Interviews: Deon Taylor Talks Traffik and The Return of the Theatrical Thriller

deon taylor
Traffik hit theaters nationwide this weekend. We were lucky enough to talk to the director, Deon Taylor. 

TMS: Are you traveling, promoting the movie right now?
DT: I just went and spoke at Morehouse and a couple of colleges here in Atlanta the last couple days. Just about film and cinema in general. And we did a couple of interviews here and there about Traffik, which is kind of cool. 
TMS: So, you've made a lot of movies now, what was different making Traffik versus the other films you've made?
DT: Well, I think, for me, right now, Traffik is in the sweet spot because, obviously, as a self-taught filmmaker, each and every time you step out and make a movie, you're harnessing your skill, you're growing more, right? And I feel like Traffik, to me, embodies the best thing I've done thus far. The idea is to keep on growing, keep on emerging and I think I got it right in Traffik in terms of the energy that I wanted to project, the storyline I wanted to push forward, the ability to speak to people about a topic and also being able to pretty much stylize or create something in the world of film and art and cinema that you look at and you feel it's beautiful. So, I just think this movie represents all of those things, for me, so I'm excited about it. I'm more excited about this movie than I've been in a long time. I was posed a question a few days ago, "How much are you making?" And I'm not really, at this point, the movie's already won for me, in terms of being able to make that caliber film for no money, but then also being able to make that caliber film then actually finding a home for it and it being able to go out so the masses can see it. I'm just excited about that. I'm in a really good place right now. 

TMS: It's a pretty dark film and we've seen actors and other talent slip before, because of content being so dark. When working on something so darkly topical and timely, how do you keep your senses about you and not let the darkness of that film world consume you? Is it easy to separate the two for you?
DT: Yeah, because I think what happens is, typically, the darkness of the movie, the topic is dark. The issue is dark. When you're talking about trafficking, we're talking about kids eight, nine, ten years old being taken and sex trafficked or human trafficked in sweat shops, or whatever that is. What's interesting to me was it was kind of like where I said a few times, okay, you've got to find your footing here. Because what I wanted to do, and I’m hoping it comes across the correct way for the audience, and in the screenings it is, but what I wanted to do was create a movie where you go on a journey with the couple, with Paula and Omar, and quickly you're invested in them and you like them, you understand that they're flawed characters, you understand they both have agendas, one is wanting to be married and have a wife and go down the road, one is really reluctant because she's trying to have her career and do her own thing, and then ultimately, they make one stop at one place and it changes their lives forever. But what I was really aiming for, which I thought was kind of cool, is that moment where something happens abruptly it's like a hyper-reality world, a hyper-place where you go where they all go down the rabbit hole, and what I wanted to have happen is once you go down the rabbit hole in the film, I wanted you to understand where the hole goes. The picture, what does it look like, what does it smell like, what exactly happens with these people that are grabbed and abducted and trafficked? And that to me was the dark, that to me was where I'd say, let's switch off, because there are a few moments in the film where I was like okay, let me pull back a little bit as we're shooting and we're watching the movie, I'd automatically go, no, that's not it, it's not real. And what happened was, at the time, speaking to a few women who'd been trafficked and a few people who had done trafficking before, and I wanted to actually project something that's real. I wanted this movie to be scary, but scary in reality, and that's when I decided, as we get down in this place with this movie, lets ratchet up the tension, let's create the mood with lights. Let's go into a noir thriller where all of a sudden, we're in the forest and it's lit with head lights. Now, all of a sudden, we're in a dark cabin and there's only one little light in the corner. Now, you're inside the car and it's lit by moonlight. In other words, let people feel that hyperspace we sometimes don't ever get to be in, unless you're in something scary. So that was kind of cool to pull that off, to actually see it come to life on the big screen.
TMS: This kind of reminds me of some of the movies we used to get in the late '90s, early 2000's that were more based around a thrill ride. Were there any other movies that helped influence Traffik?
DT: Yeah, you know, I was a big fan, I was trying to figure out, going through a lot of the old, I'm so happy you said that, man because that's what I was aiming for. I really wanted to just throw the movie back to when thrillers were really thrillers. There was not so much this formulated movie making, and one of the movies that resonated with me while making this was The Vanishing. The Vanishing was cool for so many reasons, a, his wife was killed, right? Okay, that happens. B, he never found her, and C, he went back to retrace the steps and found out exactly what happened, and that movie lingered with me for a long time, it was not a traditional formula, you know what I mean? It wasn't what you were used to, it was like someone actually took you on a journey. Most of the really cool, dark, movies, even when you think about Silence of the Lambs, right? There's no seat belt in that movie, so you're like, in it, and you follow Jodie Foster and go down the rabbit hole and it's disturbing and it's scary and I wanted to bring back that texture, I wanted to feel like that. I didn't want to go, oh, okay I know exactly what's going to happen, she's going to do this and he's going to do that and I said no, we don't want to do that. We want to take everybody on a ride and when it's over, take a deep breath and go, okay, that was crazy. 
TMS: Yeah, there's definitely a couple of things that happen in the movie that I was like, whoa, really? They just did that, no way! I think some of the stuff that happens towards the end, I don't think people are going to be expecting a lot of that, either. What have early responses been, so far? You've been having early screenings, right?
DT: Thus far, I think we've been really, really blessed, people are actually loving the film. I mean, audiences are cheering and screaming and sad and standing up and the end of the movie going "oh my god, I had no idea this was like this." So, I mean, the reaction has been fantastic. I made the movie more so for humans, right? Not for people to really sit back and say, "I’m going to critique this film." It's more like, did you enjoy the ride? Do you understand where we were going? Do you understand that this is something that's happening in the US at an alarming rate right now, and oh, by the way, have you ever seen a movie that can take you down the rabbit hole and also teach you a lesson?
TMS: Another thing I noticed about the movie is, obviously, your female star is a very strong character. Even when she's at her weakest, she's still a very strong protagonist and she carries the weight of the film. But, on that token, you really put your main star through the ringer, including some really heightened violence and stuff like that, how did Paula (Patton) adapt to being put through such brutal scenes?

