An Interview with Eli Harris – By Duane L. Martin

You’ve recently finished a new film called Saga Tier? Tell us what that one’s about and about your role in it.

Well It’s called Saga Tier I “The Highest Saga” The story is centered around a character named Treyman Lewis a successful realtor and his wife Vonda Lewis a high powered attorney. Treyman is constantly haunted by his past as Vonda tries to help him deal with his night terrors. They live in a fictitious city named Westlyn that is ran by a corrupt business and political figure by the name of John Grazer. Lately, there has been a new string of murders, something that definitely isn’t of Grazers M.O. There is a new crime syndicate coming in from Eastern Asia only known as Magi which is headed up a ruthless assassin by the name of Gage. In the midst of all of this chaos there is an unknown ninja running about enacting his/her own brand of justice, things are getting complicated for the residents of this city and its only going to get worse, its an epic tale of love lost and treachery. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

I play as Treyman Lewis. I also wrote directed , and starred in it, now most time when you have that many titles involved with your project, you don’t get the respect and that’s mainly because most people that star in their own films can’t act, I want people to understand first and foremost I am an actor before director , not the other way around, I had an incredible team consisting of 2 assistant directors 1 P.A and a script supervisor, they made sure I was on point with everything and they were upfront with me, I didn’t want a team that would kiss my ass, I wanted a team that would say “hey, your delivery was poor on that, you need to redo that part.” I loved it I loved being corrected when needed, that’ shows they had passion for it too, and I believe in doing it right the first time. This production took 3 months to shoot and it’ll be by the end of Feb or first week of March before its released. I have several distributors looking at it including MGM, Artisan /Lionsgate, BET, Canadian distributors, the list goes on, also a music video is being shot, which will likely air on BET as well, the paperwork is being discussed as we speak.

Heres a fun fact for you: This film along with the sequels and the other set of stories called the Assassin Chronicles which, Saga Tier falls under, is based on a series of dreams that I had.

What appealed to you most about the role? Was it the physical and martial arts aspects of it, or was it more character based?

Well the dreams were so intense that I had to write it out, everything about this film is appealing, I wish I could play as everyone in it, lol, naturally the martial arts appealed to me, but the story is so dark and intense, there are so many plot twists in this film that in all honesty, everyone is a suspect even down to the extras in it, the patron at the pool table could be an assassin. Every character in it has a rich and detailed background; it would be hard not to get drawn in to the story.

Have you ever been injured doing these action type roles?

No. I conditioned myself before and after the shoots.

So what was the budget on this film and how did you go about arranging the financing? Also, who were some of the people, companies, etc… that supported it?

The overall budget came through sponsorship from various corporations and businesses, the over all expenses came too roughly 1.5 million. I had a few individual donors who will remain anonymous, as far as corporations, we had Lowells restaurant, Breakers sports bar and grill, Long and Foster Realtor group, Strosnider Chevrolet, The Brick house Run, Superior Slitting, Lime Light and a couple of real wealthy homeowners who donated their properties.

When you were going through the writing process for this film,did you
find yourself thinking to yourself in various places, “Now how am I gonna
do that?” or “How can I make that happen and make it look good?” or did you just write and then worry about that stuff as it got closer to production?

Um, it was a little bit of both, I knew what I wanted and I kept everything in the realm of resources that I had, to be honest with you initially when I started writing this script, I only had 2 locations, and that was at my crib and at lead ladies house, the local papers did a interview with me about a movie production I was working on (XXX2) and pretty much from that, I started getting sponsors and what not. I know what I wanted to achieve, but because of lack of resources I had to dumb it down, but when the sponsors came through, I was able to expand the way I wanted. Having many credits to my name and being able to show the legitimacy of me being a actor really helped out when it came time to negotiate.

How difficult was it to find a cast that matched the people you envisioned
in your own mind as you wrote each part?

