Jeymes Samuel Interview
Jeymes Samuel is the type of person you wish they’d make more of. Bursting with energy, his creativity is palatable. The guy’s a born storyteller. He’s the type of casual wordsmith that reveals his cleverness in everyday conversation. He just can’t help it. Articulate, confident and excited, that’s his default mode. He’s a singer, songwriter, producer, writer, filmmaker, all-around multitasking visionary. He knows he’s the shit, too. And the real awesome thing is that he doesn’t hold it against you.
I had a casual lunch with Jeymes and a group of other media folks while visiting SWSX in Austin. It was the day of his film debut, They Die by Dawn, a 50-minute Western short with a sick cast that marked Jeymes first foray into film. The guy has created music videos before and worked with the artists like Jay Electronica, Jay-Z, Tori Amos, Charlotte Gainsbourg and a bunch of other people to create some great music. Jeymes has his own music crew too, a group called The Bullitts who will debut their first album this May. They’ve already released some pretty chill tracks, so check ‘em out if you haven’t already. I like “Landspeeder” quite a bit.
Anyway, MANjr is friendly with the Bulleit Bourbon brand, who helped sponsor the film, so we got sent out to SXSW to see the premiere of They Day by Dawn at a Bulleit-sponsored event at Viceland. The short film had a great cast (Michael K. Williams, Isaiah Washington, Rosario Dawson, Giancarlo Esposito, Erykah Badu,Nate parker, Jesse Williams, Bokeem Woodbine, Felicia “Snoop” Pearson, you get the point). And by all accounts, everyone had a lot of fun making this short film.
The impetus of the film was Samuel’s love of Westerns and his desire to correct a “huge inconsistency” that he saw in Hollywood’s historical “disservice” of excluding people of color in Western films. But this short film was just the beginning, just a taste of more to come. As Samuel put it, “This was just a link. What’s coming next is a full tub of Haagen Daaz.”
That tasty bit of froyo is coming in the form of a full-length feature film called The Notorious Nine. They Time by Dawn was just a sketch, an illustration that Jeymes can do it all.
I had a chance to speak with Jeymes at the premiere of They Die by Dawn at SXSW in Austin. We talked about everything from his original score inspiration to the upcoming feature film The Notorious Nine and a whole lot more. Here’s the interview:
CS: So I know you did the soundtrack yourself. I felt a heavy Ennio Morricone vibe, is that where you drew some of your inspiration? Those old spaghetti westerns?
JS: Absolutely, Ennio Morricone is like my favorite film composer of all time. I love that guy, man. “Ecstasy Of Gold” is one of the greatest pieces ever made. So when I was doing They Die by Dawn, I drew a lot of influence from him and what he was doing. Because Ennio Morricone was a guy that didn’t have big orchestras at hand, so he would use voices. So he was the first guy that wasn’t doing Western music to a Western. He was just doing what he saw in his head. He couldn’t afford an orchestra so you’d hear “aaaaaaaaaaaaaah ha ah ah ah” so swag, you know what I mean? He is my favorite composer of all time.
CS: That Mission soundtrack is all super emotional as well.
JS: Ill, man. Ill!
CS: Alright so I know this thing ended on a cliffhanger, is there anything you can tell us about The Notorious Nine or not yet?
JS: Let me tell you something. I’ll straight tell you about The Notorious Nine. But even while I’m telling you, that’s nothing in comparison to what’s coming. I shot They Die by Dawn over four days, right.
CS: Four days?
JS: Four days, that’s small. For Notorious Nine, there was a guy called O.W. Gurley right, and he got his 40 acres and a mule. He took this place, Greenwood Avenue in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and made black Wall Street. I’m rebuilding black Wall Street for Notorious Nine. I’m bringing back Jack Johnson. There’s a big bank heist around Jack Johnson, right. I’m bringing all of these characters back and I’m assembling them in one place at one time. We touched on one town in They Die by Dawn, but for Notorious Nine we’re going everywhere. It’s much bigger.
CS: Are we going to see some of the same characters?
JS: Yeah, because it continues. This is like a prelude. But The Notorious Nine, you can watch it even if you haven’t seen They Die by Dawn. But They Die by Dawn serves as a prelude to what’s coming next, when I unleash the most menacing villain in modern day cowboy movies, Rufus Buck. It’s like some real, real menace. It’s about the pursuit of Rufus Buck and, in turn, his pursuit of The Notorious Nine. You know what I mean? The movie is almost like a heist movie. It’s a really great thing.
CS: I’ve heard you talk about how you’re assembling this cast and you thought of it like The Avengers. How did you single out which characters you wanted to bring to life?