paula patton

DT: She was absolutely amazing, man. We talked through this movie before we shot a frame of it. One of the things I thought was extremely cool about the movie was we just knew immediately that when we got on set that we wanted it to be heightened, we wanted it to be scary. You know, Paula was one of the first people to go, "I want to take the audience on a ride." What's incredible about this woman is she did every stunt, when you see Paula get pulled out of the car, that's Paula. See Paula get pushed down, that's Paula, see her jumping, that's her, see her running or tied up in the back of a truck, that's her. I just thought it was absolutely amazing for her to have that type of energy, that type of class about her to actually be able to pull off stunts like that. 
TMS: Because she's done a lot of lighter stuff, she's done standard drama, and she's done some comedy stuff, like the chick flick kind of genre. She's got a great physicality about her, and she really carries that through the entire movie, which I thought was really cool too. Watching her break out to do something totally different was enjoyable for me. So, with the human trafficking, how much did you have to educate yourself on this topic before you made the movie? 
DT: You know what, it was a lot of work, man. I actually never thought I would make, in a million years, a trafficking movie, right? It's just not me. What happened was my twelve-year-old daughter was getting these emails from the school like "Hey, please be careful with your kids going to the mall, your kids are being trafficked." And I'm like, what? So, I started researching more and more and I quickly found out that the area that I was in was a high trafficking area for young kids. I was blown away, like, doesn't this only happen in foreign countries? And then I was baffled to find out that it's rampant domestically. That was what triggered my imagination, so I started reading more and more, then I started reading headlines and understanding people were stumbling into rings, being abducted at truck stops, being thrown into trucks and being transported two or three hundred people at a time and I said, man, this is insane. And I just kind of became somewhat addicted to these storylines. So, as I started researching more and more, I just became a fan of being someone who could tell this story. Then, obviously, the hardest thing about this movie was trying to film this so it could be a commercial thriller, but, at the same time, have the education of what this actually is. After speaking with Dante (Spinotti, cinematographer for the film) a bunch about it, after understanding what we wanted to do, after, you know, looking at the message I wanted to tell, I said okay, here's a beautiful love story, here's some flawed characters, here's what they want to have happen in their lives, and just like anything, you're driving down the street one day and everything is great and there's a car accident, right? Everything is altered, and that's what I kind of wanted to do, and that's how I played The Vanishing, too. They just went to the gas station and stepped out and she went in to get a Slurpee. And the rest is like, what happened? So, I just thought like, man, what does that feel like when you stumble upon something. And what I really like about the movie, which I thought was really cool was when they have the opportunity to give the phone back, that was a really fun moment for me, because I said, okay, you're at a party with four people and they say this happens and you're going to get one person that gives it back, one person who says I don’t know, one person who says "let's call the police," and it's just an interesting dynamic, in terms of the phone. And what I really liked a lot was after the incident happens, I love Paula's character, she's figured it out already. That part in the movie theatre is great, with the right audience, because at that point, they're all screaming at the screen. Everyone has an opinion, they're making their choices of what they would do. 
TMS: Are any proceeds of the film going to go towards helping women who have been caught up in human trafficking? 
DT: Yeah, Robert Smith financed this film and what we're doing is there are homes that we've identified, and what we're going to do is finance and put up some money not necessarily from the proceeds, but what Robert is going to do is match proceeds to help kids that have survived trafficking or past trafficking victims, or women who have been victimized. Then, what we also did, which was really cool, on trafficking day, a couple months ago, we did a photo shoot with a bunch of celebrities, it's really, really cool man, so like Matt Barnes, an NBA player, and some women who have been trafficked, a lot of models and actresses, Andre Johnson, Magic's son. A lot of people came out and did a trafficking awareness photo shoot and we're going to print this stuff out and auction them off and also give those proceeds to the house as well. 
TMS: That's really cool. How is social media effecting how you're marking this project? Is social media really fueling this thing?
DT: Yeah, we have to push that way because we're a really small movie. But we're catching a lot of attention. But being a small movie, here's the thing, we're caught between The Rock and X-Men. So, the only thing we can do is be smart and savvy on social media, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, basically by creating the story and building the brand, and we've been really good at that. We have people like Jamie Foxx on Instagram, Jenna Field, big talent, big stars who are like, "Yo, this is dope, let me put it up on my social." And that's how we're fueling the fire right now. What we're able to do is go directly to the audience by utilizing the influencer. 


TMS: After this, what other projects do you have coming up?
DT: My next film, which I just finished, I'm so excited about this, dude. I just finished a movie with Michael Ealy, Meagan Good and Dennis Quaid, the film is called Motivated Seller, it's written by David Loughery, who wrote Obsessed and Lakeview Terrace. It's a psychological thriller, it's really, really cool. That's what's up next for me. 
TMS: Sweet, so, last but not least, when is Traffik going to be released, and is it going to be national?
DT: It comes out April 20th, everywhere. 
TMS: Sweet! I've already seen it, I'm going to give it a good review. I enjoyed it, a lot. 

DT: Oh, man. I appreciate that, brother. 

Read our review of Traffik.