The only issue I had was that, there weren’t many Asians in my area, there were only a couple, so, I worked with what I had. As far as other roles, I had so many females come out for one part, that I created 6 new roles, 1 female in particular was so dynamic, that I created a whole scenario, because of her and it opened up opportunities for 5 other females, her part Is one of the surprise elements in this film. I had tons of extras, I had to replace one role due to health issues with one of my leads, but the one I got was way better than the original. All in all I was pretty satisfied, plus I got to work and train some of the ones that needed the help, needless to say, every actor in this film is on point to the “T”.

Did any of the parts change a bit in the end to match better with the actor or actress who ended up playing it?

The only part I had to tailor, was the lead asian in the film, he was too punk to do a fight scene, that I had to adjust his part for that particular scene, other than that everything remained the same, except I did add extra stuff in it. All my other actors and actresses were talented enough to do what I desired and then some.

It must be satisfying to have such total control over all the various aspects of a film project.

Extremely! However, I had to assistant directors and personal assistants that I respect, so I allowed them to have the necessary input.

What were some of the problems you ran into while making this
film. Technical problem, location problems, etc…

Locations and technical aspects were on point, the only problem I had was with the one asian actor and thankfully, I had the whole cast behind me and witnessed some of his childishness, I had roughly 46 people in this cast including extras and I only had one asshole I had to deal with, I’d say that’s pretty good odds. Wait ‘til Tier II. I’ll update you on this one and let you know when the trailer’s up.

Saga Tier is actually planned to be a series of films isn’t it?

Well its like this, there are 3 parts of Saga tier, then there are 3 parts of another set called Vagrant Heart, I won’t get into great detail about it but those 3 are under 1 volume titled the Assassin Chronicles. I have a total of 3 volumes worth of films. That’s all I can say right now, but I did copyright everything.

You’re working with Bobby Peoples on his new film entitled, For Thy Love. What’s that about and what kind of a part do you play?

I actually worked on the first rendition of it, not the one that he’s doing now, he revamped it, I did the original. I played as Michael the lead. The story is about a guy named Michael who, is struggling with his personal life, he is having problems with his girlfriend and also struggles with a minute drug problem, he has a brother that is always into trouble, it’s a decent story. I just didn’t have the time to work with him on the new one, as it would have been pretty cool to do it again.

I interviewed Bobby Peoples last month, and I know you’ve worked with Tony People’s on another film called The Devil’s Trick. What’s it like working with them? Is it more of a fun atmosphere than the hollywood type productions like XXX2 and HBO shows like Sex and the City?

I was originally slated to play lead in that, but that film is still in pre production, so whether if I am still working on it is unknown. I keep pretty busy these days with my projects, if time warrants it will still be likely. Peoples is good peoples, lol. He’s entertaining. As far as atmosphere wise, to be perfectly honest with you, I’m in the zone when I get on the sets, so it doesn’t matter whether if its indie or Hollywood, Now, don’t get it twisted working with people like Cube and Sarah Jessica Parker is a treat in itself, but in the end I’m still going to deliver, I was born for this baby.

Do you feel you do your best work in a more casual independent film type atmosphere or in the more rigid environment on a higher budget hollywood production?

I put my best in no matter what it is, but I find my best of the best coming out when I have creative control.

You have an amazing background including music, acting, military training, martial arts, and almost any sport you can think of. How do you find time to fit everything in?

I’m blessed that GOD has seen it fit for things to work in the time, where nothing conflicts with each other. Everything has its season.

Your career has covered a pretty wide variety of things including television, film and stage projects. Of the three, which do you get the most enjoyment and satisfaction from and what roles have you played that you’re the most proud of?

Film is most enjoyable for me, television is also fun because if you get slated for a series you get a constant flow of money and exposure, theatre is least enjoyable for me because its live and you cant have the errors and if so you have to be able to ad-lib almost seamlessly, I love to ad-lib but theatre is a lot of pressure for me, however I feel that every actor needs to do theatre at least a few times, because it teaches so much fundamentals and basic techniques, regardless if you have the natural talent or not theatre is essential, I have the natural talent, but you can always build on what you have, when I held auditions, people with theatre background had priority with me, cause I know what it teaches and I respect it.

