these 2 dudes [Martin Lawrence and Will Smith] in an action movie; jumping on top of cars.  I used to imitate this stuff and as soon as my mom had a camera (1 of those old VCR cameras) I was outside trying to recreate it with my cousins.  I’m like jumping off the porch like, “Don’t move! Bad Boys for life!” *laughing* I was so inspired by this dude and my first book I've ever bought on my own, which surprised my mom being 8 years old.  She was like, “What do you want from Kmart?” and I was like I want the Will Power book, his [Will Smith] biography.  I had that book for years and I don’t think I really started reading and understanding what was in the book until I was like 13 years old. I remember skimming through at a young age just wanting to look at the pictures and at that time it was Independence Day pictures and that type of thing.  When I was 13 and about to get into high school, I read the book and it just hit me.  This whole thing of following your dreams, staying focused and where you come from laying one brick now because you’re supposed to build this brick wall later.  I remember his dads conversation and all of that stuff. Will Smith, his movies and of course Fresh Prince inspired me to entertain but the art of storytelling was through 2 movies.

One was this movie called Bicycle Thief.  I think it was made in 1949 and it was a black and white film set in Italy but it's about this father that’s having a rough time finding work and he needs a bike for this job (kind of like a Cleveland labor-ready job) and he gets this one day job to hang up posters.  The movie is about him being at work and his bike gets stolen so he goes back home, grabs his son (7/8 years old) and they go on this journey to find this stolen bike because hey need it to provide food and money for the crib.  I remember the first time I saw that and my heart sunk.  It was like a gritty film but in the 40s, an every day struggle.  I didn’t know you could make movies about simple things like having or finding a job.  Everything for us was like Jurassic Park or all of these huge movies thrown in my face and I wasn’t introduced to independent film making until I saw this black and white film. The other film I saw in 2007 was called Chop Shop by Ramin Bahrani and it had a similar plot.  A young boy is out alone with no parents and he’s trying to save up enough money to buy a food truck and that’s all the movie is about.  Those films inspired me; like people I’m related to, the struggle and the heart of it all kind of drew me in.  So I was like how can I combine the 2 and that’s been my mission ever since.  How to combine the commercial aspects like in Bad Boys but yet tell super meaningful stories like Bicycle Thief and Chop Shop.

From the OH: We always get noticed because of our successes however we learn best from experiences where we’ve failed. What failures of yours have you learned from? How did they change you and your process?


Stephen Caple Jr: Oh my God, I failed so many times but I’ve learned from every bit of failure.  I failed today and I was talking to my wife and my younger sister about it after watching Hamilton. The art of failing is understanding that alright this is a moment in life you’re supposed to live through and then later learn from it.  I’ve put so much pressure on myself to try and learn from it right at that moment when it's happening but it never happens like that.  I’ll learn from my failures like 3 months, 6 months, a year later when another situation arrives and then I have to pivot and be like 'wait a minute this feels familiar'. I'll go back and think about it, sit on it and then be like alright this is how Imma approach this situation because of what happened in the past. So as an adult; I’m trying to learn how when failure hits me immediately to take that feeling, not get bitter about it, not have any sort of resentment towards anything or anyone and understand that it's Gods way right now and just grow from that which is a tough thing to do.  That’s like a metaphor for life in general but particularly for the film game, you got to knock on doors everyday telling people, "Hey I got a great idea or Hey I’m right for your project or Hey you know what I think is cool?"  Then you have to hear people say,  "No it’s not. I don’t think it’s cool. I don’t hear what you’re saying. I don’t relate to 4 kids in Cleveland, Ohio. I’m sorry I never even been to Cleveland Ohio is that where the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame is?"  This is stuff that you’re dealing with so rejection just comes with the territory and I think it’s just the matter of  sometimes you have to approach it differently the next time but sometimes that’s when the failure comes in.  A lot of times you feel a sense of failure because of the rejection.  Like I tried to go to NYU before USC and I got rejected from there so I had a low moment.  I applied to Sundance several times for the writing program/directing program, entered shorts and got rejected every single time for like 4 years but yet my feature gets in.  I got rejected from ABC several times for their fellowship but yet I’m about to do their TV show, Grown-ish it’s a spinoff of Black-ish and that’s from another brother Kenya Barris whose super talented watching The Land and being like, “Bro, I mess with your film hard. Come to the set.” That’s like one love you know but I was rejected on the other end. Failures come but then they go it’s just a matter of keep bouncing back.  That’s like a cliché answer I know everyone says it but it comes down to the basis of you’re gonna learn at that moment or you’re gonna learn what it meant later but just take it and just keep going.  That’s probably the best advice that everyone has given but the best advice that one can receive.  Know that these blows are just temporary and the next time they come you’ll be able to see it ahead of time and be able to dodge it, if possible.  I can say one thing though, with The Land, I felt like there were areas I could have definitely improved as a film maker.  I felt I could have told more of the boys' perspective a little bit more, I could have dove into that. After creating the film, you step back like oh that’s cool there’s this element of like a thriller - this woman trying to hunt down these boys but then I didn’t want to miss the beat of making sure people resonated with these kids.  Maybe it’s me being so attached to this film because I have spent so much time with it that it’s going to take me awhile to actually back up and see that I actually did capture these kids right, in the world atleast. I felt like I could have possibly made the movie just about them and see what would have happened but we’ll see.


