Shreco Bakari is one of those filmmakers that’s going places, not because he was born into privilege or has had a lot handed to him. No, it’s because like so many in the independent film world, he has a drive to create and do so in a way that pushes boundaries.
I spoke to the out gay filmmaker who is also a fourth grade teacher as part of our Horror Pride Month series, and like so many, it was important to start at the beginning.
“I became a horror fan when I was around five years old,” he told me. “My grandparents got me into it sort of indirectly. My first horror film I ever watched was Pet Sematary and it scared the hell out of me. From there, I was frightened but I was intrigued. Like, how do they make this scary? I want to watch something else scarier.”
Eventually he did, and he, like many others, has come to blame the miniseries based on Stephen King’s IT for his coulrophobia. He describes seeing the film as being traumatic, but also admits the trauma did not keep him from seeking out more.
At one point, he recalls hearing about the film Parents, and when his mother forbade him from watching it, he decided to sneak around and see it anyway.
“When I saw it, I was freaked out by it and I wouldn’t even look at my parents,” Bakari recalls laughing. “So my mom finally comes in my room and asks me what’s wrong and I told her I watched it and she yells ‘I told you not to watch that damn movie!'”
The 27 year old grew up in the 90s but it was 80s slashers that ultimately called to him and he points to the work of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper saying he wasn’t as interested in what was new while he was growing up. He was more interested in how we got to where we were.
“The slasher brings more terror to me,” he admitted. “Someone behind a mask could be anyone. Your mom, your dad, your brother or sister. It could be anyone you know! Leatherface scared me because parts of it were supposedly based on true events. I can hear a chainsaw rev up in a haunted house and I will flip out!”
A lot of us love horror movies, but it takes something more to decide to make them, and Bakari recalls that the inspiration came after a series of rejected auditions following his 2014 stint on MTV’s Million Dollar Maze Runner.
The jobs weren’t happening and he could not figure out why. Feedback was basically non-existent and his frustration grew to the breaking point when the thought finally occurred to him that he should make his own movies.
“Keep in mind I didn’t know shit about making movies,” he said. “Cameras, writing, how to produce, all of that was a new idea to me, but it was like something snapped inside me. I remember what a theater teacher told us in school. If you’re not getting the opportunities you think you deserve, then maybe you should create your own opportunities.”
And that’s exactly what he did. Over the course of three years, he founded Foreman Empire Productions and began writing and producing his own work. By 2018, he had finished his first feature, The Ominous Project and had submitted it to the Sunshine City Film Festival in St. Petersburg, Florida.
“I will never forget getting that email on Christmas Day,” Bakari said. “It said we were one of three U.S. based feature films selected and the only horror film selected for the festival. We went to festival and received their Audience Choice Award and they told us we were the first horror film to do that. It was crazy!”
The Ominous Project is continuing its festival run and has currently been accepted into seven festivals with more on the way, but Bakari isn’t one to sit on his laurels so to speak. He’s already planning new projects and for him, diversity and inclusion isn’t an option, it’s a necessity.
In fact, he’s so committed to bringing in new voices and new experiences to the films that he creates that he’s actually the only man on staff at his production company, a decision for which he’s received no end of scrutiny and grief from outsiders.
“A lot of people think it was a stupid decision, but that’s on them. Diversity is so important right now in the entertainment industry because a lot of queer people, women, and people of color don’t get the representation they deserve,” he explained. “Until diversity is at the forefront, they deserve every opportunity. A lot of people don’t agree, but you’re crazy if you think people are going to sit around and applaud every decision you make and especially when you’re trying to do something different.”
From some men, this might sound like lip service, but one needs to do is spend a half hour chatting with Shreco Bakari to know that he believes in what he’s saying and doing.
It’s exactly this kind of passion that will spur him forward because, outside of watching the movies he saw and loved as a child, Bakari simply does not believe in looking back.