June 2001
An interview with Melvin James

Interviewed by Wilson Morales

An interview with Melvin James


In the last few years, the strides that women have made in sports has been remarkable. With the WNBA entering its fifth year, other sports are getting attention as well. Boxing is a sport one never imagined women to be involved in. With Christy Martin’s knockout power and Michelle Rodriguez winning accolades for her role as a boxer in last year’s indie hit “Girlfight,” it’s no surprise that more films of this genre would come about. Now comes another film, “Honeybee”, hitting the festival circuit hoping to get distribution. Melvin James was chosen to direct this film based on his skills and experience. He shares his thoughts with blackfilm.com.

WM: As a director of shorts and one feature film, how were you selected to helm “Honeybee”?

MJ:  I was selected out of twelve other candidates to direct "Honeybee" mainly based on my last film, "King of Hearts." Roderick Powell, the producer of “Honeybee” came to a screening of “King of Hearts” and set up a meeting with me after that. We discussed the film and what my approach would be as a director of a sports drama. I liked the story right from the start and felt that I could bring an edge to the film that would appeal to a cross section of people, young and old. Roderick explained that it was important to the project to be able to have a director that could bring the film to life under the constraints of a limited budget. This film looks like it was made for three times the actual budget and that was something that I had experience in doing with my previous projects.

WM:  Besides directing, did you have anything else to do on the film?

MJ:  I had to wear a lot of hats while shooting “Honeybee.” Along with Roderick and Eric I had to have my hand in everything from casting, scheduling, location scouting and a host of other things. That's the challenge you face as an independent film director. You have to be able to juggle a lot of tasks that you would never have to when doing a Hollywood film and still keep your creative skills in tact enough to do a film that can compete.

WM:  How much research did you do for the film?

MJ:  I actually knew a lot about boxing before doing “Honeybee.”  I used to train as a boxer and I'm a huge boxing fan so I knew how I wanted the fight scenes to play out. We had the help of two experienced boxing trainers, Eric Williams and Mark Murdock. Mark helped us a lot with our training scenes and we shot a lot of the film in his boxing gym in Douglasville, Georgia. Eric trains two of the professional female boxers in the film, Corinne "Goose" DeGroot and Nina "The Bomb" Ahlin and he choreographed all the fight sequences. We also studied a lot of tapes of Laila Ali as well as tapes from professional fights of other female boxers.

WM:  What challenges did you face?

MJ:  The biggest challenge was that this was a film that we knew would be difficult to pull off in the way that we wanted with our budget. That's were your ingenuity kicks in and you have to come up with so many different ways of doing things without losing quality in your film. It can get very hard to have to work like that every single day. There were many times when things would get thrown off schedule and it would affect the next day of shooting, sometimes causing us to lose a location. Then I'd have to stay up all night to come up with a creative solution for the next day after shooting for fourteen hours. And this happened a lot. When you factor in the fact that we only had eighteen days to wrap this film from start to finish you can imagine how stressed I was.

WM:  What challenges do you face as a writer/director trying to get your project off the ground?

MJ:  On the business side, it's usually financing, as it is with most projects. I have some projects that can only be done with sizable budgets - budgets that I don't have at the moment. But I can wait until the time is right for those projects because they are projects that are well worth having all the right elements in place. And I know that they are going to be huge when that time comes. But in the meantime, I'm always shooting and always writing and always working towards the next goal. I try to discipline myself to get better as I go along and not get caught up in all the hype of people telling me how good I am. I think a lot of up-and-coming directors make that mistake. 
So many people get satisfied with just getting a film done because it's a very difficult thing to do with no money. It beats you down sometimes. I'm never satisfied with my work because there's always something that could have been done better and I'm always looking for that. You have to just keep at it. Everybody wants to be a Steven Spielberg overnight and it doesn't happen that way. If you're good, people will notice eventually. I love what I do and I'm confident that the right people will notice that but I also know that struggle comes with the territory.

WM:  Is there anything you learned about the politics of distribution?

MJ:  Distributors want to be able to make money off of a product just like everybody else. Sometimes you have to fight to get them to notice and sometimes they come calling. Fortunately they have come calling for “Honeybee” and I hope that's a trend that continues with my films. I want to keep making films that will keep them calling. If I can do that, then I'm happy.  

WM:  What's next for you?

MJ:  We're meeting with MTV Films in LA about “Honeybee” and Sony Classics recently called for a screening as well.  In the meantime, I'm looking for an agent and I'm talking with a few companies now and getting some offers for other film projects and just trying to keep it all in perspective. I'm also working on getting some of those projects on the screen that I spoke of earlier. Basically, I'm hungry as hell and I'm taking on all comers. My email address is mailto:MJFilmworks@aol.com

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