Interview: Hollywood Hotshot Ty Walker

September 21, 2014
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To call Ty Walker a “workaholic” is something of an understatement. The former Strategic Business Consultant with IBM turned Hollywood hotshot and director extraordinaire is something of a whirling dervish when it comes to his work ethic.

“Yeah, I’m addicted,” he laughs, one of the many times that this cheerful, affable and approachable Texan does so throughout the course of our meeting. “I tell myself I need to fall back but I really enjoy what I do. I can’t even begin to tell you how many scripts I go through a week. But of course, the way I see it, this isn’t actually a job for me. I just really love doing it. So many people have told me before that I am a workaholic.”

But who can blame him for enjoying his work? Since leaving IBM in 2003 to take a great leap into the unknown, Ty has gone from strength to strength and tried his hand at nearly every production and directorial role across features, music videos and documentaries.

Since taking that huge leap of faith from IBM, Ty went on to work with several notable talents from actors to musical artists including Jamie Foxx, Akon, Mekhi Phifer and Idris Elba. After producing a number of award-winning short films and serving as production coordinator, line-producer and production manager on a range of feature films, Ty took up the mantle of directing a financial news television show entitled Week On The Street, aiming to bring something a little more cool and accessible to the usually stuffy world of finance.

Interview: Hollywood Hotshot Ty Walker

Now in possession of his own production company, Tycor International Film Company Inc, Ty has slowly but surely made his mark on the industry he really loves. The next 12 months promise a wealth of surprises and acclaim. Horror-thriller Julia is a new direction for Ty, while 2015’s planned release of Carter High, a high school football drama based on true events, will see the fruits of his labor from working alongside actors of the calibre of Charles S. Dutton and Vivica Fox.

Ty wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and opportunities were few and far between in the early days.

“It was difficult at first, since I was always interested in film from a very early age and my parents are a bit more traditional when it comes to education and careers. They wanted me to do well in school and ultimately go to college. As much as I wanted to go to film school there weren’t that many chances for me to fulfil that, especially in Texas and I personally didn’t know any filmmakers. So yeah, trying to make a start at an early age was a little difficult.

“But I never stopped loving film. I used to watch films like ET, Indiana Jones and the Goonies religiously. I couldn’t begin to describe how good I would feel watching a film and taking inspiration and ideas from it. Early on in my career I tried as much as possible in terms of music videos, documentaries and all the rest to see what fits but movies were always what I loved. The main thing that got me here today is how I felt when I watched a movie. My focus and the focus of Tycor right now is strictly features.”

Interview: Hollywood Hotshot Ty Walker

With film remaining his secret love for the time being, Ty entered the cutthroat world of business with IBM. In its own weird way, it’s this stint in a different world that may have served Ty’s future career the most.

“As a project manager with IBM my job was to essentially get involved, learn systems and learn what people were doing with the end goal being to bring all of that together. A major part of project management is learning about people in different locations and companies as well as understanding individuals and what makes them tick. Overall, it’s no different from film. As a producer it’s your responsibility to manage a lot of different people.

“Organisation is a major deal in production and direction. The biggest thing is still planning though. If you’re ill prepared then 90% of the time you’ll have production problems. Working with IBM and getting to see how a major company goes about their business taught me how to be prepared and organised above all else. If the people at the top are prepped and organized you can ease back a little and put your time and energy into other areas that need it.”

As for leaving IBM, well, it wasn’t as painful as it could have been. “I was still very interested in the movie business, and while on assignment in NYC I ended up spending time with a few people and the subject came up. They told me and convinced me to follow my dreams. It’s as simple as that!”

Interview: Hollywood Hotshot Ty Walker
Ty (center) on the set of Carter High with actor Charles S Dutton (to Ty’s left) and writer/director Arthur Mohammed (on the right).

The pre-Tycor days found Ty acting the proverbial celluloid nomad, working with and seeking advice from the likes of Spike Lee, George C. Wolfe and John Singleton before falling into a long-lasting and profound mentor/protégé relationship with producers William Packer and Rob Hardy, who were at the time deeply ensconced with their own company, Rainforest Films, out in Atlanta.

“Those guys…” chuckles Ty. “I have nothing bad to say about them. Outside of being great filmmakers they’re great people too. I credit them with a lot of what I know and throughout the entire time we’ve known each other they’ve only ever been a phone call away. We haven’t worked together for years but a lot of what I have today is thanks to them. I really appreciate everything they’ve done for me. I know I wouldn’t be the same person I am now without them.”

“Directors like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are just some of the amazing directors that have really inspired me. Even today their work inspires me. Those guys are super-creative. Nowadays there are people such as Christopher Nolan, whose films are just amazing. As time goes on I want to focus a lot more on action films so I want to understand and learn the work and techniques of big-time directors such as Michael Bay…and of course, I’m still a huge, huge fan of Will Packer and Rob Hardy!”

Interview: Hollywood Hotshot Ty Walker

Before action though, comes horror, and Tycor’s first foray into the world of jump scares has already yielded some great results. Julia is a gory revenge thriller that follows the movie’s titular character as she embarks on some rather unorthodox self-therapy in order to rid herself of the repercussions of a brutal trauma. It’s all new territory for Ty. What convinced him to make the jump in the first place?

