Sahir Champion, a winner among Producers/Directors

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Editor’s Note: “The Reel Black List” is our annual spotlight of brothers and sisters in the worlds of advertising, film, TV, music, radio and media who are making a difference through their contributions and creativity. For the next 29 days, you will be able to celebrate these various personalities with us.

Sahir Champion is a freelance Executive Producer/ Director, working in commercials, music videos, branded content, documentaries and features. He graduated from the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, focusing on television, radio & film production.

With humble beginnings as a professional editor, Sahir is an expert in every step of the production process.  His role as an editor, sharpened his eye and made him a better producer and director. Sahir’s worked for agencies like TBWA Chiat Day, MAL, and Deutsch.  

His client list includes other high profile advertising agencies, record labels, production and post companies. Sahir has worked in Los Angeles, New York and spent quite some time working in Paris, France. Currently, he works as a freelancer on a variety of projects ranging from commercials and music videos to public service announcements and films. Sahir is also pitching TV shows and films to a wide array of distribution platforms. 

What did You Originally Want to be When You Grow Up? I didn’t really think that I had to grow up but in may ways I think I grew up too fast. What I mean is, the kid in me always wanted to be artistic. There was a brief moment when my mom wanted me to be in corporate America but I knew that wasn’t going to work for me. I’d seen the pains and agonies that both my parents went through while trying to provide a life for my family.

The year I went to college, both of my parents were laid off, so that definitely influenced me to be more artistic and entrepreneurial more than anything else. I grew up fast when I was exposed to the harsh realities of the world in New York City during the 80’s. Crack cocaine was everywhere and poverty was holding a firm grip on NYC like a kid who holds his first Mr Softee ice cream cone in the summer.

Some of the time, I wasn’t sure if I’d make it because of the things that were happening in the community. It wasn’t uncommon for young Black males to not make it to their 25th birthday. My aunt used to tell me that it’s hunting season on young black males. I was in NY when the Central Park 5 situation occurred and I was the same age as those guys, 15. So, it was clear that being in the wrong place at the wrong time can have major consequences. But, honestly, It wasn’t until I fully embraced my culture via hip hop and my locks, did I finally unlock my creative side.

That’s the power of culture freedom. My culture became my freedom. I knew I wanted to do something artistic. All of my friends were either MC’s (rappers) DJ’s or dancers. I loved hip-hop so much that it influenced my path. I went the B-Boy route and thus you couldn’t keep me away from the dance floor. But I also knew that I wanted a profession where I could be myself, locks and all. Corporate America would never have accepted me, so I stopped trying to fit in.  

How did You Get into the Film/Commercial Industry? Well, it was late summer after I graduated college and I was back in NYC. I just finished a PA gig with MTV on a show called “Rock and Jock”, hosted by Bill Bellamy. After the show, I thought it only made sense to continue with post production, especially since I loved it so much. I applied to a couple entry level positions at commercial editing companies. I was lucky to have landed a job as a runner, then eventually vault manager, which led to an assistant editor position with the company. From here on, my journey would grow to involve all aspects of storytelling, thus propelling me into my next stage and development of becoming a storyteller.

Who were Your Mentors? I can truly say that having mentors is a great thing. Everyone should have one, if not several throughout their career. Its imperative to surround yourself with people who can give you guidance and direction in your career, someone who is actually living out YOUR dream. I’ve been lucky throughout my career to have had some great mentors. 

While I was in college at Syracuse, I met an alumni named Joan Adler; she is head of alumni relations here in LA currently. It was Joan that gave me my first intership working for a company called The Post Group. Joan introduced me to the business-working in the vault of a very busy commercial post production company.

It was here, I met Jeff Richter. Jeff is an all around fantastic guy. Jeff was editing all the top music videos at the time and he eventually went on to direct under his company called Earthquake Edit and Productions. Jeff actually taught me how to edit on Avid while he had clients in his bay. I’ll never forget being in the edit bay with F. Gary Gray as Jeff cut the music video for Set it Off, starring Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah. It was such great experience. Jeff went on to do all the Wu-Tang Videos and he’d invite me to set while I was still in school.

I love Jeff, he’s my brother. In addition to Jeff, I have been truly blessed to have learned from some of the greats, some directors and some editors and producers. Knowledge is knowledge and you can always learn something if you pay attention.

Other mentors I’ve had the pleasure and honor to learn from include Chris Robinson (Robot Films), Jesse Terrero (Cinema Giants), Rocky Morton (MJZ), Jake Scott (RSA), Glenn Martin (Nomad Edit), Nico Beyer, Nzingha Stewart, Wayne Isham, Joel Marcus, Carlos Arias (Rock, Paper, Scissors), Jonathan Del Gatto, &  Bee Ottinger. I’m blessed to have so many mentors teach and help me develop my creative eye and sensibilities. Thank you guys.

What is Your Biggest Achievement? My biggest achievement would have to be my kids. I love being a father more than I love being anything else. Nothing brings me greater joy than seeing my children grow and live life to their fullest capabilities. I’m honored they chose me to be their father and I will guide and protect them until I take my last breath. 

What is Your Biggest Disappointment? Life is filled with daily disappointments. It’s a part of life to have ups and downs. I try not to dwell on the downside, so I stay invigorated and on my game. It’s more about attitude than anything else. Maybe things didn’t turn out the way you wanted or wished, but you still have an opportunity to learn something. Once you learn it, you can then use it and apply it moving forward. Life is about moving forward and not getting caught up with things that doesn’t matter.

