The interns at Bleu had the wonderful opportunity to interview director Justin Tipping, known for his most recent movie, KICKS. KICKS is about a young boy named Brandon on his quest to retrieve his highly coveted yet stolen pair of Jordans from the local hood. We talked to Tipping about his artistic choices about the movie, who the astronaut is, and more. You can read the transcript of our interview below (caution: some spoilers ahead!).
What’s your favorite part about directing? What’s the hardest part?
My favorite part about directing is probably being able to sit in an audience and actually be able to hear their reactions and have discussions and dialogue with people and see the final product. That’s probably the most rewarding part. The hardest part, I think, probably has to be when things go wrong and you run out of light or time and you have to figure out how to compromise or what to give up to make the story work. Those are the tough choices.
What was it like working with Jahking Guillory?
It was great. He had no experience whatsoever but he was a really eager and excited kid… He had a hard job, he was in every scene. He was amazing. I think sometimes people say 90% of directing is the casting. This kid was a kid. So I let him do what he does and he was very authentic.
What inspired you to make some of the aesthetic choices you made in KICKS, such as the astronaut and having the songs from the soundtrack display onscreen?
I grew up in the Bay, liking hip-hop… A lot of the rappers and musicians I listen to think about the same beat. I was trying to figure out how to incorporate that narrative naturally. I was thinking about how other films use chapters, and how in Greek plays these Greek choruses would come out, and what’s the hip-hop version of chapter markers. The astronaut is a metaphor for machismo or confidence and what it means to be a man, so he kind of airs as a guardian angel and first but then takes Brandon down a dark path because the idea of being a man is inherently flawed. So the astronaut had to destroy the idea of why does violence have to be associated with being a man.
Why tell this story? What was it about Brandon’s story that needed to be told?
No doubt, I will always remember this moment in my life where I was sixteen and I was jumped by like 10 kids because I was wearing Nikes and the humiliation after that. My peers were like, did you get a hit in, and my brother was like it’s alright, you’re a man now.It made me think why is violence associated with manhood, why is anger the only emotion you’re allowed to feel. I think it was interesting to explore sneaker culture and the violence and death surrounding it. I think there’s a gun epidemic going on too, so all those things operating on that level are things I wanted to speak about and put back in the discussion so people address it. I think it’s a complicated thing but it was personal to me.
Flaco’s story arc is really interesting and surprising. What inspired you to bring this character to life?
I wanted to change everyone’s notion of him by him being a father, and this was a movie about boys being forced to become men before they’re ready to be. And the fact that he takes care of his son Jay is very important to me because it gives him another dimension. Having Jay in there speaks to the fact that he could become a man, he could become Flaco, Brandon could become Flaco, Flaco could become Uncle Marlin.They’re all kind of seen as at a croassroads where they could become something and that’s why Flaco was the way that he was. Brandon almost becomes Flaco at a certain point when he gets his shoes back, and when he gets his shoes back he kind of loses everything. It’s like a false victory. So I think all of these characters are kind of playing off each other.
What do you want the audience to take from KICKS?
I hope that when it cuts to black, that at the end of the movie, that when the youngest kid Jeremiah ends up not giving the gun to his father is the most mature, adult decision, and I think that’s at least one step to how we can end the violence. I think I want people to talk about how to end it and to know that this kind of stuff happens every day.
Do you have any advice for aspiring directors?
Drink a lot of coffee and get a lot of sleep. I think for aspiring directors out there, you have to persevere. It’s a marathon out there, for sure. And the saying that it takes one yes Is very true, because I’ve heard a hundred no’s before I heard one yes that gave me the chance to direct this movie. So take courage of your convictions no matter what and be passionate about what you’re doing.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m trying to figure that out too. But it will definitely be something that hopes to be a franchise and puts people onscreen, for sure.