A Conversation with Coodie and Chike
Contributors: Michon Lartigue + Yvonne Durant
“Our concepts were a little bit out of the box, which added to the challenges of being black. People didn’t expect or envision us executing highly creative ideas at a certain level. People have their own ideas, of “black work” that’s out there.”
What Got You Where You Are Today?
Chike: My mother and my aunt were the ones who introduced me to the arts; they went above and beyond to make sure I was exposed. They recognized my talent at a very young age and cultivated it. Their support and guidance were critical to me and my development; that’s what led to my interest in filmmaking.
Coodie: With me, it was my older sister. When she went to high school, she was enrolled in an afterschool program that focused on radio and television. I was a little kid and would often go with her, and they’d show me things with the camera. I paid attention. When it was my turn to attend the same school, I enrolled in the same program. Shortly after, my aunt fed the interest and bought me a camera… that’s when it started for me… that’s when I started to play and experiment.
How did you transfer that exposure into a life passion?
Chike: I attended Savannah College of Arts and Design and was surrounded by talented artists constantly. That’s really when I started to get into video and film. The music videos at the time were inspiring to me – Hype Williams, Michel Gondry, Chris Cunningham, and David Myers were so impressive and innovative. I wanted to be a part of that creative community. I didn’t even think about it. I just started. I started shooting with friends. We’d create videos of the most popular songs. It was just an intuitive thing to me, to explore and execute my passion.
Coodie: My passion for film is really guided by a desire to catch moments. But it didn’t start that way. I found my way behind the camera by being in front of it, as a professional comedian. I was working with Danny Sawyer at Channel Zero, a public access show in Chicago. It was a two-man operation, he was on the camera and I was the host. We developed a kind of “man on the street” style show. We’d go out to concerts and catch immediate reactions from the fans, package it, and then give it to the artists. It was great because it started to build a name for us. Next time I’d see the artists, they’d know exactly who I was and my show. That was around the time that I started checking out Kanye. At a young age, it was clear he was really talented and really driven. I just knew he was going to blow up, so I started filming him. That’s what led me to do MTV’s “You Hear It First.” And, that’s where I met Chike.
What were some of the key challenges you had to overcome working as a team?
Chike: The number one hurdle was having enough resources to execute a vision at its maximum potential. A lot of times you execute a subset of that. Rarely do you get a chance to execute exactly what you see. I don’t think, to this day, we’ve had a chance to execute exactly on a project what we envisioned from soup to nuts.
Coodie: Definitely. Early on, a lot of challenges came from nobody doing what I do. Period. Chicago is not a big industry for filmmaking and entertainment. Labels and studios don’t live here. When we started Channel Zero, we would come up with ideas and try to do them, and next thing you know, what we envisioned is happening in NYC. There was a ceiling in Chicago. To go further meant moving somewhere else. We’d go out, find opportunities, and then of course come back. And then there’s the issue of simply being a black man in America. That is a challenge within itself.
Chike: Especially I think for us, our concepts were a little bit out of the box, which added to the challenges of being black. People didn’t expect or envision us executing highly creative ideas at a certain level. People have their own ideas of “black work” that’s out there. The thinking goes like this – “I don’t see a black person making Star Wars. I don’t see any black films looking like Star Wars, so I don’t see how you could think about Star Wars.” It’s unfortunate, and our goal is to change that.
Have you seen a shift because of the way media is distributed now and the way it is consumed?
Chike: I mean for sure, because technology is more affordable, a lot of people have the ability now to create who didn’t have the ability before. At the level of trying to break into filmmaking, I think it’s way easier to get an initial idea done. And because of the internet, everybody has the ability to get their work on a platform that can be seen by millions of people.
Tell us a little bit about what you feel is the impact or contribution of your work.
Chike: Coodie can probably speak on that for “30 for 30“ in terms of the impact we were trying to and eventually made.
