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Sit-Down With Philadelphia Writer & Director Jamal Hill
It’s been long suggested that the key to success in Hollywood (and almost everywhere else) is not what you know but who you know. For Jamal Hill, 38, knowledge and talent begets connections. Hill’s continued and steady success in the entertainment industry has been the result of a whole lotta what, mixed with a little bitta who.
Born in Schnechtedy, New York, Hill moved to Philadelphia at the age of 9. Having a sustained passion for film and acting, Hill studied writing and directing at community college before the itch to actually create something overcame him. Inspired by Denzel Washington’s Academy Award win, Hill’s initial entrance into show-business was in front of the camera. Not long after, however, he made the switch to writing and directing. “I started out as an actor,” he tells me. “But it didn’t take me long to realize that it was the process that was my passion.”
From this realization, Hill went on to write and direct his first feature, “Money Power Respect.” Released in 2006, “Money Power Respect” managed to find its way into the hands of Will Smith associate (and local Philly mover and shaker), Charlie Mack. Impressed with what he saw, Mack reached out to Hill, and by 2007, Hill was a Production Assistant on “I Am Legend.”
“I definitely have some horror stories,” Hill says regarding his first time out as a production assistant. “But what I learned during those 7 months was invaluable.”
Serving as Will Smith’s assistant, Hill developed the kinds of relationships with industry insiders that would later prove crucial to his continued success. In fact, his time on the set of “I Am Legend” immediately evolved in to two production assistant positions on the sets of “Iron Man” and “Hancock,” respectively.
Hill’s dedication to his craft is illustrated by the fact that while on the sets of 3 major Hollywood projects, he still managed to find the time to write, produce and edit his second feature, “After Autumn.”
It was the writers’ strike of 2008, however, that brought Hill back to Philadelphia from LA. While back in Philadelphia, Hill received a phone call from his now mentor, Charlie Mack. “He told me that he wanted me to write and direct a project called “Streets” with local rap artist, Meek Mill,” he says. That phone called turned into the 2011 release of, “Streets.”
Set for its television world premier tomorrow night at 10pm on BET, “Streets” tells the story of Nicole Gordon (Nafeesa Williams) and her turbulent introduction to the city of Philadelphia after moving from Harrisburg with her mother. A gritty drama intended to show viewers how Philadelphia may appear to new arrivals, the story is loosely inspired by Hill’s own experiences. “I write what I know,” Hill tells me referring to his predilection to create urban inspired dramas. “And I make the kinds of movies that I want to see.”
Inspired by directories like Scorsese and De Palma, Hill believes that even in an industry saturated with wannabe’s “the cream will always rise to the top. You just need Patience.”
And Hill’s advice to newcomers: “Go out there and make something. Worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.”