When it comes to the intricacies and creativity of music and film—Jeymes Samuel speaks in definitives.
Not the kind laced with obvious bravado or non-sensical metaphors that do nothing but confuse rather than educate. But rather, they’re conclusive beliefs undergirded by a longtime and undeniable passion for creating cinema. That passion was something that became abundantly clear to me as I read and watched countless interviews of him during the press run for his directorial debut The Harder They Fall on Netflix. It’s also something longtime friends and collaborators of his will corroborate, as Samuel—more famously known as The Bullitts—has had his hands dipped in both pots seemingly out the gate.
“As long as I’ve been making music, I’ve been making film,” he said to me over Zoom on a midweek morning, before later explaining how he started doing music and film at the exact same time—but became known as a musician first. However, he was always directing music videos and shooting short films, and that’s a large reason why he views making music and making a film as the exact same thing.
“Both mediums push whatever story it is they’re telling along. The two go hand in hand,” he said. “I’ve always said that I see music and I hear film.”
To further illustrate this point, he references the 2020 Jay Electronica hit “Dinner at Tiffany’s” (a clear callback to the classic 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and explains that when it comes to composing and producing music for artists, it’s always cinematic. The same is also true in the reversed sense: when he’s doing a film, there’s always going to be a musical aspect to it as both always come to him at the same time.
“I find them equal. People say that I do a lot of things and I understand people saying that because I do, do a lot of things. But in my head, they are the exact same thing. Whether I’m writing or producing a song for Lauryn Hill or Cee-Lo [Green] for [The Harder They Fall] soundtrack, whether I’m pulling a visual for a melody, they are one and the same.”
Speaking specifically to the scores and sounds of a film, Samuel also believes there are benefits to composers coming onto a project way ahead of time—as opposed to showing up during post-production as most generally do—and argues that their presence early on helps to refine the overall themes and messages present within the film.
“A composer should be composing to the script. And any composer would like to come on earlier than they do,” he told The Root. “When you’re in post-production, you have limited time so basically you have to keep whatever you kill. There’s no process of elimination. A director should require the composer as soon as he knows what script he’s doing because a composer would read the script and come up with melodies and motifs that would dictate the director’s camera placement. It would dictate how actors perform…One doesn’t exist without the other.”
Our conversation then goes on a slight tangent about classic film soundtracks and why some of them don’t hit the same way they used to back in the day. That isn’t to say that a myriad of recent films haven’t had fire tracks or certified bangers, but that’s all they are to Samuel. They do very little to convey the overall messaging, motifs and themes of the story it’s accompanying, he explains.
That unfortunate notion is in stark contrast to the tracks laced throughout The Harder They Fall, and one in particular—sung by Cee-Lo Green—that Samuel brings up to further illustrate his point.
As LaKeith Stanfield’s character Cherokee Bill begins to die after being shot in the neck, the sounds softly playing in the background serve as both an ode to a life that once was and a future that will now never be. The through-line then, when it comes to the perfect marriage between sound and scene, as Samuel explains it, has more to do with intentional harmony and oneness between the musician and the film itself.
“Film is an actual device. Music is sound, film is celluloid,” he says. “Cinema isn’t celluloid. Cinema is a place where you go and experience both things at once. In my head, it’s cinema. Cinema doesn’t just mean film, it means sound. It means everything. Cinema is a place, film isn’t a place. Music isn’t a place. Cinema is a place. What we make is cinema and we experience it as such. [It’s] where both those things meet. And my brain is pure, uncut, unadulterated cinema.”
Despite the long-running, beautiful, and now award-winning creative chaos that takes up space in his mind, Samuel is adamant no matter what accolades and successes come his way—they won’t ever be enough to keep him from empowering other up-and-coming storytellers along the way.
“Filmmakers, musicians, successful filmmakers, successful musicians, we have to acknowledge—we ain’t in a different place man. We’re all in the same place. There’s those that have made and there’s those that are making. There’s those that are on the path to making their thing,” Samuel begins. “You can’t make your thing unless you’re on the path to making your thing. So all the projects, they’re all in a different place but we are all in the same place. For me, every time I read something dope online or a perspective or a point of view, I’m always thinking why doesn’t [this] person chime in? I know you see it. Why aren’t they chiming in to have that great discourse for the culture?”
He concluded, “For me, if you have the position that you have and you also have a dope perspective, then people like us must empower people like you. And the only way we do that is when we go back and forth, you put the Bat Signal up and I take off in flight. It’s up to us to change that. Let’s dive in and communicate and invigorate each other. We all need to come together. We all need to be in unison and get ourselves out of this mess where we rely on everyone else for distribution, finance, greenlights.”