Marcellus Cox is an Award Winning Writer/Director hailing from Los Angeles, California. Marcellus Cox has always had a passion for movies and filmmaking. As a True Auteur, his style of cinematic storytelling is embossed with dark and edgy themes that is engaging and enlightening, delivering his audience to a place of understanding and compassion for social issues and objectivity, as he pushes the boundaries of controversial storytelling, touching on subjects such as Race, Religion, Social & Political issues. Marcellus Cox work has screened in over 150 International Film Festivals, Won over 100 International Film Awards and has screened Nationwide on CBS, FOX, ABC, SHORTS TV, Crime & Investigation & PBS.
Why did you film Mickey Hardaway in Black and White?
I filmed it in Black & White because it brings a certain truth and realness that color sometimes just can’t present to the narrative of this kind of story. It just gives a different kind of feeling from a mental and emotional stand point.
That said, the black and white presentation seems different than other black and white films. There’s such a dour gray cast that goes beyond the typical. What process did you use?
It’s the lighting that helps gives the film it’s look. Instead of using the standard LED Lighting we went back to the older 1930′-40’s style using Beam Lights that were used mostly for Film Noir’s which cast very strong shadow’s like you see in the Living Room scene. I wanted an older look in a modern era, giving it a different cinema experience.
Whose words begin the film? They are very profound and how does it set the tone?
They’re my own words. I wanted to come up with something I felt would describe my own personal feeling about the world dealing with people and life in general. When you see the unrest in the world today, it matches the tone of what I’m dealing with but others as well and I felt it would really set the proper vibe for what life presents on a daily.
What are you trying to foretell with Mickey’s three sketches?
I wanted to show Black Excellence in Mickey’s Sketches, the kind of people he admires the most, people that are intelligent, strong, willing to put their lives on the line to fight for what they believe in to see their visions become a reality. The ultimate motivation is to keep going in life no matter how rough things become.
At the school, in the neighborhood, at home, there’s not a lot of inactivity. What are you saying about solitude, and how it adds to Mickey’s burdens?
No one has ever asked me that question before lol and it’s so crazy because I’ve always seen the Mickey Character as a loner, in a way a lot of myself personally. He’s a loner, he’s different from the rest of the world and that’s how the world evolves around it’s not a lot of activity around him, the world in a way passes him as he’s stuck on his craft. I feel that way myself on a daily basis. It’s a burden for Mickey because he doesn’t know how to act towards others, and especially for someone who already feels like no one cares about him it becomes worse by the second, falling into a deep cliff of darkness he’ll never be able to escape from.
In the film, we see the confrontation of toxic, aggressive masculinity vs. thoughtful, enlightened introspection. It’s not an easy struggle. So what hope does your film give the Mickey’s of the world?
It might be hard to see it in this film, but the hope for the Mickey’s in this world would be to stand up for your dreams. Don’t ever let anyone take that away from you. We live in a world where there’s so many people that crap on people for wanting to become something more then the average 9-5. As an Artist you want to be able to showcase your creative side without someone trying to destroy it. Live your life, do what you feel is best for you at all times, and if folks near you and around you can’t or won’t accept it then you need to be away from them. It doesn’t matter if you’re an Artist, Musician or an Athlete, continue towards your dreams.
Having Mickey spit at his aggressor in the bathroom is an interesting choice. Why did you choose that response?
I can’t give a legit answer as to why I made that choice when writing it lol, I just always felt it was something that would naturally occur in the heat of the moment, especially when you’re not a fighter but you’re angry and frustrated with the world and the same people over and over again continue to hold you down. Not saying it’s the right thing to do but it felt like something that would happen in that situation when your back is against the wall and you’ve simply had enough.
Rashad Hunter (Mickey) has a great screen presence. Can you describe how you worked with him as an actor?
So I had another actor cast for the role of Mickey and we were two weeks away from shooting the film when he dropped out because of COVID-19. So I had to put out an emergency acting ad to find the right person and lucky for me Rashad came to the rescue lol. Because Los Angeles was still in Lockdown mode we were only able to meet via FaceTime to go over the role and lines and breaking down of the character which I spent months working on with the previous actor. So the fact that Rashad was able to process all of the details, habits, lines in such a short period of time is beyond amazing to me and I couldn’t have been more happier with the way his performance came out, he was without a question the heart and soul of this film. And I’m happy to see him win Best Actor Awards and such for it. What he had to go through to transform into the role of Mickey is a memory that will stick with me for a long time.
There are two very violent scenes. Can you describe how you choreographed them and the process of doing it safely?
We had no choreographer for this film, she dropped out the day of filming as well because of COVID. So what I did was watch film clips of how to breakdown fight scenes beforehand on YouTube and I would work that in with the natural blocking of the set with the actors who were more then willing to do their own stunts. We had plenty of body pads to place on them to prevent injuries on set. We also had to make sure they went over the fight scenes with the entire crew while masked up, following safety rules to prevent the spread of the virus so the actors would feel safe enough to touch each other during filming. So not having it choreographed was not easy and I never want to do it again lol.
There’s so much rage in Mickey’s father (David Chattam). Where do you hope your audience finds the source of this emotion?
