Q&A with homeless film-maker Eric "Protein" Moseley

Eric “Protein” Moseley has been critically acclaimed in Los Angeles as the nation’s first homeless filmmaker to show a documentary on opposite coasts: once in South Carolina and once in California. Moseley was born in Detroit, but has also lived in Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Kingstree, Houston, Tallahassee, New Orleans, Miami, New York, Columbia and Myrtle Beach. He has filmed three documentaries to date: “Skid Row Journey,” “I’m down, but not out,” “A cry out to Obama.” He is currently working on his fourth production, filming in Seattle.

Chalkey Horenstein: For those who don’t know who you are, tell us about yourself! Who you are, and where you came from.

Eric “Protein” Moseley: My name is Eric Moseley. I grew up in the city of Detroit, MI at the age of 2, and afterwards I moved to California. My mom and dad divorced and I moved back to Detroit and lived with my mother and grandfather. There, my mom had a nervous breakdown and my grandfather died, so I joined gangs for a support system and dropped out of school. I became a father, and was then on drugs real bad. I started picking up all types of bad things, and I did that for a lot of years. I then had a daughter with another girl, and we [my daughter and I] moved to try and find a better way life. I wanted to escape drug abuse, but it was everywhere I went. All the time I was getting high, I knew I had some quality in me to entertain. I always wanted to be a journalist and bring people the news around town.

Eventually after traveling to all these cities, I just quit. I knew it wasn’t the right thing to be doing, and I had a daughter with me.

CH: Describe how you got the name “Protein.”

EPM: I was working out at athletic facilities, and someone just decided to start calling me protein, and then it stuck. And on the streets, you don’t want everyone knowing your real name, so eventually I started calling myself protein. If you ask nine out of ten people on the streets, only one person out of ten will give you their real name.

CH: Does the name have any significance to how you identify yourself?

EPM: Yes. It describes me because it’s something everyone needs, and something that’s not going away.

CH: How did you first get interested in filmmaking? How did you get your equipment?

EPM: When I was on General Assistance in Los Angeles, I saved my checks for two months to purchase my first camera, a Hi 8 video camera. L.A. was the first place that I started recording. I always kept my camera by my side, except when I went to Beverly Hills.

My filmmaking began when I saw all of the reality shows come out. Reality television came out, and I used to sit and watch it, and I used to think that I could do a reality show. People always used to ask me what I’d do it about, and I knew that the thing I knew the most about was homelessness. So I decided I wanted to do a reality show about homelessness. I started filming with Jessie D from the Force MD’s (they were a big recording group in the 80s). So I got out there and started filming, and after that, all I had was a bunch of footage. So I left Los Angeles and went to New York to reunite with my daughter (while filming Skid Row Journey). I went back to South Carolina, and a friend named LIFE and I filmed it as though it was a dream. That’s when I got the documentary edited in Myrtle Beach by Rodney Lee. That’s when I got to South Carolina educational television, and they watched the documentary.

E-TV from South Carolina then come to me and decided we were going to film “I’m Down, but Not Out.”

CH: “As though it was a dream?” Tell me more about Skid Row journey, and your second film “Down, but not out”

EPM: “Skid Row Journey” is a documentary where I take on a journey in South Carolina to Los Angeles to New York back to South Carolina. It’s like an illusion; it’s real footage of people suffering from hardcore crack addictions and illness, people from the wayside, at the end it leaves you wondering if this is dream or reality. It shows hardcore conditions of homelessness. It then comes back to South Carolina where it’s like I wake up from a dream, but it was all real.

“I’m Down, But Not Out” was one I co-produced with Dave Adams. It was a day of following me around to shelters and souplines and speaking to people on the streets to show what homelessness is like. When it aired in South Carolina, it also aired in California – and it was there that I became the first homeless filmmaker to have a film shown on opposite coasts.

CH: How did you eventually escape Skid Row? When did your homelessness end?

EPM: My Skid Row journey will somehow last forever. People always ask me when my homelessness will end for good, and I tell them, “When the wheels fall off the wagon, baby.”

But while I was on Skid Row, I landed a job at a culinary staffing agency. I was living a double life, living on Skid Row from hotel to hotel, from shelter to shelter. While working with the agency, I became a requested waiter for one of the top resort country clubs in Beverly Hills, called Hill Crest Resort. I was then able to save my money and reunite with my daughter in New York.

