Trey Bell and Malik Peer are two brothers whose jointly shared dreams and ambitions have taken them far. From touring on the road with Grammy-winning artists to standing on the red carpet at their film premiere, Bell and Peer attribute their success to their close family bond.
The two moved to Minnesota in 1986 from Little Rock, Ark. where they settled in Prior Lake.
They began a career in music early on after signing with Lance “LA” Alexander of Lo-Key. From there, they were able to get their first single, “Past Ten Lovers” with the help of Zannie Kaye.
The duo toured the country with major acts such as Usher, T-Pain, Ne Yo, Keith Sweat, Keisha Cole, and more. They also worked with Juvenile from Cash Money Records on their single “Lil Mama How You Do Dat.”
Bell and Peer credited much of their music career success to the support of KMOJ. They saw the station as a “DNA match” for many Black artists in the Twin Cities who need a place to be supported and heard.
As collaborators, Bell and Peer also looked to each other for support and guidance. Their goal was to share their success and take their journey “from the cradle to the grave.”
Transition to film
While they channeled their storytelling abilities into their songwriting, Bell and Peer always had the ambition to pursue filmmaking. They worked together on a screenplay for the film “Same Girl” in 2019 and released the project just a few years later in 2022.
Similar to their approach to music, the brothers wanted to make films that stemmed from a kernel of truth.
“When we write, we always try to write something that shows an awareness that the audience can learn from. Something that they can gather, that they can understand,” Bell said.
Their late aunt who passed from cancer had inspired a character who was the voice of reason for their characters in the film, mirroring her role in their lives.
Their follow-up film, “Krooked Lines” highlighted the issue of human trafficking, something that their lead actress was a victim of.
Seeing their films connect with their audiences gave them a sense of pride and assurance they had the right approach to their films.
“We want to stay away from these allegorical type films, not saying that they’re bad films, but for my brother and I, we want to bring a lot of realism to the screen and kind of combine some of our stories with other stories because I think that we all have these shared experiences and trauma,” Bell stated.
One lesson that the brothers learned in their transition from music to film was recognizing the difference in consistency between the two art forms. While in their music career, they were able to put out project after project, in film, they realized that they had to take time to craft their screenplays and put together a team of professionals to make their vision come to life.
That experience held true when it came to the production of their latest film, “Mr. Hit Me Up.”
In the film, Bell portrays Kash and Peer plays the character Damian also known as Mr. Hit Me Up, a podcast host who talks his women listeners through their problems.
The lead characters are two close friends who grew up together. They witnessed a traumatic situation early on in life that scarred them well into adulthood, yet they chose two separate ways of healing their trauma.
Their lives are upended when a mysterious woman, Tyra, portrayed by Amorah Jackson, creates an unlikely love triangle, putting a wedge between the friends.
Anthony Harlin worked with Bell and Peer as the cinematographer or director of photography of the film.
As part of his contribution to the film, Harlin provided the production with most of its equipment and served as its sole camera operator. The production had a minimal crew and everyone, including Peer and Bell, had to wear multiple hats.
While there were some challenges in the production, Harlin stated that the production team got along well through the process. It was his first time collaborating with the brothers and their production team and had no idea what to expect.
“I think it’s great, especially when you have professionals on set and people that know what they’re doing. This makes it fun. This makes it interesting,” he said.
The project began as a short film but expanded to a feature film project. The production took roughly two months to complete and was shot on weekdays and weekends.
Peer shared his admiration for the talent in Minnesota and cherished having the opportunity to collaborate with local actors and performers. “I definitely love the process because there’s a lot of talent here in Minnesota on the production end and on the talent end,” he said.
The production also gave opportunities for several young people to participate and gain experience on set.
Peer’s experience doing equity and inclusion work in metro area school districts gave him the chance to reach out to students and give them a role on set. From holding a boom mic to slating the camera, they were able to get first-hand experience with professionals.
Going forward, Peer plans to continue working with schools to develop after-school programs around filmmaking to help provide jobs for the youth.
Both Peer and Bell see themselves expanding their film business in the future to an empire. They aspire to have a studio lot where they can have multiple sound stages similar to the compound Tyler Perry created in Georgia.
“We’re trying to bring diversity and culture here when it comes down to film,” Bell stated.
Their production company has also been a way for them to give back to the mentors and friends who helped them early on in their music careers.
“Mr. Hit Me Up” stars Henry Lake, Zannie Kaye, and Alexander O’Neal. They also worked with local artist Nikki DJ Dime White who plays a role in the film.
The film will be screening at Woodbury 10 Theater on Jan. 19, 20, and 21. The film will play at 8 p.m. on the first two nights and at 2 p.m. on Sunday.