We had the good fortune of connecting with Ellis J. Sutton and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ellis, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
Some days I ask myself the same question. It’s very easy to scoff at those who pursue artistic or creative careers as not serious, but entertainment has just as much value to society as any other profession. It took me a while to realize that and take my own career path seriously, but I’m happy I did.
What I like about making films and videos is that I am able to combine my love of logistics and creativity. To pull these ventures off does not only take someone with creativity. It takes someone to roll up their sleeves and do the dirty work required to pull off the creative vision. We want to shoot at a church, okay then. Let’s make some calls, figure out a budget, scale down if we have to, or heck, even improvise. That work is just as fun and rewarding as sitting down and coming up with crazy concepts or great stories.
I don’t think I would have been fully satisfied in any other career field. Taking a corporate job would have left me creatively unfulfilled, and taking a job where I only worked on being creative would have also left me unfulfilled. I did not expect to have a creative career growing up, but I am grateful that I am able to make my mark in a creative way.
Please tell us more about your art. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
It’s difficult to say what separates me from others because I feel a lot of folks can relate to my story. But I will say this: for the longest time, I would make art that reflected movies or shows I had seen and I started to see I was just treading the same song and dance that had been done before. The challenge was for me to figure out not only how to tell unique stories, but also how to tell them well. When I reached a breakthrough in the stories I wanted to tell, I looked internally at my own conditions in my many identities.
My first film Funky was about a kid trying to fit in on the surface, but deeper it’s about some of my insecurities in the Black community about how we act, sound, hangout with, or music to listen to. My film Krystal & Rae was about a mom and daughter making fun in a difficult situation, but it’s really about my mom and I navigating life when it sometimes felt like the two of us. My recent film, Little Drummer Boy, talks about a homeless kid trying to get a gift for a girl, but it’s a lot about my deeper reflections on homelessness, gentrification and communities losing culture over time. My upcoming film Good Grief talks about a young girl dealing with heartbreak and loss which we’ve all been through but this all takes place at a funeral. These have been where I have leaned recently: taking my own experiences and extrapolating them to some common universality and I believe many other people have other unique experiences that I want to help them bring to life through a visual medium.
Hopping on the latest trend or fad without any personal connection will waste your time in hopes of creating something meaningful. Specificity is universal, and I crave the specific because that’s where we get the most interesting, and oddly enough, relatable stories. It’s like someone tweeting, “y’all ever ___________ or is it just me?” and it’s actually something a lot of people say or do. That’s my lane. That’s where I want to live.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Assuming everything is normal, the first place I would take them is getting chicken at Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken. Pick any location in the city, the results will be the same: juicy, flavorful chicken. Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, 77 Kentucky in Koreatown, Dave’s Hot Chicken, Howlin’ Ray’s also come in a close second. Many people like Santa Monica or Manhattan Beach, all great beaches. I personally love Dockweiler for all the memories I had there and the bonfire capabilities. You would be surprised at how intimate and fun those moments can be.
Taking a trip down Sunset Blvd at night seeing the lights and people is so joyful. Don’t forget to check out an improv show at UCB on Sunset and getting tacos or burritos from the taco truck a block away is a must. Have a picnic near the Observatory and then see the views at Elysian Park over the city; truly immaculate. I love roller skating, so skating at World on Wheels has to be done on the trip as well. Also got to head down to Joshua Tree for the one time. Other than that, great hikes, brunches, clubs in North Hollywood and Santa Monica, pubs in the Arts District, and the list goes on and on.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I can’t do any of this without the Will of God. He allowed for the proper people in my life to reach me at the exact moments when they needed to give me the tools to continue to grow and prosper in this industry. For someone who came into this thing without any connections, I am blessed to see how far I’ve already come.
The list of people is countless, so I will just say if you have ever read a script I wrote, watched a film I made, listened to a pitch I had, helped me make a film, asked me to help you make yours, taught me, employed me (industry related or not), worked with me, asked me questions about what I do, answered my questions about what you do, cared for me or just been a friend, this shoutout is for you.