Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest, writer-director-producer and musician, Cameron Washington.
Cameron's first feature film High School Ripped Me A New One, screened at film festivals across the US, and won Best Comedy award at the Spaghetti Junction and NY Underground Film Festivals.
Following the feature world, Washington wrote and directed the web series Sex, Drugs and Jazz. Moving his focus to doc style shooting, Cameron became the historical filmmaker documentary archivist filming Senator Kamala Harris's winning run for Senate.
Recently, Cameron spent 2 years visiting New Orleans to make the feature documentary film A Man And His Trumpet: The Leroy Jones Story. The film follows trumpeter Leroy Jones from the projects in the 7th ward, to leading the Brass Band revival of the 70's in NOLA, to eventually touring the globe with Harry Connick Jr.
Norm: Good day Cameron and thanks for participating in our interview.
Could you tell our readers why and how you became interested in documentary films?
Cameron: Hey Norm,
great to chat with you today. Since I was young I have always
been interested in stories. Especially stories about people all
over the world. And I think documentary films are one of the
best tools to capture and share amazing stories from
around our little globe. I am a filmmaker and also a jazz
musician and specifically remember I think a year or so after
high school, Ken Burns was releasing his documentary series on
jazz. And I was just amazed at the level of detail, and people,
and interviews, he accumulated to tell this amazing story
about the history of jazz.
That definitely stuck with me, that this level of filmmaking was possible, and that you could take an art form (jazz) that is not super popular in America but really make it come alive and make people excited about this art form again.
Norm: Over the past several years there has been more of interest in documentary films than ever. To what do you attribute the increase in interest?
Cameron: I think
that we've seen an increase in the interest in documentary
films for a few reasons. First I think that especially in the
U.S., we are bombarded with so much crappy media content now -
(think Kardashians, game shows), that people are really looking
for better content.
And when you have a great true story and a
great doc film, people are gravitating to doc films
instead of bad reality TV shows. I also think that the big
change has been the new media players in the game - Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. The amount of solid media content,
great narratives series and films, and documentaries
these"networks" are producing is amazing.
So instead of 1 or 2 doc films that might be available at your local Blockbuster store back in the day, or when a doc comes on TV, you now have access to thousands of amazing documentaries from filmmakers from all over the world with a click of your mouse. .
Norm: What are the ingredients that make a good documentary film?
Cameron: Oh man, that's a tough one. It's very subjective what makes someone think a film is good or not.
For me as a filmmaker, I think what makes a great documentary film, is a film where you are really completely immersed in the subjects of the film, and they are telling their real story from their point of view unfiltered for the good or bad. Some doc films almost come in with an agenda before they even start filming, and they know where they want to go with it, what point they want to make, and I think that over producing, and hand holding can backfire quickly and make a low quality film. A good director will hopefully sit back let his subjects tell their stories, and get their points across without any interference. Once you have these pure stories from your subjects putting the film together in the editing process becomes much more fun and easy.
do you consider to be your greatest success (or successes) so
far in your career?
Cameron: It kind of blends together for me, as not one specific success but successes that have all connected for me to do other bigger things. I originally was producing videos for Kamala Harris, who is now our wonderful senator from California,
Doing those videos and capturing their lives gave me the confidence and resources to do my doc film A Man And His Trumpet: The Leroy Jones Story.
Those political videos
would be following around politicians for a day or week, and you
basically are then having to distill stories from that.
So all those skills were put together to make this documentary film I
am now finished with. Which is definitely my greatest success
so far. And the film just won Best Documentary Feature Film at
Capital City Black Film Festival, so its nice that other people agree
with me that this is a great film, and not just in my imagination
Norm: What has been your greatest challenge (professionally) that you’ve overcome in getting to where you’re at today?
question. I think the biggest challenge to getting where I am
at today is just life. Life is tough and throws a lot at
you. Whether it's sickness in the family, a parent passing
away, whatever it is, switching jobs, there is just
always a lot to deal with in life. So to say I'm gonna
make a film or a music album or something that is going to
take multiple years to finish, there are a lot of things
that can happen it that time period that can effect or change,
or completely stop the creative project you are working on.
