I SEE U, Episode 90: More Than Meets The Eye with Transformers Director Steven Caple, Jr.

Acclaimed filmmaker Steven Caple, Jr., is becoming one of the most sought-after directors in the business, but he’s quick to acknowledge the lack of Black executive decision-makers inside Hollywood front offices when it comes to building diverse representation and fostering creative freedom in storytelling.


Stephen Caple Jr., Center - Anthony Ramos, Tobe Nwigwe and Stephen Caple Jr.


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Award-winning film director, Steven Caple Jr., is fresh off his summer box office success with Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. Interestingly enough, he doesn't have a massive portfolio of blockbuster films under his belt. But with this accomplishment for a major Transformers franchise comes a tremendous responsibility for an incredibly gifted, Black filmmaker in the competitive world of cinema. Join us as host Eddie Robinson chats candidly with acclaimed film and television director, producer and screenwriter, Steven Caple, Jr. The Cleveland, Ohio-native calls his unguarded chat with I SEE U: "therapy—but in a good way." He dives deep into his own journey of what led him to pursue filmmaking as a career. The first generation college graduate also shares insight into his own unique style of visual storytelling and what he believes to be actual road blocks within the industry for directors of color.

Full Transcript

Eddie Robinson: He’s a young filmmaker that’s quickly becoming one of the most sought after directors in the industry. And he doesn’t have a massive backlog of film and TV projects in his portfolio. But he’s managed to capture box office momentum in creating powerful storylines and layered characters with an artistic eye unlike any other.

Steven Caple, Jr.: It’s seeing that they have passion behind where they wanted to go next. And that was like, oh, and then that filmmaker inside of me was like, I love that. I don’t want to just make a sequel. I want to put my stamp on it.

Eddie Robinson: I’m Eddie Robinson and stay tuned as we chat unguarded with award winning filmmaker, Steven Caple, Jr.

Fresh off his summer blockbuster, Transformers Rise of the Beasts. He reveals the challenges of navigating a competitive film industry. When there’s a lack of black executives in Hollywood, what roadblocks exist for directors of color? Oh yeah. I feel you. We hear you. I SEE U.

You’re listening to I SEE U. I’m your host, Eddie Robinson.

He’s one of the most sought after, incredibly gifted film directors right now. And to be quite honest with you, he doesn’t have an enormous portfolio of big box office feature films to refer to. He directed Creed II, starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone. But prior to that, his feature film debut premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016. The Land.

Which was acquired by IFC films. His latest project of the summer of 2023 had everyone going insane, as the audience certainly responded positively in a big way, with the success of Transformers Rise of the Beasts. Once again he dove head first into another franchise of films. The Transformers, in which right now, there are a total of about seven of them. With the adrenaline pushing director, Michael Bay, directing the first five films inside the series. But what drew me into Our special guest, was a feature that he directed early into his career. It was one of his very first projects. A film short which actually won HBO’s short film competition in 2013. His student film, A Different Tree, put him on the map.

And solidified himself as someone with remarkable technique. And an extraordinary ability to tell an interesting narrative, packed with character development and intense emotion. We’ll share more about that film short later in our episode, but right now… I see you as we’re so grateful to have with us acclaimed film director, producer, screenwriter, and new dad, Steven Caple, Jr. Steven, thank you so much for being a guest on I SEE U.

Steven Caple, Jr.: Oh my God. Thank you for having me. Such an honor.

Eddie Robinson: And new daddom, uh, that’s fantastic. You know, you’ve got a few months with the young one underneath your belt. How does it feel to be a new dad? Congratulations are in.

Steven Caple, Jr.: Thank you. It hasn’t even a few months yet.

That’s how fresh it’s been. It’s probably just a little over one month. It’s, it’s beautiful, man. We had a home birth, man. And so like it was all natural. And I start there because, like, just that whole birthing process, like, created a different connection between my wife and I, um, even a stronger one. I thought we were tight beforehand, but now that it’s after going through labor and delivering this little one, her name is Story.

It’s been beautiful. You know, we’ve still learning a lot, you know, it’s been tough trying to finish the film itself, Transformers, and at the same time, give life and be there and be present for our newborn baby and nest and like all the little details, man, it’s been really cool.

Eddie Robinson: Speaking of children, you’re talking to a human being who grew up watching cartoons and who grew up on Transformers.

I owned. Only about two or three figurines. One of them being Optimus Prime, but my parents weren’t making much money. So I, you know, and those things were expensive. You know what I’m saying? They were expensive. So I had to settle for like two or three of the vehicular robots. And I recall the energy of what that animated series brought to the table.

Because I remember when I first started watching the Transformers cartoon, the film Terminator blew me away. And then maybe a couple of years later, Aliens with Sigourney Weaver. And so by the time I, you know, my junior year in high school, you know, I was like, computer vehicular robot mesmerized.

And I rushed to computer programming classes because Transformers really opened my eyes to that robotic, hypnotic vibe of creativity. Tell us, how does it feel? A man of color who’s representing such a huge franchise. What does this moment mean to you, Steven?

Steven Caple, Jr.: It means a lot. I mean, just to bring it back to that point, like your first interaction with Transformers is usually when you’re a child, right?

And I’m on that same boat. I did not have the toys growing up. Those weren’t the first, that wasn’t my first introduction. I couldn’t, I couldn’t afford it. My mom did not have the toys laid out for me. Of course, one of my stall Transformers was at a friend’s house and it was the movie, so I missed all the, like the cartoons beforehand.

I saw the animated film. On VHS tape and I remember at first just being attracted to the colors because it was super bright and then I didn’t know what Transformers really was. And then when I dove into it, I just remember like feeling a certain way of watching as a kid, like the emotions, you know, I watched other cartoons and you’re laughing and this is goofy, but I was like.