CH: You told me before the interview that you’re filming something new. Could you describe the film you’re working on now?

EPM: I am in Seattle, Washington, and I’m filming a documentary called “A 24 Hour Challenge to Mayor Mike McGinn,” [mayor of Seattle]. This documentary is not going to have him in it unless he wants to be, but it’s a challenge to him to spend 24 hours on the streets to see the meaning of “homeless.” I believe if you don’t experience something for 24 hours, you have no insight on what this really is, unless someone tells you about it. And that’s not even equivalent of first hand experience.

It’s more so directed to the Mayor, challenging him to come out. It’s showing all people in the Seattle area what homelessness is like, but it’s a direct call to him.

I’d like to make a state wide sweep to others of the limelife, asking others to do a 24 hour challenge. Possibly Shaq – He always used to pass out toys to kids out of a semi truck He’s got some passion for the homeless.

CH: How has being homeless affected your work as a filmmaker? How has your identity as a homeless person changed as one?

EPM: I’m never going to forget where I came from, and where I’ve been. Being homeless myself kind of had an impact on my filmmaking. It made me humble. I could find out who I really am. On drugs, it took me down to a level of low life where you’re not really better than anyone else. Being homeless brought me to an area where I realized no one is better than anyone else.

CH: Do the homeless inspire your work in any way? Are you trying to reach them in your work in any way?

EPM: My work is reaching out to the homeless on a level as to encourage them. I feel that I am an example of homeless population – a positive role model in terms of letting homeless people know they can be successful. If I can do it, anyone else can do it. Never give up, that’s my message.

A lot of people really respect me on the streets for what I’m doing. I get a lot of love from the homeless around the country. I keep telling them that someone will hear them one day.

CH: In an interview with Mary Ellen Wood of KSER Radio, you mentioned the importance of knowing various “classes” of homeless people. Upper, middle, lower class. Could you elaborate on what those are, and why the distinction is important to you?

EPM: There are three different classes of homeless: upper, middle, lower. Upper is the individual where he or she wants to get into mainstream society and be a citizen. Lower is someone who doesn’t want to make it back to mainstream, and is content living the life of a homeless. Middle is sort of caught in the middle.

Most people classify all homeless people in the lower class – the kind that have no dreams, no goals. And Eric “Protein” Moseley is here to change that.

CH: Talk more about “stereotyping” homeless people.

EPM: I compare stereotyping a homeless person to stereotyping anyone. Race, gender, all that.

Extortion, drugs, murders, most of the violent crimes are coming from people who are not homeless. And you wouldn’t want anyone to say “Hey you’re not homeless, so you’re like these people.” You shouldn’t look down on all homeless people in the same way.

The lower class homeless have no morals, no values. They don’t really care about anything. And is making it bad for other people. I get mad at lower class homeless person myself, sometimes to be honest. Some of them really don’t care. A lot of the homeless class are veterans or people who should be in hospitals and people who have been rejected from society. They’re suffering from drug abuse and immorality and negative things. And they don’t think they can shake it off. It’s more of the attitude and not knowing any better. A lot of it comes from home training. A lot of people are mad at the world. Themselves, society, the whole world.

There are all kinds of life in the homeless community, just like there are all kinds in any other community. You can see homeless people every day with great vocabulary and great hygiene, and you’d never know. Not every homeless person is a bum. You have a lot of them who are spiritual and educated, and who are very loving people.

It’s like society wants us to be on alert to homeless people. They have no idea that we’re not all like that. You walk by a street, afraid of the homeless man next to you, but he’s not thinking about you. He just wants to cash in some cans for three or four dollars. Most of even the lower class homeless wouldn’t hurt a fly.

CH: We’re almost out of time. Anything else you have to say to the homeless community, or Spare Change News in general?

EPM: I want to say that I compare homelessness to guarding Ray Allen (of the Boston Celtics). He’s gonna run you all night long. Ray Allen is the type of guy that’s going to make you run. As soon as you get on one side of him, he’s somewhere else. You have to be in good shape. If you’re not in good shape, you get embarrassed really quickly.

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