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A.R. Hilton: “Filmmaking is an art form of inclusion”

Filmmaking is an art form of inclusion. It takes so many different artists and skill sets to create a singular vision. It should be approached with humility and respect for all involved. There will never be any stars on an A.R.Hilton set. Condescending attitudes make my skin crawl. I want to hear from anyone who […]

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Filmmaking is an art form of inclusion. It takes so many different artists and skill sets to create a singular vision. It should be approached with humility and respect for all involved. There will never be any stars on an A.R.Hilton set. Condescending attitudes make my skin crawl. I want to hear from anyone who has an idea that will add value to the singular vision that has brought us all together. Logically it makes the process easier. Just hire people passionate about their art and craft. If this same principle was applied to societies, the world would be a better place.


I had the pleasure of interviewing A.R. Hilton, an entrepreneur, author, and filmmaker who lets his work unfold much in the same way he sees life, unexpectedly. Driven by his past but not beholden to it, he creates work that evokes the paradox of his upbringing in Mount Vernon, New York which led to over 18 years in Federal and State prisons. With his first feature, Anonymous Killers, debuting at AFM in 2019, Hilton broke into the market with a culturally and morally charged entertainment vehicle.

A prolific creator, he taught himself how to write novels and screenplays while incarcerated and, once released in 2007, wasted no time in bringing those projects to life. Self publishing his first novel the very next year, Hilton also created and dedicated a short film titled The Death of A Prince to the memory of his late younger brother, Hason Green. Despite numerous setbacks and disappointments inherent in the artist’s journey, Hilton pushed forward, releasing a follow up novel to his first and completing production on Anonymous Killers twelve years after leaving prison for the last time.

Hilton and his work serve as a living reminder for those still in confinement that the creation and emergence of a new life can begin long before their sentence ends.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I feel I’ve grown up three times in my life thus far and each time there was someone or something different that raised me. The first began naturally with my mother and my sometimes-present father who wasn’t always there, but was never not there when I needed him the most. I grew up around mostly women. This was a time of joy for learning and the adoration it brought me from my mother and aunts. I was very inquisitive, having long conversations with my mother about what I wanted to be when I grew up to questions about my surroundings. I was very conscious of my environment at a young age. This was something that troubled me at an age a child shouldn’t bear such troubles. I was conscious of our poverty. Of the drugs, not in my immediate family, but in the company they kept. And I was conscious enough to know that this wasn’t how life should be. I knew there was more because I saw more every time I sat down to watch TV. There came a time as a boy that I resolved within myself that I would stop praying for answers; instead I’d set out to find them myself. That was my boyhood, and that path led me to my second period of growing up (the streets) and eventually to prison (my third) at nineteen.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Subconsciously, all the books I read and television I watched. Consciously, I was two years in prison and came across an older guy who’d been in for over 18 years and was close to being released. He told me how he had been a member of a very notorious drug enterprise in the 70s, which I won’t name, and I say enterprise because they were very organized. He told me how his organization called a meeting of like-minded individuals in every major city across the country. Together they pledged to donate $50 million to the United Negro College Fund. Within a month they were all arrested by the Feds. I thought to myself, “What if they’d actually succeeded? That would make for a great movie.” Years later I would incorporate that idea into a book I co-wrote with another prisoner. I actually wanted to tell that story as a movie, but went with his suggestion to do the book first, then the movie. But meeting and hearing that man’s story led me here, to become a filmmaker.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I have two and they’re both equally interesting. I’ll give them in the order in which they happened: I bet you’re thinking everything happens to me in phases, but in all seriousness, I think they do for us all. I didn’t realize how physically and mentally draining making a feature film is. I went through the first week — 5, 6, 7am call sheets. Getting home 12 and 1am, going face down in my bed fully clothed, drinking more coffee than medically recommended. Top of the second week of filming, my body shut down on me. I believe I was dehydrated. I made it to the set, but I didn’t leave the director’s chair. I would mumble what I wanted to see to my producer, Timothy Gagliardo, and he’d relay it to the actors. Independent filmmaking is taxing. The second thing, which I found mind-blowing, was the way my subconscious mind asserted itself in the storyline of my film, “Anonymous Killers.” My experience was so deeply rooted in my subconscious that it seeded itself in my consciousness. It grew with the story in a way that gave it such depth; it became the subconscious of the story. Its seeds. Every time I watched “Anonymous Killers” in post, I discovered it saying something I didn’t consciously set out to say. Yet, it spoke truth to my experience with such familiarity of voice; my voice. I didn’t consciously make “Anonymous Killers” an indictment on society, but there it was.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was making my short film “The Death of a Prince,” I hired an inexperienced crew. Day one of the shoot, we all were sitting around waiting on the director of photography, who was the only person who actually knew what he was doing outside of reading about it. What I learned from that was to always work with an experienced crew if you can. Especially if you yourself lack experience.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m excited to begin production on a pilot series titled, ”That Life: An 80s Story,” based on my books. Then there is my second feature, which I also wrote while in prison and am presently in development on. Hopefully we’ll go into production in 2021. Then there is my management company, Stand Down Mgt. It’s a venture I undertook while in post with “Anonymous Killers” last year. Right now we are working with three artists including G.o.a.t Wavy, who is featured on the “Anonymous Killers” soundtrack. Then there is “AJ Supa Fly and Tgifly (Thank God I’m Fly).” All of which I have to mention or I’d be delinquent in my duties. Overall I’m just trying to stay busy in these abnormal times.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