I started getting eaten in the beginning. People are robots are dying and like your lead actor prime is dying and I’m like, whoa, this is heavy, you know, and after that, then I started to watch all the series and things like that. I’m not ever known. I was going to be a movie director one and or directed Transformers film, you know, so it’s a little bit surreal for me because I kind of grew up with the franchises or different decades, the 80s and 90s and then the 2000s when they did live action.

And to your point, like, I was in college, 06, 07, when he made the first live action film with Michael Bay. And I was like, this thing is amazing. We weren’t on screen, to your point, in terms of representation of who we were. We had Bernie Mac, that was kind of like, in the background, me. Rest in power, the legend, the GOAT, you know, comedy.

You know, he had a scene that he just stole, you know, basically. Introducing the main character to Bumblebee in the car dealership.

And like, but we weren’t really present present, but I knew it was something cool as hell, whatever I was witnessing and it still had that, like that scope and action, but yet this visceral feeling like this, this connection and that was the first one. And I was in college. And then after that, man, uh, I became, I started taking filmmaking really seriously in my first year of college.

I got to USC film school. And honestly, I think I kind of spoke Transformers into existence like this whole idea. I remember being in film school. It’s only like five six black students per semester You know and be honest and been rat in the grad program They only allow like at that point of like maybe 60 students per year So it was very hard to get into and I got into the school and a friend of mine named Bernie He’s a Mexican guy from East LA Bernard.

He’s a East Los guy And he was like, and I’m from Cleveland, Ohio. So me living in USC, I didn’t know anybody. He’s one of the first people I befriended, one of the very first people I befriended. And he was like, Hey, you want to come over to East LA? I can show you my neighborhood. Matter of fact, I’m doing this program for a school where I’m career day.

And then we went to career day, 22 years old. I’m talking to these students in East Los Angeles, predominantly Black and Mexican, Black and brown. And I’m telling them, yeah, we’re a film school. We learn in technical stuff. And. Giving them all the terms I’m telling everything was like going over their head.

They did not care at a certain point I don’t know why I did it Maybe because I felt like I was losing a student I was like, yeah, and I directed and this guy produced Transformers and new ones coming out. I lied to the kids The kids went ballistic, man. I’m talking about like, What?! They went insane. I started to laugh because I didn’t go to the school.

I didn’t know about it here. I’m 21, 22 years old, right? But my, my friend, he’s older than me, Bernie, who was in there, he’s like, Oh my God, he just lied to the students. And the students hands were over. I started to raise, The principal was sitting in the back of the classroom like, What the hell are these two young dudes doing in front of my class?

And I just, I just did it because I felt like the students were bored. And they started asking all these intriguing questions like, How do you make the robots real? How do you talk to the humans? At that moment, Transformers 3 was just about to be released in theaters. I think it was 2011 ish. Man, it was just about to be released, and they thought we did the film, man.

I apologize to the kids now, but I felt like I spoke it into existence. And that was me a fan, but two, I just kind of knew what would like, gauge their attention. Never did I have it in the foresight that I would actually direct and actually Bernie, the guy I went to the, to the thing with, who went to USC with me, he’s a producer on Transformers Rise of the Beast.

Co producer, I kid you not. We came up together and I still have these surreal moments, man. Like I think seeing how those kids reacted, I still react that time and time again, like I had a moment like that this morning, our girl, Dominique Fishback was on CBS morning. She’s a black woman.

Did not have that in Transformers. We rarely have it in, you know, these big action pillars anyway, you know, where you’re about to travel across the world, big scope in like, just to be part of that, just to like help build the foundation, a platform for that.

For someone like her to shine is amazing, man. I mean, you have these moments. She sent me a photo just now of her in Times Square with her hands up looking at the big billboard with her face on it. And I’m like, and this is what it’s all about. So I have those like moments where I become a kid or, you know, uh, the level of importance of what we’re doing.

There’s, they’re spread out. Like they’re not every day. I can’t lie to you and say every day I’m thinking about it. I’m not like the artist kicks into me, the family man, the brother. Now the father, right. All those things I’m thinking about and we’re doing a production and then, you know, there’s moments where it gets hard and we just have to huddle.

Whether it be me, Dominique, Anthony Ramos, and be like, Hey, we’ve never been here before. We’re on a huge platform, 200 something million dollar movie. Let’s lock in. We got to show the world that we are, we’re meant to be here. And we kick that on, go do what we got to do. Then we might need that same re up two weeks later. You know.

Eddie Robinson: It’s I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson here speaking with Cleveland native Steven Caple, Jr.. He’s the film director of the summer blockbuster hit of 2023 Transformers Rise of the Beasts. It appears as if intimidation is your middle name, Steven. I mean, you had the nerve, the audacity to work on a Creed film sequel.

Part of a Rocky phenomenon, a project that has a foundation rooted on a 1976 origin story and then grew from there. And then with Michael Bay directing the first five films of the Transformers and then a reboot here with Rise of the Beasts. I mean, how have you been able to handle the pressure of being this fresh, 30 something filmmaker. It’s phenomenal.

Steven Caple, Jr.: That’s wild. Uh, when you put it that way, I do have a few gray hairs coming from all the way around here. I think maybe you want one.

Eddie Robinson: Oh!

Steven Caple, Jr.: Thinning a little bit now. You know, it’s like, it’s really kicking in, you know. Uh, I don’t, I don’t… No, I guess going into these projects, I try not to think about the pressure, you know, first again, it’s, it’s weird.

I’m gonna say it’s the kid in me first, right? It’s the, it’s the kid who loves cinema. It’s the kid who’s like, I love to sit in a movie theater and gain a crazy experience. So when stepping into Creed, you know, I, at first I said, no, at first I said, I don’t want to do the project because. Ryan did a great job in Creed 1.

