An Interview with Darren Aronofsky
The Vanity of an Enigma from a Wellspring
By Jim Shippey, DC Film Society Member
Darren Aronofsky arrives late after a Q&A session following the first day of screenings of his latest film, The Fountain. Sitting in the somewhat cacophonous environs of the lounge of Georgetown’s Four Seasons Hotel (be it one star or five, anywhere booze is served is far from being an ideal conversational place), we are offered beers and wasabi peas as introductions are made around the table. While the director is quick to address me as ‘sir’, I reminded him I only have a three year advantage on him in time on the Earth. Nonetheless, through numerous asides and interruptions, some semblance of an interview was had:
Question: What is your reaction to the audiences’ reaction to The Fountain when it was screened at Venice?
Darren Aronofsky: The Audience Screening? We had a standing ovation for ten minutes. The Press Screening is what I think you are talking about. Well, the Press Screenings are press screenings, so I wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened, but you should research what happened there. It was reported that it was booed, but I don’t think that happened. Just the other day I was in Barcelona at a press conference with the Spanish press, and a question came up about the Venice reaction. I finally thought I had the opportunity to say something, so I asked them if any of them were in the room [of the Venice Press screening] and one guy raised his hand. So I asked him, did the people in the press screening boo? He said no, they whistled [Note: in European culture, a whistling gesture is similar to a booing gesture in the US]. I asked ‘did any people applaud’ and he said ‘yes’. So I asked him what was louder, and he said ‘they were the same’. The film is divisive, and when they were clearing the theatre they had to pull these groups apart.
So then I asked if anyone was at the Cannes screening of Marie Antoinette and another guy raised his hand. I asked him if the same thing happened there, and he said ‘no, they booed the whole way through’. My point was kind of screwed, since I was trying to make the point that they were attacking filmmakers. I know that a reporter from Variety was in the room [in Venice] and wrote in her piece that the film was booed in the first sentence. She did not report anything about the applause. After that, AP picked up the piece, and now people like you are asking me the question. What I want to encourage you to do is to speak to a journalist who was actually in the Venice press screening. Now, when I am speaking like this people say I am defending the movie. I’m not: the film is divisive, like Requiem for a Dream when it first came out. It was viciously attacked. Variety, the day after Requiem premiered to a ten minute standing ovation, came out and said I should be in therapy, not making movies. The Washington Post review attacked me personally [Note: Stephen Hunter’s usual tongue in cheek review can be found here]. He calls me out by name, saying ‘OK Darren’ and then he attacks me. I'm used to it.
Q: How do you view the role of sound in your work?
DA: I think it is such a major part that is so underused. Now with the new technology like surround sounds you can do amazing stuff, like creating movement with sound. It’s a real tool to take the audience deeper into the experience.
Q: Can you talk about the transformation of The Fountain from a graphic novel to a film?
DA: Well, the project originally fell apart in October of ’02. I was over in Australia for the past six months, and then I backpacked through China and India for a few months to clear my head. I returned home [to NYC] and started working on several projects. There was $18 million lined up for the film with a ton of obstacles. Anyway, I was having trouble sleeping, so I went to my office, and stared at the shelves of books I have read, or partly read, sitting across from me. I then realized that this story was in my blood. I started off as a no-budget filmmaker, so I was wondering what the no-budget version of The Fountain would look like. I started writing it, telling no one, and about two and a half weeks later it emerged! My producer called it a ‘love poem to death’. With that it sort of changed, and we started working on it again.
Q: Do you expect to get 47 questions about ‘what is the film about?’, that is to say, that people will draw wildly different conclusions from the film?
DA: I see The Fountain as a very much non-verbal experience, not one where you sit there and get it all explained to you. It’s meant to be like a poem for people to think about and to [take stock in how they] feel about it. It’s like a Rubik’s Cube in that there are a lot of paths to solving it, but ultimately there is only one solution at the end. We had a sense of it on the set. I feel that kids today, with DVD’s and downloading films, watch films over and over again. I am confident that The Fountain is rich with clues that all add up. So maybe the engine that drives people to watch Lost will also drive them to see The Fountain again.
Q: So there is a single solution to the film?
