Your Self-Doubt Stops Here - Paraplegic Filmmaker James Hunter Sets the Bar [Interview]

 At first sight, James Hunter looks like a typical African-American thirty-something male.

The jersey declares his love of sports; and his sneakers, meticulously selected to coordinate with the colors of his fitted hat and jersey, are a silent hint-and-a-half of his love of Hip Hop culture.

The moment he speaks, you’re hit with a soup-thick, unmistakable New York accent. He has the kind of energy and enthusiasm that inspires virtually everyone he meets.

After about five minutes of good conversation and seeing his million-dollar confident smile, you forget about the most obvious thing that sets him apart from his peers: his large motorized wheelchair.

Ironically, its presence has no bearing on his drive or personality.   

Take the bull by the horns. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you, have confidence in yourself and create the opportunities.

How it All Started

Hunter is no stranger to the entertainment industry. Born on New Year’s Day, 1974, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Hunter witnessed the birth of Hip Hop and fell in love with the medium and culture hook, line, and sinker. He knocked the music industry door down first, but he is now gathering his strength to knock the film industry door down as well.

Hunter's Film Work

He has already established his production company, 1st Dibz Productions, LLC, and has put a few dents in the film industry door with several local Hip Hop music videos under his belt, including female rapper N’Finiti’s [below] “Kitty Katt,” shot in February 2009; and the recently completed video for Mental Grafik’s [below] “Live in the Flesh”. Hunter directed and edited the latter; and produced both.

He also wrote and directed his first independent short film, “Checkmate”, in June 2009. I had the honor of working with him on the “Kitty Katt” and “Checkmate” shoots.

Mental Grafik
N'Finiti (left) in "Kitty Katt"

Despite all of that, Hunter is also a full-time online student at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida, wrapping up his Entertainment Business Master of Science degree (he graduates in September).

He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Film in July 2009 and wasted no time putting his knowledge and network connections to good use.

He’s been able to procure gear from Full Sail Film instructors and use school sets for his music video shoots. Some of the instructors have even been on his crew (including Cinematographer Pete Chiaramonte, at right).

Furthermore, Entertainment Business Executive Leadership Course Director Dr. Steve Adkins has recruited Hunter to speak to his students every month (because of Full Sail’s accelerated curricula, instructors receive a brand new class of students every month).

Hunter recently carved some time out of his busy schedule for a brief interview with the Geek.

The Interview

E.i. Geek: Who or what inspired you to enter the entertainment industry? Did growing up in Bed-Stuy influence that decision?

Hunter: Yeah, it did. When I was young, I watched a dude named Marquel win a rap contest. I wanted to be a rapper after that. Actually, I entered the contest and ended up taking Marquel out in front of everybody.

E.i. Geek: What's your educational/occupational background? How'd you start out?
Hunter: I was a high school dropout (with only one credit). The street allure was too powerful for me to resist. I noticed that dudes in the game were getting a lot of street respect, and I wanted that. I actually developed an alter ego, “CD”.

E.i. Geek: I noticed that some people call you that on some of the shoots I’ve been on with you. Is there a meaning behind that name?

Hunter: The original name was CDLuv (Cool Daddy Love). Several artists back in the day had similar names; the biggest example was Big Daddy Kane. I eventually shortened mine to CD, though. The “Luv” part sounded cool at first, but I got over it after a while.

E.i. Geek: What steps did you take to get your foot in the door? What resources did you use or have at your disposal to make it happen?

Hunter: I got in through Eric Deberry, female rapper BABS’ manager [she grew up in Bed-Stuy as well] in 1995. He introduced me to Harvey Pierre [current President of Bad Boy Records]. From there, I was introduced to a lot of people in an effort to get a record deal.

E.i. Geek: Were you able to record an EP or LP?
Hunter: I recorded an album, but got locked up for six years right afterwards.

E.i. Geek: Oh wow. Did you actually do the crime?
Hunter: Yeah. But once I got in jail, my personality took over. No matter what jail I was in, the inmates looked up to me because of my personality.

