Black history in the making
By Sharen Sierra King
‘Mile 19’, is a must-see psychological thriller on Amazon and Tubi, and at the Mariemont Theatre on February 6, 2023.
The story behind the making of ‘Mile 19’ is an exemplary example of the words and life of Poet Langston Hughes. “Hold fast to dreams, For if dreams die, Life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly, Hold fast to dreams, For when dreams go, Life is a barren field, Frozen with snow.”
The visionary and talented Howard was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and graduated from Miami University. Rico is from Hamilton, Ohio, and also attended Miami. In talking to Howard, it became apparent he values collaboration and giving back, attributes he lives in both his personal and business life.
The story behind the making of ‘Mile 19’ initially titled ‘Mile 41’ is an account of a real-life story and the horrors of sex trafficking. Also, a call to action exploring how far one woman would go to help a stranger. While driving to a business meeting with coworkers, Linda (Angelique Chapman) passes a stalled car on the side of the road. Her decision to return to the vehicle against the advice of her friends ignites an adventure she will never forget, ultimately changing her life forever.
I met Howard briefly during the Cincinnati Premier of ‘Mile 19’, and he graciously agreed to be interviewed.
Sharen: Hello Howard, thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to share your journey. How did you get started writing?
Howard: Thank you for wanting to interview me. I have always written since I was young. I like telling stories. I would write plays, speeches, and programs for the church. My mother credits the church for my writing; partially, she is correct. I taught Sunday School when I was young. The Bible is about stories, and I would teach the class who were my age 13-14 by telling them stories.
Sharen: What was your writing focus? Was it books, theatre, or movies?
Howard: Books, movies, television, everything. But I am not the best speller, nor is my grammar great; my thing is structure and telling stories.
Sharen: Did you study writing and literature while attending Miami?
Howard: No, I did not study writing. The truth is, this is nothing against anyone nor my school, but in high school, I met with my Counselor, who told me there was no money in writing. I was good at science because I was top in my class; he explained that I should take Science Analysis because the next big thing was coming: the internet and dot.com. He was right. I got a scholarship to Miami and studied Systems Analysis, but in 1994-1995 my mother was sick, and I could not focus. Eventually, I switched to sociology and religion. Both were strong interests and influences for me. But I never stopped writing.
Sharen: In preparing for this interview, I read you had a successful business career in technology and the music industry with Def Jam Records. You are also the Founder and Publisher of the nationally distributed magazine BOSS Magazine. How did you make the leap to writing, directing, and producing a movie for the big screen and streaming?
Howard: Yes, I did have a career in the internet /dot com sector doing C+C Coding, and I made a nice living. I also lived in Atlanta, worked in the music industry, published a magazine, and met my wife. I was always writing and submitting scripts to Christian writing competitions. I submitted a script to a writing contest which I did not win, but soon after, I received a call from a script agent. I signed with him thinking I would send him scripts from Atlanta. He told me I was good, but the best way for him to represent me was for me to move to Los Angeles. I shared the news with my then-girlfriend, who is now my wife. Two months later, we were living in California.
Howard: When I came to L.A., it wasn’t easy. I was ghostwriting for a producer in Steven Spielberg’s camp. My script agent believed in me and told me I had everything I needed to be successful, but it would be six years unless I made a movie.
Sharen: Why is the script Mile 19 first to film?
Howard: I had 50 scripts. I needed a film that could launch the business side and simultaneously resonate with an audience.
Sharen: How did Rico Santana Grady become the lead actor, James?
Howard: Rico is my guy!
Sharen: Rico, I found you listed as Rico Santana, a musician, and actor in my research.
Rico: Yes, and yes. My family name is Grady, and as my career grew, my father, family, and I wanted to honor the name. I could not have done what I am doing without my family. My uncles are the founder of The Zapp Band.
At ten, I was in the junior version of The Zapp Band. At fifteen, I went on tour as a roadie. We toured with major acts and learned I could create and perform. I returned home and enrolled at Miami, where I met Howard. I took the long road to acting as this is my third time living in Los Angeles, but now I am a working, committed actor.
Sharen: Your IMDb is impressive; you have music, acting, writing, directing, and producing credits. What is different this time?
Rico: After college, I made my way to California. I had a corporate job, making $70,000 a year. I went to Central Casting and got some gigs as an extra. One day at work, I was in the middle of a boardroom presentation. I looked around and said I don’t think this is for me. Two months later, I was out of money. The second time in Los was a no-go. However, in 2015 I relocated with a plan to become a working actor. I connected with a great teacher John Swanbeck. This time I was committed to learning the craft of acting. I studied, learned, networked, and put myself in the best place to succeed. I am now a working actor and happy.
Sharen: How did you reconnect with Howard?
Rico: Howard called me after 18 years, saying he wanted me to be his guy for all his films.
Sharen: As my cousin, Rico says, “That’s what’s up.” Were the challenges and the detours worth the journey?
Rico: Absolutely; I have always had this dream inside of me. Hollywood can make you a non-believer, but Howard believes in my talents, and I trust Howard.
Sharen: Howard, you were successful in many roles; what is the difference between living a happy life working in technology, music, and theatre or living your gift as a writer/storyteller?
Howard: I tell people you can be successful in many things, but eventually, your soul, inner energy, and everything will want you to do exactly what you are supposed to do. I had success in the music industry; I had my magazine, corporate America, but in my soul and deep down inside my mind, eventually, this would not work. You know what is inside of you; it’s your calling. No one else can understand it; they did not dream it, they did not hear it, and they can’t feel it.
Sharen: Howard and Rico, thank you for your time. I am now a fan and look forward to watching your future films.
The making of ‘Mile 19’ is a collaborative team effort that was born over time. Howard, Rico, and others involved with the project were successful in other industries but answered a call to walk in their gifts.
Howard recently released a children’s book with author Rabeshia Clay, ‘The Extraordinary Journey of James and Rabeshia; Let’s film a Movie!
Plan to see the movie on the big screen at the Mariemont Theatre on February 6, 2023. You can purchase your tickets on the theatre website www.mariemonttheatre.com.