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“Follow your instinct”: a conversation with Ice T

We recently caught up with actor, director and inimitable raconteur of rap, Ice T. Speaking together over Skype the conversation was as wide ranging as it was rewarding; taking in his transition from music to entertainment, the art of storytelling and the way he uses technology to create and his work on Skype in Media’s Shoot the Future contest.

A lot of rappers have made the transition from music to television or film, but you were probably the first. How difficult was that?

When I did New Jack City, I was terrified. Because, you know, stepping away from something (music) that you’re comfortable in. I had just put out the Original Gangster album, I was hot, and then this forayed into something else that could fail. I didn’t know if I should do it, but everybody was saying, “people don’t get a chance to act in movies. You can’t turn down this opportunity.” Not to mention that they wanted me to play a cop. And I had just done that album Original Gangsters – like, how is this going to land with the people? But I made the right decision and I took advantage of the opportunity.

How do you feel about the film now?

It’s still the best movie I’ve done. I’ve done a lot of films now, but people always return to New Jack City. We didn’t realize that we were making a classic at the time. Wesley Snipes had only done Become Major League. We had Judd Nelson, he was in Breakfast Club. Mario Van Peoples was the new director. Chris Rock was like a street-level comedian. Everyone who was in the movie was a new jack. But this movie now has stood the test of time.

What has been your favorite television or film role and why?

I’d say Surviving the Game where they (wealthy businessmen) hunted me and chased me as a homeless man. I think that was one of the most demanding ones. I had a good time doing that. Television… I played Danny Up on this show called New York Undercover. That’s what got me the Law & Order gig. I played a bad guy, and ended up doing a three-story arch.

Looking specifically at your film and TV experience, what has been the best advice anyone has ever given to you in order to get ahead?

Humble yourself to the craft. Your best lessons are going to be coming from the experts. So anytime I’m on the set with anybody, I’m learning from them. I was doing a movie with Denzel Washington called Ricochet, and he was telling jokes and we were laughing — and they yelled “action” and he snapped into character out of nowhere, and said his line. And I was off-beat. I believe experts make difficult things seem easy.

You take your name from the writer Iceberg Slim, which other storytellers’ do you admire?

Well, Iceberg Slim was the person that got me into reading books about the streets and stuff. Also, Dana Dane, he’s another one who writes books similar to that. The main thing about telling a story is keeping the listeners’ interest. A lot of people can walk into a room and say “Hey lemme’ tell you this story”, and then two minutes into it you don’t give a f**k.

Whereas other people can tell a simple story, and it’ll last 30 minutes and it’ll be entertaining as hell. So there’s a craft to being a good storyteller.

You mentioned tech, how has greater access to technology changed your creative process?

It changes everything. I shot The Art of Rap on a Canon camera! Like that! I didn’t have to get a big 35mm Panavision camera, send it off, have it color-corrected, all of that. So, it’s kind of made it so anyone can make a film. And the fact that people can now make music on their laptop in their house? They don’t need a $150/hour recording studio? That has allowed everyone a chance to make music.

How do you use Skype in your creative process?

“Skype has made it easy to put a lot of people in a room, from all over the world, that used to cost you plane tickets. I can send tracks to someone in LA, sit up and talk with them on Skype, give them my idea. We can do a collaboration album without anyone leaving their house or town.”

What is the future of content creation?

If you imagine it, there’s someone already trying to make it happen. And I actually know the people — I know Scott and Alki David who pretty much own the hologram technology and he’s going around doing holograms on different people. And I do think people will sell their hologram rights down the road.

Does that exist?

I just made that term up, but I believe it will. I think it should be a side deal away from the record deal. Even though record deals want everything, it should be more in your live performance world. I would sign that deal.

So what does Shoot The Future mean to you? As a concept?

It just means bring us something we haven’t seen. The future is unknown. So, if you bring me something that I’ve seen, you’re shooting the past. This means, we’re expecting to see stuff that hasn’t been done yet. And hey, since we have all these different judges, what blows my mind might be super boring to another. Like “that’s old Ice. They’ve been doing that since the 70s.” So I think having a nice cross section of judges, I’m gonna judge from a different perspective. I’m impressed by anything I can’t do, but I’m also not easily impressed, because I had to bust my ass. To win any contest, you gotta’ blow people’s minds. Average does not win contests.

What are your personal tips for creating sharable content?

The main thing is, this is entertainment. It can never become boring. As soon as people get bored, they turn off.

One of my favorite shows is Silicon Valley. And, a lot of those guys are so teched out, they want to do the numbers and talk about algorithms, stuff like that. And the other guy… the big fat guy—he’s like “THAT’S BORING!” So his job is to make (even though he’s the worst at it) is to try and make whatever they’re talking about consumable and cool and slick.

You gotta make it concise. I know you like looking at yourself, but it’s just too long. And I don’t like looking at you that much. And also, have a hater in the room with you. Have someone around you that doesn’t agree with every thing you say.

Don’t forget, due to popular demand there’s an additional two weeks to enter the Shoot the Future contest. If you have a content idea that could be the next big thing, you could win $20,000 development funding, and expert advice from the likes of Ice T, to turn it into a reality.

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