Page One (2017) is an award-winning short film about that one actor we all know from every horror movie who is the first to die. But it poses an interesting question. What if the movie he was working on became attacked by actual monsters and he was one of the few survivors? PHASR sat down with Director Don P. Hooper and writer/star Tarik Davis to discuss all things creative.
An Interview With Don P. Hooper And Tarik Davis
How did you get started in the film industry?
Tarik Davis: I’ve been acting professionally for 20 years, my first paid gig was doing a NYU short film back in 1999.
Don P Hooper: It’s been a journey… from writing poetry and children’s books to doing script doctor work and awards shows.
What drew you to movies and directing?
Tarik Davis: I grew up in a household that loved movies. Loved them. I inherited that love. Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s I remember the excitement when my parents got cable and how intently we as a family watched and discussed almost every movie HBO debuted. I remember as a kid, watching and wanting to just dive into the films, be the characters and feel the music as I moved within the adventure. That feeling never left.
Don P Hooper: When I was a kid, we didn’t get to go to the movies a lot. One reason was the cost, another… there just wasn’t that many movies that featured black actors and stories. When we did find one, we’d watch them over and over. Hey, I loved watching New Jack City (1991), but there’s a point when you say to yourself, “That’s not all we’re about.” And you get hungry for anything different. I’d sit at home writing my own comic books with black heroes, promising that I’d one day make those stories into features.
As an independent creator, what has been the most difficult thing about getting your work seen?
Tarik Davis: Celebrity is a currency. I believe Don and myself to be pretty accomplished professionally however we’re not particularly well known. Neither of us have the hugest following which I think makes obtaining a larger platform for “Page One” a little difficult.
Don P Hooper: True. Popularity. Tarik says it best. It’s easy to help someone fly when they already have a jetpack. But what about those creators who are just trying to walk?
Tarik Davis: African Proverb!
Don P Hooper: (haha) I have stories about being in animated pitch meetings where they’d gently suggest, “Hey instead of a black woman as the lead, how about a white woman?” Then, they’d ask for the white woman to just be a white male. And I was done. So you go the indie route because you don’t want to sacrifice the heart of your story. And you come up against cost. Funding comes down to existing popularity and success.
And what has been the most rewarding thing to come from being an independent creator?
Tarik Davis: Just making something is a win. Making something with people you love and deeply respect is a dream.
Don P Hooper: I dig those moments when a random person on the internet discovers your work and engages. It’s great. But I also enjoy festivals when nobody asks you a question, except that one black audience member who is like, “Yo, I see what you were doing!” and brings up the hard hitting questions about race and film and the subtext of our work.
Have you always been a fan of horror? If so, what was your first experience with it?
Don P Hooper: Honestly, I give that to T. He is a horror savant. The Wizard of Oz (1939) was the first horror movie for me as a kid. When the green witch started flexing on people, I had nightmares for days.
Tarik Davis: Horror movies gave me nightmares as a kid too and yet I’ve always loved them. One of my earliest memories was going to a drive in with my family. Maybe I was 3 or 4. The movie was Blue Thunder (1983). It was playing on the movie screen in front of us…but behind us was another movie screen. I kept turning around in the backseat to look and it was this super bloody horror film. Couldn’t tell you what it was but it disturbed the 3 year old me, my mom kept trying to get me not to look but I kept peeking behind me. I was equal parts scared and fascinated. I wanted to know more.
How did you meet Tarik/Don?
Tarik Davis: We met back in 2007 or 2008. We were all evening performers at the Upright Citizens Brigade at some point. It was (and still is) a very white space, and at the time not the most welcoming for performers like Don and me. I think I wrote an email to a bunch of Black performers there at the time to check in about how racist it was. A few of the Black performers met up. Don, myself and a man we HAVE to mention, LeMar McLean, Page One’s producer. The 3 of us have been performing (Comedy People’s Time), collaborating, podcasting (the Brother’s From Another Planet podcast) ever since.
What is it about Directing/Writing that you enjoy the most?
Tarik Davis: Writing for me is play. It’s an extension of performing. It’s taking the play of imaging whole worlds and realities in your mind and then giving them a more defined shape. And when the world you exist in constantly tries to ignore or erase your existence writing can be freedom. Writing is a way out of all this.
Don P Hooper: Word. On the directing side, I just love when an actor makes a discovery and adds a new dimension to the story. If you trust your casting, you gotta trust your actors. Everyone has each other’s back on a truly symbiotic set, and that’s what “Page One” was. I also just love the production side. We had the fire department come and try and shut down our production (cause of a smoke machine situation haha), but LeMar (co-producer) wore twenty hats, from set design to props and he handled the fire department. Evan Kaufman (co-producer) made sure everything was taken care of so I just had to focus on actors and story.
Tell us about the creation and writing of ‘Page One’. How did it come about and how did you get involved?
