“It’s been a long road,” Nabil Elderkin, the man who’s likely directed some of your favorite music videos, told me halfway into our conversation about his feature-length directorial debut, Gully. “You’re catching me at kind of close to the finish line of a long-ass road.” Elderkin actually didn’t need to mention that to me, though. From across the country, the stress of Gully’s release (June 4 in theaters, June 8 for digital/VOD) was ever-present, especially while he was wrapping up everything from the film’s soundtrack—which includes music from 21 Savage, 2 Chainz and Snoh Aalegra, among others—to the Gully merch drop. Nabil’s stressed, but he has a right to be. We’re talking the culmination of his directorial debut, a five-plus year journey that’s dropped him into the thick of the studio system. It’s a massive undertaking, one in which he’s tried to protect his original vision as best as possible. Plus, you can tell that he actually gives a shit about what he’s doing, telling Complex, “the more I get into my process, the more I realize that what I really care about is the underrepresented.”

The Chicago-born, LA-based Nabil’s been around since the early days of Kanye West; he famously bought kanyewest.com before Kanye signed to Roc-A-Fella, a genius move that he was able to leverage into shooting West’s first publicity photos. Nabil’s directed the music videos for Kanye West’s “Mercy,” SZA’s “Love Galore,” Kendrick Lamar’s “DNA,” and Travis Scott’s “Yosemite,” among many others, as well as working with Frank Ocean, Nicki Minaj, Nike, Foot Locker, and, well, Complex (including shooting Zayn Malik’s Apr./May 2016 cover, among others). And while Nabil plays it humbly (“Dude, people give me money to make visuals of music that I love,” he shares), just one look at what he did for Baauer and Just Blaze’s “Higher” and you can tell that this director had some cinematic chops in him. He even directed a documentary, 2010’s Bouncing Cats, which likely got his appetite whet for taking on a feature film.

That arduous process—which Nabil pins to starting some time around 2015—grew into Gully, an ambitious indie with a cast that’s only just now getting the props they deserve. No bullshit; for this film to have been shot in 2018, who would’ve imagined the string of critically-acclaimed performances Kelvin Harrison Jr. (WavesLuce) had up his sleeve, or that Lovecraft Country star Jonathan Majors—who’s already joining the MCU and could be in the next Creed film)—would become such a big name in such a short time. The cast also features Jacob Latimore (with a truly awesome performance), Charlie Plummer, Terrence Howard, and Amber Heard helping weave together a complicated tale that can be as violent as it is fanciful, showcasing what the strong bonds of true friendship can become—for good or ill.

My personal history with this film has been a journey as well. Prior to its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2019, Gully was one of the heavily-talked-about features. At the time, Tribeca reps were high on it, especially Kelvin’s work (Luce would’ve already gotten Sundance buzz, and we wouldn’t have even been ready for Waves at the time), and there was talk of Nabil finally stepping into the feature film zone… but then it was just that, a dope film that no one had seen—present company included. The film finally dropping in 2021 sounds like the story a number of independent film’s have post-2020, but in speaking with Nabil, he may have encountered similar frustrations with the studio system that Illegal Civ’s Mikey Alfred did during his process to get North Hollywood released. To no surprise, both Alfred and Elderkin were determined to keep their films as much in their control as they could.

During this brief break in the final countdown to Gully’s release, Elderkin speaks candidly on how the process began, Travis Scott’s future in acting, his frustrations with—and what he’s learned from—the studio system, the soundtrack and art from Gully, his plans to start his own production company, as well as if he has any upcoming plans for directing more music videos.