I have so much respect for the filmmakers, and writers, and
musicians out there who are hustling every day and keep
going no matter what. It's a really challenging mindset, but I
am a big proponent that success is just small
success repeated daily. It takes a lot of mental and emotional
stamina to keep your eye on the light at the end of the tunnel
and keep going.
Henry Winkler just won his first Emmy after I think about 60 years in show biz, and had a great line where he accepted the award and said " if you stay at the long enough, at some point all the chips come to you."
Norm: How has your environment/upbringing colored your film making?
Cameron: I definitely owe a lot of my filmmaking instincts to my Dad. He would talk to EVERYBODY. The mailman, grocery story store clerk, the homeless guy on the corner. My Dad would stop and talk to them.
He'd ask how they were doing, what's new, what was going on in there lives. So I picked up a lot of that in life and as a filmmaker. I love people and I love peoples stories. We are all so different and all have something to offer this world. So a lot of times when I am filming I have my Dad in my head, as I ask questions and I find out about peoples lives, all of the good and bad.
Norm: Where/How do you recommend documentary film makers try to break into the market?
Cameron: For documentary films, and for media in general I am a big fan of "just do it.' Just go out and do it.
So many artists or media people will make excuse after excuse of why they can't do something. I would say just go do it. Especially for documentary films, there is always a story to tell. It doesn't have to be about a famous person. It could be your local high school music teacher, perhaps you find out he used to play with John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Charlie Parker. Grab your camera and go start filming some interviews with him. Do a short doc, do a medium doc, maybe a feature length film. But just go do it. You can then take that cool little 5 minute doc on a high school music teacher and give it to a local website or newspaper, you can submit to film festivals. Maybe someone asks you do make another film! But just go do it. Life is short.
Norm: What are common mistakes documentary film makers make?
Cameron: Mistakes ? Us documentary filmmakers are perfect. We never make any mistakes...I kid obviously but it is really hard to pin down "mistakes" for documentary films. They are all so unique and organic, and amazing it's hard to judge other doc filmmakers on their final product. I would go with my original thought I mentioned earlier that doc filmmakers should stay out of the way and let their subjects tell their story.
Norm: What would you like to say to film makers in general who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?
Cameron: I am a firm believer in that everyone should keep creating always. It is the journey, not the destination.
Staying in the
jazz world, you listen to early albums with Charlie Parker and
Miles Davis. Miles Davis was really young. You can hear
on albums where he misses notes, the chord changes are too fast
for him to solo over.
They were historic albums for Charlie Parker, but also for Miles because you see him growing. If it wasn't younger Miles on those albums he wouldn't have matured and become the "Miles Davis" we all no with album Kind of Blue. We needed the younger Miles to get to where he wanted to go. The same thing happened Miles was mature, and young John Coltrane was finding is voice on Miles' early albums. So I think musicians, filmmakers and artists should just keep creating and doing what they do. There's a great Harry Connick jr. quote I love and he said "If I make an album and millions of people buy it..great!..if I make an album and nobody buys it...great!". I think that says a lot.
Norm: How did you become involved with the subject or theme of A Man And His Trumpet: The Leroy Jones Story?
Cameron: I became involved with this film idea A Man And His Trumpet: The Leroy Jones Story out of pure luck.
I am a trumpet player, and was down in New Orleans playing horn in a Mardi Gras parade. I was having the time of my life, and probably had a few too many Sazeracs. I look down the block and just hear these amazing musicians playing, and as they get closer I see most of the musicians from Harry Connick jr.s big band.
There was Leroy Jones the trumpeter, trombonist Lucien Barbarin, and many other legendary New Orleans musicians.
I run up and say hello, and how they are some of my musical heroes. I think that that's about all the time I'll have to talk with them. But in a twist of good fortune, it turns out that they were playing in the Crewe of Cork Parade, which happens to be a celebration of wine parade. So they spend about 5 minutes playing and 20 minutes drinking wine is the cycle.
So I ended up getting to chat with them for hours as they marched in the parade. I heard all these cool stories about them all knowing each other since they were kids. So many really fun stories of NOLA history. So I mention at the end of the parade, that I'm not just a trumpeter I was a filmmaker and it would be cool to capture these stories.