One of those to touch it. I can, you can end it here. You don’t need a Creed 2. Rocky almost died. Like, where are we going to go next? And it wasn’t until like talking to Mike B, talking to Ryan, talking to Tessa, talking to Sly. It’s seeing that they have passion behind where they wanted to go next. And now it’s like, Oh, and then that filmmaker inside of me was like, I love that.

I don’t want to just make a sequel. I want to put my stamp on it. And not only that I want to make it great. And I just, when I heard that no one was trying to chase the money, so to speak, meaning like Mike wasn’t, I want to do a Creed II , because the paycheck is bigger than the first one. No, he was like, dude, the legacy of Creed, Adonis, the character.

And like, where could we take him? Where haven’t we seen us? X, Y, you start to step into that and he’s just come off of Killmonger, right? He could have easily been like, Hey man, I want to collect the check. But he wasn’t, he was like, I want to make this really good. To the point where I was like, Hey, I think we’ll make this special if the villains weren’t like the villains that you saw before they had dimension and he was like, I’m for it again, a movie star wouldn’t say, yes, I’m for a movie star would say they don’t need dimension.

They’re the bad guys. I’m the hero. Let’s go get this. Let’s go get paid. He was on some like, no, let’s tell this story. And that became easier. Now when making a movie, you have people like Sly or in this particular case, make it transform transformers, Michael Bay. Where you go, hey, how did you do this really quickly?

Like what was that? Like the robots are 30 foot tall. The actors aren’t connecting with the robots that are there. Like, is there any secrets? Right? Or something like that. You just kind of like pick their brains. Same with Sly. Sly, how do you condense a fight or a round? You know, a round is three minutes long, but really we gotta show it in 30 seconds.

Like, what’s the cheat code? You know, so you’re trying to like go through that, um, go through those moments, you know, where you ask for advice, because thankfully they’re present, they’re alive, and honestly, I’m a huge collaborator. So I’m not afraid to ask those. One, collaborate, but two, ask those who’ve done it before, uh, for advice.

Especially when I’m doing huge learning curves like Transformers. I never shot robots that weren’t present, and neither have the actors been on set with With non-actors, meaning no actors at all. So, uh, we had to learn a lot. We had to learn quickly.

And I think the pressure, it’s always fun to feel that little burn, that little fire. You know, cause now it’s challenging for you to do your best. Like, you’re like, now I really gotta kick it up a notch. I can’t be lazy. I can’t be complacent. And as a, as a Black director, you’re like, I can’t drop the ball.

Right. It’s like, you know, it was like, we got to show up in, uh, in that. And I had conversations like that with a lot of my peers and colleagues. I mean, everyone from, you know, Ryan Coogler, Tommy Oliver, Shaka King. Like all these guys are close friends of mine. Reinaldo Green, who did King Richard.

All these are brothers. They’re not like. Like we’ve, we’ve created sort of like this Lena Waithe, like we can all hit each other up and go, Hey, I need advice. Hey, how, and everyone has that same conversation where like the spotlight is on us. We got to show up. We got to be professional, but we got to knock it out the park and sometimes we’ve got to do it for less than the other man had. So we really have to put it together and um, you learn.

Eddie Robinson: And that’s an interesting concept because Is Hollywood being more open? You know, what’s going on? Because once upon a time, it was painful to try to get anything of color behind the scene, much less to get in front of the camera. But since Black Panther, we’ve seen an increase of Black directors in Hollywood.

How does it, you know, how does it feel, first and foremost, to see more representation in the director’s chair? And then secondly, What’s going on? What, what, what is Hollywood saying? Do you feel, we’ll, we’ll continue to see more directors of color in Hollywood? Are there still roadblocks?

Steven Caple, Jr.: There’s, there’s always gonna be roadblocks, I think, especially for us.

Uh, well, well the answer to the first part, I think that a lot comes into play, man. I think, uh, the Spike Lees, the John Singletons, the Antoine Fuquas the F. Gary Grays, uh, the Malcolm Lees, like all these individuals that were before me paved the way. Like honestly, like in terms of trying, you know, to, to Keenan, Ivory Wayne’s, I’d even go to say, you know what I mean?

Like they’ve all done it themselves, right? In terms of building the audience and saying we’re here. Robert Townsend. Well, I got a chance to meet a couple of years ago. These are all legends to me, you know, different genres, right? Different types of movies, but you’ve created, you’ve reached the audience.

And we show up to movie theaters and we enjoy movies from all different ranges. And so I have to say, yes, there is the Hollywood is more open, but we’ve always been here. I will say that like we’ve always been here and I would not be here if it weren’t for a bill individual. Now you look up 2020, 2020, 2010, 2011.

You have the Reinaldo Green, his brother Rashad Ernesto Green, the Ryan Coogler, the Shaka Kings, who made his first feature in 2013. Like, just doing my research and knowing all these people. What else comes about that is social media, right? So now we can go viral, right? Now everyone can say, okay, there’s Black Panther, and they can say, Oh, we don’t know what Black Panther’s gonna hit.

Look at the internet, look at any award show, look at everybody going Wakanda forever, like, We’ve, it’s a trend, it is there and it’s, it’s, it’s white, black, it’s people across the world who are now looking up to Chadwick Rest in Power, right? In Black Panther, T’Challa. We feel like you can’t deny it, right?

So now with that, I think there has some things have evolved. You know, in terms of how to reach an audience and now you can’t deny it. So now, yeah, you have to look for, there’s a lot of content out there in general, created by Black creators a lot, and there’s a lot of actors and talent out there that can provide, you know, and show up.

And so now I think it’s just a collaboration of that. And I think honestly, yes, I do think studios are opening their eyes more. Right. But there are still barriers when trying to step into the studio world. There’s still hurdles because not every studio is fully caught up. They’re still learning right.

