By Ronald Penh
Simply put, Keith O’ Derek is a storyteller. A career videographer, he has been nominated for an Emmy award for the TV series “Straight from the Streets” that covered positive news on life in the inner city and has interviewed a range of celebrities in his local talk show on Gardena cable called “Upfront.”
A graduate from Gardena High School, O’ Derek always wanted to learn how to do interviews with celebrities, which is why he started the talk show “Upfront.” He did interviews with musicians such as MC Hammer, Jody Watley, and George Duke.
O’ Derek’s access to more celebrities started when he became a regular dancer for the TV show, “American Bandstand.” Him becoming a dancer wasn’t out of a desire to make it as a professional dancer. Instead, he had a bigger goal in mind — find a way to get in touch with more celebrities to do interviews with them.
Dick Clark, the TV host for “American Bandstand” and host for the American Music Awards, became a pivotal figure for this goal.
Eventually, O’ Derek asked Clark if he could go backstage at the American Music Awards and do interviews with some of the celebrities.
Clark gave O’ Derek press passes to get interviews from celebrities which came as a surprise to many people that worked with the company as getting access like that was extremely difficult to do.
“You know that saying be careful what you ask for you might get it?” O’ Derek said. “Well I got what I asked for and now it’s like okay now that you got it what are you gonna do with it?”
Through the press pass, O’ Derek was able to interview celebrities such as Anita Baker, Smokey Robinson, Keith Sweat, Earth, Wind, & Fire, Freddie Jackson, New Edition, Bobby Brown, Destiny’s Child, Whitney Houston, Will Smith, and LL Cool J.
O’ Derek recently did work for a company in the aerospace industry directing and producing a video for Black History month that spotlighted diversity, inclusiveness, and equity. It was the first time the company brought attention to the stories of black people and the discrimination and racism they faced growing up to where they are now, he shared.
The videos were based on eight black people that work for the company. O’ Derek provided a platform for the employees to tell their stories which involved systematic racism, dealing with the police, the things they went through during school, bias, and racial profiling.
“It creates talking points,” O’ Derek said. “You could see just how good and how bad some of the things [are] that we have to deal with on a daily basis.”
Being black in the entertainment industry, O’ Derek has dealt with experiences of discrimination himself. When he was working with FOX, there were people that didn’t believe he worked for the company, and there were also people that assumed he didn’t have press credentials, he shared.
He recalled an experience while he was working with FOX where he showed up to an anniversary for the TV show “Married with Children.” When O’ Derek was at the event, a lady had told him that the press was not allowed, and asked if he worked for BET.
“I said, ‘NO, I work for FOX,’” O’ Derek stated in response to the lady. “People need to understand that not (every black person) that works in TV has to work for a black channel.”
Growing up, O’ Derek was also ridiculed by a teacher of his for being left handed.
“I’m left handed, and the teacher used to hit me on my hand with a ruler saying, ‘If you don’t switch and write with your right hand, I’m going to sit you in the back of the classroom,’” O’ Derek shared. “It’s sad how our society is when you’re different, they see that something’s wrong with it, and I think it should be embraced,” O’ Derek said.
With the platform O’ Derek has as a videographer, he makes an effort to reverse that stigma. In his videos, O’ Derek instead tries to “highlight people’s uniqueness.”
O’ Derek is the CEO and founder of Upfront Productions, a video production company that has existed since the 1980s.
Some of O’ Derek’s recent projects include directing and producing instructional guitar videos for musician Paul Jackson Jr., who attended Purche Elementary School and was a graduate of Gardena High School. Jackson Jr. played for artists such as Michael Jackson, the Temptations, and Whitney Houston.
You can find out more about Upfront Productions by visiting the website www.upfrontproductions.com.