The Return of Hav Plenty’s Christopher Scott CherotBy Wilson Morales
March 13, 2011
Currently out in theaters is the independent film, ‘Mooz-lum,’ which is Qasim Basir’s directorial debut.
The film stars Evan Ross, Roger Guenveur Smith, Danny Glover and Nia Long; but behind the camera and editing the film was Christopher Scott Cherot.
If his name sounds familiar, it’s because back in 1998, the Bronx, NY native exploded on the scene with his own independent film, the romantic comedy ‘Hav Plenty.’
Written, directed, produced, edited, and casting himself as the lead, Cherot took the world by storm as his film was the opening night film at the 1997 Acapulco Black Film Festival, (now the American Black Film Festival), the first film at the first festival. By ’98, the film was released in theaters by Miramax.
After directing the 2002 film ‘G,’ which starred Blair Underwood, Chenoa Maxwell, and Andre Royo, Cherot went into directing short films, and the BET reality series ‘College Hill. Since then, he’s been editing numerous shorts.
In speaking with Blackfilm.com, Cherot talked about life after ‘Hav Plenty,’ and working as an editor.
How did you go from directing films to editing?
Christopher Scott Cherot: It just seemed like a natural segway. That’s where the opportunities were for me. It seemed that all the opportunities offered to me were editing opportunities. My business partner and I, Dana (Offenbach), that’s what we’ve been doing the last four or five years.
You’ve done a lot of shorts, but ‘Mooz-lum’ is the first feature film you’ve done in awhile. What attracted you to that?
Christopher Scott Cherot: Dana Offenbach was a producer on it and she brought me on. Dana & I had worked on commercials in the past. They came to her to produce ‘Mooz-lum,’ and she said she was going to need a solid storytelling editor so she brought me onboard.
As an editor, what’s the fun part of doing the job?
Christopher Scott Cherot: The fun part is being part of the production process but not in it. You’re an integral part of the process but don’t need to be involved in the cringiness of day-to-day shooting. I love the solitude of editing, but also love being part of the process as a whole and celebrate with everyone at the end.
You’ve worn a number of different hats, but which do you prefer- directing or editing?
Christopher Scott Cherot: I would still direct, that’s fun and challenging. Editing is an innate process for me, and I understand it without having to work at it as hard as directing. I can look at raw footage and know how to cut it as soon as I see the raw footage. With directing I still have to work at the dynamics of what properly conveys the right feeling through a compelling image. There are some guys who can direct and it’s an innate, almost second nature process for them. For me it’s not, but that’s how it is with me with editing.
Did you get more praise working on ‘Hav Plenty’ as an editor as opposed to being its director?
Christopher Scott Cherot: That’s a tricky question. I have to say at the beginning I was saying “no” to almost everything I was being offered. The kind of stuff I was being offered as a director wasn’t where I wanted to go. A lot of filmmakers, particularly black filmmakers, there’s a very specific niche they want you to address. There’s a very specific opinion they want you to address. I didn’t want to go in that direction.
Back in ’98,‘Hav Plenty’ was released with critical praise. Then it was some time before you got back on the scene. You were considered to be one to watch. What happened from there on that kept us from seeing more films from you?
Christopher Scott Cherot: All I can say is it came down to opportunity. The opportunities being offered did not appeal to me, and what did appeal to me wasn’t being offered.
Then again, you built ‘Hav Plenty’ based on your life story. You wrote it, directed it, edited it. If what was being offered wasn’t appealing could you have gone back to basics and wear many hats to get your film made?
Christopher Scott Cherot: I can’t say I wasn’t working, I just wasn’t directing. Going to basics still feels like moving backwards, and I didn’t feel like moving backwards. I can still go back to basics today, making that kind of film with that kind of budget under those circumstances, but I didn’t want to do that.
You directed ‘G,’ and it made its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival; but then it took three years to come out in theaters. What was the challenge in putting that film together?.
Christopher Scott Cherot: I can’t really speak on that accurately. I was a director-for-hire on that. I came in, we made this movie, had a great time, met a lot of great people doing it. We all put together a director’s cut, then the producers hit the film festival circuit with it. They spent about two years doing that and I guess that’s how long it took to find the best offer.
I’ve known a number of directors who do their first film then get hired to do something else. How much control does one have after the project is done?
Christopher Scott Cherot: That’s a simple question: whoever controls the money is the boss. When you control the money you’re the boss of your product. If you’re a director for hire you don’t control that production, that’s a collaborative effort. You work in conjunction with the men around you. Hopefully everyone’s on the same page and you make a great movie. In most cases that happens, sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s the bottom line.
What’s the feeling like as an editor? Do you have any input as far as the direction, or do you just do your job and edit?
Christopher Scott Cherot: I do my job and just edit. One of the reasons why ‘Mooz-lum’ works so well is because as a writer I can read a script and understand where the cuts need to be. With Qasim (Basir) and his script he had some revisions in his script that needed to be done, and I was able to help him with that process beneficially. I think a storytelling editor, as opposed to a technician who just pushes buttons and cuts, can help the filmmaking process as a whole because he understands the dynamics of beginning, middle, and end. That will only make the script be better.
With ‘Mooz-lum’ part of the story is told in flashbacks. As an editor does that make things easier or harder?
Christopher Scott Cherot: That actually made it a challenge but added to the fun of putting ‘Mooz-lum’ together because, as Q and I found out when we were putting it together, the flashbacks are interchangeable, and sometimes what you thought worked better in one place works a whole lot better someplace else. It was interesting looking at the different ways we could play with the narrative, and the different emotions the narrative told when we moved the flashbacks around. That was a surprisingly fun process.
‘Mooz-lum’ is also part of Q’s story, and as someone who wrote a story based on his own life, are you happy it got picked up for distribution?
Christopher Scott Cherot: I’m pleased that ‘Mooz-lum’ is seeing the light of day no matter what! When you make an independent film like this you never know where it’s going to go. I’m very pleased it’s getting this attention, that I was a part of it, and people seem to be digging it. It’s always good when people appreciate your work.
With the lack of Oscar nominations, and the lack of quality black films being put out, what are your thoughts on this? Does that give you more reason to get back into the director’s chair?
Christopher Scott Cherot: Number one: we do have to address the lack of diversity we’re still experiencing in 2011, which almost seems impossible, but we’re still dealing with it. On the flipside, the thing very few people talk about, as minority filmmakers we really need to raise the bar for what we consider to be good black filmmaking. I don’t think we’ve done that yet. That’s not my opinion, that’s just the way it is, unfortunately.
What have you seen lately that needs to be pushed in order for a bigger spectrum to be aware of the film?
Christopher Scott Cherot: All folks of color, all minorities who want to be in this business, should ask themselves, “What is the best product I can make that will also appeal to audiences yet still retain my integrity as a filmmaker?” That’s a difficult question to ask. I think in order for us to move up to the next level… we can say Oscars aren’t recognizing black movies, but we at the same time we need to make better black movies. I don’t think we’re there yet.
What are you working on next?
Christopher Scott Cherot: Right now I’m working on some TV commercials for a drug called Reclast, for women’s Osteoporosis. Last summer I worked on these commercials for Gilette starring J.B. Smoove that Robert Townsend directed. Those were very fun and I had a great summer with those.
Is it easier looking for editing work as a minority?
Christopher Scott Cherot: The competition is still there regardless of whether you’re directing or editing or black or white. There’s always going to be someone out there competing for your job. It’s about whether you’re doing the work properly where people recognize the work you’re doing then I think you’ll have longevity. I’ve certainly benefited from that.