And how to get around it. Then you see really good execs on projects and creative execs on projects who know story, whether black, white, or brown. They know story, right? They know who’s a talent, you know, in terms of actors. They know who’s a great director or filmmaker and it’s their job to like put it together.

They’re going through their own battles inside, right? And they’re like, I’m pretty sure they’re having to play a game to a certain point, playing politics, A. K. A. House of Cards, to try to figure out a way to maneuver. To get me up there or to get Ryan up there or to get anyone. So a lot of these guys who’ve been on the other side, have been around for years before they got a chance to sit at the table.

When they are, they’re like, Hey, Steven, we believe in you. Whether it be anywhere, you know what I mean? It’s like come through pitch your story. I’m advocating for you. I’m at, I’m going to give them my why. Right. And so like I’ve had that plenty of times with each project and it is important. But in terms of the exact hurdles they’re going through, I don’t know fully, you know, I think that’s one that I would love.

If you have that podcast or that I’m tuning in to hear where I’ll go broke, you know, and barriers because there’s a lot, but I will say it helps a lot. Cause now you’re in a room, you could be on a zoom call. Right. And it’s. Like you’re the only black race there. And then all of a sudden you see someone else pop up or one exact.

And now when you state your pitch, someone’s like, well, I don’t know. You got somebody on the other end being like, well, this is the right comp, or this is the right way to market this movie, or this is the right sort of like X, Y, Z. And so. You’re not alone, you know, and that helps a lot.

Eddie Robinson: Coming up, we continue our unguarded chat with the award winning director, Steven Caple, Jr. He shares with us what went down in a heated moment when tensions were high during test screenings of Creed II. What does it take for someone who’s young? and Black to really make it in this extremely competitive film industry.

I’m Eddie Robinson. Don’t move more of our compelling conversation with film director, Steven Caple, Jr. When I SEE U returns. Right after this.

If you’re enjoying this program, please be sure to subscribe to our podcast. I see you with Eddie Robinson. You can hear all the past episodes and be notified when new episodes are released. Also, please take a minute to give us a review or comment. We love getting feedback from our listeners.

This is I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson. And we’re thrilled to have with us talented young, award winning filmmaker Steven Caple, Jr. Forbes already put him on a 30 under 30 list back in 2018. Steven’s best known work to date is the latest Transformers film, Rise of the Beasts, which did remarkably well in theaters and on streaming services around the country.

We continue our chat with the amazing young film director, Steven Caple, Jr., who’s calling us from his home in California. We recently had actor Russell Hornsby on the show and he mentioned to us an incident about how he wanted to direct a project that he was working on as an actor. The producers were like, sure, you know, sounds cool, but you’ll need to run this by the show runners.

Well, the show runners took him out to dinner and just as the water arrived on the table, this is Russell’s words.

Now, you know, talent and energy level and the product are starting to speak for themselves, right? More and more opportunities are beginning to show their face.

More stories are starting to be told with more creatives providing those opportunities. Steven, can you share with us an incident or two where it continues to stay with you mentally? Perhaps it was discriminatory or racist or whatever, but a moment that had you thinking like, wait, what did he just say to me?

You know, and, and how did you react or respond to that incident?

Steven Caple, Jr.: It’s funny, like I can, I can, it can go both ways. Like, ah,

Eddie Robinson: Yeah, because some people use it as a motivation, right? Some people…

Steven Caple, Jr.: Yeah I use everything for motivation, right? And what I mean by that is like, All right, you have the incident where like, when we’re making something like Creed II, there was an ending I was really fighting for and one that the power that may be, I’m gonna say, didn’t like, per se, right?

But we’re about to screen test the film, and there was a big argument of like, changing the ending up, changing the ending ups even, and there were comments being made that was very much like, well, legally, I have the right to showcase my cut of the movie. Before we could even make any changes. So like test screening coming up, we should be able to check it out.

But there was a comment made in a room at one point that was like, you know, who do you think you are type of vibe? Because I was fighting for it so hard. Right. I was like, I’m definitely fighting for it. And, uh, I know it’s a strong ending. I’m like, I’m gonna hit up one of the producers who is now Ryan Googler and Mike, right?

So you can have people like, all right, now it’s us, right? And at the moment we’re making an MGM, there weren’t any black execs on our project. So it was literally like us versus like. Them at a certain moment and it was what comment made like who do you think you are, you know? It wasn’t any racial tension, but you’re like, you know, it’s one of those you’re young.

You’re black we’ve been in this for a while and you’re like ah something feels off with trying to push this project through and It was something along the lines of like you’re not exactly like Martin Scorsese You’re not Martin Scorsese, right? Cause I was, I don’t have Final Cut, right? That’s where they’re going for.

Mind you, I love Martin Scorsese’s work. He’s actually one of my favorite directors. And I was just like, damn, I’m not Martin Scorsese, right? So this is like in the middle of a week. I remember cause it went on for a while, but I was really dying for this preview to happen. And we did the preview, and I think probably like the day of the preview, Mike has showed up, he’s finished shooting, right, to support me, right, and be like, yo, this is the ending we, we want, right, so I have all the power I can have, because I was coming off of one movie before this, you know what I mean, I think that’s part of the reason, you’re doing an all independent film, The Land, which was like, dude, how much did you make that for, barely nothing, the Cleveland joint, like, like.

And then I’m over here like, no, I’m like, this is how the ending is going to be with Sylvester Stallone and, you know, Mike B. Ok like, this is how I want the ending to be. And so that was one scenario where I felt like it was, it was the young bull, like really trying to like fight this through. And, um, we did the screening and right off the rip, everyone would berserk towards the ending, like the audience cheers and the whole nine.

