Anthony Johnson

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started?

Luc Stephen

 I was born in Haiti. My father was a senator over there and you had a dictator, in the country called Papa Doc Duvalier. I guess my father was going against what he was controlling,  so there was like two assassination attempts on his life. From my understanding, my mother actually saved him on the second one, so we ended up fleeing the country.

I came over here when I was two years old. We started off in Boston. While growing up in Boston I played basketball and was an exceptional student. I came to New York during my high school years and that’s when things kind of went left for me. New York was fast paced, and I was kind of fascinated by that, as well as the girls.

I had a checkered past so I ended up going the wrong way. I spent some time in prison so when I came home, I wanted to do something different. I started personal training, then BET came along to do an American Gangster series. Some of the people that I was affiliated with were featured in that American Gangster series. I was one of the last the Mohicans because the rest of them have life in jail.  When I did American Gangster it really inspired me to do more, the next season I became a consultant on the show.

A couple of years later I created a production company called Second Chance Enterprises.  I then secured a deal with Urban Spotlight which came from KSR Music Group, which is a record label run by Shaft. They gave me my first budget for a 10-episode series called “Sisters Keeper”.  

After that I filmed a feature which was “Better Than My Last”. Which stars Hassan Johnson as well as Julito Mcullum who is also from “The Wire ”. “Better Than My Last” was my first big production. I did a couple of smaller productions before, but it was just little stuff that we were doing with people from the neighborhood. 

“Better Than My Last” was my first real movie setting. I came in as a production manager and co-producer. As you know Haitians work hard, so I have a strong work ethic. It was like 2019 that we started filming, it should be finished, hopefully by December 15. That’s the cutoff date. So, I can’t wait for the world to see that it should be pretty good.

After that, I did a project with LL Bean, which is “Growing in Newark”, which deals with Westside High School, a high school in New Jersey. It’s pretty famous because the principal Akbar has been on the Ellen show. He’s also been on Oprah. Oprah has donated, as well as Dame Dash, who has a studio and a bank in school. He’s really very good with the kids. So that was a real honor to work on that project with him, the school and LL Bean.

I’ve started working as a producer with the Plug Network, which created a series called “Seven Sins”, which just dropped recently. We’re going to drop the first three episodes and I think in the spring we go into production for the other five episodes. Thony Edouard’s the CEO of the company just wanted to drop three episodes just to see how the audience liked it. I also produced a feature. “Honor Among Thieves” , which is on Tubu TV. Some of my older work is also on Tubi.

I co created a feature film along with Adrian Tru Toscano called “Frenemies” also on Tubi. Running time hour and 20 minutes, it’s seven short films, put into one feature. 

In 2021, Wynn Publications approached me to produce a feature film called “Sin”, which stars Louis Gossett Jr, Shawn Nelson, it introduces Bella Blaq, Angel Love, Jhonni Blaze, Kiyanne, Shiggy, Rip Michaels, along with many more. I really think that’s going to be the game changer for me, it’s due to be finished, don’t quote me January 10. Hopefully we have a screening sometime in February and probably work out the deal in March.

I have just got approved for a film “C.R.E.A.M. which was written by Dutch who also wrote “Sin” I was able to attain funding from DR2 productions, who’s CEO Dennis Reed is a partner with Homestead Ent.  I’m pretty excited about that!  I’ve been working day and night putting my cast together. I told him, I will give him a call next week. So, we could iron that out. We’re going to shoot that in March of next year.

This Friday I should get the script for a comedy that I’m getting ready to direct by myself.  When I did “Sisters Keeper” I had a co-director which was also the writer. So “Self Destruction”, an urban comedy with a message it’s going to be my directorial debut. Of course, we’re going to want to take that to Homestead Ent, where I am now striving to become a sub distributor. I’m shooting that at the end of January. We are green lit by Arbrem Enterprise and Grade A Management.

I’m waiting on the script from you guys, hoping to shoot at the end of February or the beginning of March. Thank you so much for that Anthony.  I’m trying to align these situations so they could just be back-to-back because I just like to work! 

I have like maybe five films within the first six months of 2023 that I will be producing or directing. I’m very excited about that. Besides the “Seven Sins” series I think I have to do two more shows for the Plug Network. One is called “Sip and Smoke” and the other one is called “How to Get Away with Cheating”. So, I would say I got a pretty nice schedule. I’m going to be busy 2023 the first six months, and I’m just hoping that I can just keep it going. I just want to do dope content as well as creative content that’s going to capture the eyes, ears, and the souls of the population. That’s my goal. I just want to get better every day. I want to be better tomorrow than I am today. You know, that’s just how I look at life.