From his Past. We all have a past and most of us are not pleased by it and it affects us on a daily basis and we take that emotion on for a life time, especially when you don’t realize it’s a problem and you do nothing about it. It’s a real feeling that millions of people go through every single day when they wake up and you see it in Randall. Life didn’t work out for him and he hates his own life so much – it spreads around anyone and everyone near him. That emotion is from his past and he can’t shake it off.
Where then are you imploring change?
When Mickey seeks help is where I’m imploring change, taking control of his life. Finally standing up to his father and for himself is where the change is occurring. At some point in life we have to go through these things and really take matters into our own hands. At the end of the day, it’s our life and we only get one and you have to make it count and do what you feel is best for you. The change is Mickey has to be Mickey whether anyone likes it or not.
On the other hand, tell me how Mickey’s father represents the futile reality for many young Black males?
Randall is like a lot of the typical African American fathers, grew up in a much tougher era, where they had to grow up a lot sooner than normal becoming men, especially those who grew up in urban areas of the world where it’s rough and you have to find ways to make a few dollars, keep a roof over their heads and remain from the street life or even enter the street life knowing their faith could be taken from them at any moment. They hold onto their emotions never revealing them because as men, especially as a Black Man, it’s not manly to do so and that’s how a lot to them pass this down to their sons. Showing them that life is hard and that you have to find ways to provide for themselves at all times and make sure they can get through life on there own. Nothing’s wrong with this way of life and approach – my father was that way. But sometimes it can be overbearing and belittling.
Why don’t we see any women in the film?
There’s women in the feature version of the script. Mickey’s Mother was in this section of the script and in the living room scene but the actress I had cast literally quit about 20 minutes before we shot her scene over fear of COVID-19 so that’s why you don’t see any women at all. It was too late to re-cast the role so I just re-wrote the scene a little to have it end with Mickey and Randall.
The discussion between Mickey and the psychiatrist (Stephen Cofield) lays out the cycle of abuse very pragmatically. Almost like a solution is easily within our grasp. What message are you trying to send in terms of the prospect for better things?
Stephen Cofield Jr, my man lol. Yes I feel it does have the proper layer of the cycle of abuse, mainly knowing that you’re not the only one who goes through it. It’s a sick fabric of life that’s just hard to get rid of if you’re not willing to change it for the better. The message I wanted to address is that you have to say enough is enough and stand up for yourself. Even if that means losing a loved one in the process, your self worth is much more valuable if you’re here to showcase it. Sometimes to get what you want out of life – keep going no matter what comes in your path, keep grinding, keep moving.
Growing up in LA, what was your experience with the police and how did it shape shorts like The System and Living?
Growing up in South Central LA my experience with LAPD and Law Enforcement in general has never been a good one. You’re typecast the moment you walk out your home. Not everyone in the hood is a criminal, murderer, drug dealer, gang member. Some of us have dreams of making it out the right way using the gifts and talents that God has blessed us with but of course what your neighborhood presents on a daily is all they see. I know not every officer has this mind set, I’ve met some over the years that are pretty cool people but the bad outweigh the good. It shapes my work showcasing that as different as we are we’re all the same. We’re human and we have to see each other as that first or we’re just not going to make it in this world, we’re going to off each other one by one.
How does the film try to show the two sides of the story and possible reconciliation?
I believe I should leave that up to the viewer to decide, everyone is going to have their own thoughts on the subject. I know for sure I show both sides with honesty, not holding anything back and letting the message lead the way. The reconciliation for this film never happens because it’s a concept so we leave the audience wanting more and there will be more for sure but I do think that most people who see this can look at this as a mirror into their own lives and see what they need to do to make changes.
Rise Up travels back to 1964 to recall the social and cultural issues impacted African Americans? How are you trying to help Americans draw a line from today’s issues and the past?
Better understanding of one another. History repeats itself all the, the same things are still happening for a reason, because we’re not willing to change our habits as people. Until we do that and get to know the folks we’re fighting against these things will never end. So the best way I can do that is visually. You have to show these people to themselves in order for them to get it.
How does one go about casting Martin Luther King and how much does the responsibility weigh on the actor?
I can’t express to you how hard and important it was to cast Dr. King. It was one of the most difficult things of my life, as well as casting Malcolm X in the film. The two most important people of African American Culture – so you have to get it right and the performances weighed a lot on Merlin White and Stephen Cofield Jr to bring these two men to life again. Because people can spot fakeness but not with this. Those two let the spirit of these men into them and made magic happen. They put the work in studying countless hours, going through so much research I sent them over and over lol. They gave me their all and it shows so much in that film and I’m forever grateful to them.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on the Feature Version of Mickey Hardaway as the concept short continues its festival run. So far the run has been unbelievable but it’s time to expand the story. The feature script is done so now it’s just a matter of raising the funds to make it lol. But the great thing is the film is doing great so it’s bringing a lot of attention towards our direction. We will be having our FILMMAKER SPOTLIGHT Episode on ShortsTV Monday, February 1st nationwide so it will be great to connect with a huge audience and continue to spread the word. But the number one thing for me is making the feature version.