A few years back, Philip G. Atwell packed his belongings into the trunk of his car, and moved from the Big Apple to Hollywood. His dream was to make movies, not to sweep floors and sleep on friend's funky couches. But you gotta do what you gotta do. Eventually he broke into music videos, shooting for the likes of 50 Cent, Eminem and Tupac, and went on to win eight MTV Music Video Awards. He also got a crack at making TV commercials. Now he's kicked it into an even higher gear by directing his first feature, "War", starring Jet Li and Jason Statham.
With the film's August 24th release, Atwell joins a small, exclusive club of African American men who got their foot in the door by directing action flicks. He follows on the heels of "S.W.A.T." by Clark Johnson, "Training Day", by Antoine Fuqua, "The Italian Job" by F. Gary Gray, and "The Fantastic Four" by Tim Story. Now he can afford his own couch, a nice one--and he doesn't have to sleep on it.
1. Did shooting three-minute music videos help much when you went to make your first feature?
My background in music videos has done nothing but further my career. But it's a lot different. A video happens [over a day or two], while preparing and shooting a feature happens over a longer period of time. So you have to be able to stay with the process. Also, you shoot scenes out of order, not from page one to the end, so you have to be conscious of that. Another factor is the enormous number of people that it takes to put a film together.
2. Did you watch any films as homework to prepare you to direct "War"?
Not really. I try to be as original as I can, which is very difficult in today's world. But I did find myself gravitating towards a lot of action films. I'm a big Ridley Scott fan, so I watched a lot of his movies. Also, Clint Eastwood. So there are certain directors I gravitate to, and I watch their watch their work as it relates to [a high level of] storytelling, which I'm trying to achieve as well.
3. You shot a short film. How did that opportunity come about?
NBC selected a group of six or seven directors to see if each of us could tell a story in one minute. I did one about a heist, in which a high-profile executive gets robbed in a parking lot, and it turns out that the person closest to him set it all up. I've always gravitated towards a camera. Growing up it was a still camera. I liked the images that could be reproduced. That slowly moved me in the direction of the film industry. I was fortunate to have met a few people along the way so I didn't have to sleep in my car, but I did have to sleep on a few couches here and there, and we're not talking nice couches. But I tried to hang in there until I found a job that would help me pay my bills until I got to a level where I could go around and meet people. This whole business is about meeting people. It was a long road but I'm here now.
4. How is the fact that anyone can make a movie with a cell phone, a run-of-the-mill digital camera, as well as relatively cheap camcorders likely to affect filmmaking?
It depends on the taste level of the consumer. If people find those films interesting, then that may predominate. It's like Reality TV. I'm not a big fan of it, but consumers have been sparked by it, and it started a whole industry. Although the "reality" that people see is really manufactured. I'll be glad when we get back to one-hour dramas and things of that nature. There will always be room for classic filmmakers and people who are interested in seeing movies at the cinema.
5. If you had an unlimited budged and no restrictions, is there a film that you would like to do?
Not so far. Most directors would love to have a [signature] project that they think speaks for them and what they represent. So far, I haven't found a project that I want to dive into and give 1000 percent. Right now, I'm more about establishing myself as a competent, capable and creative director. Once I've done that, other things will come.
About Philip G. Atwell
Director/Executive-Producer, Philip G. Atwell, is the owner of Geronimo Film Productions Inc, a highly successful Music Video and Commercial company based in Los Angeles. Atwell started the company ten years ago, and under the Geronimo banner has produced videos for directors such as F. Gary Gray, Paul Hunter and Hype Williams, all of which have gone on to successful feature film careers.
Atwell began his directing in his own right in the late nineties. Since then he has been honored with an impressive eight MTV Music Video Awards and well over 20 nominations for artists that include 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Marilyn Manson, Snoop Dogg and Tupac. Philip also directed and executive-produced the concert documentary DVD, "The Up In Smoke Tour," featuring such Hip-Hop giants as Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, as well as "The Anger Management Tour" DVD for Eminem. Recent videos include "%#&@$! Like That" for Eminem, and "Dreams" for The Game.
Atwell's first television commercial campaign for Coors Light, featured Dr. Dre's first appearance as a corporate representative. Based on this campaign, and the amazing storytelling and visuals in the music video "Stan," Saatchi Advertising championed Atwell by including him in the 2002 New Director Showcase at the Cannes Film Festival. Mr. Atwell also directed "Barber Shaq" for Verizon's VCast, starring Shaquille O'Neal.
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