What's happening cyberpeople!!!!!!!!!!!!!!This is Ma'at here again. This week I am going to give you a double dose of Out Town (that's putting it lightly LOL). This first one is my interview with the cast and crew of the Alton-filmed movie, "Pieces of a Dream." (You can see pics and more info in previous blogs)The other one will be my usual post (that will probably post first) OK here is my interview with the cast and crew at before during and after the Red Carpet screening of the film at Ice Theatre: Chatham 14 in Chi-town (which was Feb 27).
At the screening Feb. 27 at the Ice Theater: Chatham 14
After the screening, Director Skee Skinner (seen on the left pic during the Q&A session after the screening), who holds a Communications degree from Millken U, talked with this reporter about the film.
Skinner said the main challenge of making this film was keeping in tune with the theme.
“That was our challenge to remain true to the theme--Its not linear, its makes you think,’ he said. “ It’s a whole new genre of filming, conscious films. I want to continue doing this. I’m not going anywhere.”
The editing was key in “Pieces” telling the story from the ending to the beginning and correlating all the characters together.
“That’s the way I wrote it,” Skinner said. “ I write in an editing style because I’m editing my own work. I know how the story is going and how to pace it. I think as a filmmaker, you have to have your hands in every aspect to some degree . Editing is the back-bone and you gotta cut it right.”
Skinner also talked about being from a small town of Alton, Ill and not having the Hollywood scene in his backyard while filming this Alton-based film.
“Alton is my hometown and as a child I always thought there was potential to do a film in Alton with the landscape and all,” he said. “To be in a small town, it offers It everything an LA can give me. I can make it happen plus bring something positive back to my community. The control factor and to bring it back. Alton will always serve a certain backdrop for me in my movies. I still have love for Chi-town and other Meccas. I’ve done movies here in Chi-town but it’s time to do films in the Metro East and St. Louis area.
On people’s reaction to his film while it was shown, Skinner said. “I saw it already in my dreams. All I did was go through the motions. All that happened tonite. I already knew it was going to happen. It was a premonition to me. That’s how I work and approach things. I rehearse the scenes in my head and seen it. Genuine love and speaking dialogue and intelligent conversation and we definitely accomplished that.”
Prior to the screening, Skinner, talked about how the film was produced..
“Initially, my writing partner Paul (Branton)and myself had a collection of short stories and we wanted to do something different that were coming at us and scripts we had, “ he said. “ We strung four short stories into one story following a moralistic theme questioning if sin have weight. It was a tapestry of stories that we wanted to make one big piece and put the mirror up for the world to see.”
Skinner said it took about eight months to write up the script and in October 2004 filmed the script.
“It was challenging but I love it,” he said “ This is what I was supposed to be doing. I worked in this industry for a long time, on every aspect-- the lighting, shooting, blocking scenes. It was all connected to making a bigger piece. I enjoyed everybody on the film, the cast and crew. The process is a human process . When you can take something in your mind and take something visually and audio wise and display it to the world. It’s a unique process.”
On why the film’s premiere began in Chicago, Skinner said. “We wanted to open up in one of the larger markets . Instead of doing L.A. Or New York, that’s so common. We wanted to bring something back to the Midwest which is one of the goals of One Way Productions. We want to be the triangle in the Midwest being between Chicago, St. Louis, and Indianapolis. Initially that’s why Chicago was the obvious city of choice. Then back home to the St. Louis Metro area and shine a beacon on those markets before we take it to the coasts.
Skinner said his production company is trying to negotiate a deal with Werrenberg or AMC, or James town Mall for the St. Louis premiere (tentatively for April).
“At the end of the day, II want to make a difference in the film game, “Skinner said.
“We bring a unique aspect to the film game being that we do conscious films.”
Co-writer, co-art producer and co-star Paul Branton, writer, art production , said about the opening of “Pieces”: “It just a blessing. Its all about the hard work that was put in not in this production but others that lead to this. Skee and I have been grinding at this like the mid nineties, ten years. I’m happy right now. This is not the end of what were trying to get to but it’s so close what we visualized years ago. It feels good when you think about the child and you wonder how that child will look like from the belly and now we get to see the birth of that child.”
Branton, who met Skee at Milliken U in Decatur, Ill, (and received a degree in Commercial Art) , talked about the inspiration for the movie’s vignette titles: “Genesis,” “Malachi Golden,” “Matthew” and The Revelation.” and tag line, “Does Sin Have Weight.”
“In the construction of the film, we put short stories together and it was like putting together chapters of a book and with the pieces being so powerful, we were like, well, what greater book there to us than The Bible? So the stories being weaved together was one complete story and took us on a journey. We named each one of the vignettes, from The First Book of the Bible , The Last Book of the Old Testament, The First Book of the New Testament and the Last Book of the Bible, in that order. When we got to the final story and the incredible ending, I can’t compare it to the ending of the Bible, but it is extremely powerful and at the same time, it opens peoples’ minds.
“As far as the tagline, actually it came from the first vignette, “Now I Lay Me,” started
as a shirt story that I wrote years ago which dealt with the most perfect man in the neighborhood and that everybody looked up to that was a man of God. But, he had a fault, and in the company of my other writer friends, we would say, does this fault make him less than a man than somebody who murders or steals. Is one sin greater than another. And that’s how the tag phrase got started.”