And long story short, now we have a movie entitled "A Man and His Trumpet: The Leroy Jones Story.
Norm: What were your goals and intentions in the documentary, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
Cameron: My goals and intentions were really simple. I just wanted to capture a part of New Orleans music history. I recognized the historical significance of these musicians and Harry Connick Jr.s band and wanted to capture that. I tell people if I was a filmmaker and around in the 60's when John Coltrane was playing in NYC I would have done the same thing as a filmmaker. And gone - hey I think this person is gonna be a part of the musical history of America, and tried to capture that.
So I do think that my goals were achieved, the only thing I was concerned about was whether the musicians in the movie feel that I had captured their story in the right way. So I was super nervous to send the rough cut to all the musicians in the film, when they all responded positively, I was the happiest filmmaker on the planet. So all these film festivals and awards now are just icing on the cake .
Norm: What are some of the references that you used while researching this documentary?
Cameron: Most of all my references were all people for this film. I'd hear names in an interview, and say 'oh who is that?"
And I'd call them and get more info about a storyline or person. Then I'd hear some more names, and I'd just follow the trail. I did get lucky for a lot of photos from the movie New Orleans has some great historical libraries I had access too, that was wonderful to be able to work with. Tulane University has a ton of historical docs. It was actually limiting for references like this in New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina. Many of the libraries lost most of their documents in the hurricane, even now Tulane is still restoring old papers and photos from that storm.
Norm: What has your other work taught you that you have been able to apply to A Man And His Trumpet?
Cameron: Well I think that every creative piece of work you do, you learn something new. Whether its a better way to do sound, a new lighting technique, a new way to coordinate your shooting days. I am constantly learning. You have to be humble and always be learning. So I can say I brought the skills from every video I have ever shot to make movie.
Norm: What was the most difficult part of creating A Man And His Trumpet ?
difficult part of creating A Man And His Trumpet would be that
with documentary films like this, you don't always know
where the story is going to be. So it is this almost like
floating in space while you're filming because you don't
know where you are going to end up. Luckily we managed to
piece together some amazing stories to make this movie happen.
I think the second most difficult part was filming in New
It is such a fun city, and there are
distractions everywhere. I remember our very first day of
filming, I went to a cafe to do some research before getting to
set, and I ordered a coffee and a pastry at 10am. The cashier
said "I didn't any coffee yet, what about a shot and a
beer?..You're in New Orleans". I laughed but then
literally everyone in line is yelling "shot, shot shot".
So to fit in with the locals I had my 10am whiskey and then
went to film.
There was times I was exhausted after filming for 16 hours, try to lay down, and there would be people drinking and playing sousaphone at 5am right outside my door. So lots of distractions.But we finished the movie
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and A Man And His Trumpet: The Leroy Jones Story?
Cameron: For folks to find out more about the movie we've got our WEBSITE and they can find our facebook page as well. We list all the film festivals we are playing at if people want to see a screening. We are at the Charlotte Film Festival last week of Sept, Baltimore first week or October. And the New Orleans film festival the 3rd week of October. And will hopefully be online and in theaters and on your TV in 2019.
Norm: What is next for Cameron Washington?
Cameron: For my next film project I will be getting back into the comedy world with a feature film called "The Greatest Musical Ever Written" . I can't reveal too much about the plot yet..but think "National Lampoons Christmas Vacation" meets "The Producers." I am beyond excited to get back into the comedy world after a few years of documentary work.
Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about your films, but nobody has?
Cameron: Oh wow. I've never thought about this before. I guess I'd have someone ask "what do you want people to take away from your films?"
And I would go back to the point that life can be really tough, and there's always a lot going on, and a lot of bad news in the world. And if I can make a film, that takes people to this other place for an hour or two, and they forget their troubles for a little bit, and just have fun and can live in the moment, that is what I really want with all my projects. I just want people to be happy, even if it's for a brief moment in time.
Norm: Thanks again and good luck with all of your work?
Cameron: Thanks for chatting with me Norm! It was a pleasure.