Tarik Davis: “Page One” is based in a feature called “Victim #1” that I wrote back in 2007. “Page One” is colored by my personal experiences as a Black man/actor and as a lover of media particularly horror films. I was always perplexed and bothered by the “humorous” trope of the Black guy dying first. Like why did people find it funny? Why was it something just taken as an inevitable reality? This question began to bang louder and became something I couldn’t ignore after two incidents in my life. One was with a police officer who drew her gun on me and the other was when I walked out of an audition for the most offensive horror movie script I ever read. The character I was supposed to read for was disposable fodder. So with Victim #1/Page One I wanted to take that trope on. Why is Black life fodder in both fantasy and reality? That’s unacceptable.
Don P Hooper: Tarik and I had worked on a few web projects together. After discussing “Victim #1” and his existing script, we started doing rewriters together and shot a teaser for the film’s lead character, Abel Worthy. The teaser was called “Welcome to My Parlor 2”. It was basically a scene from one of the movies Abel died in. A short time passed and LeMar and Evan came on to help produce “Page One”.
It’s obvious that the short film is part of a larger story, are there plans to eventually make it?
Tarik Davis: That’s the plan. We’ve been doing everything we can to make that happen and will continue to. We’ll make the movie, I know we will.
Don P Hooper: Everyone go right now to YouTube, watch “Page One” on the Jamtown Films page, like it, comment and share it. That’s my plug for the day. #NoShame
What was it like making ‘Page One’, tell us about the most memorable moment of filming?
Tarik Davis: It was a dream. And I owe so much of that to Don, LeMar and Evan who helped not only make it happen but took care of me that shoot day. Don was like “I only want you to think about your part, we got everything else.” It was super comforting to hear that and I could relax a bit. My most memorable moment was in-between a take and looking around at the set, the actors in costume, myself in costume. This was all just in my head a little while ago and my brothers helped make it a reality and they were there with me. It was a very special moment that I’ll never forget.
How did you feel when ‘Page One’ became an award-winning short film?
Tarik Davis: I remember when we got the NJ Horror Con and Film Festival award for best screenplay in 2017. I wasn’t there when we got the award, LeMar was and after we won he called us with a pic of the trophy and the way we all acted and cheered you would have thought that we all won an Oscar. We were just happy the film was seen and that people dug it.
Don P Hooper: Especially to get that feedback from a hard core horror audience. The audience got all the race tropes we were exposing and using as a springboard for this character’s journey.
Tarik Davis: Def. It was a real gift for us to watch Page One with Black people. Watching and hearing their reactions, it’s the greatest reward I think guys like us could receive. Our first festival screening was in DC and Page One closed out the festival. We all sat in this packed movie theater filled with Black people and we got to hear them react with joy and talk back to the screen…it was like being knighted.
Was there any reason behind the design of the monster?
Tarik Davis: There is, there’s a whole lore to the plot of the feature that we wanted to give a tease to in the short. I don’t want to give the lore away (you’ll find out when you see the feature) but the reptilian look is very intentional.
Don P Hooper: Yeah, if you click the link. And say “Page One” five times in the mirror… Then Share. Share. Share the video… You’ll find out… Oh damn, did I just do a second plug? My fault. But, I’m saying… You wanna know, right?
Tarik Davis: HAHA!
What is the hardest thing about being an independent creator? If you could give the younger version of you any advice, what would it be?
Tarik Davis: Fuck it. That would be my advice. Don’t worry about the things you can’t control and don’t let the opinions of others impede the work. If you’re worried about how something can’t work out say to yourself “Fuck it” and give it a shot anyway. It’s going to be hard, that’s a given in life so there’s no point in getting upset by that. Embrace it.
Any advice for creators just starting out?
Tarik Davis: Take care before you say something. I believe an artist can say whatever they choose as long as they figure out what it is they wish to say and why. Everything in art has meaning, it can be very dangerous if there’s no care behind the images. Nothing is fodder, everything is important.
Don P Hooper: Partnerships. Don’t be afraid to let another person drive, but make sure you get to drive too. Every credit, every relationship adds up.
What can we expect from you next?
Don P Hooper: Just wrapped production on a digital series with Lily-Hayes Kaufman that we filmed in conjunction with Troma.
Tarik Davis: You can catch me on The Iliza Schlesinger Show on Netflix, and I did a few episodes of an upcoming show on HBO called The Undoing (hopefully they didn’t cut me) and I’ve written a horror-themed, interactive zoom play that a theater has agreed to produce so there will be an announcement about that soon.
Where To Find Tarik Davis and Don P. Hooper
You can follow Tarik on Instagram/Twitter: @tarikrdavis
You can find Don on Instagram/Twitter: @madclownetry
More on their collaborative projects Instagram/Twitter: @jamtownfilms