CJ Wallis of FortyFps Productions and JET Life Films shares his birds-eye view on filming and directing. Along with filming, Wallis also creates artwork for Jet Life and was named Creative Director by Atlantic Records for Curren$y‘s upcoming “Canal Street Confidential” album. Make sure to check out his latest work, “Revolver,” due in September, as well as his much anticipated “BB” feature film.
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Mike O’Keefe: The last time we spoke, you were about a quarter way through the Pilot Talk III tour. How was the rest of the tour? Was there a favorite city you visited?
CJ Wallis: The way the tour went, we put out each [show’s] video after every day — every city. By the next day we have the next video out, so you know the shows kind of seem to escalate as they go. They would be so hyped up by the last ten videos. We ended up in Seattle, one of the liveliest shows we had. They just don’t stop! As soon as they hear the new [stuff] and as soon as Curren$y comes on stage, in every city it’s like they never seen him before. It’s crazy. He’s got the most dedicated little cult I have ever seen.
Photo courtesy | Diana Robinson
MO: That’s amazing. I was able to go to the show in New York City at B.B. King’s, the energy was great.
CJ: Yeah, that’s always a great show. We know the people that run B.B. King’s. Actually his son gave me a football signed by the early 90’s Buffalo Bills. When we showed up there he was like, “I got something for you.” I was like, “Whoa, that’s random.” He was like, “My uncles football man.” He died like two weeks later too. So I got B.B. King’s football sitting here which is kind of strange.
MO: “BB” the movie is coming out soon and was shot in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. What were those two locations like and did you learn anything throughout the process?
CJ: Yeah, I learned a ton. This is technically my third movie, I made two other ones. Those were major learning experiences for doing any kind of film. This is my first time that I can officially say I did everything. Going out to LA was mainly a necessity, I was trying to do the budget. It was self-financed so I put my life savings into it. It was a situation where I either had to pay for like eight-plane tickets for everyone to come to New Orleans, or pay for like two-plane tickets to go out to LA where most people were. Obviously you want your first movie, when you’re starting out to be a director, to be directed in Hollywood. I can say I directed my first movie in Los Angeles.
Photo courtesy | Brian Fagan
MO: That has to be a great feeling.
CJ: Yeah, it definitely was. I grew up in Vancouver so every two or three months I used to take the 24-hour drive all in one shot, with a bunch of red bulls and loud music, down to LA. I’d end up getting there at 2:30 in the morning by the time I left. I’d roll down Hollywood Boulevard at 19 with the windows down. It was way too hot and everyone was crazy — people are dressed like superheroes.
To answer your question, that was a long winded way of saying you have to find new ways [to make movies], because everyone is trying to make them cheaper and cheaper. You either make a movie for under a million dollars, or for over 40 million. It seems like there’s a huge divide like that. It taught me a new way to pull something off for nothing, but on a bigger scale. We definitely figured it out.
MO: I’m excited for that as well.
CJ: It’s very cool, it’s almost done. The way we are going to distribute it is kind of a different way that hasn’t been done before. It’s just taking me a little bit of time to get it out right. I keep saying it’s going to be out in July and then one little hiccup will happen and we can’t pull the trigger — it has to be right. I keep taking bullets like, “Why isn’t it out?” The other video, “Revolver,” I’m doing for Spitta should be out around the same time.
MO: I was about to say you’re also filming Revolver. How did the idea come about? Where did you pull the inspiration from?
Photo courtesy | Mike DelGaudio
CJ: One day Spitta just showed up at the studio after “The Stoned Immaculate” dropped. He went into the studio with Harry Fraud and wanted to make something quick. We knew after the first two albums there would be a lot of hype around it, and wanted to record something before that happened. So, that night we stayed there all night and did all five tracks from “Cigarette Boats.”
He showed up that day and he said, “I got it, five beats from Sledgren come in here and film. I’m going to write it all on the spot. I’m going to do it top to bottom.” The five songs were done and he was about to put it out and I had the cover art I was working on. We kind of made a point saying like this is us. We do this stuff all the time. This time, I was able to get away with a little bit of ridiculousness, it’s going to be like a 20-minute movie. There’s dialogue — I wrote a script for it. Spitta’s music is kind of going to be a soundtrack to the movie, but it’s still kind of a music video. It’s a little bit like the “Streets is Watching” that Jay-Z did, but a little more serious. This is more of a “Menace II Society” type of thing. It’s a movie, but with music video elements in it.
MO: You filmed in New Orleans?
CJ: Yeah, New Orleans east. I filmed a bunch of it last night, we’ve got maybe two more scenes to shoot. We’ll be filming a couple more days.
Photo courtesy | Kim Hill
MO: Living in New Orleans, with all its history and tradition describe its atmosphere. What do you love about it?
CJ: The people are crazy. Yesterday I filmed a music video for Young Roddy, for his new album and we started shooting around. I said to his manager, “This place is like a standing film set. Every building has had the shit kicked out of it and its still standing there and still really beautiful.” Everyone is out and interacting. Yes, it has a rep of being a violent city, but a lot of people are some of the nicest and most caring to strangers. It’s a great place to be. I have been everywhere in the [United States] and Canada, and it’s cliché to say, and very generic, but it has its own character. You have to go there to understand it. The pictures and Mardi Gras those are all snapshots, like hearing a bands one hit wonder and never actually listening to the entire album.
MO: New Orleans seems so inviting, people are always out and having some type of fun. If you go there you get to experience the feeling. That’s dope.
CJ: Yeah exactly! You have to taste the hurricane, and hear the people screaming from the second tier of buildings in the French Quarters.
Photo courtesy | CJ Wallis
MO: Definitely wild. You mentioned you also design album artwork which is a completely different skill. Would you say you enjoy that as much as filming and editing?
CJ: It all goes back to filming. It’s like when your done writing you can’t wait to film. When you’re done filming, you can’t wait to edit. When you are done editing, you can’t wait to make the poster you know? It’s putting the wrapping paper on the present. I love doing the mixtape art, its everywhere — people’s phones, on every article. That influences music. If you put a black cover on the album, people see that and it subconsciously informs the music in a way. You are contributing to that if you take it seriously. If you’re just someone that charges $50.00 and slaps a picture of the rapper that he took on his phone, then that’s what that is. If you get into it, study art and design, you can really inform and help solidify what the artist is trying to get to.
MO: It sets the whole mood for the project. They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but it definitely happens.
CJ: Yeah everybody does. I judge movies by their cover. You can tell how much vision is in the overall project. You can see how generic or how lifeless their marketing and concepts are.
Photo courtesy | Ludovick
MO: Every country has a festival or celebration. What’s one you would like to travel to?
CJ: Cannes Film Festival in France. I had the second movie I produced played out there, “BB” too. I Went out there twice into the sales market — the rough cut of it. I’ve had two movies at the biggest film festival in the world, but I’ve never been there. It would be awesome when you’re bigger than a rock star and you actually have a film there. When you don’t have a film there it’s a totally different experience. I want to go there and have an impact on what is happening. I don’t want to just go there. I want to go there when I have something to show. The Cannes deadline is at the end of this year. I’m trying to get my second feature, “UMERICA,” done so we can get it out there in time.
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For more on Fortyfps and his “BB” feature film visit his website: