September 2002
Barbershop Group Interviews : Bob Teitel & George Tillman (Producers), Don Scott (Writer) and Tim Story (Director)

Interviewed by Monikka Stallworth

Barbershop Group Interviews : Bob Teitel & George Tillman (Producers), Don Scott (Writer) and Tim Story (Director)

First there was the “Rat Pack”, then there was the “Brat Pack” and when these four young men stepped into the room, it was all about the “Black Pack”. Refreshingly laid back, the Producers, Writer and Director of Barbershop seem to be taking in the excitement of their upcoming sure-fire hit with such candor that anyone in their presence can’t help but delight in their accomplishment. Jovial and personable, they seem more like (in the words of Cedric the Entertainer) “play cousins” than super-creative achievers. But, make no mistake, creative trailblazers they are. With Soul Food and Men of Honor to their short, yet profound list of film credits, Bob Teitel and George Tillman served as producers on their latest film Barbershop. And they enlisted new writer Don Scott along with video director turned first-time feature director Tim Story to realize this slice of life “dramedy”. Fresh off the winds of their filmmaking excursion, we sat down to chat about the upcoming release of Barbershop:

MS: How did you come across the script? Who conceived it?

George Tillman: Bob found it first. We were in post-production on Men of Honor and he came in and said “I found a script and we can go back to Chicago”. We hadn’t been to Chicago since Soul Food. So, I read the script and thought it would be great for us to do. So, we brought Tim on board. We had met with a lot of other directors, but Tim just caught us. He was prepared. He had the vision. He came in with some still photos like the stills at the beginning of the Barbershop. He pretty much had every thing drawn out and we liked his taste. Then, after one writer, Don got involved and we really focused the movie. We didn’t want to do a straight comedy. We wanted to do a dramedy and it worked out.

MS: The writing in Barbershop is so clever, so on point. Was it derived from real experiences?

Don Scott:: My barbershop experience is from when I was a little younger (tugs on his dreadlocks) seeing as I haven’t been into a barbershop in many years. But I’m from Cleveland, Ohio originally and one of the things that Bob, George, Tim and I agreed on was that the black barbershop experience is pretty universal across the country. George and Bob are from Chicago. Tim’s from Los Angeles and I’m from Cleveland, Ohio. And everything that we talked about was the same- what they saw in the barbershop, what I saw. The characters are the same, you know, the politics, the girls, the joblessness, I mean all the topics are universal and I just brought what I thought were certain nuances that I experienced, you know, seeing people come in with problems, issues. People would come in after a good day and just want somebody to pat them on the back, all that’s real.

MS: You guys (Bob & George) seem to have an interest in films that are drawn from real life scenarios. Is that intentional? Is that what you would consider your style?

George Tillman: After Soul Food happened, we were able to realize our style. Sometimes it gets kind of frustrating because both of our movies did very well and you look at Hollywood and its still a struggle to get a movie made no matter how successful you are. So it’s good to see that people are acknowledging and figuring out that ‘okay, nobody’s quite doing this’.

MS: How did you muster up the balls to do the Rosa Parks and Jesse Jackson jokes? I mean these are civil rights’ icons…

Tim Story: I know, when I first read it, I read it again, like ‘did he really say that?’ But that’s actually what made it cool. I think that’s one of the things we wanted to do with this movie, is kind of push the edge, and kind of like tempt people to have conversations about it cause at the end of the day, it’s just opinions. And in the barbershop you can say what you wanna say and talk about who you wanna talk about and once you leave, its not gonna be in the paper the next day, your mom’s not gonna hear about it. This is a place where any man, and any woman for that matter, can state their opinion. We just wanted to stay true to what the barbershop was and is about – no censorship.