E.i. Geek: That’s incredible. What happened after you got out?
Hunter: A year and four months after I was released, I got shot [hence the wheelchair]. Prior to that, I was still making power moves with big industry names.

E.i. Geek: Do you still keep in touch with all your contacts?
Hunter: Every one of them.

E.i. Geek: Tell me about your Full Sail experience. How has the school been for you?
Hunter: Full Sail is awesome. The people there have shown me unconditional love and taught me what it takes to make it happen.

E.i. Geek: What are your industry goals? What impact do you want to make and why?
Hunter: My industry goal is to be the voice of the disenfranchised; to create a platform for myself where I can reach millions of people and show them that regardless of a situation, there is always light at end of the tunnel – after rain comes rainbows. I want to give God glory, for without Him, there would be no me.

Hunter (center) and Cinematographer Megan Mason (left) on the set of "Checkmate"

E.i. Geek: Which do you enjoy more, music videos or movies?
Hunter: I prefer producing movies. I’m doing mostly music videos for now, but definitely plan to get into movies more, like the feature film “Juxed” I’m currently producing.

E.i. Geek: I did notice you have quite a passion for cinematography, lighting, and cameras. Why is that part of the industry so special for you?

Hunter: After I decided to turn my life around to attend Full Sail [and got into the Film program], I fell in love with all of it.

E.i. Geek: What goals do have you have for 1st Dibz Productions, LLC?
Hunter: To be a staple in the entertainment industry. This company will be just as relevant as any other, and we’ll bring the plight of those in the inner city to the screen and make a difference in people’s lives.

E.i. Geek: Speaking of that, I know you touch and inspire a lot of people, but who are the people who inspire you or have made a difference in your life?

Hunter: My sister. I brought her to God, and then she took over. She’s my rock. When my spirit is depleted, she gives me fuel to continue. She’s the one who recommended that I go to Full Sail. Other people who inspire me…well, you, Nadja [Edmond], Bernard [Ambrose, Jr.][in ball cap at top left], and [Full Sail Film Production Instructor] Jonathan Kosik.

E.i. Geek: Aww, thanks. I appreciate that. Another question for you: networking is something that comes naturally for you, but what advice can you give people for dealing/networking with total strangers?

Hunter: The key is to have supreme confidence. Here’s an example: for this upcoming feature I’m working on, my friend from NY told me he had a connect with actor Sean Nelson [Fresh, The Wood, Law and Order]. I told my friend to give me the hookup, and I’ll make him a believer. And I did. Sean is on board.

E.i. Geek: What advice do you have for current students, graduates, and overall newcomers who want to enter the industry?

Hunter: Take the bull by the horns. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you, have confidence in yourself and create the opportunities. Work hard, because your efforts will not be in vain. Someone is always watching you.

Actor Kevin Young in "Checkmate"

Present Projects

Hunter’s current projects include a music video shoot in August for local Hip Hop artist Todd Anthony’s latest track, “Yes I Did”. Anthony already shot a video, but was dissatisfied with the result. He loved Hunter’s video treatment and looks forward to shooting.

He is also in preproduction for “Juxed,” an independent feature film he co-wrote, scheduled to shoot in October. Hunter credits the funds raised for "Juxed" to his short film, "Checkmate". He said that shopping the short around was what convinced investors to join the project.

PROJECT UPDATE (2.3.2012): Hunter has adapted the screenplay for an intense court drama short the Geek wrote, "Trial and Error", to "Breaking Point", which is currently in preproduction and slated to shoot March 4th, 2012. 

Want some production swag or even an associate producer credit in the film? View the promo video and make a donation to the production on their IndieGoGo page. The team has fourteen days left, so please support them!

Want to know more about James Hunter or see his work? Check these links out.

Facebook (Hunter's profile)

Your Turn

Do you or have you ever struggled with self-doubt in your own efforts to get started in the entertainment industry? Leave a comment and tell me about it. If you enjoyed the feature, please share it with the buttons below.

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