My daughter just had a daughter yesterday, so that’s another grand baby for me and I’m just trying to do this so my grandkids will be alright. My kids suffered. I didn’t give them the best life that a father should have, because I wasn’t living my best life. You know I was running the streets and going to prison so that means I was never there for graduations and different things. I caused a lot of trauma.

I especially want to be here even more so for my grandchildren. Not that I’m just trying to make up for my kids, but I’m also trying to make up for me. I know that I’m a person that, can admit, when I’ve done something wrong. Now that I know better, I have to do better. Just like when I’m doing a project, I know better so I have to do better.

Anthony Johnson

Oh, Great. Okay so going back to when you first started, what was the transition like going from the first season of American Gangster when you were actually on the show versus helping out behind the scenes of the second season?

Luc Stephen

Well to tell you the truth I helped find guests in the first season; I just didn’t get credit. So, I guess the difference was, I got paid. I mean, that was one of the biggest differences. Also, I started understanding the interview process. The director told me,

“You know when you were in and using the studio, you can tell that you were nervous. But when we went on the block, that was your environment” .

When she pointed that out to me it helped me understand, when I started to interview guests whether in the studio or out into the streets. It helped me make a better product because it’s more natural when you can tell that they’re not so uptight. That was like my first message in production, with American Gangster just her telling me how I was. I was kind of nervous in that studio but when we got into the streets it was just flowing. I didn’t have to think it just flowed. That was one of the differences in being in on the production, seeing the schedules and learning to understand the process. 

Anthony Johnson

So what was the transition like when you started your own company?

Luc Stephen

Well, when I started my own company, the major transition was not being around professionals. Also, more or less thinking that we knew what you were doing when we didn’t really know what we were doing. But I have this thing in me that I’m going to get it done. And I did get it done. In the end I was very proud of what I had completed.

Although I was kind of closed minded as far as acceptance of the people that were trying to give me suggestions. You know, I think that might have been because of the partner that I had at the time. We would think to ourselves, “Well, what movie did they do?”  “Why should we listen to them?”. You have to listen to them, because they are the audience. They would say, “Hey, you’ve got to work on the sound”.  That was telling us we’ve got to work on the sound. Or they would say “the stories all over the place”.

I’ve found out you should listen because they’re watching the story and who better to tell you it is all over the place, then someone watching it. You’ve got to adhere to them. At the beginning, it was like, I’m not listening to their advice.  After that I started going to film festivals, taking classes, and going to different seminars. I started acclimating myself with the people that were in the film business, because if you want to be better, you got to be around the people that really do this.

So that’s what I started doing. Being around the people that did this taught me to go in that direction. That’s what I do. This is all I do from the time I get up; I even think about it in my dreams, I’m always thinking about films, this is my life. That’s what I live for. I’ve had a marriage that went astray. I mean, not just because of the film, I wasn’t doing the right things, but film took me further away, by staying on sets all day.

Also, not seeing anything come back at the beginning stages, didn’t help matters any. She had to be like, what is this guy doing? You know, because of course at the beginning stage, I’m the only one that sees the vision. The people around me don’t see the vision. The people are like he’s lost his mind. You need to go get a job or do something. You keep trying to do this, but you keep wasting your money. I was selling clothes and selling jewelry just trying to hold on, because I knew that this is it.  I knew this could work. Finally, I think I started in 2016 my own production company, but 2020 is when I started seeing some money and started getting paid for my endeavors.

Anthony Johnson

Okay, great. So, what was it like going the first time you actually worked with a network when you were responsible for the budget?

Luc Stephen

Horrible. You know, when it’s your money, you can do what you want to do. When it’s someone else’s money, you got to explain every little detail.  I remember one time when “Sisters Keeper” was in production a restaurant I was affiliated with was closed. So, I had to pay to use another restaurant. I paid out my own pocket. No one told me to do that, but we needed the restaurant. I didn’t have an option to go over budget.

When I shot for Kevin Hart’s LOL company for the Rip Michaels show we did two episodes. One with DJ Envy and one with Nick Cannon. I was in a meeting and got screamed on. “Why were you using two cameras instead of three”? What made you use those types of Cameras? I explained that that’s what Rip wanted.  Oh, why is the talent picking the production? Who told the talent to hire them? It definitely prepared me because of course where I come from, you’re not used to people yelling at you!  It was different. It was very much a learning experience. That was an awesome thing. I was the production manager on that, I got my guys. My DPs, sound people, my crew! It was a 2-day shoot, an episode a day.  