DA: Yes, there is a complete, concrete answer. It does make sense, but the first time you see it, there is a lot going on. There are people who get it on the first viewing, but that doesn’t make you retarded, just retarded as much as I am!
JJS: Now wait, I don’t think I buy that explanation here. You admit that there are a lot of different interpretations of the film, but yet you maintain there is only one solution?
DA: There are a lot of interpretations, and they are all wrong except for one. There are things in it that all add up to one solution. When people give me other interpretations, there is always something that contradicts those interpretations.
JJS: So everyone else’s interpretations are all at fault?
DA: No, there are some people who get the interpretation as the filmmakers intend, and they get it. Others will get some slightly off, but it still works, sort of. Again, they usually run into a contradiction, but I’m OK with that.
JJS: But isn’t that still valid? Do you as a filmmaker not accept deconstructionalism when you illuminate celluloid of your work onto a screen before independent individuals?
DA: Certainly, I think people can get a lot of their own beliefs and see their own way through the material. We have gotten that before. That’s fine. It was the same situation with Pi, when a lot of people wondered when [Maximillian Cohen, the character portrayed by Sean Gullette in the film] drills a hole in his head, whether that was a dream, or real, or another of his nightmares. As a filmmaker I had a specific intention as to what was going on, but I was comfortable with leaving it open to interpretation. For me, it all adds up to one thing, but if it adds up to something else for other, then it wins for everybody. I just can’t stand the perfect happy ending, because there is no resolution like that in reality; reality is a lot more ambiguous. Things that have an ambiguity to them have a complexity to them as well.
Q: The film is rated R for “some violence.”
DA: Yeah, I am actually fighting with the MPAA on this [Note: the MPAA has changed its rating of the film to PG-13]. A lot of kids are emailing me about the rating. Apparently, there are a lot of kids who are fans of Requiem and I don’t know how they are seeing that particular film.
Q: Are you working on anything new, and is it going to be another six years before it comes out?
DA: Well, we have written something really big and really small. I should be done in the next couple of months and then I should know what is next. As far as talking about them I don’t really like to until the project is ready to go. All of the stuff you’ve read on the Internet is just hype. It’s all nonsense, stop reading that crap! All bullshit! Except for Chud.com and comingsoon.net, they tell the truth, the rest is crap! Watchmen, I was on it two weeks. The Batman project was a writing project with Frank Miller. All the time I wanted to make The Fountain, and I figured that after doing a $4 million drug project, working on something more commercial like Batman would help give me license to make The Fountain. It was a way to work with Frank and get paid, all the while developing The Fountain. When the project fell apart the first time, I started to develop Flicker as well as Lone Wolf and Cub, but it turned out that the studio didn’t have the rights to it. You see, selling film rights to Lone Wolf and Cub to a foreign company is a lot like Disney selling rights to Cinderella to a Japanese company: it’s like a Holy Grail to the Japanese; it’s not culturally easy.
Q: So is Flicker going to be made next?
DA: Flicker is a good script, but just not good right now to do. It is similar to The Da Vinci Code, so it needs to be rethought a little bit.
Q: Thinking back to your first effort with this story in 2002, what are the biggest differences between the project then and the film now?
DA: Originally we had this huge battle scene in the beginning, which, if you read the graphic novel, it was in there. Remember that when I wrote that, Gladiator had just come out, before King Arthur, Troy, and Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was interested in using new technology to show a great big battle scene, but then Jackson goes ahead and does it in Rings, and I knew my vision was going to be on a smaller scale. I realized it was more about one man overcoming obstacles. There were a few other scenes envisioned more expensively, so I honed it down. There was one scene with a spaceship battle that I was disappointed that we didn’t do, because it was going to be impressive what that ship could do! Still, that is also in the graphic novel, so you can see it there.
Q: I was wondering if there is going to be a Fountain Christmas ornament?
DA: You know what? They are being made! Snow globes, too!
Q: I got a sense of a patterning of this after 2001: A Space Odyssey and with not using CGI, was this you keeping close to your independent roots, and is this were you want to keep going?
DA: I don’t know, we’ll see. We have two ideas; one is big and commercial, but original. It does seem the stuff I work on always seem to fall outside the mainstream. We always make something different because we always try to do something new. The small film is sort of rough and tumble. So we’ll see. I want to keep challenging myself. Sure I wish I could sign up to do Rush Hour 3 and get paid and buy myself a house, but I just don’t seem to be able to do it.
