PETE CHATMON has directed episodes of HBOMax's THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT, INSECURE, BLACK-ISH, FX's ItT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, and Apple TV+'s MYTHIC QUEST. Chatmon also wrote, produced, and directed 761st, a documentary on the first black battalion in WWII, narrated by Andre Braugher, and received the Tribeca Film Institute "AllAccess" Program's Creative Promise Narrative Award for the screenplay, $FREE.99. His podcast, LET'S SHOOT! WITH PETE CHATMON is available on YouTube. Pete's new book, TRANSITIONS: A DIRECTOR'S JOURNEY + MOTIVATIONAL HANDBOOK is brand new from Michael Wiese Productions. We spoke recently about his journey, rapidly expanding career, and his first stamps as a director which is his favorite cinematic moment.
Order Pete's book here at MWP.com.
Dave Watson: Congratulations on a great, unique book. How did this come about?
Pete Chatmon: So the journey of the book for me is part-filmmaker, part teaser. I taught at NYU film school. part-student, all of these things are happening at the same time, all the time. As my career has advanced, I've kept great notes about what I was learning, what I experiencing, what I was learning what mistakes I was making, and the teacher part of me was excited to share these notes with other creative people I wish was shared with me along the way. I kept a document what this book looked like since 2006 when it was originally going to be about how I raised 500,000 for my first feature film. As time progressed I kept adding chapters until now it's Transitions: A Director's Motivational Handbook.
DW: Where does "Transitions" come from? Sometimes I feel like life is one big transition, they are key whether in documentaries or feature films.
PC: You are spot on. It's a function of both. I feel like you're constantly pivoting and making a transition whether you're aware of it or not, if it's happening, if it's not happening, it might be something you might change to make that change more attainable. I guess it's a double entendre. Particularly in television directing that's an opportunity for the director to shine because everything is scripted. It's much of the same thing happening week to week with the same characters on the same set, how you envision transitioning from scene to scene or storyline to storyline is how you can put your unique directorial stamp on a story.
DW: It can be a visual transition, or sound, or voiceover. You can use a lot of different techniques. I feel like they go unnoticed much of the time. It's pretty instant with film. Would you agree?
PC: You're speaking my language. People don't notice them less than they notice bad ones (chuckles). They'll say, "Wait, that was awkward," or "Maybe this episode isn't as well put together as last week's." I think transitions have a lot to do with that.
DW: The second part of your title is a director's motivational handbook. When do filmmakers need inspiration? At certain times or is it continual?
PC: I would say it's continually. It works both for the filmmaker as a person and for the filmmaker as an artist. The journey to a professional career, and by that I mean where you're getting paid to do this thing you love can be a long one. For me it took about twenty years, to direct things that were scripted and not necessarily small documentaries or profiles for the Internet. There are a lot of inspiration in the book so you don't quit, and inspiration to see the world anew, to have new ideas and new perspectives to apply how you tell a story.
DW: Some filmmakers talk about how much they work and become isolated. Robert Zemeckis once commented on that. Would you agree? Is that sometimes a constant battle?
PC: The job itself becomes lonely. You're there making decision after decision, you're beholden to different stakeholders and higher-ups and you're trying to navigate this creative army toward a goal or target and can definitely become insulated in the job. I would say Zemeckis is spot on with that. You have to continue to push outside your comfort zone, whatever your routines are so can be energized in how you see people and the world and tell stories.
DW: It sounds like you have to be grounded in who you are and how you see the world.
DW: I feel like it's a broad playing field for filmmakers breaking in today. What do you wish you knew back in the day?
PC: Wow, that's a great question. Part one I think filmmakers of today where it always feels like "Get off my lawn" perspective, but I feel like they need to know the craft. The thing I was fortunate to have in my education is we had to do every part of the totem pole. We had to write, we had to edit, we had to shoot, we had to direct, we essentially became de facto production designers, costume designers because we were doing things during and after film school, without too many resources. You had to be the one to make sure the project happened. While I never became fluent in all those jobs, I got an education in what is required in a person in doing that job, so hopefully I got better communicating with them from the director's chair.
The things I wish I would've known are in the book, speaking to general principles how to view a career, and how to view the psychological and philosophical realities in an industry that's peppered with politics such as Hollywood. It's not just about being a great artist. It's about knowing how to filter that into this machine while still keeping your unique perspective and artistry.
DW: While navigating an industry. Your book covers everything. Were there any surprises in writing the book?
PC: I feel like the editing choices and what not to include. On one hand, I love reading books that speak to a personal narrative. I remember reading Sydney Lumet's book Making Movies when I was probably fifteen years old. I remember one section where they talk about going on a location scout in the diamond district and being met by the police because they were casing a joint for that film. Those kinds of books are very instructional to me because I take from the narrative what those principles are, but I also I know not everybody takes information that way, so I wanted to include things like how to budget, how to design a good meeting, how to quit as you begin your journey and find out what you're really most attracted to, finding the balance on how to thread both those needles, but I feel like it's accomplished both those needles. So it's anecdotal and has applicable tasks as you go forward.
DW: Your book perfectly complements that book. What's next for you?
PC: Right now I'm producing director a new Hulu show called Reasonable Doubt that is shooting now and it will hopefully be out in the fall. I have a pilot in Development at Showtime, and a couple of scripts I'm working on.
DW: So you're wearing a few different hats, I counted four. What's your favorite cinematic moment?
PC: I thought about this question, it's a good one. I looked within myself and thought the first moment I was directing TV and looking on the page, interpreting it, and crafting an approach. It was early on when I was directing, what would have been my third episode of television for a show called Grownish. It was the cold open on Episode 112, called Crew Love. There was a unique, interesting camera dance I did to communicate the feelings of the main character Zoe as she's trapped in a developing love triangle. I was proud of that, had to take ownership of that, had to be willing to fail, and I think it worked.
Clip: Growish: Crew Love Preview