Travis Lee Eller a.k.a. DJ T-Rock is an Actor, Writer, Director Turntablist and Music Producer and is also half of the duo DJ T-Rock and Squashy Nice. Born in the mountains of North Carolina, he arrived in LA over fifteen years ago, having toured the world as a professional DJ and appearing on over thirty albums and compilations he has managed to cross over to acting, writing and directing. Appearing on television, short films and independent features he still finds time to take care of his little dog, Dixie. Travis is a lover of all things music and film. He regularly breaks down in tears and asks himself, “Why am I not famous yet?” His new album, The Sounds In Their Heads, is out on the 08/03/2017 through Why Records. Here Are Five Films That Have Stayed With Him…
I’ve always been into film since I was a kid. I was interested in movies long before I became interested in music. I loved how a film could transport me to another place. I especially loved how they sparked my imagination. Film made me realize early on that the world was much bigger than my little home in the mountains of North Carolina. It took me places I never knew existed and then some. I think my love of movies inspired me to want to be an entertainer. I had the type of parents who really didn’t care what I watched or how late I stayed up. When a naked woman would appear on screen my father would just tell me to turn my head until it was over but of course, that didn’t stop me from hearing all the noises that were usually associated with those images. I remember whenever a film had tons of F-bombs and cursing my dad would just say to me “Now don’t go saying any of these words, they’re bad and only bad people say them”. I got away with watching tons of films before I was probably old enough to do so. That being said, I’ve seen a lot of films and been inspired by so many different types. This was a hard list to compile but here are five films that have stayed with me.
1 – Once Upon a Time in the West: Directed by Sergio Leone and starring Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda, Jason Robards and Claudia Cardinale. I absolutely love Westerns, so much so that I often write Western scripts, direct, audition and act in as many as I can. This film is my absolute favorite Western. Once Upon a Time in the West is the story of a mysterious stranger (Charles Bronson) with a harmonica who joins forces with a notorious desperado (Jason Robards) to protect a beautiful widow (Claudia Cardinale) from a ruthless assassin (Henry Fonda) working for the railroad. I remember seeing this film as a kid but never really appreciated it until I was a little older. As a filmmaker myself this movie is like experiencing three hours of film school. I love the opening scene. Three men patiently wait at a train station each with their own way of passing the time. The old windmill squeaks with every turn, a telegraph machine ticks inside the office, water drips from a roof and a fly begins to buzz around Jack Elam’s character. He takes out his pistol and captures the fly inside his gun barrel by pinning it up against a wall. Woody Strode’s character drinks the puddle of water from his hat caused by the drips. Suddenly, a train whistle. The train is coming. The three men approach the train but it appears no one gets off. The train leaves and the three men turn to leave. A haunting harmonica sound pierces the air as the three men turn to face a man who got off on the other side of the train. Here we have one of the first of many iconic shots of the film. The three men spread out along the wood platform, their long dusters blowing in the gentle breeze. They now face the lone Charles Bronson. I love this movie. I have so much respect for Sergio Leone’s style of filmmaking and how much thought went into his scenes. His collaboration with legendary composer Ennio Morricone absolutely fascinated me. Apparently, Ennio had given Sergio the idea of only using texture in scenes rather than music: the squeaking windmill, dripping water and the telegraph machine. Ennio also composed a piece of music that was played back live on set so Sergio could match a shot to the music. These things will always stay with me and have definitely taught me a lot about not just filmmaking but also composing music (or lack of) for scenes.
2 – Young Frankenstein: Or should I say, Young Fronk-en-steen? Those of you that have seen the film will get the reference. Directed by Mel Brooks and starring Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Cloris Leachman and Teri Garr, it’s the story of an American grandson of the infamous scientist struggling to prove that he is not as insane as people believe. He is invited to Transylvania where he discovers the process that reanimates a dead body. So funny! Mel Brooks is a genius and I am always the first to watch anything with Gene Wilder in it. The song and dance routine gets me every time! “Putting on the Ritz.” I still can’t believe that the blind man is played by Gene Hackman! This film is comedy gold.
3 – North by Northwest: Directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. This movie is great! As a filmmaker there are so many things about this movie I’m in love with. The story of course, but technically the film color is absolutely amazing! So rich and vibrant. There’s something great about seeing a piece of film colored so well. The actor side of me watches this film and realizes why Cary Grant was such a ladies man. I have to admit, he’s pretty smooth in this. He charms with ease. One of my favorite scenes is when Cary Grant meets Eva Marie Saint in the train car for dinner. The conversation gets pretty racy for 1959 as Cary Grant says, “The moment I meet an attractive woman I have to start pretending I have no desire to make love to her”. Eva Marie Saint however, doesn’t flinch a bit and responds with, “What makes you think you have to conceal it?” The chemistry is great between these two and I love the way Eva isn’t the least bit offended, she’s strong and let’s him know that their meeting her was all her idea.
4 – Juice: Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson starring Omar Epps and Tupac Shakur. This film has stuck with me for quite some time. I remember it came out the year after I graduated high school. I had been DJing for only about three years prior to this movie release but only in my bedroom, practicing. I would do the occasional school dance but no really big gigs yet. Around this time I was completely submersed in the art of Hip Hop DJing, more specifically scratching! I studied so many DJs around this time. I went through so many cassette tapes listening to DJs scratch. I was constantly rewinding the scratching parts trying to figure out how did they do that? I still remember listening to the Fresh Prince saying, “Jazzy, now make it chirp like a bird.” Ha, that chirp scratch took me forever to get! In 1992 I was still living at home going to a local community college, not quite sure of what I really wanted to do in life. I went to see Juice and I was so inspired by it. That was really the first time I had ever seen scratching or DJ battles in a major motion picture. Here’s a film with a guy doing what I do, what I love! My favorite scene is when “Q” played by Omar Epps goes into his bedroom to practice. The beat comes on and he starts ripping the cuts. Seeing this film definitely helped steer me in the right direction. After that I decided I wanted to pursue DJing and music so I moved to Atlanta and went to Art School for Music Business.
5 – The Warriors: Directed by Walter Hill and starring Michael Beck. The story of a charismatic leader who summons the street gangs of New York City in a bid to take it over. When he is killed, The Warriors are falsely blamed and now must fight their way home while every other gang is hunting them down. Great film from start to finish. Seeing this movie as a kid made me realize how different the world can be. Here I am, this kid from the mountains of North Carolina, having no idea what it was like in New York or any city for that matter. I think this movie introduced me to something I was completely unaware of. Gangs, New York, subway trains were all so new to me and I was fascinated with every aspect of it. The story is great too! The Warriors, so far from Cony Island, have to battle off every gang in New York in order to reach the safety of their home. No matter how many times I watch this I’m always rooting for them! What sticks out in my mind the most is one of the first memorable bad guys on film for me. David Patrick Kelly, so creepy, and in my opinion, one of the best bad guy performances of that time. “Warriors … Come out to play-aaay!”
DJ T-Rock’s new album The Sounds In Their Heads is out on the 08/03/2017 through Why Records via all good digital music platforms.