JS: Well there were about 150 characters I wanted to bring to life. But I was like, let me save some great ones for the The Notorious Nine and let me just introduce the ones I want to put out there now. Giancarlo Esposito is one of my favorite actors of all time. He’s the reason I’m wearing Jordan Force today. He was doing research into his character and I told him I wanted him to play him, it was just natural. Then I wanted to introduce the character of Rufus Buck and I wanted to talk about Bill Pickett, who wasn’t really an outlaw. He was more like a rodeo dude and that. But I really wanted to introduce these characters, just a few of them first, the ones that stood out to me the most. That was the easiest to portray. If it was someone like Cherokee Bill I’d want to make it more violent. He’s in The Notorious Nine but I’d want to make it even more violent with Cherokee Bill.
CS: Are we going to see some of the same cast members?
JS: Yeah. You’re going to see all the same cast members, all the ones that didn’t die. You’ll see all the same cast members and more. We’re going to close down down Hollywood on The Notorious Nine. You’re going to see something that you’ve never seen before in cinema.
CS: So how did you first get involved in the Bulleit Partnership? How did that develop?
JS: Well what happened was what I see in Westerns, when I see cowboys asking for whiskey, that’s unrealistic. That’s lazy on the writer’s part. They always ask for the same thing, that couldn’t happen. If I was a cowboy I’d have a particular drink, if they had particular drinks. Otherwise what is the point of having particular drinks in those days? Everything around the world has just been called whiskey, but they had brands so people would choose a brand. The only time when people would just say “give me whiskey” was in the depression era when they outlawed alcohol.
CS: “Gimme some of that bathtub stuff.”
JS: Yeah, give me some moonshine. Musically, I’m the Bullitts so I found this brand called Bulleit Bourbon, and that existed back then, it was meant to be like this couture brand. I was like, if I was a cowboy I’ll drink Bulleit,” so I just wrote it into the movie just to be authentic. So when people look at the script they can’t say “that didn’t take place” or “that town in 1890 didn’t take place” or “there wasn’t all that many black people.” I wanted to have all of those aspects and all the realistic aspects, that’s why I chose Bulleit Bourbon. The next minute, after I’d done post production, I met someone from Diageo, they told me that they own Bulleit. I was like, “no Bulleit doesn’t exist anymore” and they were like, “yes is does.” Next thing you know I’m speaking to Tom Bulleit and it’s just a whole other –
CS: I heard that guy’s a chill dude, right?
JS: He’s the most chill. Tom Bulleit is like Keyser Soze – the most chill dude you’d ever get to meet. He’s exactly like me with regards to his brand and bringing it back and the audacity of daring. You know what I mean? Dare to dream, almost, you know what I mean?
CS: So what were some of your favorite spaghetti Westerns growing up? That you drew inspiration from for this?
JS: Well, the spaghetti Westerns were a particular type. I love all the Westerns, even the ones that take liberties with black people, like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. I love all the Westerns. But as far as my favorite spaghetti Western, my favorite of those is For A Few Dollars More–
CS: With an awesome soundtrack…
JS: Wicked, man. Obviously The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Once Upon a Time in the West with Henry Fonda playing the most evil person you’re ever going to meet. Also a film called The Great Silence – Il Grande Silenzio. I think it was by Sergio Corbucci. It was an ill Western starring Klaus Kinski. And it showed a black guy, one of the leads is a black guy, and it has no reason for him being there. He’s just there, he’s just one of the characters in it. It really stood out to me.
CS: It took a foreign guy to do that.
JS: Yeah man, it took a foreign guy to do that. Like come on man, it took a foreign guy. It took Sergio Leone to cast Woody Stroud in Once Upon a Time in the West. And when he’s coming he’s not chasing anyone or serving anyone, he’s just one of the characters there. They don’t call him “that black dude,” he’s just one of the characters. It took someone who wasn’t institutionalized by the Hollywood system to do that. That was my inspiration. Some of those other things were my biggest inspirations when telling the story of They Die by Dawn and The Notorious Nine.
CS: When does that start filming?
JS: I’m going to start filming The Notorious Nine I think in late May or beginning of June. I’m going to start filming in a minute. When I get to London I have to hand in another script and then we go full on into pre-production.
CS: Well, I look forward to that.
JS: It’s ill, man. I’m telling you, The Notorious Nine… people like this stuff, and They Die by Dawn was done in four days.
JS: The Notorious Nine is a bank robberies, train robberies, jailbreaks, and a whole other rebuild. I’m rebuilding Yuma and we break out of Yuma. It’s a whole other moment. I think it’s going to be something really culturally significant. It’s going to be dope. The Notorious Nine, baby!
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