CompoZer Spotlight: Stephen Small-Warner

There is nothing more powerful than witnessing a creative individual support and avidly work to build up another creative. This action is been revealed on countless occasions by this weeks #CompoZer, Stephen Small-Warner. We had the pleasure of chopping it up with him on a few of his philosophies about artistry in the realms of photography and film... 

Compozition: Professionally, what title would you give yourself?

SW: Im the worst person to ask that question honestly. But if i were to give myself a title I would say Director and Photographer.

Compozition: What projects have you done in the past year that you are most proud of? 

SW: I am proud of all of my projects but I think Stoop55, Five on 55, and F5VE . These three were very important to creating a basis as a director something I don’t believe I had before then.

Compozition: You are quite the world traveler. What have been your top 3 cities that you have visited and why?

SW: Hahaha….. I wouldn’t call myself a world traveler at all. There are so many countries that I would like to get to that haven’t yet. But from the traveling I have done, I would say Berlin, Thailand, and Hong kong. 

1. Berlin- While I didn’t care for some of the racial tension in Berlin. I did appreciate the lifestyle. It is a very calm place during the day. A place where there seems to be no rush for anything, contrary to NY. You know? And don't get me wrong I absolutely love my city but it's not easy to find balance here. Anyway, Berlin was cool during the day and then at night it was like a different city all together. I mean they have parties all weekend, like enter a club on Friday leave on Sunday, crazy.  Just to touch on that racial tension comment: there was a kind of subverted racial tension you would feel in the US. Definitely with the African diaspora but also with the immigrants from Turkey. 

2. Bangkok-  I had a lot of fun in Thailand. I went out there with a film camera and just shot my entire experience. There are so many great places to travel in Thailand with various experiences. From watching a fight in Bangkok, to relaxing on one of the Phi -Phi islands. Every place I went I always found a cool local and had them show me some more of the day to day spots. Even if they took me to tourists spots, from their perspective it was different which showed as a quiet undertone of what I capture in the experimental film I made with the footage. 

3. Hong Kong- I actually intend to have a place in HK . It has the New York vibrance I need in a completely different world. Oh …...and the food in both Hong kong and Thailand is amazing. In Berlin the Turkish make something called a Don er  and its different than the one in Turkey which is considered dry, the wet diner in Berlin is amazing- definitely a bite to try.

Photo By: Stephen Small-Warner

Photo By: Stephen Small-Warner

Compozition: What's next on your travel bucket list?

SW: Well I’m not intending to travel until I finish my first feature film. But the very next place I’m going to hit is the continent of Africa (as many countries as I can). Which you know I will be calling you about. Just to go to a place where they haven’t grown up with a double consciousness will be an experience alone. In my travels I use to feel slighted by Africans( particularly Nigerians) when they didn’t exchange “the nod” haha … I mean everywhere I went I would shoot another person of color the head nod and they would shoot it back. But Africans never did it. I soon realized while speaking to a group of Nigerians when I was in Singapore. I asked them about the head nod I explained it but they just didn’t get it. I realized then that the head nod is really a non verbal acknowledgement of double consciousness and being from somewhere that you have no need for it , its not a gesture that is understood

Compozition: As a black man, what trials have you faced trying to break into the film industry (if any at all)?

SW: Well … I know I keep changing your questions up but I consider semantics to be important. I'm in no way trying to break into the film industry. I am an artist and film is one of my mediums. I will always be a filmmaker with or without an “industry”. With that being said. I do think that some of the trials that I face are being faced amongst many. One of the major problems is building a village to support our black artistry. This is not just in film but all forms. We are in a time where bigger structures are being broken down and therefore it gives many more people the opportunity to grab their audience.  If everyone is grabbing, nothing will be left but if we focus on building and growing then we are all fed.

