“Concrete Cowboy” director Ricky Staub is not a faith-based filmmaker per se, but he’s not afraid to admit that faith played a part in steering him toward his debut feature, or in his decision to create Neighborhood Film Co., the production company that made it possible.
Staub wrote his first script when he was 10 years old, and learned the ropes by volunteering to work on any set that would take him. After moving to Los Angeles, he was hired as an assistant to Sam Mercer, following the producer to Philadelphia on M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender.”
“In my mid-20s, I started asking pretty heavy questions like, ‘Why am I alive? … If there is a God, what does that mean to my life?’” recalls Staub, whose lightbulb moment came after meeting a homeless man who’d been formerly incarcerated. “Literally, like in a movie, I was lying in bed at night and this whole vision for Neighborhood Films came to me.”
That vision was simple: start a production company with purpose. For 10 years, Staub has hired and trained adults returning home from incarceration, identifying candidates through two Philadelphia-based federal judges with their own reentry program.
In 2017, the Brewerytown-based shingle attracted attention for “The Cage,” an inspirational 15-minute short directed by Staub. That same year, he met his first inner-city cowboy, Jamil Prattis. “He’d been out [of prison] a week, and had bought a horse,” says Staub, who conceived a feature based on the Black horsemen at nearby Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club.
“Obviously, I’m not a Black cowboy, but I recognize that I do have a gift as a writer and director,” says Staub, who planned to cast the film with real cowboys. Then Idris Elba reached out. He loved the script, had seen “The Cage” and wanted to star.
“Concrete Cowboy” debuted at the Toronto film festival, was picked up by Netflix and so impressed director Chad Stahelski that he tapped Staub (and collaborator Dan Walser) to write on “John Wick 4.” Now, Staub wants to use the momentum to continue the good work of Neighborhood Films.
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