After a glitzy premiere scheduled for Aug. 3, The Land will hit local theaters, and audiences should be prepared for the illest film about Cleveland ever made. Have you heard of it? The Land chronicles the life and times of four teenage skateboarders who turn to slinging drugs to escape their dead-end lives.
It's directed by Cleveland native Steven Caple Jr.
Right now, Caple's back in town filming a music video for Ezri Walker's latest track "Goodbye." Walker (the actor/artist known as Ezzy) stars in the film, alongside Machine Gun Kelly, Erykah Badu, The Wire's Michael Kenneth Williams, up-and-comers like Jorge Lendeborg Jr., who's set to appear in Spiderman: Homecoming, and the city of Cleveland itself.
"I wanted to tell a story about Cleveland," Caple tells Scene, "because the Cleveland that you see on TV, and the urban communities you see on TV — that's not how I grew up."
His version has all the gritty urban landscapes you'd expect — deserted warehouses, crumbling infrastructure, graffiti-vined convenience stores — but Caple says The Land isn't just "another gritty hood film," especially because it's told from the perspective of kids.
"And that gives it a different sort of gloss," Caple says. "An adult sees a sad abandoned warehouse; a kid sees a playground."
Caple grew up on the playgrounds of the near-westside. He moved around a lot, but much of his youth was spent on the basketball courts of Michael J. Zone and Cudell.
"It was always ball," Caple says. (He played at John Marshall High School, too.) "But when I wasn't playing basketball, or at school, I was making movies with my mom's camcorder."
Some of his early hits: Scary Movie 5, Bad Boys III.
"I was a huge Will Smith fan," Caple says.
When he got the opportunity to go to Baldwin-Wallace on a scholarship, he took it, even though the film program at that time was still in its infancy.
"It wasn't even a major until my junior year," Caple recalls. But Caple's not dissing the program. He double-majored in marketing and says he enjoyed the attention of the faculty who recognized his ambitions. Besides, he was doing post-secondary coursework at Tri-C and had access to their film equipment over the summer. Caple says he was the sort of student who, in a cinematography class, would be assigned to collect a couple of specific shots but would come back with a full short film.
That work ethic, and his artistic vision centered on humanity's "dark edge," got him into USC's film school — one of the country's most highly regarded. There, he continued to grow as a writer and as an artist.
In the meantime, Cleveland was blowing up as a location for Hollywood films. Caple came home to intern and be a production assistant on sets, but says the experience wasn't all that gratifying.
"I thought this was my chance," he says. "I'm going to work in the movies. But they'd be like, 'You can stand there and make sure no one passes the line.'"
So when Caple got the opportunity to make The Land — he'd enticed investors with a short film, to prove that a movie about multi-racial skateboarding kids in an ethereally shot Rust Belt city, a city where, during snowy winters, kids practice skateboarding in basements, is actually dope — he balked at filming elsewhere.
"They pushed hard for Michigan," Caple tells Scene. "But was I really going to come here and shoot B-roll and then go back up to Michigan? I'd be like those dudes recreating New York City for Spider-Man."
Not on Caple's watch.