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  • Writer's pictureArmiel Chandler

Culture Spotlight Series Featuring Sam Upton

A true triple threat, Sam Upton is a throwback filmmaker, best known for his directorial debut -- 12 ROUND GUN -- of which he also wrote and stars. 12 ROUND GUN became a festival hit, attending 23 festivals and taking home 14 awards, and can now be seen on NETFLIX! As an actor, Upton can be seen in films like THE LINCOLN LAWYER, RUNNER RUNNER, GONE, STAND UP GUYS, and THE VATICAN TAPES just to name a few. He has shared scenes with: Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Bobby Cannavale, Justin Timberlake, Anthony Mackie, Amy Brenneman, and many more. Also as an actor, Mr. Upton has guest-starred in hit shows including Hawaii Five-0, CSI, and The Glades. His work in the theater garnered him a nomination for an Artistic Director Achievement Award for his portrayal of Mick in Messin' With Destiny. Upton has also acted in dozens of national TV commercials and has worked with some of the biggest directors in the business. He is also a 2-time winner of the Manhattan Monologue Slam, for an original piece he wrote. He has written, directed, and starred in multiple short films, including his most recent short, NO MAN'S LAND starring Breckin Meyer. Upton is currently developing two television projects, as well as his next feature film. (follow him on Instagram )

Tell us about your experience at the Hip Hop Film Festival?

Unfortunately, I was not able to make the festival… but being a third-generation New Yorker, I was able to send my mother to take my place. She actually represented my film 12 ROUND GUN and took part in the Q&A session on stage after our screening. She raved about the fest — telling me how engaged, and passionate every single person she came into contact was. I was also shown nothing but love and admiration from the festival in terms of their incredible shout outs on social media about my film, not to mention rewarding our film with BEST SOUND DESIGN. I worked with my sound designer Johnny Martini for over 130 hours IN PERSON on our sound design - so to have them recognize us for our tireless effort is so rewarding.

Why are stories from the culture important?

All stories are important. Movies are the most incredible art form — they are the culmination of ALL cultures and ALL the art forms. It doesn’t get much better than that! But if we are talking specifically about black culture? Then  John Singleton’s BOYZ IN THE HOOD - is a perfect example of why stories from the culture are important. This movie shook the earth. Never before had we seen this world - told this way - in this voice - from this perspective. By the way, you should RE-WATCH BOYZ IN THE HOOD tonight. It hits me so hard every time I watch it.

What projects are you working on now?

Well, I’m the type of cat that doesn’t let the grass grow under my feet. I believe that if you sit and wait for the phone to ring, you’ll be sitting there forever. Having said that, I just finished a short film that I wrote and directed. I am very proud of it. It's a story about a haunted marine who tries to decipher reality from his own dreams, delusions, and perceptions of death. I’ve also been grinding away on two television projects — one of which is a docu-series set in the world of music. Think The Actor’s Studio meets Anthony Bordain’s Parts Unknown set in the recording studio. The other show is a scripted series -- its a super gritty, adrenaline-filled crime drama. (Think Donnie Brasco meets True Detective). Last but not least, I have the follow up to my directorial debut 12 ROUND GUN — this is a feature film script that I wrote that I’m currently raising financing for. This film is ironically set in Harlem (and all over NYC). It's about a troubled inner-city drumming prodigy who struggles to overcome illiteracy.  Think GOODWILL HUNTING meets WHIPLASH.

Why do you think the Harlem film house and Hip Hop Film Festival is important?

The Hip Hop Film Festival represents the unsung heroes, the underdogs, the young cats looking for a shot, for a break.  Singleton.  The Hip Hop Film Festival represents the unsung heroes, the underdogs, the young cats looking for a shot, for a break. Most of the time, we independent filmmakers feel as though we are screaming at the top of our lungs in the middle of the town square and not a single soul is listening. However, the HHFF not only listens, but it also supports, it promotes, it respects, and it honors our stories with such care and passion. This is of paramount importance to art in general. We live in a time when fame and money are the holy grail - not talent, not merit, not skill. So people like The Harlem Film house and the HHFF are courageous carriers of the torch helping to light the path for perhaps the next John.

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