One of my favorite types of films to watch is first-time features from writers/directors that take big risks with their fully realized projects. This is the case withJuel Taylor’s Netflix film, They Cloned Tyrone.

The script madethe Black List in 2019 and was quickly picked up by Netflix to be made into Taylor’s first feature. Although the film hit a few snags in production due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the film stood unwavering on the screen, ready to say something profound, humorous, and oddly motivating in a world where expectations weigh us down.

Described by Taylor as “a bootleg Scooby-Doo movie,” They Cloned Tyrone throws an unlikely group together through mysterious events that lead to them uncovering a government conspiracy. While the mystery ties the plot together nicely, it's the thematic tones and pacing that draw the audience in for the twisting narrative crafted by Taylor and co-writer, Tony Rettenmaier.

Taylor sat down over Zoom before the premier of his feature to talk about the inspiration behind this project, how to navigate a story with conflicting tones, and advice that every writer/director needs to keep in mind when approaching their next project.

They Cloned Tyrone | Official Trailer | Netflix

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

NFS: What was the inspiration behind this project? What motivated you to be the director who tells this story?

Juel Taylor: It really came from two places, one a little darker than the other, but it revolved around the thematic question of whether there is a difference between blame and responsibility. I was reflecting on some of my friends back home and how circumstances beyond their control influenced the trajectory of their lives. Additionally, I contemplated the role privilege played in those circumstances. On top of that, I had this silly idea of creating a bootleg Scooby-Doo movie. So it's a blend of something frivolous with something personal and somber, and as the project grew, it delved into weirdness.

NFS: I understand this is your first feature debut as a director.

Taylor: Yes.

NFS: What motivated you to step into this role?

Taylor: Honestly, I just wanted to create something that incorporated many of the influences that interested me. I wanted to explore various genres and styles, so I thought if I'm going to make something, it should be a film that I would personally want to watch. I aimed to make a movie that would excite me if I saw the poster or the trailer. Even if I stumbled upon it while visiting a friend's house, I would be compelled to sit down and continue watching. It's essentially a reflection of my personal taste and the films that influenced me, such as They Live, The Truman Show, Boogie Nights, The Big Lebowski, and Jackie Brown. So, as a viewer, I wanted to create something that explored the tones I find interesting.

Three people eating at a fried chicken fast food resturant

John Boyega as Fontaine, Teyonah Parris as Yo-Yo, and Jamie Foxx as Slick Charles in 'They Cloned Tyrone'


NFS: When you consider these tones and the films that influenced you, do they remain present throughout the writing and pre-production process as you create storyboards?

Taylor: They definitely play a significant role during the writing phase. Once we enter pre-production, the tones expand as the project becomes more tangible. The inspirations become multifaceted at that point. During the conceptualization process, we think of it as an absurd version of The Truman Show mixed with They Live. These ideas swim in the back of our minds while we're developing the story and plot. Sometimes inspiration comes from sources other than movies, like books, art, or even photographers such asGregory Crewdson. The creative decisions during pre-production draw inspiration from a wide range of sources.

NFS: I see. I appreciate how you've referred to this film as a Scooby-Doo mystery because it truly feels that way. You have a great balance of cool and humor. From a writing/director's perspective, how do you find that balance and ensure the story is told without feeling too obvious?

Taylor: You've hit the nail on the head. It's an ongoing negotiation with each scene to avoid being too obvious. I never want to come across as preachy or prescriptive. I recoil from anything in that sphere. Instead, I focus on the ideas that I want to explore. When it comes to directing, it's interesting because I rely on the talent to interpret certain things that may or may not be on the nose. I think it's subtle, but I'm unsure until I see an actor bring it to life.

Luckily, our cast understood the tone and satire. They embraced it and, for the most part, were in sync with it. Of course, there were moments where we needed to dial it back, but overall, their grasp of the tone gave me confidence that it might work. It was a bit scary throughout the process because we were walking a tightrope in terms of tone.

Writer/Director Juel Taylor and Jamie Foxx on the set of 'They Cloned Tyrone'

Writer/Director Juel Taylor and Jamie Foxx on the set of 'They Cloned Tyrone'


NFS: I understand. Having such an amazing cast allows you to capture some fantastic shots. There were a few long takes that my partner and I were raving about on the way home after watching the film.

Taylor: Well, thank you.

NFS: This being your first feature film as a director, I assume there will be many more projects for you in the future. What is one lesson you learned from this project that you will carry into your future projects?

Taylor: Honestly, there are many lessons, but the one that always comes to mind is trusting your instincts. There are things you intuitively know even if you can't explain them explicitly. Often, our natural instinct is to defer, but whenever I did that, I found myself regretting it. There's a thin line between acting like you know everything and being adverse to taking risks and leaping into the unknown, even if you're not a hundred percent sure it will work out. I'm not suggesting ignoring other people's opinions, but rather, considering those moments where you feel something might be challenging, unique, or even foolish because you've never tried it before. Sometimes I played it safe, but the times when I followed my instincts were the moments when I felt most satisfied with the results. Even if not all the creative risks paid off, they contributed to my growth as a filmmaker.