That’s a credit, and that’s an experience where we actually got paid. It was something to do with another network or streaming service. I hadn’t really worked with a network since BET.  I mean, when I did “Sisters Keeper” for Urban Spotlite, it was supposed to become an app, but that never happened. My deal was for the backend. No app no back end it was that simple. That was 2019 it’s about to be 2023. Four years later, imagine if I stopped.  

I keep going and I keep working. I keep getting better and better and better.  I’m dealing with better and bigger projects.  People are starting to notice. I just have to keep working. I worked on this documentary with Curtis Scoon, who was instrumental in getting me on American Gangster.  He started as a consultant the first season when I was on there, became a producer on the second and brought me in as a consultant.

He also brought me in as an Associate Producer on on the Project “Black White & Blue” which is a story about Trump getting elected the Black Lives Matter movement. As a matter of fact, we started wondering where the money for Black Lives Matter was going at the time of filming, it was only a million then. Look at the numbers happening now. We uncovered that in 2018. So, I think I’ve been doing some meaningful work.

Right now, we’re working on “Born 2 Box” a documentary that deals with trainers. It also asks the question why boxing doesn’t have a union like these other sports. Baseball has a union, basketball has a union, but you have a lot of boxers when they get old, a lot them end up broke.  There’s no union to help them with investments when they get older. A lot of them are not in good shape. That’s what the documentary brings to light.  I think it’s going to be awesome. We’re hoping to go into post-production with the project in February. Hopefully we can be finished with it by March 1st.  

I have another dope documentary on deck. “Witness For the Defense” executive produced by Mike Tyson, Irv Gotti, and Michael Payton. Payton directed the Murder Inc, documentary that was on BET, so I’ve surrounded myself by some very notable people. So, that has to mean my work has been getting better and better because I don’t think that they would deal with me if it wasn’t.

I’m very proud and happy about the direction that my life is going, especially where I came from. My mother and father passed they didn’t get to see this change. My mother was visiting me when I was in prison. She died when I was a fugitive. I know that she’s looking down and she’s very proud of me, that’s something that she always wanted. Who knew that I was going to be a filmmaker, a producer, a director.

I’m absorbed with this; I wrote a few scripts at the beginning. I’m not necessarily a writer myself. I mean I knew I was ok, but I’ve been blessed to work with one of the most awesome writers around!  Dutch who did the script for Manny Haley, wrote “Sin”, wrote “C.R.E.A.M.”, wrote the script for “Witness for The Defense” a documentary that I’m doing on Kenneth Supreme McGriff case.  He’s got a few more projects coming down the road with me, and I’m grateful. The tremendous thing about him, is he’s been in jail for 27 years. He’s doing all this stuff, all this writing, always putting me in situations, while being incarcerated. Which show you it’s never over.  When God has a plan for you, he has a plan for you.  You just have to keep going no matter what your situation. We just have to pray and meditate and stay true to who we are. Always be there for him. Because nothing is guaranteed.

Anthony  Johnson 

So, as you became a producer, what did you do as far as for casting and getting actors into your new projects?

Luc Stephen

Well, I mean, I’m a pretty well-known person. Like I’ve always said, if you didn’t respect my work, you going to respect my work ethic. You’re going to see the work and respect the work. That’s where I’m at now. Someone always told me; You just have to keep going. They are looking for consistency. So, I have worked on over 25 projects that’s on IMBD.

At least we get to see three episodes for “7 Sins”. I’ve put the work in. I don’t believe I’m big headed. I’m still humble, I realize I still have a long way to go, but I’m a lot further than I was. I have people that inspire me in this film game. Like Spike Lee, Deon Taylor, 50 Cent, Will Packer, and of course Tyler Perry.  

These people really put some work in, and I haven’t done nothing to compare to them. So im like nothing to them. I can stick my chest out and say Yo, I did this, and I did that.  But what 50 has done incredible. We’re from the same neighborhood. He’s younger, he probably looked up to me when I was running around in the streets when I was younger. Now I look up to him. He does motivate me to do more. You know, I don’t know, maybe that’s the south side in me. Because you know, South Jamaica, that’s what you do. In Haiti, we work hard.

So I have both of these places influencing me, Haiti and South Jamaica, both as you know we have that keep pushing, pushing, pushing, mentality. Being that that’s where I’m from, I’m going to shout these places out. These places built my character and groomed me to be the way that I am now. My mind set is I’m just getting started. I’ve got a long way to go. Maybe four or five years from now I can sit back and say, I really did somethings. I want more, I want to win some awards! 

 When they was doing the “Supreme Team” documentary for Showtime. Those producers, whenever I would speak to them also the Director, all they talked about was winning an award. So, I too want to be in a place where I don’t care about the money, because I have money. I want to talk about awards. See right now I have to talk about money. Let me get to that place where I say my money is it good, now I’m just trying to win awards. To me, thats a good place to be at.