And, and the score was like off the roof for the test screening to where that person, you know, and his crew. Just basically was like nodded her head and walked away and they knew what it was. It wasn’t, it wasn’t anything more gratifying than that. He didn’t have to say anything. I think probably the biggest slap in the face for me to like continue on was, you know, after the movie was released, the movie did really well.

I had another project that was up for a bidding war and this studio really wanted the project and I was like, I’m not going there with them. You know what I mean? And they were pissed. They’re like, wait, what? We gave you the shot. And I’m like, I’m not Martin Scorsese. You know, it was right back in my head. And I was like, I actually.

Know some people that actually believe in the project and my voice and what I want to do But that was one incident where you felt the layers of it, you know But no one would directly say it and then the other incident I would say it goes the other way too Like these kind of incidents right where where it happens to a Black filmmaker that can have an effect be and I haven’t done this Where you know?

Then we have that negative energy going to another filmmaker who’s trying to come up and that’s where my other story was gonna go The first time I actually felt it, felt it, really enough, and I hope I don’t get emotional thinking about it, was in Cleveland, and I was in Cleveland, Ohio, and I was just about to move to, uh, LA. to go to USC, and I remember there was this woman, this professor at one of the schools I used to, it was a community college, uh, Tri C, where I used to go every summer to take a class, only because they give you free equipment. After you take the class, you get to work on short films. I’m like, I’m gonna go every summer.

I was going to a really prestigious, like, Baltimore’s college, 40 grand a year, you know, predominantly white school. And then I was going to the hood community college, Tri C to go get their camera equipment every summer. You know what I mean? It’s cause I was like, I couldn’t get the equipment here. So I’m gonna go now, go get the equipment here.

And I wanted to keep filming right in this program, there was a woman there who ran this, I’m not gonna say any names. She, she ran this program, a professor and also was in charge of equipment. And I remember she had a little experience in the industry, right? I think it was as assistant director and a few other things, but I could tell she always wanted to be a filmmaker.

So I got to USC and I was about to leave Cleveland, Ohio, and I gave this woman a DVD of a short film I did. And like, I’m literally packing my things up, getting ready to leave. And I went and she lived next door from me, right? We both were living in the hood. I went next door, gave the DVD to her, went back to my house.

And my mom was really excited. She went outside and talked to our neighbor and I saw them kind of bickering. Right. And my uncle was outside, but it was a little tension there. Right. And I finished packing and my mom, I sell this. This is a black woman. Right. And she came up, my mom’s like, she has some nerve to say, like, just because you’re going to LA, don’t think you’re going to make it like X, Y, Z.

And it was very much on some, like, she was sharing her experience with, like, with me and then like, and a part of me, like, I didn’t know how to take it. Like at that moment, I was like, what’s the word of hates coming from? Right? Like I’m trying to go pursue. Like, it didn’t feel like the message I wanted to hear when packing my bags and trying to head out to LA.

You know, in hindsight, I could take it now as a version of like, you know, prepare yourself, you know, which I don’t think was the case. I don’t think that was that, that wasn’t the case. But like at that moment, like now looking at it at 30 something years old, when I was like 21 at the time, like I can use it as motivation.

But like now going through these hurdles, you can understand how someone could then go back home or not make it and go like, Hollywood ain’t it, LA ain’t it, like they don’t want us out there, like da da da, spread all that negativity and like, you know, you could build a roadblock right there before even someone steps out the gate, you already have that one big Wall in front of you and trying to get across that, you know, could be tough man.

So anybody out there, you’ll never hear that come from my mouth. Dream big, go big. If I failed at it, you may succeed at it, you know, but. I haven’t talked to her since, you know. How interesting. The story just came out of nowhere. I haven’t even shared the story with anybody.

Eddie Robinson: And, and it sounds like Cleveland, Ohio really did shape you, mold you into the content creator that you are.

You know, what was it like growing up in Ohio?

Steven Caple, Jr.: Oh man, it was, everyday was an adventure. Like, my mom had a camcorder and I would make movies and stuff. Literally age 10, age 11 with my cousins outside. And I would take that camcorder and go to the boondocks. I would go to the lake. I would go to these piers.

I would go to wherever the hell the city, these broken down warehouses we would sneak into and create, but we were just having fun. Like my childhood was, it was like, you didn’t know you were poor until you went to like, I don’t know, college, late high school, college, you know? Cause I was just like, I was having fun the whole time.

Like, you know, it was like, I just wanted to. You know, it wasn’t until later in life where like, oh damn, I need a car or you need these other things. But until then, you know, which I have to say was probably 15, 16 when I started to actually work. I worked at Burger King, Kmart, and Famous Footwear. I had three jobs in high school, which is crazy.

And played on a basketball team. But at that time, you know, it was just fun. That’s what I remember the most. Like, I think that’s what sparked, like, the creative engine. Was always going out there and using your imagination how to create fun. And like, you know, I think that kind of carried over to… Filmmaking, you know, when I’m on set, I get that same energy that I did when I was 11 years old, being like, you get your bike, you get your bike, your uncle got wood, you got tools, let’s build a clubhouse on top of it, knowing no idea how to build a clubhouse, let’s build a clubhouse or a treehouse on top of X, Y, Z, like that was us and, you know, we saw in the movies and we decided to do it outside.

Like that was our, that was my childhood mostly.

Eddie Robinson: You’re listening to I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson. We’re chatting with the remarkably talented Steven Caple, Jr. A film and television director who’s coming off some incredible success with his latest project, Transformers Rise of the Beasts. What is it about your visual landscape, your voice, Steven, your eye in storytelling that, you know, you’re trying to convey or present to audiences.

What’s the Steven Caple, Jr. aesthetic?

Steven Caple, Jr.: Oh, that’s a great question. Uh, I’ve always thought like, dude, just a level of honesty to my work. You know, whether it be my first film, The Land, The Land, whether it be Creed II up into franchise and when in Transformers, you know, I think what people are seeing and watching it, you’re going to get this lot of action, a lot of scope, but there’s this groundedness, right?