Q: How did you do those on camera flower effects?
DA: There is an article on this coming up in the new issue of Cinefex. There is a weird guy who lives in Oxford who has this huge animation camera called an Oxbury. It’s basically a big grid with a camera attached, and he shoots through microscopes with big lights. He then adds chemicals and shoots. Some of the shots in the film was of yeast blooming.
Q: You say no CGI in the film, but how did you shoot the scene of the character getting all of his clothes blown off?
DA: That was a combination of destroying a model of him, painting frames, and with the tree coming to life, that was non computer aided animation. We worked hard and tried to do things a little bit differently.
Q: Given your strong visual style in your films, how do you work with your cinematographer?
DA: Well, our Production Designer also plays role there. We talk it out some eight months before we start shooting. We work it all out before we commit anything to film, the look of the shots.
JJS: This was your first film you have shot outside of New York. How was the transition for you?
DA: We shot The Fountain in Montreal. The Quebecois are great people, very artistic, and I had a very good time. Still, shooting in New York, because I am from there, is like shooting in your own back yard. It’s easier and more fun.
Q: How was working with these established actors, and what kind of director do you see yourself as?
DA: I don’t scream on my films. I screamed twice on Requiem for safety reasons. No, I didn’t have to scream on The Fountain. I got pissed off a couple of times, but I am a collaborator on my films, so we work these things out. With Hugh and Rachel, you know, actors are dying to act. So if you give them meaty roles, they love it. The most important thing between an actor and a director is trust. If you have that trust, you can tell them that they aren’t going to embarrass themselves and it works.
Q: How much did you work on the poster and other marketing materials?
DA: How did you like it? The tag line? Personally I hate tag lines; I don’t think we had one for Requiem. What could we have done, something like ‘how fucked up can you get?’ ‘Prepare to get your arm chopped off’? I worked a lot with the Internet trailer; we cut it a few times, and even though we showed a lot of beautiful shots, we didn’t give away the whole film.
Q: How was adapting a novel over writing from scratch?
DA: Adapting is a lot easier, especially if the novel is well written. I was working with Hubert Selby on Requiem who was hired originally to write the screenplay of the story. That project fell though, so he turned it into his novel. It was very easy to adapt. I did it over three or four months to adapt. I prefer this, actually.
JJS: Do you see yourself making more films with religion as a component?
DA: Do you think this is a religious film?
JJS: I think you make heavy use of religious iconography throughout, and thus, some will see religion as part of your film.
DA: Absolutely! [Laughs].
The American Black Film Festival:
Ten Years Later, In the Groove and on the Move
By Cheryl L. Dixon, DC Film Society Member
The American Black Film Festival’s (ABFF’s) mission is: “to create the most prestigious platform for Pan-African films from around the world. To nurture a physical environment where the Black film community annually gathers to form working relationships that will lead to: resource sharing, project collaboration, artistic guidance and development, and the growth of global distribution of quality Black films that transcend minority margins.”
ABFF is succeeding in its mission.
On its 10th anniversary, ABFF, has clearly evolved from its founders’ discussions about film industry-related topics, important film-related issues, and the development of ways to celebrate the achievements of established filmmakers and film stars of African descent, as well as acknowledge rising stars, and encourage, teach, and inspire, a whole new generation of aspiring filmmakers and film stars.
The past, present, and future, all covered.
In a conversation with one founder, Robert Townsend, two years ago, we discussed his role at ABFF as nurturing and encouraging new talent, or as “planting seeds.” He observed that ABFF provides a fertile ground upon which the emerging filmmaker or star and the seasoned one alike can meet and greet, one group teaching and inspiring the next, and each other, all the while reaching out to a new generation of talent. As examples, he pointed out: veteran actor and director Bill Duke’s commitment to teaching the Actor’s Boot Camp program for all the years of the Festival’s existence. (A special shout out to Mr. Duke, for his now 10th year of teaching the acting workshops.) He also noted that at ABFF’s then annual Gala Film Awards, both established and upcoming filmmakers are acknowledged and applauded on the same stage. (Today TNT broadcasts the Black Movie Awards, a celebration of Black Cinema, past, present, and future, in October. This Awards show brings what was essentially the Gala Film Awards to a much larger audience. The show is executive-produced by ABFF’s Jeff Friday and de Passe Entertainment’s Suzanne de Passe.)
