In July, Atlanta Film and TV sat down for a conversation with Independent Filmmaker, and Clark-Atlanta University Professor, Steven Starks.
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you share with us about who you are, and what it is that you do in the Atlanta Film and TV industry?
Steven Starks: "My students call me Professor Starks, and I am an independent filmmaker based in Atlanta, GA, originally from Virginia. I attended Shaw University and received a Bachelors in Communication. I went to Graduate school at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and received a Master's in Film and Television. I now reside in Atlanta, GA creating films, and I am currently a professor at Clark Atlanta University."
Steven takes us on his journey of how he found is love of the arts, to where he is now.
"I’ve always been creative before I knew I was. Growing up, I played sports, and played drums. Music was always around me, as I am a music lover. Eventually, I meshed music and film together, and something beautiful happened."
- Steven Starks
Atlanta Film and TV: Growing up, did your parent recognize your gift of the arts early on, and, if so, how did they nourish it to facilitate growth?
Steven Starks: "When I started tapping on things at school, that’s when my mother thought it would be a good idea for me to take drum lessons. I took drum lessons and learned to read music. I played in the band, which led me to college. I just kept going with the arts, and it meshed from there."
Atlanta Film and TV: How did you get introduced to filmmaking?
Steven Starks: "I was introduced to filmmaking while in high school. I would follow different drum lines filming different bands. Basically I would zoom in and out, eventually, learning other film techniques. In undergrad, I began as a music major but then switched to film. Everything film-related came naturally without me realizing it!"
Atlanta Film and TV: Upon leaving SCAD, and embarking upon your professional career, were there any moments of fear or self-doubt you had to conquer? And, what were some of the day-to-day obstacles you had to overcome as a black man operating in a space viewed primarily as a white art form?
Steven Starks: "I was fearful when I switched from being a music major to filmmaking. I had family members who played instruments, but it wasn’t at the collegiate level. Mass Media is a broad field, and it was hard finding my lane. My drive kept me going. If something felt good to me, I kept going. But, if it didn’t, I backed off.
I never looked at filmmaking as one of the only black males in a predominately white industry. I viewed it more as operating in my purpose. Some of the backlashes I received as a black man were, people didn’t understand my visions or ideas. I remember having a directing class and not understanding how they were breaking the technicality aspect of having a shot list which everyone else seemed to understand. I ended up stepping out on faith, and shooting my project using a handheld camera."
Atlanta Film and TV: Talk to us about Starks films, and some of the films you’ve directed and produced, and some of the services you provide.
Steven Starks: "Starks Films is a production company I started when some friends and I were hanging out, and we decided to start a production company. I ended up creating the production company, and my friends began going their separate ways - not in a negative way, but in a way where we all leveled up. Once I created my company, we all meshed back together. Starks Films is a production company that focuses on high-quality cinematography and telling captivating stories.
Starks films provide a plethora of things. Such as photography, videography, filmmaking, and animation. Anything you need, Starks Films is a one-stop shop. And, if we can’t fulfill your needs, we’re able to refer you to someone who can!"
Atlanta Film and TV: COVID has brought about a paradigm shift over the past year, and technology is being used in the entertainment industry in ways we hadn’t imagined before. Due to how content is now being created, produced, and distributed, in your opinion, how is this advantageous for those in the film and television industry?
Steven Starks: "I believe things have come to a halt. But, now that things are opening back up, it’s as though things are moving quickly, and we’re now playing catch up! One thing I can say is we filmed my Black Barbers documentary in December 2020. It was tough, but we were safer on set. We had PPE masks, hand sanitizer and made sure we had the right crew. There are ways in which we are operating and moving forward in a safer way, which I like because it makes you think more about how you move forward in regards to creating."
Atlanta Film and TV: Building on the strength of the aforementioned paradigm shift, what things can black creatives do to further dismantle the systems and mechanisms that have historically kept them out of key leading positions in film and television?
Steven Starks: "Work stronger together. We need to grab hands and ask, “Who do you know? These are my resources.” Put them together - which is like seasoning in a pot. Once we put it all together, you will get a great product! We black creatives should create together. We can use Instagram as free marketing by reposting stuff. We can take advantage of the free access to materials and use each other's network."
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you talk to us about the Black Barbers Documentary?
Steven Starks: "The Black Barbers Documentary gives an inside look at what happens in a safe place for black men. This documentary was something I wanted to create that spoke about barbers and the people that come to their barbershops. It’s a place where a black man can go anywhere in the world and can unwind, relax, and be a king."
Atlanta Film and TV: What are some projects you’re currently working on, and what’s the next big thing we can expect from Steven Starks?
Steven Starks: "The next big thing I’m working on is the Black Barbers Documentary. This documentary was something I thought about two years ago and researched to get things together. On the other hand, I always have something in rotation and can’t go into too much detail right now. But, definitely stay tuned!"
Atlanta Film and TV: Where do you see yourself within the next five years?
Steven Starks: "I still want to be based in Atlanta, pushing the Black Barbers Documentary culture. I would love to have a studio, as well as mentoring people who aspire to be filmmakers. And, lastly, teaching students at Clark Atlanta University."
Atlanta Film and TV: What is a piece of advice you have for someone looking to pursue a career in film and television?
Steven Starks: "Never give up! Be persistant. Stay confident. It’s your vision, and not theirs."
Click here for our conversation with Steven Starks.