“The Soundcloud Rap documentary you’ve all been waiting for. Featuring some of the scene’s biggest stars. Packed full of great music, comical moments, and an eerie ending that will leave you at the edge of your seats.” Director Justin Staple on AMERICAN RAPSTAR which screens in the 2020 edition of SxSW Film.
Editor’s Note: While SxSW was officially cancelled on March 6th, 2020, the below interview was one of many that already took place prior to the festival. To respect the creators, all already performed interviews are presented in their unedited entirety below. All of the below works WILL make their way out into the world in one way or another, and we will update this article with updated information when we have it. — JW
Welcome to SxSW! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?
I have been to SXSW many times before but this is the first time I will be there with my own film. I will be at all the screenings!
So let’s hear more about you and how you got started in the business and what you have worked on in the past?
I have done music documentary work for many years across many formats. I love rap music and always had a passion for documenting the scene’s many stars and using their stories as a lens into the issues that affect young people all across America. I met the group of kids in my film throughout the years and knew I had to make a film about them!
How did AMERICAN RAPSTAR come together?
I had been filming with stars like XXXtentacion and Lil Xan many times and wanted to give them the feature documentary treatment. Kids love these rappers and I felt like their stories and look was very unique and ready for the big screen. I compiled all my footage together and did some interviews with experts like the New York Times pop critic Jon Caramanica which helped contextualize the issues these kids face in the music industry and in life in America. I shot the film over the course of a year and edited it all in about a month. Then re-edited over and over again and now we have the finished product here at SxSW!
What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?
The passion to get my subject’s stories out to the world. And I like when a documentary can both entertain and inform it’s viewer.
What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?
Probably the biggest challenge was all the time I spent editing the film myself, mainly at my home in Los Angeles. Editing can be a very solitary experience but my good friend and producer Tyler Benz would come over to sit with me so it wasn’t so lonely. The big payoff will be seeing it up there on the big screen.
I am about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie; what camera did you film with, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed.
I shot most of the film myself on a Sony FS7 that we had access to. Then the wonderful documentary DP Michael Pessah came in to frame up some of our pick-up interviews. We also worked with DP and director Jake Moore in New York for some of the interviews we did in New York. I wanted to give the film the feeling that you were there with the subjects throughout the whole ride. On the ground with them and at the concerts.
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Austin?
I love the scene in Austin and how enthusiastic the crowds are! I will be there at all the screenings doing intro’s and Q&A’s!
After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?
CPH:DOX in Copenhagen, which is one of my favorite festivals. I will be there as well.
If you could show your movie in any theatre outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?
Probably in South Florida where many of the subjects are from, they have a rabid fan-base out there that have been waiting on this film. So I bet they would go nuts for a local screening there.
What would you say to someone who was being disruptive, like talking and texting, through a movie?
I would tell them that I worked hard to make the film riveting and entertaining from start to finish. I know how hard it is for people to sit through a feature film these days. So in the edit, we took out any parts we thought were too slow or too boring and now it plays fast and exciting! So if you aren’t riveted, I didn’t do my job right, so I blame myself. But I bet you wont take that phone out because the movie itself is wild enough!
We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?
These days you really have to do it yourself. Get out there and start filming, start editing your own sizzle reels, start writing your own treatments. Out of every ten ideas only one is going to work. When you find the one people are responding to, run with it.
And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?
I remember seeing Danfung Dennis’ war documentary HELL AND BACK AGAIN in 2011 at the Full Frame Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina where I grew up. I was completely blown away from the film because it was one of the first features I had seen shot entirely on a DSLR (the Canon Mark II). During the Q&A, Danfung told the story of how he was a photojournalist shooting photos in Afghanistan and simply switched his camera to video mode and started collecting footage. This was a “A Ha!” moment for me, the first time I saw that no budget was needed, no studio was needed, the filmmaker could really just get it done himself. I’ll always remember that film and Q&A after.
For more information on this film and to follow its progress into the festival world, point your browser to www.sxsw.com/film!