Talking to Filmmaker Frederick Taylor is like being on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride: The conversation careens from the origins of rap, trap and hip-hop to that time he took a plane trip across the country carrying a backpack containing $12,000 in cash – all within the first 10 minutes.
The Buckhead office for Taylor’s production company Tomorrow Pictures could be considered the physical manifestation of his mind: Stuffed with important and interesting historical artifacts and collections arranged with intelligence and care.
One new addition? An Emmy Award.
He earned that award in June from the Southeast Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for his documentary short “Taking J-Setting from Underground Clubs to the Main Stage.” Funded by PBS/KQED-San Francisco as part of the “If Cities Could Dance” series, the piece dives into the LGBTQ dance community in Atlanta.
The piece focuses on Atlanta-based Dance Champz, a male dance troupe who formed their own quarantine pod so that they could dance together during the pandemic. Their style of dance – J-setting – originated in the late 1970s in Jackson, Mississippi, with the Jackson State University marching band’s women’s danceline, called the Prancing J-Settes.
It was not Taylor’s first documentary nor his first award. Taylor, who goes by the moniker Fr3deR1cK, also directed “Counter Histories: Rock Hill,” “After the Fall: HIV Grows Up,” and “Boxing Chicks: Women Boxers.” “Counter Histories: Rock Hill” screened at the Cannes Film Market and earned numerous best documentary and audience awards in film festivals around the world.
Documentary filmmaking is a fitting genre for an artist whose email signature includes the quote, “The story is in the telling.”
“The only reason I got into filmmaking was [because it was] the only world where you could express yourself and not be edited by others,” he said.
Born on Chicago’s South Side, Taylor grew up in Westchester, Pennsylvania, and earned his undergraduate degree in film at Temple University. He came to Atlanta in the early 1990s to earn a master’s degree in Communications at Georgia State University. He founded Tomorrow Pictures in 1994.
The name of the company came from a cultural experience that made a big impression on him: He saw Ziggy Marley open for INXS.
“Ziggy Marley comes out. He’s just Bob Marley’s son, for whatever that’s good for. He turns the crowd. The all-white crowd,” Taylor said. “Suddenly everybody cared about Ziggy. That’s when I was like: ‘You can do this.’ That was my moment. It goes all the way down to a song: ‘Tomorrow People.’”
And so Tomorrow Pictures was born. Taylor’s initial goal was to build a company that could serve the corporate structure of Atlanta from a diverse standpoint.
“I wanted to do more, but they wouldn’t let me in the room,” he said.
Taylor has spent his life resisting what he describes as a system that quietly excluded him because of his skin color.
“I was that generation, post-Civil Rights Era where I watched ‘Sesame Street,’ ‘The Electric Company,’ you know: ‘Free to be … You and Me,’” he said. “And I thought, ‘Oh my God – I can be the greatest person in the world! Those days of oppression are behind us!’ I ran through life completely deluded to the fact that I’m black. And people do have a problem with it.”
Taylor said people also had a problem with the stories he wanted to tell when he tired of shooting rap videos that focused on black male rage.
“I remember a white exec yelling at me, saying, ‘You’re never going to be anything in this business, kid, until you stop trying to teach people things and you start focusing more on entertaining people.’”
Not only did Taylor not stop, but he ramped up his efforts. In fact, Taylor got the KQED gig through his gumption and grit.
One caveat: He wanted to do it his way.
“Passion is what got me an Emmy,” he said. “Because I said I would do it while everyone was just farting around waiting for the pandemic to be over.”
“I shot it like Bob Fosse stage production,” Taylor said. That meant rehearsals, wardrobe changes and location setups.
“That’s exactly what KQED told me not to do,” he said. “I told KQED, ‘If you let me do what I want, you’ll win an award.’”
And they did.
“This Emmy Award is like the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
In post-production is a documentary titled “Transmission.Love” about a transgender tween he filmed from age 9 to 14. He also is working on a concept called “Preexisting Freedom” where he is examining what it means to be “free.”
“It’s not about one idea but several ideas under one umbrella,” Taylor said.
Taylor says his appetite for creating meaningful work is only growing, and he is at a point in his career where he knows exactly what he is doing.
“The system is a speeding train. You’ve got to get on it. It’s going to derail. You have to make sure you jump off in time before it derails,” he said. “That’s the best you can do as a woman or minority or someone from the LBGTQ community – any disenfranchised community; That’s the best that the Americanized, heterosexual, white male system can offer you. You can leap on the train, but you’re going to have to know when to jump.”
Have things changed for him as a black male filmmaker?
“No, things have not changed,” he said. “I’m now better at being on the train and knowing when to f—ing jump.”