Anthony Johnson

So, how did you get your start working with certain distributors? And what is it like working with the distributor on the distribution side?

Luc Stephen

Okay, so I got my start because I had a bunch of previous work. Omar head of acquisitions at Dame Dash Studios Started talking to me about distribution, at the same time, a rapper out of Detroit, named K Deazy who I met started following each other on Instagram. He reached out to me and said, Hey, man, why don’t you come out to Detroit? I’ve been watching you. That’s because I’m constantly working. He said, I want to introduce you to my man. I was like, okay, flew out there, and was introduced to Dennis Reed.

We just started vibing. Homestead Ent, because you can call in it feels like a more a personal relationship. I gave them the first one which hopefully would be out February’s this movie called “Push”. We’re finishing up “Push 2” so we are coming back-to-back. With this brother K Nemesis a great director out of Toronto, Canada. He films, he edits he does everything reminds me a lot of Adrian Tru Toscano.

One thing that attracted me with Tru was his willingness to work.  I just love that energy he has, recently his brother wrote two scripts one is called “The Throne” which is currently streaming on Tubi, and “Everybody Dies”, a horror thriller that should come out either December or January. Both films are distributed Homestead Ent. I’ve worked on at least eight pieces of work that have been on Tubi thru Homestead. We’ve built a relationship and aim hoping Detroit can be a second home. 

When “Sin” is finished, I have to be super grateful to the EP. That’s the first EP that kind of like, took the dog leash off me and just let me go. I definitely went over budget, but he actually thanks me because I kept telling him to spend the money. That’s why that project looks like it does.  We had a great director, a writer, DP, and camera crew. Tru was one of the shooters. Michael Garcia was another shooter. It was a combination of everything on that project. Great acting got the legend, Lou Gossett Jr. on there. I mean, I’ve worked with an Academy Award winner, there’s not too many people that can say that. Basically, it was a great team effort. 

Anthony Johnson

Okay. Now as far as working with a distributor, how do they handle it as far as marketing and promotion? Did you personally or the EP have to put help put up money? Or do they help with it.

Luc Stephen

They can point you in the right direction, but their job is to put the movie out. It’s your job to help promote it. That’s what you have to do. So, you have to find out different ways, I’m still trying to figure out different marketing strategies for movies. I think that the best way to do it is to use social media, guerilla marketing, and word of mouth.

You have to have a good storyline. Gotta have looks good. You got to have all those components for your movie to make money. There’s a lot of people making money. It’s a lot of people making movies. Some people don’t make any money. You got to have a storyline that holds your audience because after 45 minutes is when you start making your money.

If you don’t have something that’s captivating the audience, they’re going to hop off that and watch something else. You have to be able to hold on. You could have something with no faces, but I’ve always learned have some faces. Some familiar faces that they can recognize.  So, you have all those components. What does the poster look like? What’s in it? What’s the story about? All those things are mitigating factors.

To make your movie successful, it’s not just a one thing. Thats the important thing. Through trial and error, I’ve learned those things. It’s not automatic. Some people do a movie and it’s successful right away. So, what I do is, when I see something like that, I try to figure out what made thas movie successful. What’s important is to learn how can you incorporate it in your work.

I learn from everyone, I’m going to be a sponge. I’m going to get something from this one, and I’m going to get something that one. I can sit here and watch movies all day, because I watch a movie like three times, once as an audience, the second time I’m studying the shots, and the third time I’m trying to see if there are any underlying messages. Because again, I’m going to try to implement something when I’m doing my own project. A lot of these films have underlying messages.

I look to see what the storyline is to captivate the crowd. What were the underlying messages, whether it’s the way they had the furniture, the way they had the pictures, the way they had the lighting, or the way they had two different actors. I’m learning that sometimes skin tones make a difference when you’re watching something in the background. So, the education is always ongoing.

Someone else is going to show me something else. I didn’t know about, like, if you watch some of the shows on BET you might see five people as a group of girls, but none of them have the same skin tone complexion. You’ve got to ask yourself, why is that? They don’t want to be blended in you have to have everyone to stick out as a character. The skin tones make a big difference. What they have on also makes a difference. The background makes a difference. You know, all the aesthetics of when you’re doing a film, everything makes a difference. It’s not just pick up the camera and shoot.

So, a lot of guys, when they first start just pick up the camera and shoot.  It’s way more to it than that. It’s a science and I guess that’s why people call me to be the point person on different projects. I get it now. You got to trust the process, and because you’re not a person that went to school for four years, you have to work, and you have to show accomplishments. Even though I made mistakes, I’ve and have manage to work on over 25 projects.