“I always wanted to do a horror film and it all came to pass after I met with Matthew Brown, who is the film’s director and writer. He is a very intelligent and artistic guy who wrote a great story. This film was cool, fun and unique. When Matthew sent the script I was like… ‘Get me in!’ His brain is definitely different to other people.

“I’m very close to securing financing for another horror project that I’m really excited about. I can’t say too much about who’s in it yet. The film will be called We Are Here. It’s the product of some great writing and I’m really excited about it. We’re hoping to shoot in upstate New York before the end of the year and producing it alongside Christian Taylor.”

When talk moves on to the upcoming Carter High, Ty speaks as if he is a proud father extolling the virtues of his own straight-A student kid.

The film tells the so-strange-it-can-only-be-true story of the Dallas David W. Carter High School football team from the late 80s to the early 90s, whose enviable roster of talented youngsters and domination of their division unravelled after a series of scandals. After being found guilty of two instances of fielding ineligible players in ’88 and ’89, the final straw came when the team’s management were discovered using police scanners to interrupt their opponents’ radio headset communication. Matters were complicated further throughout as accusations of theft against a number of the team’s players were made.

Interview: Hollywood Hotshot Ty Walker
Actor Pooch Hall (red t-shirt) joins Ty Walker on the shoot of Carter High

Although the scandals occurred in his home state, Ty was completely unaware of the story, and became very quickly wrapped up in the history, context and importance of getting it told.

“I actually didn’t know anything about the team. When I first came across it I thought it was fiction but after finding out it was real it really got my interest. When I began to delve into the story I soon realised that it was one of those things were these boys did not need to take from anybody. They were great at what they did. As football players they were obviously popular and a lot of them were financially well off. It was about kids being silly and looking for the next high. When I finally pieced it all together and constructed my vision for it I was very keen to tackle it. Plus the opportunity to go home again and make my state proud was hard to refuse.”

Carter High is also replete with a star-studded cast of experienced actors. Charles S. Dutton, of Alien 3, Menace II Society and Se7en fame, came on board, as did Vivica Fox, with whom Ty had already briefly worked with on Three Can Play That Game in 2007 as an Assistant Director. Rounding it off is Pooch Hall, David Banner and Reginald C. Hayes. Ty is almost breathless when trying to describe the experience. It’s heartening to see that an experienced talent such as Ty still maintains the ability to become starstruck.

“Working with actors of their calibre is just wonderful. I love to give new peeps opportunities but I also think you need somebody on-set that has a ton of experience and can just open the project up. Vivica is phenomenal from the word “action”. Charles is just very, very, very professional and a fantastic actor. Even after all this time Charles still studies the craft and reads all the time. Having him on set and working with him was just amazing. We had all these young new kids with us too, and so to sit around with a real pro was extraordinary. Even Vivica said she was so happy to work with Charles. That tells you a lot about him.”

Interview: Hollywood Hotshot Ty Walker

Now we come onto the topics that might seem like Journalism 101, but tend to cause their recipients the most hassle. Asking a professional producer and director which of their previous works they enjoy the most is the creative Sophie’s Choice. Which fruit of your loins do you cast aside and which do you save? Anybody with Ty’s CV couldn’t possibly give just one answer, so we’ll let him off just this once. See? It pays to be nice!

“I actually love all three of the main features that Tycor have worked on for different reasons,” he enthuses. “Omphalos is a sci-fi feature that is super creative and written well.  The film’s director and writer, Gabriel Judet-Winsheil, is just amazing at what he does and is a great friend. He also happened to write this film and I honestly have never seen anything like it. Edoardo Ballerini, who’s the star of the film, plays 10 different characters and gives an outstanding performance for each one.

Julia‘s star, Ashley Williams is a trooper. We shot in NYC, with each shoot at night, in February and despite the cold, she was so focused and pleasure to work with.  Our Director of Photography, Besti [Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson], is a star and helped us lens a great film that looks amazing.

“…and finally, Carter High was just a fun project to work on period.  As mentioned, being able to work with Mr. Charles S. Dutton, Vivica A. Fox, Reginald C. Hayes, Pooch Hall and David Banner was a gift.  They add so much to our film.  I learned a lot working with them as well.  All in all I think people will really enjoy this film.  It’s a story about a group of young men that had it all but by being silly and young and making some bad decisions, it cost them dearly.”

Ty is in possession of the holy trinity: a great past, an exciting present and a prosperous future. Talk turns to the notion of a ‘legacy’. It’s a word bandied about by some with little regard as to its real meaning. It’s not simply about making something; it’s about how it affects others and how individuals approach their own work. For a man with one eye always on the future and the next project, it’s a recurring theme of thought.

Interview: Hollywood Hotshot Ty Walker

“Legacy. I often think of this,” he ponders. “Honestly? It’s just to be known as a great producer who has delivered amazing stories that have moved people.  I want when people hear my name or the name of Tycor to associate them with great moving pictures.”

A simple man with a simple goal… but he’s no simple mind. Even at the conclusion of our meeting, that boisterous friendliness is in full supply. Praise be! He’s a genuine good guy.

“Thanks for your time, I really appreciate it. I’ll be in London in three weeks. Let’s definitely meet for a coffee… or a spirit!” he says. It’s not your run-of-the-mill offer from a man whose career is in sharp ascendancy, but Ty doesn’t appear to have any qualms when it comes to opening up his world and inviting people to share the spoils; it looks like it was what he put here to do.

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