Branton talked about his role as co-star as the reclusive painter Paul Thibadeux.
“It was about this artist who is extremely talented, intelligent to the level of Van Gogh , but at the same time, he was so reclusive from the world that nobody knew about him. So when a friend, of his, David (played by Daniel Devito) who is the opposite of Paul, very outgoing, tries to lure Paul out of his reclusive world and push him into the limelight , but at the same time, David, also used a female, Natasha, (played by Anita Showalter) top lure him out of the house, with a plan and backfires in the end. With me playing the character, it’s not too far removed from my reality because I am an artist, but I’m not shy and so reclusive that I could not communicate with the world. I had to be myself times ten, like a fish out of a fishbowl.
Branton also talked about the color of red in the film.
“That whole story came from a short story written by Ralph Jones and we (Paul and Skee) adapted it to the screenplay, “The color of Red was all about this guy, with red in his paintings is so brilliant and so bright and it foreshadowed in the end with his blood.”
Branton said he and Skee hopes to keep the film in Chicago all this month , then move it to St. Louis and they were getting ready to film either “Pill Hill” or “Deeper Shade of Blue” this fall.
Indianapolis-native Monty Jay who attended the premiere and plays the evil gang leader Coop said, “I look forward to tonight . I’m very excited because my family hasn’t seen the film. I saw the film. I’m a little nervous to see everybody’s reaction. I think everyone will be pleased.”
Jay talked about his auditioning for the film:
“I met Paul and Skee in 1998 when they were auditioning for their first film, “Vacant Lot” in Indianapolis, and I auditioned for that. I stayed in contact with those guys. They let me know they were working on the script for “Pieces.” And they were finding me to audition and I had to go on two auditions, My first audition was in Chicago in early October (2004) and I flunked that one. The next audition was in St. Louis like in mid October (2004) and I auditioned. Well, I got it.
“They didn’t play favorites even though we are friends. I think they intentionally made me audition again, so it was a sigh of relief and the hard work began tapping into my character (Coop). and that was hard to do because he was so much not like myself, being sinister and dark but I had to keep him human.”
As far as film itself, Jay said that “there are no stars in this film really, to be honest. The film itself is the actual star and that’s rare in the film business. I missed the family of ‘Pieces of a Dream.” It was a positive experience and we all clicked. Anytime you can get that, you’re going to win regardless.”
After the screening, Jay said, “I was sitting with my wife and father, and she wouldn’t even let me hold her hand. My father was doing double takes That let me know that I got the character right and the effect that it was written.”
On the people’s reaction, he said. “Every time I watch the film, it’s always something new. People laughing at different times then stop laughing when suddenly this character shoots someone. Watching it by myself is totally different..
Producer Luther Simmons said, “I’m blown away of the overwhelming turn out. The . first night is sold out. We are thrilled we were so well received by Chicago. Tickets went on sale that Friday (Feb. 25) and the showing was sold out on Saturday (Feb. 26). We’re going to run the film, evaluate it, and see how long we want to run it in Chicago and then maybe run the film in St. Louis in April”
Simmons talked about his job in the film
“My role is on the side of the business side, basically my function was to secure financing from the film and to insure all of the biz aspects of the film were in place . The actual filming of the movie that the support things that were necessary for Skee Skinner another co-producer, making sure everything was in place, the equipment, location, support staff, insurance , permits, street closures, everything to get in and out of locations as smoothly, feed the crew, house people in and out of town.”
Simmons also commented about the day-to day filming process.
“I was behind and on the scenes. Everyday I was on location and I had a variety of things to do off location as well. I had to make sure everything was smoothly and everyone was cooperative and my partner Skee can focus on directing the movie with no distractions. It was very grueling and long days. We would film 12 hours a day, but my job was more 16 to 18 hour days mapping things out before the filming and after the filming. Making a movie is very time and energy consuming and tedious. We shot in 20 days. And those days seem like two months. The film was shot in Alton with a crew mostly from Chicago. We had a lot of cast from St. Louis and one of our main leads were form East ST. Louis (Joel King). Most of our leads were from Chicago and L.A.
On the film’s six figure budget, Simmons said, “Its hard to secure funding for an indy film Anybody who is an indy producer from Clint Eastwood to Spike Lee on down will tell you its not easy to secure financing for them. Its hard whether you’re proven or unproven. We were fortunate enough to have some relations in the Alton area with some colleagues of mine in the legal profession to came to the plate and made the film happen. You got to have people who have excess capital, the Riverboat gambler in their personality and that you mesh with and embrace your vision.”
On the film, Simmons said, “The last 30 minutes of the film are as powerful and gripping that you would ever see in a movie. It’s a serious film, Its something that speaks to different people on different levels. That’s the reason why on our website, just showing the three-minute trailer, the response s have been mindboggling, a half a million people who have seen our website,. Were very enthusiastic about the film.”
Chicagoan Ngina James, who plays Glo in “Pieces,” her first film, said her first reaction
When she saw herself on the big screen was to “cringe, but then I tried to focus on it as the story went on so I can get something out of it, too.”
