Director Deon Taylor’s tense 2014 drama, Supremacy, about a white supremacist who takes a black family hostage in their own home, was borne from Taylor’s desire to transition from the horror genre, where he’d established himself as a filmmaker, into new territory: drama. The film, starring Danny Glover and written by Eric J. Adams, is based on true events and was selected by the LA Film Fest to premiere in its LA Muse section. After tackling such a complex issue in a serious manner, Taylor was drained and wanted to try something fun. With his latest film, Meet the Blacks, Taylor returns to his roots in horror to spoof the 2013 thriller, The Purge, while continuing to address race relations and prejudices, but this time with humor.
Meet the Blacks stars Mike Epps as Carl Black, a Chicago electrician who seizes the opportunity to steal a small fortune from a busted drug dealer while wiring his home for alarms. Black uses to money to move his wacky family—his son pretends to be a vampire—to Beverly Hills, which he thinks is immune to the nationwide 12-hour purge during which all crime is legal. But Black has slighted enough miscreants and weirdos in his life that they pose a threat to his family as they begin to converge on his home for payback. The film, relying on its cast of comedic talent to deliver a relentless arsenal of gags and references, fuses the visual and aural bizarreness of horror with the pace of slapstick, resulting in a wild pastiche that features outlandish appearances from Snoop Dogg and Mike Tyson.
Under the Radar first interviewed Deon Taylor by email in 2014, in advance of the LA Film Fest’s premiere ofSupremacy. Last week, we spoke to him by phone to discuss Meet the Blacks and learn more about his unusual road to filmmaking.
Chris Tinkham (Under the Radar): We know that making a movie is a difficult process, but this looks like it was a fun film to make. Was it?
Deon Taylor: You’re 100 percent correct. It is a very hard process to make any kind of movie. As an independent filmmaker, I’m always celebrating anybody that can get a movie done. But yeah, this was a really fun movie to make. We were on a shoestring budget, or as Mike Epps likes to say, we used the budget for Batman v Superman‘s craft services to make this movie. It was never a dull moment. Anytime you have Mike Epps and Charlie Murphy, and then you sprinkle in a Gary Owen and a Paul Mooney, you can only imagine what the set was like.
There are so many jokes and quips in the film, and they come at a fast pace. Was it all on the page, or did some of that come from improvisation?
My goal with the film was to write a really cool parody or spoof movie to The Purge, which I’m a huge fan of, but when I was writing for the characters, for Carl Black and the rest of the cast, I really just wanted to give them the framework, because I knew as comedians they would come off the page a lot. So it became a situation for me to just stay on track with what The Purge represented, and what it was in terms of making a really fun spoof movie, and at the same time building our own story. But a lot of the jokes and the gags was them just being funny as hell.
What about The Purge made such a big impression on you?
Anytime there’s a movie that has an incredible hook, you’re just drawn to it. I think The Purge hooked the world when they had the premise of all crime is legal for 12 hours. It made you go to a place in your brain and think, “What if this was real?” Or if it could be real. That’s what that franchise is built on, just the idea of that. So for me, going to see the first one, and then I saw the second one before I started writing this one, I was thinking, “Wouldn’t it be funny to see what happens at the exact same moment as The Purge if we were with a black family?”
I read that you wanted a change of tone after making such a heavy drama with Supremacy. But there are some commonalities with Meet the Blacks, namely a family being under siege in its own home.
You’re right. There was a common thread between how I thought about this film and what I had just come out of with Supremacy. The big difference is that we’re making jokes and having a good time. And I think sometimes when you play jokes and show jokes and make fun of things such as racism, which is really ignorance, it sheds a brighter light on those things, ’cause you could laugh and say, “Look how dumb this really is.”
Where did the idea of a vampire kid come from?
Dude, that’s funny as hell. First of all, I love Western Bacon Cheeseburgers, so I was like, “You’re name has to be Carl’s Jr.” But secondly, this is a direct hit on the first Purge. For some reason, in the first Purge, that boy seemed like a vampire to me. The entire time I was watching the movie, I’m thinking, “Dude, is he a vampire? What is he?!” So when I was making this movie, I was like, “You’ve got to be a vampire,” because I think the kid in the first Purge movie was a vampire. So we gave him the widow’s peak and the teeth. I’m hoping if we get to a part two, I can turn him into a real monster.
I understand that the casting of Mike Epps wasn’t through the typical process. How did he become involved in the film?
