Growing up in the tough neighborhood of South Central L.A. and often getting into trouble, Ezekiel Phillips knew he had to physically get out of the environment to make a change in his life.
In 2006, after being released from a juvenile detention center he moved to Cerritos with his aunt and uncle, who were both attorneys and began attending Cerritos College. Originally, he planned to go to a law school, become an attorney like them, and help friends who were getting mistreated in the justice system.
It was not until one of his classes was cancelled that he found a film production class to fill that spot. He told the professor of the class, Steven Hirohama, that all he wanted to learn was how to edit so he could edit recordings of family reunions and weddings. Hirohama assured Ezekiel that he would learn much more than just that. Hirohama was right. The exposure to film that Ezekiel received from Hirohama's class initiated the spark in him that has been lit ever since.
"He taught us how to write scripts, cast actors, get locations, direct, edit, and so much more," says Ezekiel. "A field trip that he took us on was such an eye opener. We visited the DGA (Director Guild of America) to view a student film competition and that was the day that changed my life."
While watching student films he thought to himself, "I can do this."
The following year he entered a film into the DGA Student Film Awards for Women and Minority Directors. Although it didn't make it to the list of screened films, he was very proud that he completed his first film.
Ezekiel transferred to Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, the school Spike Lee attended.
At Morehouse, he created many films of his personal stories. He also went to Haiti with other students after the earthquake and made a documentary film that he took to the Cannes Film Festival in France.
After he completed his film studies at Morehouse, he participated in a summer internship at the Clinton Foundation. Working in the Foundation's media department, he realized that his film style was to tell his own stories.
The first time he applied to New York University he was denied. However, he remembered Spike Lee's words, "you can quit or you can try again." He tried again.
After one year of waiting he applied again, and this time he was accepted into the MFA program at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts Asia. Although he originally planned on attending its New York campus, he decided to attend the Singapore campus where Oliver Stone is the creative director.
"I have just arrived in Singapore and I love it here. I appreciate the challenge of not having the American actors and actresses here because that will force me to think outside the box when it comes to my story telling," he says.
One day he hopes to be known as a filmmaker who told the stories that evoked thought and inspiration.