Talking Pictures

Myles Michelin with the some of the tools of his trade

Steve – What was the first ballgame you went to and what do you remember about it? Also what was the first election you voted in – national and local? Did you feel like your vote made a difference?

Myles – Uh, probably sometime in 2008 maybe. I know it was an Orioles game, but I don’t remember who they were playing. National election was Hillary vs Trump. Locally, I think Catherine Pugh was running – she later ended up being arrested over the “Healthy Holly” books.

(The Baltimore Sun‘s coverage of the Pugh scandal won a Pulitzer Prize for local reporting in 2020).

Steve – I know you’re particularly proud of being from Baltimore, in spite of its problems. And you’ve said that you started making films because you wanted to challenge some of the stereotypes about the community and “uplift the voices that need to be heard.” If there was one big thing you could change about the city overnight, what would that be?

Myles – If I had a magic wand to change just one thing, I would make more opportunities for young people to legally earn money while learning a skill they want to learn. When you add in desperation for money, plus young people being bored out of their minds because the city gives them nothing to do, you end up with young people doing whatever it takes to earn money, and sometimes that means committing crimes.

Steve – Like it or not, The Wire remains probably the benchmark point of cultural reference for representations of the city. How do you think it has impacted everything that has come since, and how hard does that make telling stories about Baltimore?

Myles – One thing people must realize is that The Wire is a TV show. Yes, a lot of the show made sense and the parts I saw had some accuracy to it, but it’s still not all the way real. Trying to change the narrative established by arguably one of the greatest TV shows of all time, is incredibly difficult. But I think there is so much more to Baltimore than just that show, and the fact that it’s almost as old as I am makes some things inaccurate.

Steve – Talk a little about how you ended up making the My Block Doc series and what sort of institutional support you were able to get along the way?

Myles – So “My Block Doc” was originally not my idea. Jim Mahjoubian, who taught me a lot about filmmaking, came up with the idea and wanted to see what life was like on a city block in Baltimore.

Initially, I was paid by an organization through Johns Hopkins called “Baltimore Youth Film Arts”. For episodes two and three – episode two is out now and episode three will be released sometime in October – I got a one-time grant from the “Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund”, an organization which funds film and virtual reality projects here in Baltimore.

Myles in conversation with D. Watkins at his recent screening at Red Emma’s

For the first episode, Jim and I were trying to figure out where to go to film, when Jim suggested we do my block since the neighbors were outside. It was my first time being in front of the camera so I was a bit hesitant, but with Jim’s guidance I got through it and it ended up coming out great.

(An excellent recent profile in the Baltimore Banner explains in more detail the creative collaboration between Myles and his mentor)

Steve – The next logical question is how easy or difficult is it for young Black creative people following a route like yours? What’s the biggest single obstacle?

Myles – I think its pretty easy honestly, and sometimes I don’t think what I’m doing is such a big deal because anyone can do it. All you need is the right equipment and the people who you see every day. The biggest obstacle is trying to get people on board with what I’m doing. People in this city don’t like to see something different, and at first, they always brush it off and say, “oh, it sounds dumb or weird”. Once someone that has “clout” or “influence” in the city likes what you are doing then it’s cool and people want to support. That’s just how it is here.

Steve – You’ve said you haven’t been particularly influenced by other documentary filmmakers – what *has* influenced you culturally, and who else’s work, in whatever field, are you excited by?

Myles – For me the biggest influence is the people in the city. Just talking to them, being around them and hearing their stories off camera is inspiring. I will say this now that I have given it some thought. One person in this city who works more in photography than film, but is Baltimore to the core, is Devin Allen.

I met Devin in 2021 after he screened a documentary about the famous photographer Gordon Parks . I knew about Devin’s work through his Baltimore Uprising picture in Time magazine and I wanted to meet him and hear what his why was.

When I finally did, I was just inspired and knew I wanted to be a “Devin Allen” someday. The people (in general) would be my biggest influence, but Devin specifically has opened my eyes and made me believe that I can do something great with a camera. Funny that I brought him up, I talked to him earlier today.

Steve – I love that phrase “hear what his why was…” That’s really at the core of why any of us talk to interesting people. How do you prepare for an interview; choose your subjects, choose which questions you ask? How does your creative process work, and do you think it works the same way for every project you do?

Myles – It’s definitely a process. But it varies from project to project. For the “My Block Doc” series, I find the block by just asking around and going to different places in the city. Then I meet the people that are in that area and tell them about the project and show them some of a previous episode. Then we schedule and shoot. For other projects I’ve worked on, the process is different and just depends on the goal of the film. Some of the questions I use for all episodes but then once we get into the conversation, I just treat it more like a conversation and less like an interview.

Steve – What’s your next project and how do you see your work developing over the next few years?

Myles – I don’t know what my next project will be. Maybe making more “My Block Doc” episodes, maybe something completely different. But I do see the work getting better as I learn more. The only thing I want to change is probably the budget for the films (more money = more wiggle room to try different things).

Steve – Finally, back to baseball – sort of. You’ve told me before that you think baseball is “too boring” – are there any changes to the game that might get your interest back? And is there anything baseball could learn from other sports to attract and keep younger fans?  

Myles – I just think it’s too slow, whereas other sports like basketball or (American) football always have something going on. My ADHD kicks in while watching baseball and I just get bored when nothing’s happening. Going to a baseball game for me is more about spending time with friends/family and enjoying the weather and less about the actual game. I would go to another game, it just depends on who it’s with and the weather.

Baseball may well be boring, but Myles’ Jackie Robinson socks are undeniably awesome

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You can catch up with Myles’ work here: mylesmichelin.com and on his YouTube channel here.

His Instagram is here: mylesmichelin

And follow him on Twitter here: @mylesmichelin

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Click here to read Priorities, the Conversation with Myles’ mom and prominent Baltimore housing advocate, Carol Ott.

“The biggest problem, and the most frustrating thing about my work are the same thing: racism. It colors (pun intended) every single policy we’ve implemented in Baltimore, since the beginning of time – and that hasn’t changed. It’s just quieter now, and done in the shadows. Racism is a policy choice.”

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