More artist are becoming aware and taking the lead. You see it in music heavy. Nipsey Hussle building 'All Money in No Money Out', Jay-Z purchasing Tidal, and Ryan Lesie launching Disruptive Media. In film its happening too- Ava Duvernay with AAFFRM, Oprah (OWN), and of course Spike's 40 acres and a Mule & DDB. They are building structures around artistry and I’m taking notes. Mind you, people I mentioned have also supported each other. We need this kind of support across platforms and a focus on growth in all industries especially artistic. From parents encouraging their kids to follow a passion of sneakers like Troy and Chase Reed, to schools and universities creating better models of education like Finland with their “topic less” reforms. Its bigger than me or any one person in any one industry.  So, thats is what I’m doing, building a base of work with a core team and growing from there. The problems surrounding that are balancing art, business, and life which is common for anyone. 

Compozition: Describe your film school experience. Would you recommend the program to someone like yourself in the future?

SW: My film school experience was slightly different than the normal. I went to NYU TISCH ASIA  as a creative producer. I was in an innovative program to create the future producer. The producer that can take one story and tell it on various different platforms. Take a film and create a video game, an interactive website and a comic book for example. The program was amazing as it allowed us to consistently think outside of the box. Im a big fan of design (in another life I would’ve went to design school). But my attraction to design helps me think of 'form over function’  and the mediums we use to tell story. The program
 allowed me to play with different vehicles for story . For example, the recent short film I released you need to subscribe to get the password. But the password is also a clue to the name of the film. Just google it. Doing stuff like that is fun for me and is a big risk in a lot of ways because I’m not leaving all of the engagement(or story) within the film. But what do I have to lose? 

If there is someone thinking about going to film school out there make sure you know why your going. I wouldn’t go for the knowledge of making a film, the best way to learn is making a film, the knowledge is free. But the connection and team you can build in film school is certainly worth it. I now have 9 producers , and options of crew (directors,gaffers,dp’s,etc) around the world I can reach out to, thats a powerful network to be apart of.

Compozition: What is your philosophy on promoting people of color within your industry as a director?

SW:Well that goes into what I spoke about before ( building a structure behind the work) a bit. I think promoting people of color means providing as much opportunity as you can and as an artist of color staying true to yourself. I remember I was the creative producer on a project that involved a white Executive Producer and and black Director. I would be in between both. We were making this story about a terminally sick kid who thinks he’s a superhero. The EP had wrote a casting call to find the kid and before he sent it out, he sent it to the team. It read something like: looking for a kid 9 to 13 casusian male. Now at first I thought the director would respond to this but he didn’t. Now I’m not saying the kid should be black, thats the directors choice (and truthfully would’ve been my choice too) but the oppurtunity should never be taken because of unconsciousness. So I ended up sending out an email that said something like : I think we should broaden our search and look for all ethnicties, this would give us a better pool to work from.

Contrary to popular belief creative people aren’t always open minded or aware. Thats why you need a solid team of people around you. As far as being a director goes my stories will always be base within truth. My blackness is a big part of my truth so while the protagonist may not be always black, the world they are within will reflect my world. 

photo by: Stephen Small-Warner

photo by: Stephen Small-Warner

Compozition: What is your definition of a composer? Do you think you are one in your own right?

SW: I think a composer brings together people/elements in order to communicate a theme using a common language.  Yes, I would consider myself a composer. As a director I’m bringing a group of people together who know the visual language in order to communicate a theme. Getting everyone on the same page, on the same note, is the difficult part. As a photographer I find or create elements within one frame to communicate the theme. 

Compozition: If you could give any words of wisdom to a random stranger in this very moment, what would you say?

SW: The last step to any creation is to give it to the world it was made for. If your not putting out your work your not completing the cycle of creation. Put it out and let it go. We are a vessels of creation, it is not up to us to control what happens after we give it to the world. Its something to be thoughtful of but not controlling of. Give it to the world however you’d like .. but give it and the world will give you back even more. 

CompoZer photos provided by: James D. Malone


To check out more of Stephen's work:

Website:  || IG: smallwarner