From the OH: What’s to say that you can’t dive into that at a later date.  There’s so many webisodes out right now, Issa Rae, Black & Sexy television, etc.   I wish Cleveland could piggy back off of some of that right now.

Stephen Caple Jr.: There’s some though.  There’s a person now.. his name is Swoope and he has his series out, Langston Tributes. I’ve been keeping an eye on that.  So there are a few, man I think it’s just a matter of like as his craft continues to grow.  Similar to mine, I had stuff that I had to take down on Youtube because it was so bad but as your craft grows it’s a way to build a small audience to give you that little bit of satisfaction especially being at home.  Youtube is that source. I was putting stuff up and I’d get 100 views and I’m like that’s huge to me, that’s crazy. Back in 08’, 09’ putting up small shorts before Youtube grew to what it is now.  People commenting and disliking or liking is either going to inspire you or bring you down to not create but there goes the next one.  It just takes time and a lot of commitment.  I agree, there's no way I take what I learn from The Land and I’m taking it to Emmett Till.  I just got this thing that I got right now of telling stories about young men just because I don’t see many stories that show us in a positive light, negative situations, upbeat situations, sci-fi situations, just in general.  I’m in love with coming of age stories, I feel like every day is a coming of age story for me and I’m a grown man.  Just show young dudes that have a dream, have a goal and tell their stories in different ways and forms.  How one becomes who they are.  I don’t know, I guess I just relate to it because of the mentoring I've been involved in over 10 years of my life and just really wanna tell their stories but yeah I’ll definitely take it to the next one for sure.

From the OH: I read that you were tapped to write an HBO miniseries about Emmett Till.  Has that been completed yet?  How has that process been? 

Emmett Till and Tamir Rice

Stephen Caple Jr: It’s a tough process man.  For one, it’s great.  I’m writing it so it has not yet been completed. It’s a limited series so it’s one that has several episodes so it’s not like a movie or a one-off.  It’s in different parts and we’re telling it how it is, it’s pretty raw and that’s where the process has been tough.  You know, I knew the Emmett Till story. I’ve learned about it in my high school and it was 2 lines in my history book about from the Civil Rights section.  Then I learned about it through movies obviously from other people talking about it but there has never been an actual movie on Emmett Till.  Then in college when you’re taking African American studies, they talk about the Civil Rights movement and what was the catalyst to the Emmett Till situation but no one has ever gone in depth with his death. Just to see what’s going on today and the racial climate, the social issues and you’re already affected by it. You can’t be black and not be and if you are walking around blinded and not woke, then something’s wrong.  It’s everywhere now and it touches you every time you see a video or see someone getting their rights pretty much taken away from them because they are voicing their opinion.  Just everyone getting back-lashed; kids dying and it’s tough to dive into a Emmett Till and be super-motivated to tell the story, but then when you go to write down the details you can’t help but to stop because it’s dark.  It’s one thing seeing it from a distance but then getting deeper and deeper into the details, it’s like yo Emmett Till is me.  I remember when I did this or I did that.  I felt that similar way, the biggest thing I keep referring to and people think I’ll go to the Trayvon Martin case which is very much similar in ways to Emmett Till because he wasn’t killed by a cop.  Emmett Till wasn’t either.  It’s not that though, I actually relate to the Tamir Rice case from Cleveland, OH. The reason being is because the Tamir Rice situation happened at Cudell Rec. and that’s where I played ball at.  I lived off of Detroit on 54th and that was one of the parks we went to.  Just to see the images on TV and the whole world watching the area that you played in and to see a kid get gunned down in that same spot, in that same grass and the cop walks away.  I know the kid had a toy gun but I just go back to what my mom used to tell me and she told me to never go outside and play with a toy gun and what did I do?  I went outside several times with a toy gun because in my head I was a kid, in my head I was 10/11 years old and I’m like, “Mom if the cops come imma just tell them I'm a kid and just drop the gun. That’s what imma do, duh!" That’s how you think but when you see that video, he didn’t even have time to turn around.  I was like Oh my God. It just hit me so hard, I remember crying watching the video and that was the moment I was just fed up.  I’m a mentor at Martin Luther King Elementary School and I’m asking these kids, "hey man, you guys ever heard of Emmett Till? These kids have phones now in the 5th grade and they pulled him up like 'Is this the kid Mr. Steven?'  I’m looking at it like, "No, that’s Tamir Rice." That touched me on a whole other level. 

