Interview: Director Lotfy Nathan Describes Eye-Opening Process Behind Filming ’12 O’Clock Boys’

Dirt bike culture stems beyond Meek Mill’s flashy, revving visuals on Instagram. For the new film 12 O’Clock Boys, director Lotfy Nathan taps into the Westside of Baltimore, Md. to trail a group of bike riders known for lifting their heavy two-wheelers vertically while stunting on the streets with an arsenal of bold and brave stunts. Nathan said he first caught sight of the biker gang during his time at the Maryland Institute College of Art and decided to highlight the speedsters for a project in his documentary course.

In the full-length reel, Nathan, a then painting major, focuses on 13-year-old Pug, an ambitious teen who sets his sights on riding with the pack, and his story of becoming a rough rider. Here, the Bostonian filmmaker parks it for a quick chat on filming 12 O’Clock Boys and what lies ahead.—Camille Augustin

VIBE: What was the plan of execution, the steps towards creating the film?
Lotfy Nathan: It was pretty run-and-gun. It started off as a school project, so it was really learning how to create the film as I was going. More and more talented people came on board and that was a tremendous thing, but it was a very organic process. I didn’t know how long the production would take, I didn’t know how much it would cost, I didn’t know what the story would be. I just had a few interests at first that spurred the desire to make it.

Were there any difficult instances that occurred during the process?
Nathan: There were a great deal of difficult things. There’s tragedy in the film that you see that was obviously difficult to navigate, also just the sustained effort of filming is not easy. There were a lot of challenges in making it, but it made for a better movie for all of that.

There’ve been comparisons to HBO’s The Wire. Did you reference anything in that series for the movie such as location?
Nathan: Not in terms of scenes, I definitely saw The Wire a couple of years into filming and surely it informs things because the scope of it was beautifully done. The way that The Wire functions for me in making the film was just to know that audiences were equipped with a knowledge of Baltimore. It kind of provided a global audience with a context for Baltimore. Less had to be said because people already had the backdrop.

How were you first introduced to Pug?
Nathan: I met this guy, Larry Jackson, while I was filming on the Westside when I first started and we kept in touch. He showed me around some places because I was trying to film whatever I could relating to the bikes. He brought me over to this neighborhood in the Westside where another guy, Shank, said we had to go check out this kid who was all about bikes and like a small kind of go-getter. That’s how I met Pug. I was introduced to him early April 2010, and from there I immediately had a connection with them and felt that his family was very colorful and opened arms, and they had so much to say.

You followed Pug for three years. How do you describe his love for the “12 O’Clock Boys?”
Nathan: I think he always needed something. He needed something to subscribe to like a lot of kids do, but he’s also rebellious. I think inherently it had to have some sense of thrill and rebellion to it. I think it was his ideal, but at the same time I saw firsthand that he was liable to be tempted by things I would say are worst; selling crack, or getting into a gang, or becoming the type that would hurt somebody. It’s not that I think the bikes are an answer per-say, but it’s definitely a way out of something.

What was it like working with Pug and his family?
Nathan: It was a lot of things. It was hard sometimes and it was fun sometimes. You see in the movie that he’s got such a range. It was pretty amazing. They taught me so much, I learned so much from that family and we all became close.

Did you ever read or talk about filming 12 O’Clock Boys beforehand?
Nathan: It wasn’t really being talked about much, but my first experience was just seeing them around, and looking back that’s pretty valuable. There hadn’t been any kind of article that I had seen I didn’t even know that they had a YouTube presence at the time. I was lucky I guess to want to start investigating that, but no there wasn’t like a suggestion of a story that I was following. The lead was pretty simple and that was seeing them a few times over a few years.

Was there any thought about bringing Meek Mill, a rapper with a huge love for dirt bikes, into the fold, or a possible sequel on Philly dirt bike culture?
Nathan: Meek has seen the movie and I think he liked it. A lot of the writers are obviously connected with him and I think he’s got a whole lot of love for the whole Baltimore situation. We’ve met a few times. I don’t know about a sequel, but I think he likes Pug in the movie.

Was there an instance you felt hesitant to film or thought you may have overstepped boundaries?
There were a lot of times like that. It’s delicate to be in somebody’s life and people want to share, but you maybe don’t feel right sharing certain things. It was important to have a relationship with the material where you’re being sensitive, but also kind of not apologetic at the same time. You want to show what you experience. Each shot, each thing that we were including we thought about it.

What do you hope watchers will gain from this movie?
I think people should walk away with an understanding, or at least an empathy towards a kid like Pug who you see very vulnerable at the beginning and then he‘s developing this harder shell. You kind of get a sense of why something like this exists. It’s a play on delicacy of people’s lives as they know it. It’s dangerous so that’s why they do it. It’s important for audiences to see that.

12 O’Clock Boys sped into theaters Jan. 31 and is available on Vimeo on Demand.

Photo Credit: Brett Davis