I feel it’s important to have diversity behind and in front of the camera as it fosters understanding where there is none. In working together and sharing each other’s stories through cinematic inclusion we begin to realize we have more in common than not. The industry should, with brutal honesty, reflect the society it depends on for its revenue. Surely if they understand anything it’s business logic. As a black man in film, I want to be relatable in the broadest sense of the human experience; in which lies great depth. In a single word this is ‘Struggle.’ For the greater the struggle, the greater the human experience. And this depth is what subconsciously or consciously people of color, and the marginalized and persecuted people of the world, bring to the stories we tell or the roles we play in film. It is this depth that we bring to art in all forms. It is our release. Our cries for help, our anger and sadness on display. It captivates, for it is the human experience in its rawest form. Struggle, that is.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

I don’t really have any because I cherish all the experiences I’ve encountered in this business, both good and bad. Some bad experiences bring more value and insight than good experiences. The things one person experiences and how it may affect them or what they may gain or not gain may be totally different from your experience. Life is a continued process of learning determined by choices that will be followed by experiences, which are life’s lessons. Try to make the best choices and learn from the experiences they will bring.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Filmmaking is an art form of inclusion. It takes so many different artists and skill sets to create a singular vision. It should be approached with humility and respect for all involved. There will never be any stars on an A.R.Hilton set. Condescending attitudes make my skin crawl. I want to hear from anyone who has an idea that will add value to the singular vision that has brought us all together. Logically it makes the process easier. Just hire people passionate about their art and craft. If this same principle was applied to societies, the world would be a better place.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Outside of my family and friends, I am not sure the extent of my influence. Who have you been talking to? Ha! I do have a movement I’d like to inspire. It’s one that I know will not come to fruition in my lifetime: to inspire genius with a conscience in a generation.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are many, from family and friends to strangers I’ve encountered along the way. The most impactful by far was my mother, Irma Lee Hilton Vanderpool. The values and principles she instilled in me as a child. The trips to the public library where stood a replica of the Auguste Rodin statue “The Thinker,” which inspired my very first passion and desire at the age of 4: to be that man, Thinking Man. For some reason, at that young age, I understood the power it represented. This sparked in me a love for reading and a thirst for understanding. My mother taught me humility and compassion. She gave me knowledge of self as well as ancestral self through conversations and books. This continued during my time in prison. She was my library of knowledge, sending me books; even the books from which I learned to write scripts. She is the architect of my mind. My mindset. The second person would be my childhood best friend and partner, Nicholas Cavaluzzi. A plain-spoken man committed to family and close friends, he remained by my side through the entire prison bid. He championed the plans I conceived for my release. He supplied the typewriter on which I wrote my books and screenplays in prison. I am truly grateful for these people in my life.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My greatest life lesson thus far, and I don’t believe it can ever be surpassed or even matched, is, “Doubt is the kryptonite to the most powerful entity in the universe that we possess, and that is YOUR MIND.” I do not entertain doubt. My belief in my ability to accomplish anything I set my mind to is factual and without doubt. This I’ve proven. And if you don’t believe me, look around you and tell me what you see. Others have proven it too.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

This person doesn’t exist in the virtual world of the internet or social media in a way that makes him accessible. He established himself before those things were a norm. This person is Jay Z. Why Jay Z? I’d like to hear him speak of his journey in a way that doesn’t necessarily mirror his music, yet with the same level of artistic intimacy. With his life being his art, I want him to answer the question, “How?” How did he, coming from an environment identical to mine, obtain the same knowledge that cost me almost 20 years of my life in prison to obtain? In this he is unique.

How can our readers follow you online? I can be followed on the following;

Instagram @ar_hilton

Twitter @ARHilton

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