Coodie: I was born and raised in Chicago. Ben Wilson was a basketball player, number one in Chicago, number one in the nation. I’m in seventh grade and Ben Wilson was our hero. He was the one we were all rooting for and we would try to sneak up to the gym to see him play. We just wanted to see him. There was just something about him. When he got shot and killed, it was tragic. It shut the city down. And yet it kind of brought a peace to the city, too. Chicago was a segregated city. We were divided by race, by gangs, by our skin tone – light skin, dark skin, all of that. But when that happened, it changed everything. We were all connected in that moment. I felt like I could walk anywhere in Chicago. Right after we did “Through the Wire”, his brother contacted us about doing a movie. We tried to make that happen, but we were first-time filmmakers. That made it hard for us. But we were really committed to the idea of capturing that moment, that shift. Chike being from New Orleans, together we’ve seen some of the worst, from our own people. So, it’s like man, we need this. We just needed to create and deliver something that was good, that showed that connection, that shift, that peace. We believe that it worked. Even though, with Chicago as wild as it is, we believe we touched some people.
What keeps you going? What do you lean on to do your best work?
Coodie: I think for Chike and me and our dynamic is that, the thing is I don’t have what he has and vice versa. Same with our producer Marjorie Price, who produces with us now; she’s got skills that we don’t have. We’re team building. And having goals and missions are very important, and of course people unite, even when they see things differently or have different skills.
Chike: Just to piggyback on that, for what we’re trying to do, the one thing we all have to have in common, to make it flow down to the one thing you have to have: you have to have passion, and you have to be driven. Those are also two keys, because without them, it’s not really going to work. You have to have an imagination and you have to be able to write. All of us, me, Coodie, and Marjorie, have the ability to write.
What are you doing now to ensure that your work continues?
Chike: I’d say we’re particular about the projects we pick. We understand now that you have to actually be passionate about the projects you pick and how you spend your time. You got to follow those projects and hopefully those are the same that can pay your bills.
Coodie: We also go with the flow a lot. It’s a thing when you just go with the flow. We understand that God has a plan for us and we just follow that plan. We listen to God and everything that he put in front of us. We move with that flow. He’ll let us know if it’s good or it’s not. Like a movie that we didn’t get that we’d put a lot of work in. I’m like, thank God. It wasn’t part of our flow, it wasn’t part of what we’re supposed to do. You just have to have belief and gratitude, and he’ll keep blessing you with everything.
Chike: Yeah and think about it too, with the flow, the biggest misconception is that you just got to get out and not do anything, but you have to have an intent. Sometimes we see things differently and sometimes we see that same thing. We’re filmmakers so we’ll be concerned about how it looks, but our overarching goal for things we create is not how it looks but the impact we can create. Our intent is more feeling-based work. What’s the emotion we want our projects to evoke? We’re knocking projects down, one by one. Whether a project happens quickly or takes seven years, it gets completed.
What is your best advice for those just starting out?
Chike: I feel that’s just the best way for you to achieve what you are trying to achieve. Unless you are in a situation where you are sitting on top of all of the resources yourself, you got to go with the system that you’re already in. I can tell you that every project that we’ve done has gotten made differently. Whether it’s through ESPN, BET, whether it’s winding up independently. We never developed a project saying we are going to do this project with ESPN, we’re going to do this project with BET; it just happened. All we knew, all we thought was, we want to do this project. And I know it’s going to get to a point where we will be self-funding our own projects because that’s the direction we’re headed. So, you can’t really worry about the resources. All you can really worry about is that you have a goal that you are trying to achieve, and everything else will fall in line.
Coodie: They used to joke on me in Chicago… they used to say that I traveled the world with $5 in my pocket. We would just go. We’d go down to Jamaica with no money and just make it happen.
Chike: I was 23 when we did our first music video and it was charting number one. So obviously from that, there were opportunities to do things that could have put us in various situations early. They might not have fit with our moral compass, and for that reason, certain things didn’t feel right. So, we didn’t take opportunities based on certain people’s definition of success, which would have catapulted us very quickly. Looking back at it, it’s like man, what would that have done to me spiritually? Would I be on the same thing I’m on now? Would I be caught up in everything to even have the time to reflect? I’ve spent the last several years really being able to reflect on the journey. That’s priceless to me.
What are your proudest accomplishments?
Chike: One of my proudest accomplishments is the fact that we met in 2003, we’re best friends, and it’s 2017, and we’re still working together. We’ve had all these experiences together. That’s amazing.
Coodie: The same. As filmmakers, I think that’s one of our biggest accomplishments, that we still stuck together, through all the hard times. It wasn’t hard times with us; it may have been hard times with other people who tried to split us up.
Chike: We’re always on the same page.
Coodie: There are no egos involved. We’re not tripping. We’re just happy to be doing what we’re doing, and appreciate everything.