Director James Hunter opens up about his creative pursuits and gives us an intimate glimpse into his unique personal journey and outlook on life.
Q: What are some of the qualities that you look for in the actors you work with?
A: The quality I look for the most in actors is dedication to their craft. I like to work with actors that are really serious about what they do and put time in to be the best they can be. They also have to be reliable.
Q: What is your favorite part of the filmmaking process?
A: That’s a tough question, but what I love most of all is taking an idea and watching it grow into reality. I love taking an idea and seeing it turn into the final product.
Q: What art inspires you creatively?
A: I am a big fan of Martin Scorsese and Antoine Fuqua. I like their styles and how they film, but I also like how in most of their films, there is someone having a moral dilemma, facing right versus wrong and the choice they make determines the outcome of their lives. At the end of the day, my outlook on filmmaking is parallel with my outlook on life. I have had to make choices in my life that have had catastrophic outcomes. I like to see a protagonist put in a situation and see the consequences of their choice and how it affects their life.
Q: You’re best known in the film community as a director, but some people may not know that you actually started out in music and have recently started rapping again. How would you describe your sound and where do you see yourself going in the industry?
A: A lot of people compare me to Jay-Z and this actually hindered my progress back in 2003-2004. I was on the cusp of making it before I got injured and I got a lot of grief because I sounded like Jay-Z. I had a meeting with one of the engineers at Bad Boy Records and he told me after he listened to my mix tape he thought it was Jay-Z. I told him “I can’t help the way my voice sounds.” When I said that he seemed surprised and he said he thought I was trying to sound like Jay…I wasn’t. So there’s nothing I can do about that. I don’t want to be a rapper; I’m past that phase in my life. I just love words and I like to dabble and play with them. My goal with my music now, is to every now and again, throw a song of mine into my film projects.
Q: What do you like to do when you’re not busy directing and creating music?
A: I’m very political. I love politics and sometimes I wish I had gone to journalism school. I study politics a lot in my free time. Another thing I do that people think is crazy-I really love numbers. I play with numbers in my head; like 1251 multiplied by 159 and see how fast I can figure out the answer. This actually translates over to the industry because when numbers are being thrown around in meetings, I’m able to come up with the answers really fast.
Q: What is another thing that people don’t know about you?
A: I’m very sensitive. I’m a very principled person. I live and die by my principles. When I deal with people, I expect them to be the same way. I need to stop expecting people to be the same way I am because it usually ends in disappointment. I will literally turn down a million-dollar project if it went against my principles. The most important thing to me is that I give people my word and stand by it. Not everyone is like that, so I’m learning that I have to evaluate people for who they are and not put my expectations on them. Another thing people don’t know is that I love producing films as much as directing. Also, I’m working on bettering myself as an editor.
Q: Anyone who knows you or who is friends with you on Facebook gets to hear and see your messages that are so positive and uplifting. What inspires you to share that positivity with others?
A: It’s funny because basically, my upbringing was surrounded by a lot of negativity. I had a very rough upbringing and I feel like it’s my duty to turn all of that around. There have been times in my life where I’ve gone headfirst into negativity but because of my beliefs, I always get pulled back out. I know it’s not where I need to be. Now that I have a better perspective on life, one of my motivations for being successful is to have a platform to reach millions to share a positive message.
Q: How have the injuries you sustained in the shooting leading you to be paralyzed affected how you live your life and your career? How has this shaped your mission in life?
A: When I first got hurt I was in the hospital for 2 ½ years. This is obviously not an exact number, but I would say somewhere around 85 percent of the other people around me who were paralyzed were really depressed. When I first got injured, I was positive on the outside, but inside I was wondering if this was punishment or torture or if this was meant to slow me down. I came to the conclusion it was meant to slow me down. I knew deep down that the negativity was not me and I had to turn this thing around. When I changed my mind set, people starting complimenting me. Although I was the patient, doctors would come to talk to me about their problems. I started thinking, “this is where you need to be. This is where you are most useful.” Had I not been paralyzed, I would have been successful in music and wouldn’t have grown the way I have. The injuries put me in a different zone. One of the bullets went through me and hit my cousin. If I wasn’t there to absorb those shots, he would have been the recipient of that and he wouldn’t be here today. This pretty much sums it up: While I was getting my bachelor’s degree at Full Sail, I got some life-threatening bed sores, caught bone infections and had to take 3 leaves of absence. When I was in the hospital, a beautiful nurse came downstairs and said she knew me. I was so caught up in her beauty, but then she explained she was my sign-out nurse a year before and she remembered how I got shot and how I was going to film school. She was really, really pretty so I was more wrapped up in that, but after she was done explaining how she remembered me, I asked her how she remembered all of that from a 10-minute conversation from a year ago. She said ever since that day we talked she uses me as her inspiration: “If James can go to school and do everything he does, I can go through anything in life without complaining.” That really touched me. Now, everyday people tell me I’m an inspiration. My focus has shifted towards helping other people. Friends of mine who I saw were going down the wrong path: I brought them in to be in the pilot for my new project Stripped ATL and now they want to get into acting. Now I can help them make a change and I feel like everything is worth it. When I first got shot, I would just say I got into an accident. I didn’t want people to assume I was a bad guy. I don’t like lying. It bothered me a lot. So I thought, I’m just going to tell people the truth and it’s up to them what they think about it. I was having a conversation the other day about how rich people can be so uncaring. If I accumulate $50 million, I wouldn’t get to see $1 million. My goal wouldn’t be about me; it would be making sure my loved ones are good. That’s the same way I look at my career; it’s not about me, it’s about spreading my message and taking care of people. Life was about me for way too long; it has to be about more than us. It can’t be about us anymore.
Q: What upcoming projects should we be on the lookout for?
A: Look out for the VH1 pilot for Stripped ATL. It is a very compelling reality drama, which looks like a movie, shot like reality show. It’s different than anything else out there. It keeps you captivated all the way through and I’ve received very positive feedback from everyone who has seen the pilot. The next step is presenting it to the execs at VH1. Also, be on the lookout for updates on the series I’m So Fly; we are moving forward with that as well.