Anthony Johnson

Okay, so a lot of the people that read the magazine are up and coming or independent filmmakers. Can you give them some of the like, pain points you went through as you were learning on the fly?

Luc Stephen

Well, I think that the main point is no matter what you have to get it done. Whether it’s good, bad or ugly. Get it done because at the end of the day, finish what you start. I used to be told when I first started, you got something, and you finished it. A lot of people don’t finish. Finish what you start. Now as far as the pain, you will have to go through the pain, that’s growing pains. Whatever you do get it done.

You’re gonna have to go through your pain, not having enough money from your budget. You’re gonna have to go through the investor is a pain in the ass. And if you know, they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do, you’re gonna have to go through the pain of someone cutting out with the footage, missing the deadline, someone holding your project hostage, and all types of crazy stuff. You’re gonna have to work your way through all of that until you get to your successful crew. And everything is magic.  

It’s not going to start off like that, if you think it is your mistaken. For some people don’t get me wrong, it probably does happen. It didn’t happen like that for me. I had to go through a lot of pain, a lot of times questioning myself, asking myself should I quit but people would be like, “you can’t quit”. So, you got to go do something, you got to go through the pain, you just have to endure the pain. You have to be a freak for the pain and do it again. Then do it again. It’s always going to be there, especially at the beginning.  If you can find someone that you can shadow and learn, it will ease the pain, if you can find someone and ask them, hey, can I shadow you? Sure. They will work with you.

Without being paid you might say, “I don’t want to go through this being an intern”. But you will learn by being an intern, and you probably won’t make some of the mistakes that I made. Because you know what not to do. The thing is you can’t be scared. You gotta give it a shot. That’s what I did at the beginning. I gave it a shot. You know, and I think that God led me on the path because I had some people that was probably not very grateful of situations that we’re in, everyone has their own agenda.

Sooner or later, everything’s gonna fall into place. I get phone calls now. I get people with budgets. I get people with movies, as well as people like “hey I got an idea’.  You have an idea? Okay? It needs to be made into a script. Also, they would ask “how much you think it’s gonna cost”? I don’t know what it’s going to cost until I get the script. I can’t tell you what anything is going to cost because the script is going to be the blueprint.

Once I get the blueprint, and I can say okay, this is how we might have to build this. I can’t tell you that on an idea. So that’s the first thing I tell people is pitch your idea. Turn it into a script. Then from the script, the script can be broken down. You can see how many days it’s going to be. Then you will know what the cost is when you put in your crew together. that you can concentrate on the rest.

Anthony Johnson

Okay, okay. So, I guess wrapping up, what would be the main advice you would give to up-and-coming filmmakers right now especially working on a micro-budget?

Luc Stephen

Working on a micro budget I would tell them to talk to someone that worked on a micro budget before so they can help to guide them on how to possibly get it done. It’s all about your shots, your look and your storyline. Again, if you have a good storyline, that’s the first part and the second part you can cheat a lot of things, but you got to make sure that you have the crew that can put it together to make it cheap.  Some people shoot and edit. Sit down and gather information from people that have already done it.

Gather as much information as possible to come up with a game plan. Get with someone with experience to see what to do. Don’t just go do it! Sometimes our people don’t communicate with each other. Tonight, for instance I’m having a networking event to bring people in the film industry together. It’s called Industry Tuesdays at Vibes restaurant, in Jamaica, Queens. It’s a space for filmmakers, writers, DP’s, sound people, and gaffers to come out eat drink, smoke cigars on patio. This way you can get better aquatinted because all you have to do is ask questions. Most of the guys if ask you them a question they’ll give you answers you need to know. If you don’t ask you won’t find out. If you have questions like in school, you raise your hand you ask questions.

Anthony Johnson

Okay, so I guess in closing go ahead and tell everybody about the projects have out and where they can watch it. Also what you have coming up to make sure that they can take a look at it.

Luc Stephen

The projects I have out now is “Divided We Fall”, “Black White and Blue”, “Sister’s Keeper”, “Frienemies”,  “The Throne” I also have prior projects that I did at the beginning of my career “Prey Before You Eat”, “Prey Before You Eat 2”,  “The Cabin”, “Circles”, “ 7 Sins” all streaming now. 

Coming soon 

“Better Than My Last”, “Born To Box”, “Sin”, “Everybody Dies”  Distribution thru Second Chance Enterprises via Homestead “Push” and “Push 2” 

In closing Thanks so much for having me. Always remember the triumph is in the journey. Blessings to all.