While the challenges of film distribution, in general, remain an area for much-needed improvement, there is progress, and it will continue. In the meantime, on its 10th anniversary Festival Co-Creator and Director Jeff Friday and Festival Producer Reggie Scott can rightfully take pride in the Festival's accomplishments to date.
At today’s ABFF, there’s a lot of moving and shaking going on, and the networking and mentoring are on solid ground. For more detailed information about the Festival’s programs, events, history, and structure, please refer to the ABFF website.
ABFF asserts, “Ten years deep, 400 films later, ABFF is the place where careers grow, where we leverage ourselves and our voices to ultimately empower our community... so film fans and filmmakers can live happily ever after.” ABFF with its own world-class style is in the groove and on the move!
What’s New, Exciting, and Different? Selected Highlights:
Over 2,500 attendees gathered at ABFF in South Beach, Florida again this year between July 19 and July 23rd to hear and discuss the latest issues in Hollywood and Black cinema. The 10th anniversary lineup included over 40 films, American Features, International Features, Short Films, Documentaries, and Special Screenings. There were also film and technology panels, symposia (Nickelodeon Writers Symposium, What’s New in 16mm Filmmaking?, The Business of Hollywood and the Power of Ratings, and “The Third Screen”--Emerging Opportunities in Digital Filmmaking and Distribution), and workshops (Filmmaker Workshop 101, Actors Boot Camp, and HBO Writers Lab) all featuring industry executives. The 2006 Jury members included CEO Magic Johnson, actresses S. Epatha Merkerson, and Elise Neal, and actor Anthony Mackie. Plus, if there weren’t enough film and technology panels, symposia, or workshops, in your spare time you could network at events like the ABFF Soapbox, the Filmmaker Resources Center, or the Industry and Consumer Expo, or at the daily celebrity-filled, extra-fabulous parties in the luxurious hotels and nightclubs South Beach is famous for. The rainy weather didn’t permit much sunbathing, but everyone got to enjoy the programs.
AXE Bodyspray and Automaker Lincoln inaugurated a screenplay and digital commercial contest. AXE Black Filmmaker series solicited original screenplays focusing on the experiences of young African-American males while Lincoln hosted a “Define Lincoln Luxury” contest for the best 30-60 second digital commercial.
HBO’s Tribute to Russell Simmons’ “Def Comedy Jam.” A special panel recognizing the 15th anniversary, and the creators (the most enterprising and innovative Russell Simmons and Stan Lathan) and participants of “Def Comedy Jam,” a launching pad for comedy stars including Chris Tucker, Jamie Foxx, Dave Chappelle, and Cedric the Entertainer.
The line was wrapped around the lobby for entrance into the panel discussion on “Empowering Black Women to Succeed in Hollywood.” Men, as well, as women, gathered in droves to hear the pearls of wisdom from entertainment pioneers such as phenomenal Oscar nominees, actress Cicely Tyson and writer/producer Suzanne de Passe. They were joined by other stellar panelists, including actress Loretta Devine, and actress Kimberly Elise, and writer/producer Mara Brock Akil (creator of “Girlfriends”) who spanned the younger generation set. Access Hollywood’s Shaun Robinson served as moderator.
Comments Summary: Make a good film and make sure that you have the resources to get it out to an audience. In Hollywood, no women are in charge of big things. You have to speak up to be heard and brace yourself if you are interested in filmmaking, the entertainment industry is difficult and you need something more than a desire for fame and fortune to drive you. You need perseverance as you will be told “no” many times, but you must stay positive: “Limited thinking limits you”. But the work is very rewarding and can resemble a “lifelong love affair” with the creative process. There are role models and active mentors. Akil credited Ms. Tyson and Ms. De Passe for paving the way. Ms DePasse observed that labels belong on clothes and not on people, if you turn something green enough, no one cares if you are excellent, the work and ideas become the focus. There are great ideas and bad scripts. Must have courage and convictions. Believe in yourself, harness your resources to develop confidence, be dedicated, work on yourself everyday. If you aspire to be an actor, learn the techniques of the profession. Give them no reason to say “no.” “Don’t believe it, know it.”
