Ross School - Senior Project 2006-07

Student: Justin Leon

Mentor: Marie Maciak

Consultant: Roger Williams

Domain: Media




My Senior Project was a short- format documentary video about my older brother “T.” He is a lyricist, a rapper, a hip-hop artist. He was born in 1975 and grew up during the early era of hip-hop. He has gone through many personal struggles while growing up in the Hamptons and these are reflected in his music.  The story follows T as he returns to the Hamptons in attempt to start a new chapter of his life.  My objective was to apply documentary techniques to express my vision and to get a critical prospective of the documentary genre.  I came to understand that I want to continue to tell stories through filmmaking.  I learned the importance of being independent and fulfilling the multitude of responsibilities required of a one-person crew.  I became comfortable at handling the video camera, sound recording, directing and editing. Most importantly, through this process, I have grown closer to my brother with whom I had not lived with when he was growing up. 



My Senior Project consists of a short format, formalistic, structured, stylized documentary presented by Film Boy Productions. DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH is an intimate documentary of the unseen Hamptons and the struggle of an up and coming Rap Artist directed and shot by myself. I followed my brother Luis "Double L.Johnson" Leon over several months. As Luis’ life is thrown a hard curve, he is forced to return to his childhood home in East Hampton in an attempt to start anew. Against all odds, he reignites his passion of lyricism and rapping and struggles to develop his music. He travels to Costa Rica where he is finally able to start recording an album.

In the beginning I had no idea that my film was going to be about my older half brother, but I did know that I wanted it to be about Rap. As a boy I was fascinated by the way in which words could be turned into highly detailed visuals by the means of speech. It wasn’t until my older brother came to my house with a green notebook and told me that he composed this music that I began to think about this film. This was about 5 years ago, and from that moment on I knew it was a wrap.

I first had wanted to have 5 amateur rappers from around the area, but that didn’t work out as planned. These artists could not express themselves, and would not show their faces, which it what I wanted them to show on camera. So, I focused on my brother. I don’t consider my older half brother to be a half brother. I’ve always have seen him as a brother, and although we have lived two separate lives, we love each other, and from this documentary I made about him, we grew closer together.

I had to gather my thoughts and see what I first wanted to do. I wanted to learn more about rap, and why it is composed, but this was a broad topic. I had to focus more to catch the attention of my viewers. So I basically went in and just shot (I should not say it like that because it took me forever to go into my brothers’ house and gain confidence with his family, and his friends, and beat producer Rashawn gant. AKA RaBlaze). I must have spent many hours just gaining confidence in order to have acceptance into their stories.

I could not focus my film on just my brother. I was missing something…the history and the mapping of where they are, and the unseen area of The Hamptons. “East Hampton.”  I had to find a different character who knew my brother and was a good “back in the day friend.” Rodney, the oral story teller of how it is to live out here, and gives structure to my film. My emotion also comes into play with Rashawn, the 28 year old Beat producer. With a great film you must have your ups and your downs. I found the center for my film and I just had to piece it together little by little. It wasn’t only until the last couple of hours before the screening that I found my conflict. This conflict was piecing, of my brothers issues with his music, and then the arising of all his conflicts to find the true love, for it, and his country in which he recorded his songs, that represent him. This film helped my grow, as a film maker, and made me stronger, in being a better, more knowledgeable Film maker. Film Boy.

Works Consulted

Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme. Dir.  Kevin Fitzgerald. DVD. Hip Hop Film Festival/Palm Pictures, 2005.

Fricke, Jim and Charlie Ahearn. Yes Yes Y’all: Oral History of Hip-Hop’s First Decade. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books, 2002.

Kitwana, Bakari. Why White Kids Love Hip Hop: Wankstas, Wiggers, Wannabes, And the New Reality of Race in America. New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2005.

The Last Poets Live!. Dir. Rex Barnett. DVD, 1999.

Soundz of Spirit. Dir. Joslyn Rose Lyons. DVD. JOG9 Productions, 2004.

Street Credentials: Insomniac, Vol. 1. Dir. IZ-REAL and T. Jenkins. DVD. Insomniac, Inc., 2006.

Toop, David. Rap Attack 3: African Rap to Global Hip-Hop. London: Serpent’s Tail publishing, 2000.

Community Member (Details)

Roger Williams