She also talked about her pivotal last scene that Simmons alluded to earlier.
“I liked the scene,” she said “It was a culmination of everything that happened in the film. It was death but no resurrection.”
She also talked about her auditioning for “Pieces.”
“I was walking down the street in Chicago and someone was filming “Roll Bounce” and Dave Stephenson (the line producer) was down the street and I asked, ‘What are you guys doing?’ I’m an actress.’ He was like, ‘Oh ok.’ He was working on a project himself and he asked me to audition for a project he was working on.”
She said things turned out differently than what she expected two weeks later.
“One of Dave’s friends (Paul Branton) was auditioning for their film (Pieces) and I was interested,” she said. “So I went in and auditioned and I was like, ‘Oh my God, they hated me, and got the role. I was at the right place at the right time. It was a blessing.”
James also talked about her role, Glo, and filming her scenes.
“My character is a young woman who has two kids, no husband, had a bad relationship with her mother, left home early, and had to do what she had to do to survive, “she said.
Luckily, I was in a play at the time and I wasn’t rusty. What I decided to do was memorize the script from beginning to end and not the scenes, but it wasn’t that hard for me because I could follow through with the story and I had a love scene, a first for me, That was a little scary. It was totally choreographed and interesting. I won’t be looking at love scenes the same. Its very technical. It was a closed set and Skee and Paul were very professional .
Chicago actor Harold Dennis, who plays the troubled priest, Father Flockings, said he “I felt really comfortable while I was shooting. We did this film 15 months ago. I was happy of my performance and how I looked on film.
On his character’s flaws, he said, “This is my fifth time seeing the film, and the first time, on screen. I was looking for certain reactions from the audience, moans, grunts. And I heard some of that . I was expecting people to take a negative effect cause initially I’m the protagonist that people attach to and so for that twist of appeal in the film, I was looking for the reaction. And when I got it, it worked,. I think they wrote it for that reaction., that surprise.
On how he got the role, Dennis said, “in 1999, I was doing a play in Chicago written by Chicago director and actor Fernando Jones and he hooked up with Paul and Skee and he was in their first film, “Vacant Lot” and I remember going to the premiere and I was saying, ‘Man I would like to work with these guys one day.”
Well, Dennis hope came true a few years later.
“In June 2004, I was in line for an audition for a Robert Townsend film and ran into Paul and he had the opportunity to see me do this monologue of Alonzo in “Training Day” for Robert and they said they were shooting a movie and having auditions in August. Well, August came around and I didn’t get a call. But, when October came around, he called, so at that moment when he called me I was like, ‘This was it!’ This was my big break.’ So I went to the audition and did a totally different monologue and they wanted me to play Coop, but after a week later, they got (Monty to do it) and offered me Father Shep, the priest. It was a challenge so I went to the thrift store and got a priest outfit, jumped on the bus and rode to Alton. Paul gave me hug and called me Father Shep.
East St. Louis actor and director Joel King, played the role of Black Jesus. King talked about how he found out about the auditions.
“I found out through a friend of mine (Cassandra Joliff) who was the extras/assistant casting director . She told Skee that she had a particular guy for a part in the film, She called me and I met Skee and she said, ‘Am I ready to go to Hollywood?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I guess.’ It sounded like an interesting opportunity. And she told me what to do as far as getting prepared. I asked her what genre it was and at the time I was working on a hip hop musical at the time so I utilized my own work.”
King, who was originally was supposed to play Father Shep, said his audition was one that was a one of a kind experience.
“When I got to the audition, it was amazing,” he said. “After I got done with the audition it was like time stood still. They were like,’ Stop right here cause we found what we’re looking for.”
King said it was a “different” being on the film set. My background is theater but as far as movies are concerned, I was unfamiliar. I got a lot of time to sleep. It was a lot of open time and technical stuff I had to learn right way like camera shots and you had to talk to people who were not there and have to connect .”
On his role as Black Jesus, King said, “I could not relate to him as far as a personal thing but as far as what he did to survive and get to that point to survive, whatever works in order to take ourselves out of our present reality. His role I really took to heart because it was telling the story of today’s youth and what they are unaware of and the choices that they make.”
King said that he nearly had a nervous breakdown while playing Black Jesus, especially the Crucifixion scene.
“When the whole brutality happened for him, after the shoot, and they took me back- to the truck to get myself together for the next shot, I went through a mental breakdown, King said. “ It was so much to take in this young guy who had to suffer certain consequences to try and make a better life for himself. I took it to heart and it took me a moment after experiencing that.
Actor and Harris Stowe University student Ervin Williams, one of the only St. Lousians who was able to attend the premiere said, “I’ve seen parts of the movie but not the whole thing. When I saw my part I thought it was a great outcome.
Williams, who was originally supposed to play the part of Victor (that went to B2K star Raz B), but he played one of the gang members in the Stone cold Statutes.
“In the movie, I was an alcoholic street guy off the block, in the club partying. I was a follower in the group.” He said.
As far as the set, Williams said, “The set was great. This was the best set I’ve been on and people treating you nice.”
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