I had been the biggest Mike Epps fan forever, which a lot of people are, and in my mind I was thinking, “There’s no way I can get Mike to do this movie.” Someone told me, “I think if you took this to him, he would love it, because it’s really funny.” That’s what happened. We went down to one of his comedy shows, I think he was performing at the Forum, and I got a chance to meet him in the back, talked to him and I pitched him. I said, “Look, here’s the movie. This is what I’m thinking. I think it’s something completely different that no one has done yet.” I thought The Purge had the urgency that a lot of the other horror movies didn’t have. In other words, it was built on something like a really cool hook. And he loved it. To my surprise, he said, “I’m in, let’s go.”
Mike Tyson is hilarious in the film. Do you remember the first time that you saw him be funny?
It would have to be The Hangover. It would have to be, because outside of that, I just thought he was a monster. He’s like a beast, and the kindest guy. You always hear these amazing stories about Tyson. When you see him on film, you think, “How could he be that nice if he’s punching people’s hearts out of their chest?” The first day, I was really nervous because I don’t know Mike Tyson. I’m waiting for him to come to the set. He had read the script and loved it. His managers and agents were saying, “Yo, he really likes this. He thinks it’s extremely funny.” I already was honored that he read it and liked it. So I was on set waiting for Mike Tyson, and I remember on this particular day, Charlie Murphy is on set with me. Charlie and Mike have known each other since the ’80s. I said, “Man, Charlie, what should I say?” He said, “Ah man, fuck him. Just tell him come get his ass in the movie.” I’m not going to say that! What do you say to Mike Tyson when you first meet him? So I remember, I was going to the trailer, and there he was sitting outside on the step of his trailer. As I was walking up, I noticed I had three or four people behind me. Right when I got up there to him, he just said, “What’s up?” And it was the coldest “What’s up?” you’ve ever heard. I just said, “Hey Mr. Tyson, I’m the director.” And he completely changed. He was just like, “Oh, how are you man?!” Hugged me. But for that brief moment, I thought he would punch your lungs out of your body.
Did you see that Creed spoof he did for Kimmel?
Dude, that was crazy.
He goes all in, doesn’t he?
Yeah. He really is an actor. He was so professional on set. He knew every line. He knew everyone else’s lines. He was prepared to ad lib. I think when you have that type of focus as a boxer, you can apply it to something else. Although he does not look like the regular actor, he has tuned his mind into this. His one-man show is amazing. I was so happy to get him on film.
Going back to your earlier work, what initially attracted you to the horror genre?
I’ve just been a fan since I was young. We used to be able to rent two for seven dollars, VHS tapes. Blockbuster Video.
Where was this?
I came from Gary, Indiana. And then I moved to Sacramento during high school. I would just rent movies. That was our thing. We didn’t have very much money at all, so that was out pastime. For me, it was playing sports, going to school and then what was available to rent. I just fell in love with everything. The scariest movie of all-time, outside of The Exorcist and The Omen, is a movie called Event Horizon with Lawrence Fishburne. Horrifying. So I just became a fan of the genre, everything from Texas Chainsaw to Nightmare on Elm Street, all the way across the board to Leprechaun. I remember The Toxic Avenger. That’s a really funny movie with a man who’s dipped in acid. He used to be a janitor and he runs around the school with a burned tutu on and a mop. It’s funny as hell. But yeah, I think horror filmmakers are the best filmmakers on the planet, or if they come from horror, they end up being the best because it’s a real gift to make people feel certain ways through film. You’re sitting in the theater with 300 other people, you know the monster’s not in the theater, but to make you jump, or to make you scream, or to make you say, “Don’t go around that corner!” Make you speak out loud, like “Oh my God!” That’s a really cool gift.
Your bio states that you have a degree in biology. What led you down that path?
My mom was someone who was not able to attend college, was the mother that worked three jobs, the same old story which is never tiresome. If it was not for me being able to be an accomplished basketball player, I was not going to be able to get to college. So when I got an opportunity to go to college, my whole thing was, I was going to be the best whatever it is I could be. I wanted to be best big thing that you could be in, and from that was biology. How do you become a doctor? How do you become a pediatrician? How do you get into that world? Because I wanted a better life, and obviously you look to try to find one of those things that are like that. That’s how I explored biology and started going on that path. And one thing led to another. When you start playing basketball, and you get that bug, and you’re able to actually go play professionally, that changed everything in my landscape. So I went with that, ended up going to Germany, playing over there professionally, and from there is when I really got the film bug.
What’s next for you?
I don’t know. I have a really fun heist film called Free Agents that I’ve been working very hard to get off the ground for seven years. Basically, it’s a heist film set in the world of NFL players. It’s really dope, man. It is Fast and Furious meets Heat. It is crazy. I think I’m gonna get that up at the end of this year, and I’m really excited. My team has backed it to get involved with it. Willie McGinest is executive producing the movie, so we’re excited about that one next.