A Conversation with... Cuba Gooding, Jr. Entertainment Weekly’s Neil Drummond interviewed Cuba Gooding, Jr. mostly focusing on his life since “Boyz ‘n the Hood” (1991) and his Best Supporting Actor Oscar-winning performance in “Jerry Maguire” (1996). Gooding confessed to a very dynamic ride of ups and downs and continuous learning since his Oscar win. He also mentioned parts of his early life growing up with a father in show business (his father was the lead singer in the group, “The Main Ingredient” and had also produced acts involving the Jackson Five and Al Jarreau) and his 80s stint as a breakdancer. He says that he wants do important roles that make statements and he likes roles that are “race neutral.”
And the Winner is... 2006 Awards
Grand Jury Prize for Best Picture: Director Anthony Lover, My Brother.
Audience Award for Best U.S. Feature: Writer/Director Maurice Jamal, Dirty Laundry.
Audience Award for Best Performance by an Actor: Loretta Devine, in Dirty Laundry.
Best Documentary Award: If I Die Tonight, Director Seyi.
HBO Short Film Award: Pop Foul, Writer/Director/Executive Producer Moon Molson.
Founder’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Independent Cinema, Christopher Scott, My Brother.
Winner of the “Define Lincoln Luxury” Commercial Contest: Writer/Director Javier Prato.
Winner of the AXE Black Filmmaker Series: Three Finalists, with winner to be announced on November 18 in L.A. Stephanie Louis, Holy Fit; Richard Montgmery, Only in Your Dreams; Selton Shaw, The Let Out Guys.
So, Who Was There?
Mara Brock Akil, Thomas Carter, Debra Martin Chase, Lee Daniels, Suzanne de Passe, Loretta Devine, Bill Duke, Kimberly Elise, Vivica A. Fox, Nelson George, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Magic Johnson, Eriq LaSalle, Amel Larrieux, Stan Lathan, Anthony Mackie, S. Epatha Merkerson, Elise Neal, Shaun Robinson, Russell Simmons, John Singleton, Chris Spencer, Guy Torry, Robert Townsend, Tamara Tunie, and Cicely Tyson, to name a few.
Short and Long: A Selection of Favorites
By Cheryl L. Dixon, DC Film Society Member
TV and screen actress Tamara Tunie (Law and Order: SVU and As the World Turns) again hosted the 2006 HBO Short Film Award program. This is one of my favorite events as it often showcases the first works of outstanding, emerging filmmakers. Frank E. Flowers, for example, winner of the 2003 Short Film competition for “Swallow,” has recently written and directed a featuring film, Haven, starring Orlando Bloom, Bill Paxton, Zoe Saldana, and Bobby Cannavale.
Five filmmakers’ works, chosen by a panel of industry experts, compete for a $20,000 grand prize. Runner-ups each receive $5,000. This competition recognizes and rewards filmmakers of African descent who have either written or directed and produced a short fictional film (30 minutes duration or less).
The following were the five competition finalists:
Pop Foul. (Written, directed and produced by Moon Molson). A young boy witnesses an incident involving his father and cannot quite see his parents in the same way again.
Mandingo in a Box. (Written and directed by Daheli Hall). Comedy and satire mark this entry about the Black woman’s search for a Black man as a partner.
Sin Salida. (Written, directed, and produced by A. Sayeeda Clarke). An old woman looks back on early choices made with regret.
Trespass. (Written and executive produced by Nelsen Narie Ellis and Directed by Xandy Smith). A young man comes to terms with his disturbed brother and the truth about his father.
Winnie and the Duppy Bat. (Written and directed by Annetta Laufer). A young girl braves cultural superstitions while attempting to save her dying mother.
And the winner is...
Pop Foul. Writer/Director/Executive Producer Moon Molson has worked in film production, post production, and set building. A writer of spec sitcom pilots and a theater director, he attended the Cinematography Program at the Los Angeles Film School. He also served as a Screenwriting and Digital Editing Instructor at the School of Cinema and Performing Arts in L.A. and the Berkshires.
