"I tried to show the dirt in the scenes of "Roots". To make you smell the dirt, to make you realize that the place was dirty.... I was saying that it's all about the earth and all about the dirt on the earth and it is an innate part of us. That if we pay attention to it, there's a picture there."
About This Interview
In his over three-hour interview, Joseph M. Wilcots (1939-2009) speaks about his early interest in photography as a teenager and his filmmaking experiences while serving in the Navy. He describes his work, following the service, at the Westheimer Optical House, in particular the creative work being done for the special effects on the original Star Trek series. He relates how he became the first African-American member of the camera operators union and identified the slow shift in adding other African-American members into the union over the years. He talks about his work in independent filmmaking and reminisces about some of the people he worked with including director Gordon Parks and cinematographer Robert Surtees. He speaks in great detail about the two projects for which he is most associated, the miniseries: Roots and Roots: The Next Generations for which he served as Directory of Photography. He talks about his approach to the Roots shows ("I wanted to make the audience smell the dirt"), meeting and working with Alex Haley ("Everything he wrote was shootable"), and working with actor Marlon Brando. (He says he took 200 pounds off him using a fireplace as the key light). He notes the impact of Roots and what working on the miniseries meant to him. He also acknowledges his work on the Alex Haley/Norman Lear series Palmerstown U.S.A. Lastly, he gives his impressions of three individuals for whom he worked extensively: actor/director George Stanford Brown, Bill Cosby, and Michael Jackson. Gary Rutkowski conducted the interview in Los Angeles, CA on December 5, 2007.