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A new independent film called "Supremacy" opened on Friday. It's a thriller based on the true story of a white supremacist who, just after he'd been paroled, kills a black police officer and then holds a black family hostage. "Supremacy's" director, Deon Taylor, has a back story of his own that's perfect for Hollywood. NPR's Priska Neely reports on how he got his shot.
PRISKA NEELY, BYLINE: Deon Taylor never thought he'd be making movies. But he's always loved to watch them.
DEON TAYLOR: I was always the guy in high school that could recite all the movies, right? So "Predator" - CIA got you pushing too many pencils. You know, I'm that dude who knew all the lines, right?
NEELY: The movie-loving high school kid was also a star basketball player.
TAYLOR: Ever since I can remember I've just been in love with the game.
NEELY: He grew up in Indiana, where basketball is big. When he was 17, he moved to Sacramento and played for his high school team. He realized he was good and the game could open doors.
TAYLOR: If it was not for basketball, I would not be sitting here right now because, you know, I come from a family - we did not have money for me to go to college. That was not in the cards for me.
NEELY: His skills on the court earned him a full ride to San Diego State University, a Division 1 school. After college, he went to Germany to play professionally. But there he did more than just play basketball.
TAYLOR: That is where I actually picked up a pen and wrote my first screenplay.
NEELY: That may sound like a strange twist, but here's what happened - Deon Taylor, a really tall black guy, says he became a bit of a hobbit in Germany. He didn't speak the language. He didn't have much of a social life. So he asked friends back home to send him movies.
TAYLOR: I remember, like, waiting for the following week to get like a box of like 25 movies. And I would just sit there after basketball practice and just watch movies.
NEELY: He'd burn through them fast, then go deeper and start watching the DVD extras for movies like "Star Wars."
(SOUNDBITE OF STAR WARS DVD EXTRAS)
GEORGE LUCAS: Every single movie begins with an idea - one that's turned into a screenplay.
NEELY: And Oliver Stone's "Platoon."
(SOUNDBITE OF PLATOON DVD EXTRAS)
OLIVER STONE: It was absolutely, totally, guerrilla filmmaking - so, you know, knock this shot off over here, run over here, do this, you know.
TAYLOR: And I became more intrigued with how they made them than the movie.
NEELY: These DVD extras served as master classes in filmmaking. They became Deon Taylor's film school.
TAYLOR: I remember like a month or two into the process - me, what I like to call transitioning into a filmmaker. (Laughter) I remember calling my best friend. I was like man, I think I'm going to make a movie. It was complete silent on the other end of the phone and then just followed by laughter. (Laughter).
NEELY: But he did it. After playing overseas for four years, he quit pro ball and moved back to California.
TAYLOR: I found myself two years later - no film school, no writing school, no nothing - standing on the set saying action in front of 90 people with a big old camera and actors.
NEELY: He's directed a few comedy and horror movies, working his charm to raise the funds. These were low-budget pictures, mostly TV movies or projects that went straight to DVD. But his latest film "Supremacy" is bigger. It got a distributor and opened Friday in theaters and on iTunes. Danny Glover stars in the film. He plays a man who must protect his family as they're held hostage by a white supremacist.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SUPREMACY")
DANNY GLOVER: (As Mr. Walker) He's just scared, that's all.
JOE ANDERSON: (As Garrett Tully) He's trying to make me kill someone?
GLOVER: (As Mr. Walker) No, no, no, we'll do what you say. There's a baby and a little boy in here.
NEELY: Roxanne Avent produced the film. She's known Taylor for more than 20 years. At the film's premiere last week, she thought back to when he first told her he wanted to start making movies.
ROXANNE AVENT: I thought he was crazy. I was like you're going to do what? OK. Well, I mean, but he's always been, like - everything he said he's going to do, he goes and does.
NEELY: From his cast to his coach, everyone mentioned his determination. Eric Adams wrote the screenplay for "Supremacy." He says that determination is what makes Taylor a good director, and he sees parallels to basketball.
ERIC ADAMS: He has unbelievable energy, and you see that every single day on set. He's in a way a larger-than-life figure, really rallying the troops around him, very inspiring as a director. And I think on the basketball court it's probably the same thing.
NEELY: At a time when low-budget means digital, this movie was shot on 35-mm film. One of the biggest casting directors in Hollywood recruited the actors - all this even though the budget was low, just over a million dollars. I asked Deon Taylor just how he got all these people to sign on.
TAYLOR: I think because I was able to A - have a really cool script, but then B - I like to think I'm kind of sexy in a room. I'm passionate. I mean, I think passion wins everything.
NEELY: Taylor's in the middle of editing his next project - a comedy with Mike Epps and Mike Tyson called "Meet The Blacks." And this from a man who majored in biology, played professional basketball and learned the craft from being a fan.
TAYLOR: Film school for me was actually going onset and learning how to make a movie. I've learned how to do my craft better by constantly picking up the cameras. So little things like picking up the camera with my daughter, that's my film school.
NEELY: That hands-on approach to learning is the same method used by great directors like Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino.
TAYLOR: It's like a basketball fan. When I play basketball - even now - I'm watching them like oh my God, like what is that move he just did? Oh, I've got to get that. You know what a mean? Film is the same exact way. You're always kind of, like, learning. I'm in school today.
NEELY: Deon Taylor still plays basketball whenever he can and even had a spot on an NBA celebrity team. Of course, one of his dreams is to make a film about the game that shaped the course of his life. Priska Neeley, NPR News.
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