You have to go through the No’s to get to the Yes’s. You have to face rejection in order to be successful. The No’s don’t matter, especially once you get to a yes. We can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to it. It’s up to us to get the most out of life. No one wants to hear excuses, so it’s best to keep it moving. You can always fall forward and turn a negative into a positive. It all depends on your mindset. 

Name Your Biggest Pet Peeves? I’d say that I’m pretty patient most times, especially with work. I do have one thing that irks me and gets under my skin. In this business, people come from all kinds of backgrounds and have varied experience. I usually prefer people to be honest and forthcoming. I don’t believe in fake it, til you make it.

That mentality is terrible. You could really mess things up if you pretend to know something that you actually do not. If you don’t know find out, don’t just sit there and act like you do. Things can heat up and escalate quickly, especially on set and during production. As a team, we all have to be confident and secure with finding solutions.

We can’t effectively move forward if there are missing and weak links. Thus the famous adage, “You’re only as solid as the weakest link.” That’s why we have to make sure the team is solid. 

Predictions for the Industry Over the Next Decade: I think it’s important to look at the past trends in order to have an idea of what will come next. History usually repeats itself every 25 years or so. I think we’ll continue to see more distribution platforms for content.

Mobile content, especially is on the rise. I think companies like Quibi are onto something.  The attention span of the average consumer is unimaginably short. Quibi makes feature content that is 10 minutes or less. With the current youtube trend, it’s obvious that younger and younger consumers watch several pieces of content, rather than a film of tv show.

TV content has also been on the rise, some arguably saying that TV creation is even better than film. I’d have to agree that TV is what’s hot and will continue to be hot. With all the distribution platforms, there’s an increased need for more and more content.

This is the perfect opportunity for all filmmakers to get their content created because more than ever before, they are so many different outlets and audiences. I also see minority based content filling up a lot of these slots. Audiences want to see people who look like them and want to hear stories that reflect their community. 

Name a Job You had that Would Surprise People: During the summer, in-between my Freshman and Sophomore year, I worked as a camp counselor for a battered and abused women’s shelter. I was 19 and it was my first real interaction with victims of domestic abuse. Most were women and children who had to flee for their lives from an abusive father.

I worked with the kids during the day to bring some sort of happiness and normalcy in an otherwise grim situation. We’d play individual and group sports to take their mind off of their family circumstances, while bonding over jokes and ice-cream. I was their big brother. I wanted to inspire and let them know everything was going to be ok and that they were safe. It was hard for me to witness firsthand, all the abuse and pain. These kids had their whole lives ahead of them, most of them 14 and under. 

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Which Marvel or DC Superhero do You Get to Play? I would have to be Luke Cage, undoubtedly. A fearless crime fighter from Harlem who strives to make the community a better place. He’s a Black superhero that fights for those who can’t defend themselves. Luke Cage is indestructible and has and impenetrable armor that protects him from all dangers.

Growing up in NYC, you had to be tough and fearless. The amount of circumstances a kid from the inner city has to overcome only dictates more and more that there are everyday super heroes walking around. 

What do You Wish You had More Time to do? Time is the greatest commodity that we have. Time isn’t money at all. Money comes and money goes. I was told the greatest thing you could ever give someone is your time, because when you give your time, you give a portion of your life you’’ll never get back. Worldly possessions you can purchase again.

Time is something that we can’t waste.If I had more time, I would definitely spent it with loved ones and people who have returned to the essence. Time creates memories that will last more than a lifetime. Like the lyrics from “Time” by Fabolous and Roddy Rich, “If I could turn the hands of time back, I’d bring Clip, Nipsey and Prime back, bring Ring’s mom back, I mean I wish I could rewind back”. In the end, all we have are our memories. Like Roddy said, “I bought a new Rolly just so we could reset time”!

What Drives You to be Extraordinary at What You do? Well, my family has a long legacy. Growing up with the last name Champion is a blessing. As a kid, I was expected to be the best at anything I did. At first, it was a lot of pressure, that at times, seemed to be too much.

As I learned more about myself and my strong family heritage, I embraced the challenge to live up to the name. We have a saying in my family, “Champions aren’t made, they’re born!” It’s an honor to come from such an inspiring family. In my mom’s kitchen she had a biblical quote on a plate that hung above the cupboard. It read, “What you are is God’s gift to you and what you become, is your gift to God.”

That stuck with me my entire life. I realized that being alive and in the present is a gift from the creator. I do this in honor of my ancestors who came before me. People made sacrifices for me to be here. I owe it to the creator, my parents and myself to be the best that I can, in all areas of my life.

I’m thankful for the gift of life so this inspires me to go hard in everything I touch. Tomorrow is never promised so I’m blessed for all my trials and tribulations that encourage me to get up everyday and be my best.

Congratulations, You Built a Time Machine! What do You Go Back and Tell Your 15-Year-Old Self? I would tell myself to never ever quit and give up. Winners never quit and quitters never win! Follow through til the end and then some. The only difference between ordinary and extraordinary is a little extra. Go the distance.

I would tell myself to continue to exercise patience as I didn’t really have much when I was a teenager. That’s usually something you gain with wisdom. I would say to continue to play, love and work hard. Give everything all you got, every single minute of the day.

Follow your heart, young Sahir. Never let anyone tell you what you can and can not do. Follow your convictions and instincts and always stay true to self, no matter what or whom. It’s important to have principles and morals and to not deter from them.  Malcolm X said, A man who doesn’t stand for something, will fall for anything.” Not me!

Follow Sahir

Instagram: @Sahirselfsavior

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