... and The Long
I had the unique pleasure of seeing ABFF’s Opening Night Film, Shadowboxer, at the Festival on the same day and at approximately the same time as the DC Film Society’s screening. The plus? I had the opportunity to congratulate Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding, Jr. in person for his outstanding performance in Shadowboxer where he plays “Mikey,” a hit man working alongside fellow assassin and much older lover, “Rose,” portrayed by the magnificent British actress Helen Mirren.
In his interview with Entertainment Weekly’s Neil Drummond, Gooding said that he enjoyed the stretch in playing a hit man in this movie. It pushes the bounds with its elements of interracial romance with an age disparity and suggestions of incest. It also includes hints of homosexuality and transvestitism. He considers the family scenes with an interracial group bonding as a “family” in Shadowboxer, a reflection of the changing face of the American family. He chooses roles that offer him artistic growth and stories that move him. Some role choices he made were made for specific audiences. He doesn’t, for example, expect kids to see Shadowboxer. He found the story particularly powerful as he considered them Director Lee Daniels’ life experiences. He sees a future in doing independent movies, which will offer the character development he craves. “It’s never just about the money,” he asserts. He also sees himself producing films and otherwise working with his brother, actor Omar Gooding.
But I digress. It’s a real pleasure seeing Gooding tackling more serious fare. And the performances in Shadowboxer by Cuba Gooding, Jr., Helen Mirren, Vanessa Ferlito, and Macy Gray are all terrific. There’s violence, but it’s not gratuitous, and sexuality, and nudity. The movie is very fascinating to watch and involves nothing that a mature audience couldn’t handle.
The American Black Film Festival
Conversations with Thomas Carter and Chris Spencer
By Cheryl L. Dixon, DC Film Society Member
The ABFF presents multiple opportunities, both formal and informal, to get up close and personal with many of the participating stars of stage and screen as well as other behind-the-scenes film principals and film executives. I had the opportunity to interview director/actor/producer/writer Thomas Carter and actor/writer/producer Chris Spencer. Here are excerpts of those conversations, in which personal stories, background, and insights are shared, and knowledge about the challenges and the opportunities both on the road to, and in, Hollywood gained.
One of the truest delights about interviewing is that you never really know which direction you’ll veer towards. Some interviews are straight forward Q&A, cut and dried affairs and others are real adventures taking you down unexpected paths, discovering treasures at different turns. Conversations with Mr. Carter and Mr. Spencer could not have been more different, in tone, in style, but not less in substance and content. I came away with more knowledge and much deeper appreciation of these great talents.
Thomas Carter: Channeling Coach Carter
Thomas Carter, well-known director of the popular movies, Coach Carter, Save the Last Dance and and Swing Kids, also has a long and distinguished career directing TV shows: 80s hits like The White Shadow, Fame, Remington Steele, St. Elsewhere, Hill Street Blues, and Amazing Stories, were just a few of his projects. I was delighted to discover that he also directed the original pilot of the pioneering and influential “Miami Vice” TV show. I got to tell him that the upcoming movie based on the show was less Versace, and more Hugo Boss and that it would be premiering the following week in Miami. He had not kept up with hoopla over the re-envisioned version.
I found Mr. Carter immensely thoughtful about his TV and film career, both of which, as previously mentioned, have given him the opportunity to explore different roles as director/actor/producer/writer. He shared lots of insights about his career. From his comments about “Miami Vice” and working on the original pilot, I got the sense that he somewhat predicted that the show would be as popular as it was. He described Miami of that time as an interactive city that reinvents itself and that the series was set in a particular time so it would be hard to duplicate that particular magic, that “alchemy” amongst the various levels of fashion, music, and cinema. He further described the advent of MTV and that “Miami Vice” was the first TV show to incorporate the heavy use of music as an integral part of the show.
Who are his influences? He cited Sidney Poitier as a big influence as an actor, also director Steven Spielberg, and Japanese director Kurosawa in his use of images to tell a story. Film Society fans who have seen the Kurosawa classic, Rashomon, stand up and cheer! Movies that influenced him include cinematographer Gordon Willis’ work on The Godfather, Annie Hall, Manhattan, and All the President’s Men.
