10 Things To Know About Ernest Dickerson, Director Of ‘Juice’ And ‘The Wire’

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Written by Ann Brown
Ernest Dickerson
Ernest Dickerson poses backstage with the award for outstanding directing in a dramatic series for “Treme” at the 43rd NAACP Image Awards on Friday, Feb. 17, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

Ernest Dickerson has been the man behind many films and TV shows you like. The low-key director has directed various high-profile TV series such as The Wire,” “The Walking Dead,” “Man in the High Castle,” “Bosch,” “Treme,” “Seven Seconds,” “Godfather of Harlem,” and “Dexter.” His feature film work includes such hits “Surviving The Game”; “Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight”; “Bulletproof”; and “Bones.”

It was his directorial debut “Juice” in 1992, starring Omar Epps and Tupac Shakur, that made people take serious notice of Dickerson. “With a budget of $3 million, ‘Juice’ went on to gross more than $30 million making it a commercial success although reviews were decidedly mixed,” Encyclopedia.com reported.

Now this year he’s taken on “Interrogation,” for CBS All Access. Didn’t know that? Here are 10 other things you should know about Ernest Dickerson.

Ready For Interrogation

In February, Dickerson was tapped to direct the majority of CBS All Access’ straight-to-series true-crime drama “Interrogation.” “Dickerson will direct 6 of the 10 episodes and has also come on board to exec produce the series,” Deadline reported.

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Jersey In The House

Ernest Dickerson
Photo by alex grichenko

Dickerson was born in the Newark, New Jersey, and raised in housing projects. He was the only child of a grocery store manager and his librarian wife. “Following the death of his father when he was eight, Dickerson found solace in the neighborhood movie theaters and was particularly struck by the 1948 film ‘Oliver Twist’ by famed British director, David Lean,” Encyclopedia.com reported.

“That was the first film that made me realize that films are photography,” Dickerson told the New York Times.

Meeting Spike Lee

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Photo: by Palumbo.jpg

Instead of going into film initially, Dickerson studied architecture at HBCU Howard University, “but also took a film class with Haile Gerima as he already was interested in movies. He later relocated to New York City to attend New York University’s film program at the Tisch School of the Arts, where he would meet fellow student Spike Lee,” Wikipedia reported.

Spike & Ernest

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Photo: Giphy

Dickerson’s first feature film as director of photography was also Lee’s first film — “Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads” (1983). It was filmed while both of them were still students.

According To Spike

Ernest Dickerson
Independent filmmaker Spike Lee, right, is shown with actress Tracy Camilla Johns at a release party for his film, “She’s Gotta Have It,” Aug. 1986 in New York. Lee says he wants to make honest films about black people and doesn’t believe there are any films by and for blacks. (AP Photo/Mario Suriani)

“Ernest and I were in the same class,” Lee reminisced to Nelson George in the book, “Spike Lee’s Gotta Have It.” “We came in together. He was from Howard. I was from Morehouse…. We were the only Blacks at NYU.”

More Than Mo’ Better

Ernest Dickerson
Photo by Steve Snodgrass/Flickr

Dickerson went on to work as director of photography on many of Spike Lee’s films including “Do The Right Thing,” “Mo Better Blues,” and “Malcolm X,” among others.

Cinematographer To The Stars

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Photo: Palumbo.jpg

“After graduating, Dickerson began his career as a cinematographer on music videos for Bruce Springsteen, Anita Baker, and Miles Davis, and went on to film John Sayles’ ‘Brother from Another Planet’ (1984), his first professional film as a director of photography,” Wikipedia reported.

And The Winner Is

Ernest Dickerson
Head of creative affairs, Endemol Studios Jeremy Gold, left, and director Ernest R. Dickerson attend AMC’s ‘Low Winter Sun’ premiere screening on Thursday, July 25, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision for AMC/AP Images

Dickerson also directed several episodes of the New-Orleans based drama “Treme.” The season 2 finale, “Do Watcha Wanna,” won Dickerson an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Directing in a Dramatic Series.

Working With Rappers

Ernest Dickerson
Photo: giphy

“I’ve been fortunate enough that the rappers that I have worked with have all taken their work very seriously. I first worked with Tupac on my first film, but that was before he was really known. Then Ice-T came very correct. And Snoop Dogg in ‘Bones’ took his role very seriously and DMX took his role very seriously. I think, to me, if the person comes to the project really wanting to act or really wanting to create a character and is willing to put in the time and work to do that,” Dickerson said in an interview, as reported by IMDB.

From Medical To Movies

Ernest Dickerson
Director Ernest R. Dickerson, left, and actress Erika Alexander arrive to AMC’s ‘Low Winter Sun’ premiere screening on Thursday, July 25, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision for AMC/AP Images)

Photographing medical procedures while at Howard steered Dickerson toward Hollywood. He was filming an amputation when he decided to switch careers, from medical photographer to filmmaker, according to the Morning Call.

“I had shot a lot of stuff that was nastier — like hemorrhoidal surgery and gastric bypasses,” said Dickerson of his tenure at Washington, D.C.’s Howard University. “Amputations are relatively clean but the most disturbing image I remember was seeing (a nurse) put a guy’s leg in a brown plastic bag. Watching the doctor stitching the guy up, I kept looking at that bag. In the middle of the operation, I said to myself, ‘I can’t do this anymore.'”