My writing process is very emotional with Emmett Till. It's going really well, the script is coming out and it’s very spiritual and I don’t think anyone has seen something like this. Usually when you’re dealing with this case, it goes to a very Civil Rights aspect of the story and we tap into it but it's really about this kid trying to figure things out but before he does his life is taken.  Then it's about this mom dealing with that. Like, how do you deal with that?  I don’t think that’s been put to the forefront. You watch stories like Fruitvale Station which was amazing (I went to school with Ryan Coogler) but it led all the way up to the point with his death. I was like dang, what was it like next year? What was it like for Trayvon Martin’s mom 6 months later? Those are the questions I asked when writing this Emmett Till miniseries. 

From the OH: How does it feel with you now working with Will Smith?  You were as a kid filming your own version of Bad Boy and now you’re working with the man himself.

Stephen Caple Jr: Its amazing.  He has his whole company, Overbrook and they have a strong team.  They heard about me before when I was trying to make The Land.  He saw my short film awhile ago before The Land and showed love and so now all of this has come full circle.  It’s just a blessing, I don’t think all of us are looking at it like obviously there's a bigger picture, a bigger goal.  I don’t think they are seeing it like I'm seeing it.  It’s  a bigger picture, bigger goal but I also reached and completed a huge goal just to be in their studio, in their offices talking about this kind of project.  It’s a huge step for me personally and a huge step for my career but it's also a huge step for the movement and the culture.  There's layers to it but to answer your question, you’re like wow *laughs* for a moment but then it's like lets get to work because that's what actually got you in this room not to see you being wow’d or woo’d by Will Smith it was that he inspired you to work.  Now all of that work you put in to be there with him it's like hold up man, this is super dope but let’s get to work.


From the OH: What do you see in the future for the city of Cleveland as it pertains to the entertainment industry (music and film)?  What would you like to see?

Stephen Caple Jr:  More movies if we can about Cleveland, that would be dope. Filmmakers coming out of Cleveland is huge to me, I know I’m one but there’s many there that I know who are aspiring artists/photographers who all can easily cross over.  That’s big to me, I mentioned the Swoope thing because when I seen that I was like “this is dope!’ Yanno, just another filmmaker doing it. I saw Ray Jr’s short that he had on Youtube that you [FromtheOH] had up, I was like this is dope! Yes, this is where it comes out and now to see hopefully bigger production. Mind you, I was a small film.  My film was low budget and the streets don’t really look at those low budget films but if we can get a movie out there like.. Fast and the Furious where the director is from Cleveland and it’s that big of a budget like $200 million for a movie.  If it can give some shout outs to Cleveland and use some Cleveland folks because we definitely used Cleveland folks on our project.  People got paid and it fed into the community.  People don’t think those things but that’s how Fast and the Furious and those things bring money to the city. Ultimately, just to see more films and more talented people coming out of it.  It doesn’t have to be the films out of Cleveland but its really cool to see clothing lines and everybody step out, like this photo shoot I do, I’m trying to rock Glen Infante’s stuff with Ilthy and I’m trying to rock the CLE gear just because it’s something that started back at home.  It’s all about inspiring. If you’re up on any of my social media networks that’s my first quote, “here to inspire and here to be inspired” because that’s really what it’s about. I would love to see the growth. I think it provides the kids another outlet. I’m trying to find a way, every way to tie in Cleveland even if I have to dig deep with just the character being from Cleveland.  I found one dude in the Till story who played a huge part in finding out the facts in who killed Emmett Till.  It wasn’t the cops because the cops wasn’t doing research but it was this dude by the name of James Hitch who was from Akron Ohio who worked at the Cleveland Plain Dealer who ended up moving to Baltimore as an investigative journalist and then went to Mississippi during the case and trial who found out all of these great things. I was like wait a minute, he’s from Ohio? He worked for The Plain Dealer? That’s a character in the miniseries and I’m definitely making him important.  That’s how deep I’ll go to find that connection and it might not be a guy in Cleveland Ohio but there’s something that I can do to tie in the hometown, I’ll look for it because I think it’s crucial we see those things.

Stay tuned for part 3 ...