I notice you worked in a Matthew Lesko commercial. For those that don’t know, he’s the weird guy who wears the crazy suits and sells books on how to get free money from the government. I just gotta ask. Is he as weird in person as he is in the commercials? He seems like a nice enough guy, but is that weirdness all for the cameras or was he always like that?

Matthew is a very interesting guy, he’s quirky no doubt, but he is one of the nicest and most humble people you’ll ever want to meet, I have been to his house, he drives a 89 gold Acura Legend with polka dots on it, he’s very down to earth, taller than I thought, I still call him once in a while.

Who in either Hollywood or the independent film arena would you really love to work with someday, and in what type of a role?

I would like to work with Samuel L Jackson, I feel he is so underrated, I’d like to play as his son or something like that and I would also like to work with Jaleel White, just because I think his talent gets overlooked anytime you can play a character so well that people see you as them that’s good, but when you can play 2 roles and you honestly see it as being 2 different people that’s true talent. Believe it or not, depending on the capitol we make off of this film, Jaleel may be in the sequel for Tier II, I have already spoken with his agent, so having him isn’t out of the realm of possibility, I won’t disclose his role just yet, but I go for talent, not names, no one starts off a celebrity, so I like looking for unknowns to make them known.

Do you feel that Hollywood has stagnated over the years, pumping out one film after another that seem to have all come from the same mold, or do you think that they’re still putting out good and original material?

I think a lot of films have stagnated, particularly with African Americans, which is why Saga Tier is the film that it is, I feel the most original films that come out of Hollywood, comes from the individual actors themselves, like Passion Of The Christ, although I feel that if you’re going to be historically correct about something be all the way with it and those of you who saw it no what I’m talking about, I still feel that Mel Gibson captured the essence of The Crucifixion. I think more can be done for originality and that’s why indie films are so sought after, wait til I get to Hollywood, the whole game is going to change.

Would you find it less satisfying as an actor to play a role that you know has been re-hashed in different forms millions of times in various Hollywood films, or would you look at it as a great opportunity to bring your own flavor to the role and put your own original spin on it so to speak?

I look at every opening as an opportunity to put your own flavor into it and if I was to do a rehashed role, it would be negotiated before accepting the role, that I can add a little bit of Eli Harris in it, within reason of course.

What’s next on the agenda for you? Got any other films or shows coming out soon or that you’re scheduled to start work on?

I am working on getting the first Tier out, we are also working on a music video for the film, I suspect Tier II will start casting in May, also a lot of other productions are coming to the Philly area, so we’ll see, but I’m focused on my projects at the moment in the words of my Camera man Hugh Hannah “until my next project, I’m still on a shoe string budget”

Is there anything else you’d like to mention before we wrap this up?

Yea, I am trying to change the way people see Independent Films, there are a lot of directors that are half assing and they use their title as director to score booty and it gives a bad image to good directors like Bobby Peoples, myself and others. I really wanted to step out from the normal African American genre of films and make something that was mind blowing, when I announced this film people thought its going to be just a black film, but I had so many ethnicities in this film and leads that it was unreal, The first lead Villain is Italian, the second is Asian, there are hidden elements in the film that has females in power. I strongly believe in, if you’re going to do something, do it right or to the best of your ability, and its ok to ask for help, nothing irritates me more than a lazy half stepper. I also strongly believe in integrity so I take people on their word, I don’t particularly care for liars or people that don’t hold up their end of a bargain. There are too many Francis’s in the film world, not enough Samuel L’s. My website for the film is currently under construction but you can see the poster on http://oxity.com/sagatier and you can see my film and television credits on IMDB. Also, you can check out my personal site. And last but not least, there’s my yahoo group. Stay strong and encouraged and support all indie film directors, Indie’s will be the wave of the future, the new Hollywood.