When asking him what specific aspect of filmmaking or role in the film industry he preferred, he mentioned that the producing role was one “induced by necessity.” As for directing, he cited the need to maintain a “clear vision” of how he wants a film to look and the need for a partner in creating that particular vision. He eloquently described shooting things in tableaux, in a frame beautiful as a still-life picture, but life-like, the form fleshed out in light and shadow like an artist who does contour drawing.
He also then described the influence of British directors and their art school commercial style to filmmaking--long shots, smoke in the room, a very stylistic approach.
What’s next? I inquired. IMDB.com describes projects in the works like Freedom House, describing the emergency medical system and the paramedics’ world where unemployed African-American men in Pittsburgh, including ex-vets, are trained to become paramedics. He described his most challenging projects as simply “the next one.” Clearly he is excited about a future project on Jackie Robinson, in which Robert Redford will star as Branch Rickey. Currently working on the script, Mr. Carter asserts that this will be a great piece of history and an important part of history. Those of us who have seen the 1950s autobiographical movie on Jackie Robinson in which Robinson portrayed himself, he says, are aware that Robinson excelled as both a baseball player and as a man. Too often, however, we don’t know much about such stories of personal greatness that are compelling, entertaining, and shed light on that history.
Evidently, Carter likes movies that touch the heart. Other favorites? The Godfather, Lawrence of Arabia, Schindler’s List, Out of Africa, Boyz ‘n the Hood, and Tsotsi. He likes the way these movies are made and the talent featured.
He’s open to talking with young filmmakers and recommends McKee’s “Story,” for aspiring writers. Carter is definitely one to watch. Like “Coach Carter” I can see him as a mentor. If he doesn’t already teach somewhere, he should! As he spoke about visuals while directing, I could actually “see” them in my mind’s eye. The eloquent and fluid way that he conveys artistic vision through his speech was truly inspiring.
Chris Spencer: Will He Ever Get Serious?
I moved from the more serious Thomas Carter to the quite “unserious,” though seriously funny, Chris Spencer, who played the character Curtis on “The Jamie Foxx Show.” I had been forewarned that it would be hard for me to keep a straight face during this interview. Believe me, Mr. Spencer did not disappoint. In fact, he exceeded my expectations. Spencer has definitely earned a niche in the L.A. sitcom world.
While Spencer has extensive comedic acting experience, he also writes and produces. Along with “The Jamie Foxx Show,” TV acting credits include Charmed, ER, The District, and Soul Food. Feature film roles are found in Low Down Dirty Shame (1994), and Don’t Be a Menace to South Central (1996). He was a producer for “Get Up Stand Up Comedy” (2001). I asked him about his family life, probing to determine what prompted him to become a comedic actor. He assured me that he had had a perfectly normal upbringing. He didn’t have an unhappy childhood. No traumas that influenced his life direction. He grew up in L.A. to two well-adjusted parents who wanted him to attend college and do something respectable with his life, i.e. “get a job.” He joked that with a college education and a “regular job” he probably would be making a lot less money than he is now. He’s married and he has an infant son. Perfectly normal, except he’s got jokes, exceptionally good ones ... so much for playing amateur Freud.
More importantly, Spencer conveyed the sense that he’s happy and satisfied with the work that he’s doing and the options that his talents present. Like Carter, he has expanded his skills to include writing and producing in addition to acting where he started. He told me he had written the script for the Black Movie Awards and he has written for TV as well. At ABFF this year, he was serving as host of the ABFF Independent Film Awards ceremony.
Why show business? Well, he’s an L.A. native and a “natural” when it comes to comedic writing and acting. In fact, during the interview he didn’t hesitate to try to take control of the interview by asking me questions instead! I weakly protested that it was my job to put him on the hot seat, but I was too busy containing my laughter. I couldn’t help but be impressed by his demonstrated talent, timing, delivery, and witty repartee.
What’s next? Watch for him in Redrum, (echoes of Stephen King’s The Shining) a comedy set for a 2007 release. I am looking forward to seeing him do some future writing projects, maybe scripting some feature-length comedies, or surprising us with a sampling of his more serious acting or writing ability. He deserves a bigger showcase for his talents. Definitely impressive.