There’s like this simple intimacy that like, I kind of bring to all my projects, you know, that I feel like it’s genuinely me. You know, and it’s usually shot that way as well, you know, so in the highlight of like, you know, Transformers being in Peru on top of Machu Picchu when sunlight hitting you, you’re going to have them seen in Brooklyn, you know, in a small apartment with a little kid and his brother and the light is dim.

I feel like that’s just kind of like part of me as a person that I, I don’t know how, but somehow it was just poured into every project that I’ve sort of done, you know. And I think in Creed II, it kind of like, the Dragos a little bit. Like, I think that’s why people slide it with them. Also had a little bit of me in there.

I had a little bit of me and my dad, our storyline. We were clashing when I was growing up. He wanted me to be a basketball player. And I was like, it’s not working. You know, I’m, I’m an artist. And he was like, uh, you know, I want to say a failed one. He had his successes, but you know, we had beef because of that.

So like throughout every story, there’s just a piece of me in each one. So I think people can go on films expecting that. Aesthetically, I always try to step up the genre, so whether it’s boxing, sports drama. I’m adding a little bit of poetry to it. Whether it’s The Land, the skateboarding is going to be shot a little differently than your other films.

And in this case, it’s action sequences. And you know, we just want to see longer takes. Everyone’s going crazy in our, our trailer with one of these ending shots where you see everybody fighting at the end of this volcano. That thing that shots like that, like I feel like I bring a level of poetry to everything that I do just a bit, but I’ll step in overboard, but I love dabbling in genres.

So I think the big thing people are going to say about me when it’s all said and done is I. Done a little bit of everything. Like I love the LeBron James of it all. Right. Whereas like, I want to be great at assist. I want to be great at, you know, shooting the ball when I need to, I want to be great at score.

Like I want to try to have that in my repertoire, you know, I want to be able to, I am waiting for my next horror movie. I want to do a horror movie. I want to do a biopic. Like I don’t just want to do any dramas and I don’t just want to do Transformer films. I want it. If I could see, you know, how I can play in each genre, uh, cause I was motivated as a young filmmaker and influenced by famous directors.

Eddie Robinson: In my preparation to connect with you, I got pretty emotional watching a short film of yours. Uh, you talked earlier about the, the emotional, the, the resonates. A Different Tree. And that features a young actress by the name of Morgan Ashley, an actress, uh, Tracie Thoms. And a different tree, for those who are listening, tells the story of an eight year old girl whose class assignment is to create a family tree and show it to the class.

But she goes on this journey to try and find, if not build, a relationship with her absent father. And it hits home for me because my child was born through surrogacy where the egg donor is anonymous. So, you know, I am in a situation now raising a son without a mother.

But… It hit home when I saw that featurette, and I really do want to thank you. You would think, you know, the action and the suspense and the thriller and the mayhem of Rise Of The Beasts and all that is intense, but it’s those little miniature emotional moments that really, really resonate with certain people.

And I do believe that that. It says a lot about you as a director, a lot about you as storytelling and the visionary that you truly are. So thank you.

Steven Caple, Jr.: No, thank you for that. I appreciate it. I think to your point in the question you asked before, like that feeling you capture or I captured and we captured it in A Different Tree that is resonating with folks is something that I try to bring to each thing when you’re talking about what’s the ingredient that represents me.

That signal was interesting because that was a really, I haven’t talked about this short in a very long time. But like what I do remember the most, uh, the, the ending, you know, with the little girl, this tree, I have to fill out a family tree. It just was like, it was written by this woman named Victoria Rose who gone through that same experience.

We didn’t know her father. For me, I knew my dad, but he was in and out of our lives, me and my sister’s life. And so for me, I was like, damn, I’m to resonate to something specifically. I remember father’s a card, you know, and being like, I don’t know how to. Like, I don’t want to even write a Father’s Day card in class because he just wasn’t around, but the school, everyone’s not thinking of that, right?

Everyone’s like, you guys have the curriculum at home, this is what we’re doing, the curriculum’s this, and now, and I’m like, no, you have to readjust. Everyone’s life and background is different, and you’re trying to fit us into this box that we were, and so like, when creating that story, I remember at the end of the film, originally when it was written, Because the school didn’t want a sad ending.

They, they had, I’m always arguing with endings, by the way. You’ll see this by like, I think I guess what it was. School, because I was observing it. She opened up the tree and it was her, her mom, and all she knew on her mom’s side. And then it was all her friends in class. Like, this is my family and this is my family.

She named the people that were close to her, that were close. And like, it just felt false. You know what I mean? And I was like, I’m not digging this. And like, I was like, the version of this is that she is empty still. And this tree is going to look super fly and I remember I put work into the design of the tree because I’m like, this tree is artwork now, you know what I mean?

This tree is going to represent something, so it may not be full and vibrant like every other kids in there, but it’s going to be its own thing, unique. And that’s what this character is going to be. That’s who me and you are going to be. That’s what your son is going to be, right? So like, I really fought for that piece and, um, we, we shot it to make sure that the other half, we had the other tree that was halfway done.

And it resonated with so many people, man, like I, I, the fact that you’re coming up to me, like, I just remember going off film festival circuits with this, this short and like people’s reaction to it, you know, it’s actually how I met Reinaldo Green was through this, through this thing, through the same short film, like it got me to a point where I was traveling to New York because people wanted to screen this thing and they didn’t have enough money to fly me out and put me up, so I would stay on Reinaldo Green’s couch.

