It's a tune we're familiar with hearing at S&A...Actor or actress can't find work or they're unhappy with what's being offered so they create their own films. Actor Ty Hodges is now a part of that special club and boldly hopes to carve his own new genre of films.
He moved to Los Angeles at the age of 17 and landed a role in Janet Jackson's video Go Deep. Since then, he's appeared in The Famous Jett Jackson, Felicity, NYPD Blue, Little Richard, The King of Queens, Material Girls and Boston Public among others.
His transition into directing spawned three independent films: Miles From Home, Video Girl and You, Me & The Circus. His first feature Miles From Home, which he co-stars in with Meagan Good and Tasha Smith, garnered him much acclaim including the "Best Feature" and "Best Director" Awards at the 2006 San Francisco Black Film Festival.
I had a chance to speak with Ty and discovered he strives to be more than just an "actor" or "director." He wants to be a fully realized artist. We touched on his impetus for directing, the "urban arthouse" genre he's a part of and our mutual love of chef Anthony Bourdain.
I’m aware of your acting background but can you tell me what made you finally step up to the director’s seat?
Acting is my first love, first passion. So when I decided to step into directing it was out of necessity. In this business, when it comes to being a minority and a man, when you see the black men on screen they’re kind of depicted one way. The amount of roles I wanted to explore as an actor, I knew they weren’t out there so I decided to create roles for myself. .
I was talking to my Dad about it and he was like…‘Well what do you want to do? If you want to do it, write. Go write your own projects. Go direct. Go make your own movies!’ As simple and as complicated as it sounded, I took my father’s advice and I decided to go make my first film.
It was very experimental and we funded it with actress Meagan Good, my childhood friend I grew up with, and a friend named Todd that I grew up with in Miami. We put our heads together and I wrote the script. It took us nine months to shoot it but we just did it and it was passionate. It was me transitioning from a child actor to an artist. We sent it off to see what would happen and from there, people just started giving me the label actor and filmmaker. So that’s kind of happened.
You haven’t looked back since…huh?
No I haven’t. I’m keeping it movin’. I want to grow.
Miles From Home received so much acclaim and awards when it came out. When you went for distribution, did you find the doors were being closed and how were you able to overcome it?
I think I was young and a little bit rebellious. I didn’t understand what was going on. Seeing a young, black man be a teenage prostitute, the edginess of it sparked a disconnect for people as far as ‘how can we market this.’ It was a weird thing to get praise for your movie or to win all these awards but then to be told we don’t know what audience this is for.
We got offered dvd deals but, for some reason, I just didn’t feel right to just sell it and give it away. Maybe because I needed more lessons to learn from it because it happened so quickly.
Five years later, we decided to self-distribute online. We decided to build a website and modify it. Hopefully later, get it into Walmart and Target. Distribution is a very interesting business and I respect it so much. By me not taking those dvd deals that we were offered, at that point of time, has taught me so much about the business and the climate. It helped me become a better business man instead of a crazy, rebellious, young artist. (laughing).
Since you don’t do “typical” black films, do you feel you’re finding your audience?
I think I am finding my audience. I’m dealing with a younger audience and I want to express our generation’s voice. I’m looking to team up with other people that are about that…to start a genre. I respect Tyler Perry so much, regardless what people say, because he created a genre that was not available. The genre I’m still learning and growing into is “urban arthouse.”
“Urban” is a term that’s been tossed around to mean black but, for me, I grew up with a West Indian background. Growing up in a climate of diversity in Miami, Florida then moving to Los Angeles, I was always around different people. I’ve been traveling the world since I was fourteen. Going to places like Japan or Hawaii, I just saw the world as colorful.
The people I connect with, urban is being vegan. Urban is being a hip-hop head. Urban is fashion. It’s not just depicted by the color of our skin. I want to represent that in all my films. It’s not just a black experience, it’s a people experience.
What have you learned so far in this business?
I’ve realized that I have so much to grow and learn. Right now, in my career, I’m really focusing on the acting side, writing and producing. Not as much the directing because that still needs to be fine-tuned because “the Greats” really studied this and me, I’m honest…I came from an actor’s standpoint understanding the film business because I was in the innards of it. Now, I’m looking at, if I have potential to make great cinema then I need to take a breath and respect that. Really study the greats I love like Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, even Sean Penn.
Andy Warhol, Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese…those are the guys. I’ve made a good collection of films and now it’s time for me to really study the innards and structure of cinema before I decide to get back and make another movie.
What do you look for in picking projects?
I look for a human story that has a different approach. When anything feels cliché to me, I feel like it’s not for me.
What’s been your biggest challenge in being a filmmaker so far?
Having the support from the community to get me out there. Getting other young people and people of color to support someone like me. In this industry, you’re either getting supported by it or you’re not. That’s been my hardest challenge, being heard but I don’t want to scream. I want to have a great conversation with a collective of people, with like minds that are in this business, and we push each other forward.
I’ve been doing it on my own for the last five years along with friends. Like Meagan’s been very supportive of me and Omar Epps…yet they only have so much that they can push.
Speaking of Meagan Good, did you say you two are childhood friends?
Yeah. She comes from the Nickelodeon world and I come from the Disney world. So we’ve known each other since we were seventeen. We’ve championed and supported each other. When I wrote Miles from Home she came on board and then she asked me to direct Video Girl. We’re, first and foremost, friends that respect each other.
Video Girl landed a deal with AMC. How has that been so far and is still a learning experience for you?
Exactly. It’s teaching me teamwork and no one’s opinion is greater than the other. This business is so fascinating in so many ways just because of how much work and effort it takes. Not only that, how many people come together and make this one thing happen.
Financing is always an issue. How were you able to fund the films?
Two of the films were myself and friends. One of them, Video Girl, was financed by an outside company. Meagan had Video Girl for seven years so she was really diligent with it, her and a guy named Datari Turner. She had the script and just connected to it. So, she went out and found the funding then came to me.
Can you tell me about the project you’re working on now?
I’ve been really connecting with my roots as far as artistry. So recently, I’ve been in touch with the film community in Trinidad. So one of friends named Michael, he and I met at the Trinidad film festival and we vibed and really connected on cinema. I’ve been learning a lot from him and his voice so this film we decided to work on in New York has an experimental narrative. It’s a secret, rebellious story focusing on being young and in New York. It’s a weird process that I’m working under with this film.
How do you decide what to write about?
It starts first with being inspired by a character. If I’m walking and I see some person, I’m like ‘what are they about?’ And it goes into 'how do I connect with them, why am I paying attention to them?’ Then it goes into a story. I feel like, I love the idea of character driven story and to bring it back to the spirit.
Finally, how do you de-stress from it all? What clears your head?
Cooking. It’s one of my greatest passion.
You have a specialty?
I can cook anything baby (laughing). Of course, I like cooking cultural food. Baja and Trini food are my absolute favorite. I love taking new recipes and learning them. If I make a mistake, I try again and again until I master it then move onto the next recipe.
You know I like to eat well, I’m not satisfied with a cheeseburger from McDonald’s. So that’s why I make movies, so my movies can pay for my food. (laughing)
I always tell my friends I would love to go with the food guy that travels the world. I can’t think of his name now…
You mean Anthony Bourdain?
Yes. I would love to go with him.
That is my boy! You don’t understand (laughing). I got my whole family watching him. He knows food. Well now, we’re buddies because I love Anthony Bourdain.
I'd like to thank my new buddy Ty for his time and if you want to view or purchaseMiles From Home, please go to the website HERE. Below are the trailers for his films.