Exposing Human Trafficking Using Popular Entertainment:
Behind the Scenes of TRAFFIK
By Tom Snyder, Editor
Sometimes the real world reaches out and grabs the attention of a filmmaker that inspires him or her to make a movie.
That’s what happened to Writer and Director Deon Taylor, the man behind TRAFFIK, a harrowing new thriller for adults about a female reporter hunted by human traffickers in America and her attempt to escape and expose them.
Taylor says, when his daughter turned 12, he and his wife got some emails advising people not to drop off their daughters at the local mall, because human traffickers were snatching unaccompanied young girls and teenagers from there to put them into their evil system.
“I’ve heard guns, I’ve heard explosions, but I never heard anything like that,” he told MOVIEGUIDE®.
He started Googling the issue and found article after article, which led him to think, “This is not international. This is happening right here. . . . Many people do not know this is happening.”
So, he started writing a story about the subject, but said to himself, “How do you make it where people would watch it? I started stripping stuff from the headlines. Here’s this trafficking ring. . . . Okay, I’m going to build this story around these couples, and they’re going to ultimately fall into this world. Here’s how this world looks.
“The movie just took on its own life,” he continued. “It took on its own energy, its own personality.”
Taylor added, “I wanted you to see how these girls are actually abducted and put into the truck. I thought we [Cinematographer Dante Spinotti of LA CONFIDENTIAL and HEAT fame and he] did a really good job cinematically with the angles and the lighting to make you feel a certain way. I’m just happy to be the one to deliver it.”
Taylor’s two stars, Paula Patton of HITCH and DÉJÀ VU and Omar Epps of TV’s HOUSE and SHOOTER, both told MOVIEGUIDE® they appreciated Taylor’s spirit of collaboration on set.
In fact, when Patton agreed to play the heroine, she and Taylor had many talks with Taylor about the script. She said they had an “artistic meeting of the minds.”
“A chemistry happens with directors, and a trust happens,” she said, describing her working relationship with Taylor on TRAFFIK. “He’s so enthusiastic. It’s all natural too. He’s like a very clean guy. He has a love of life, and he’s so charming, and he’s got this way of being a great cheerleader to people. Because, at the end of the day, it’s a collaborative art form, but you need a captain. You need a captain who has a firm hand but a kind hand. That’s where he excels.”
“I loved working with Deon,” Epps said. “He’s very collaborative. So, for me, it was just refreshing to just go and let it flow. Everything just flowed organically between myself and Paula, myself and Laz [Alonso], Laz and Roselyn [Sanchez]. It was almost like we were just doing stage [work] every day because it was a very tight budget, guerilla indie filmmaking. So, we didn’t have the luxury of doing things over and over. I found that to be really great because everyone was focused and brought their A Game as soon as the cameras were rolling.”
What sold Epps about doing the movie was not only Deon Taylor’s script, but also Taylor’s vision, his beliefs and his confidence, as well as the underlying story exposing the evils of human trafficking.
“I wanted to help shine a light on that issue,” he said.
“The only way,” Taylor said concerning his collaboration with the cast, “you can get these types of performances is for everyone to be involved. If what you can create or say is better than what I wrote, I’m using that. Because everything shifts when you’re on set.”
One striking thing about the story Taylor crafted is that the heroine has to find a way to save herself from the human traffickers.
He said, “Sometimes God takes things away from you, so you can actually be stronger, and you can be built on a better foundation. Ultimately, everything she [the heroine] thought was in her life is stripped away from her, and she’s on a journey, and it’s her journey. It’s about her.”
Eventually, Taylor said, the heroine emerges into the light from the makeshift cave where she’s been imprisoned and, in a way, is born again. At that point, she’s able to beat the human traffickers mentally, not just physically.
Sometimes, Taylor added, filmmakers should do away with the dialogue they’ve written in a scene and let the actors communicate the story with their actions, body language and facial expressions.
He noted this is what happens when the heroine sees a distraught looking woman in the women’s restroom. The heroine senses something’s wrong but can’t put her finger on it. Taylor and the actresses deleted the dialogue from the scene to let the actresses communicate things with their eyes and body language. Later, the heroine discovers the woman was kidnapped by the traffickers and slipped the satellite phone from the lead truck driver operating the trafficking ring in the area into her purse. Her discovery is a major catalyst for the events in the movie’s second half.
“Actors can find moments without words,” Taylor elaborated.
He said Omar, who plays the heroine’s boyfriend, does more listening in the movie while Paula, who plays the heroine, does more talking.
Taylor admitted he’s a “fan” of his own movie, even though he’s the one who did it, “because it’s about humanity and flawed characters. It isn’t for a critic, it’s for an audience.”
He said he likes to write the first draft of a movie and let others come in and help him hone the story, scenes and dialogue.
“I write out of necessity,” he revealed. “I’m just a fan of the art [of filmmaking]. I like the story, I like the shoot, I like the characters. So, nine times out of ten, when I write something, I’m already thinking in my head how to shoot it.”
Paula Patton said she doesn’t think of TRAFFIK as a “message” picture.
“It’s a harrowing movie with some important information that people need to know,” she said. “What I realized [in making the movie] is that you have a thriller, suspense [movie] that would be entertaining. To me, that’s the most important thing, that we entertain people. Nobody goes to the movie theater to be in school or to be lectured to. I kind of liken it to Mary Poppins – a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
“It’s not just about sex trafficking, which is slavery,” she added. “There’s a grander theme [in TRAFFIK] – don’t be a victim. More importantly, it can happen to anybody. Through this movie, you get a chance to walk in somebody else’s shoes. I think, if we try to walk in other people’s shoes, we can have a lot more compassion.”
About creating the blue collar worker he plays in TRAFFIK, Omar Epps said, “What I thought was important was that my character, John, was extremely relatable, a blue collar guy, just an everyman who loves and respects his woman and want to celebrate her birthday weekend and is thrust into an extraordinary circumstance.”
In working with the other actors, Epps said, “We all realized we had an opportunity here to make a statement, not just making a film about this issue. So, everyone was keyed in on that. We wanted to do that in a way where we found that perfect balance of entertaining and informing, to get a perfect storm.
“Hopefully, we did that.”
Mr. Epps told MOVIEGUIDE® his interest in art and being an actor stemmed from his interest in writing as a child.
In fact, the 44-year-old actor now has a semi-autobiographical book coming out this June, titled “From Fatherless to Father,” about his experiences and the lessons he’s learned from growing up in a home without a dad and now being a father himself.