And he’ll probably tell you this story one day. He would let me stay at his couch while be like, Hey man, I’ve never been to New York. I got to take these meetings off of this short film. I’m hoping to make a feature film one day. Like it was like, cause of this short film has such an impact on people. I was literally traveling everywhere, you know, in the States with this short, every, every time I screened it, someone came up to me afterwards and was like, Hey man, this is my story.

Or this is my daughter’s story. Probably the most heartfelt one where I broke down in tears. It was one in Chicago, I did one in Chicago in the basement of his library. And this woman came up to me and was like, I just lost my husband six months ago. And I don’t know how to explain to my daughter how life is going to be different.

And her daughter was not there. It was just her. And she was like, this short is really motivating me and da da da. And she was just tears. I gave her this huge hug and it was like, wow, you know, anything I came here just for this woman, right. And like her experience. So. Thank you. I’m sorry. Thank you for sharing that.

I haven’t talked about it in so long and it’s a very special project for me.

Eddie Robinson: Coming up, we wrap up our conversation with one of the hottest filmmakers in the industry right now, Steven Caple, Jr. Why was it so important for Steven to cast, in his latest Transformers movie, a Houston area rapper as a character based on a close friend of his who was a native New Yorker? And if you’ve seen Transformers Rise of the Beasts, Creed II, or his HBO film short, A Different Tree, let us know what you think about them.

They’re all directed by Steven Caple, Jr. Hit us up on Instagram or send us an email. Talk at i s e e u show. org I’m Eddie Robinson. Our final segment of I SEE U comes your way right after this.

If you’re enjoying this program, please be sure to subscribe to our podcast, I SEE U with Eddie Robinson. You can hear all the past episodes and be notified when new episodes are released. Also, please take a minute to give us a review or comment. We love getting feedback from our listeners.

It’s I SEE U. I’m your host, Eddie Robinson. And we’ve been chatting with acclaimed film director, Steven Caple, Jr. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, there’s more than just beasts rising with this young man. His stardom is on the rise. His latest project, Transformers Rise of the Beasts. Was a powerhouse of a summer film, slaying Spider Man and so much other box office competition.

With fans eagerly awaiting what’s next from this young titan of a filmmaker. He’s enjoying life right now as a new father to a beautiful young baby named Story. But we’re beyond thankful that he’s taken time from his family to be a part of our family. And chat with us about what it’s been like for him in this industry.

As a much sought after content creator. We wrap up our chat in this, our final segment of I SEE U. With director Steven Caple, Jr. Who’s calling us virtually from his home in Los Angeles.

You’ve been a part of major franchises. Creed, and now Transformers. What is next on the horizon? And, correct me if I’m wrong, but…

Your Rise of the Beast will be the first installment of a new trilogy of films?

Steven Caple, Jr.: Yeah, that’s the goal. Yes, it is. It is the first installment of a new trilogy to new where the franchise can like take off and go. So yeah, this is the first sort of like, you know, we don’t like to use it to reboot, but you know, it’s kind of in that world in terms of where we’re at with it.

But yeah, it’s a setup where we can now lead and if people can do it.

Eddie Robinson: And you’ll be connected to that world as well.

Steven Caple, Jr.: I will be connected to that world. There’s some things I connected at the end of this film, um, Eddie, that, uh, that you’ll see. Or If you have not, have not yet. I’m just interested in it now. That set up a whole new trajectory for Transformers and Gone Places.

The franchise has never gone before. And I think it’s gonna be a huge surprise for the audience.

Eddie Robinson: And I love your surprises and also shout out to our very own Houston rapper. Uh, Tobe Nwigwe.

He plays the character Reek in the film.

Steven Caple, Jr.: Yeah.

Eddie Robinson: You know, this character apparently was based on a close friend of yours. Could you tell us why it was important for you to have him in Rise Of The Beasts?

Steven Caple, Jr.: Yesterday was his birthday. Tarik Jackson. He passed on 2020 rough times for everybody.

And, um, he was my best friend in LA, you know, uh, I moved here at 2010. Now, when I told you Bernie was one of the first few people I met, I met three individuals, Tarik, Bernie, my friend, Derek, and we became really tight. And Tarik, uh, had passed in 2020. Before that, the last movie we ever saw, I kid you not, together.

Um, because I was so busy with press tour and filmmaking with Bumblebee. And we had our different opinions on Bumblebee. He loved Bumblebee. I thought Bumblebee could have had X, Y, Z. Some other pieces that we debated usually on it. But I remember we haven’t seen each other because I was making Creed for so long that we were just so happy to be around each other.

My wife was there. She took a photo of us leaving the theater because it was like, man, we just, that’s my brother. So when, when it came about to do Transformers, I actually got the script of Transformers the day of his funeral. So I was in New York City. He’s from Brooklyn, and we had just laid him to rest, and I got back to the hotel, and BING!

My inbox pops up, and they go, here goes Transformers. It set in Brooklyn. It started out in my mind, I’m like, wow, very like, my best friend. And so I read the script. And there was a character in there that wasn’t Reek. He was named something else, but he’s kind of like the comedic lead. He kind of had this energy about him, but I was like, he’s not quite there.

But I bet you I could make him my, my best friend, Reek. And so I designing that character poured a lot into how Reek was as a person, comedically, energetically, all that. And so when it came down to casting, it’s the crazy part. When it came down to casting. Reek and I, before he had passed, he introduced me to a music artist named Tobe and he was like, Hey man, have you heard this guy’s, you know, he’s on Instagram, he’s going crazy.

He’s doing songs in the living room, like check them out. I’m like, what? And I saw Tobe. I’m like, yo, this dude was amazing. I actually DMed Tobe, I got DMed him in his inbox. I’m like, Hey, what’s up, man? Like. Huge fan, right? Got no response at that time as I probably shouldn’t, you know, probably should keep that on lock.

But I was like, Hey, like, yeah, it’s funny. Cause then the years, uh, a year goes by a year, we’re making a movie and it has passed. And as I’m making a movie, my other friend, Bernie, the one I told you from East Los Angeles goes, Hey man, what you think about Tobe, casting Tobe? Like you always listen to his music.

You know, he influences you. He inspires you. And I was like, yeah. And so we actually had him audition for the film. And, uh, he was horrible. He was really bad. It was his first movie, first anything. Tobe would tell you, I don’t know what you saw. And I was like, I saw the spark and I saw, I also saw you perform.

So I knew you had it in you. And, um. I read again, the studio got approved of it and he came in on set and all his lines, he realized his lines were talking a certain way. He was using big words. He was, he’s very smart, but yet, you know, he’s a little bit of a con man. He’s like, yo, who is this dude? And I was like, let me tell you about my boy, Reek, man.

This is what inspired him. And he heard a story. It was like, listen, I got to like honor this dude for sure. And he took it and embodied it. Yeah.

Eddie Robinson: Yeah. That’s great. That’s fantastic. You’re listening to I SEE U. I’m your host, Eddie Robinson. We’re chatting with acclaimed film director Steven Caple, Jr. What is next on the horizon for Steven Caple, Jr.?

Steven Caple, Jr.: Oh, great question. Well, I set up Transformers, you know, When everyone sees it, you know, and they have, you know, I’m sure it’d be great. There’s other chapters to this that I wanted to like set up for and really tackle. Yeah, just I just want to build out the franchise more because there’s so much more here like I can give.

And then there’s another piece of the story too that I want to set up. It’s at Warner Brothers right now. It’s an untitled project, but it was it was a movie about a world with no cops and what the world will look like in the future. The police didn’t exist and we had to rely on technology and I’ve been developing for quite a bit in every year Something new happens with either technology or society that just this project and I feel like that’s gonna be the one that’s like Here for me.

I’m was very special, you know, I’ve been taking my time with these Well, I want to marinate really get out there, right? So it actually stars the Yahya right now, but Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as an actor in it If you guys don’t know him, he played an Ambulance, uh, he was Candyman in that last horror movie.

The last Candyman remake, you know that he’s the lead actor to it right now. Yeah. I got it.

Eddie Robinson: That’s great. That’s fantastic. Our last question, we always ask this question of our guests. Of all you’ve accomplished, of all that you’ve had to endure as an acclaimed film director, as a producer, as a screenwriter, and a new dad now, what lessons have you learned about yourself thus far?

Steven Caple, Jr.: Hmm, that I learned about myself. That I’ve learned.

Yeah, no, my mind goes like, it’s tough because I go to technical stuff, right, to the craft, and I go to me as a person. I go to the good stuff, and now my mind was also dabbling in like, the bad stuff. Like, I’m gonna say the bad stuff and see how we can turn it into good stuff, I’m gonna just speak from here.

I, I go in complete tunnel vision when working on a project. I’m talking about like, life literally goes on a halt. Like, I don’t look up, I probably barely talk to mom, but talk to anybody. Luckily my wife, either doing her own movie, or on set with me, to where we’re even connecting. And I say this in a place of like learning to grow and become more well balanced in that area.

Like it’s something I learned about myself that I didn’t know it was a tool at first that got me to where I was, where I wanted to be. And now there’s so many layers in my life. I want to do better at reaching out to people along the way, you know, and making sure I’m connecting with everybody. Cause everything was about, go, go, go, make it, make it, make it.

That neighbor told me I never was, right? Like, it’s gonna be hard out there if you try to go pursue it. So I’m like, watch this, right? And um, I feel like I missed a lot of opportunities to connect with my loved ones. And I wanna just, I wanna make sure that I, you know, next project I’m alert about myself.

Learn how to balance and not to go too hard. Like literally in Creed II and in Transformers, I got stick door production. And it was because of lack of sleep. You know, not necessarily pressure because of the pressure I put on myself, not because of the outside world, I’m not listening to any critics or anything like that.

I’m putting it on myself, like the athlete in me wants to turn it up a notch, but I have to, like, step back and balance, like, the healthier side and, like, go to therapy, talk to somebody, get a feel. Call my best friend up to chat with him to see if he’s okay, you know, because for, like, the last few years I haven’t done some of these last couple of projects.

And I have to do better than that. So I would say that’s something I learned about myself. There’s a gift and a curse to it. Anybody out there like truly inspired and pursuing a career that requires so much focus and attention and mostly all of your life, don’t give all of your life to it. Figure out a way to really balance that out.

Connect with your loved ones. And so, uh, that’s something I learned about myself that I’m still adjusting to.

Eddie Robinson: Congratulations to your success on Transformers Rise of the Beasts. He’s acclaimed film director, producer and screenwriter, Steven Caple, Jr. Steven, thank you so much for being a guest on I SEE U.


Steven Caple, Jr.: thank you, Eddie.

Appreciate you. So how much for this hourly, uh, charge for this therapy session that I have?

Eddie Robinson: Oh.

Steven Caple, Jr.: What is it?

Eddie Robinson: Our team includes technical director, Todd Hulslander, producer, Laura Walker, editors, Mark DiClaudio and Jonmitchell Goode. I see you is a production of Houston Public Media. Follow us on Instagram and Twitter and subscribe to our podcast wherever you listen and download your favorite shows. I’m your host and executive producer, Eddie Robinson, and I feel you. We hear you. I SEE U.

Thanks so much for listening until next time.


This article is part of the podcast I SEE U with Eddie Robinson

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Eddie Robinson

Eddie Robinson

Executive Producer & Host, I SEE U

A native of Mississippi, Eddie started his radio career as a 10th grader, working as a music jock for a 100,000-Watt (Pop) FM station and a Country AM station simultaneously. While Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus had nominated him for the U.S. Naval Academy in 1991, Eddie had an extreme passion...

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