Don Scott:: We wanted to show that black people don’t have this monolithic point of view which is what mainstream America seems to put on us. We wanted to make sure that in the barbershop conversations, there were opposing views. We had one person that thought, you know, Rosa Parks was the greatest civil rights moniker ever and we had another person say, no, she didn’t really do anything special. We wanted that back and forth in the whole film so that we could show that, you know what, black people got different opinions, we don’t all agree, but at the end of the day, we’re all gonna love each other and we’re gonna agree to disagree. That’s part of what we wanted to do.

MS: There are a lot of interesting shots and shot compositions like the tilted close-ups in one sequence. How much of your shots were story boarded?

Tim Story: Early on, I did a lot of story boarding, but at some point, there’s also a rhythm that the characters start to create and there’s things that you can’t story board. You can’t story board how Cedric is gonna walk from here to there. And at some point we started to find that story boarding would help you to get started, but it would never really help you through the entire scene. And a lot of times, I remember coming to Bob and George and saying ‘hey man, I wanna shoot this scene real-real tight and hand-held and tilt the camera – what do you think?’ And they were like ‘go for it.’ And I went for it. I started to think how could I make it visually interesting? And in each scene, that’s what you’re forced to deal with. How do you make this different? That’s the creative challenge.

Bob Teitel: It was challenging, I mean you’ve got the young audience, that MTV style audience and you want to keep it fast moving but you’re in this claustrophobic shop, that was Tim’s biggest obstacle and George dealt with that a lot in Soul Food at the dinner table.

MS: Tim, say one of your actor’s has an idea for how they want to do a scene, are you open to that?

Tim Story: Absolutely, I think with a cast like this, when you’ve got actors of this caliber, you want them to come up with ideas. I’d just want them to share their ideas early on cause once you’ve got the blocking, and the camera starts going, you need to go. So I would make it a point to keep my conversations open with all the actors. We were in the same hotel, so if I’d pass them in the hallway, I’d say, ‘hey, are you cool for tomorrow?’ And they started to understand that it’s kind of a respectful thing because if you stop all the sudden on set and say ‘hey, what if I did this or that’ in the middle of shooting that it is sometimes hard to accommodate. But I’m very open to actors because sometimes they’re right.

MS: Why’d you want Ice Cube as the center role and what was he like to work with?

Tim Story: Originally the script was written for an older guy and at some point, just through talking to people and deciding what we were trying to say, we decided to make him younger. And Cube… I don’t know if we could’ve picked a better talent. He just embodies the – he represents the streets, but at the same time, he’s a family man and we knew from looking at his projects that he had some depth to explore and when we got to him, he was open. For instance, we went in with a whole speech as to why he should wear hard shoes as opposed to sneakers and he told us ‘I wanna wear hard shoes.’ At one point, he wanted to wear glasses through the whole film. I mean, he just got into it. And I know it was important for Bob, George and myself that he play a Chicago guy and not Ice Cube in Chicago and he got into that whole idea.

Don Scott:: He was so good, from my point of view, from what I wrote down. That’s what I wanted Calvin to be. When I’m watching Cube do these scenes, I mean, he was doing everything that I wrote down and more.

MS: Did you get to go to set?

Don Scott: Yes.

MS: It’s not standard for writers to be on set, how’d you swing that?

Don Scott:: These guys have love for writers.

MS: Movie making is so competitive and there are so many variables as producers, what are your priorities, what are you hard-nosed about?

George and Bob (in unison): Story – the script.

George Tillman: I heard somebody make a comment about black film - that we spend 8 weeks on the script and 8 months on the soundtrack. Story is the most important thing.

Bob Teitel: And we’re our toughest critics. We beat each other up. The studio was ready to shoot this film like 6 months before we were and we were like “no, no, no, no”, we have to make it perfect. Our attitude is like, “this is it, this is our last chance, if this doesn’t work, we’re not getting another one” and I like that. I like keeping that vibe and kind of pushing one another. And for us, (another priority) is to have fun. The four of us get along so well. What you see now is how it was on set.

MS: Did you happen to see Project Greenlight on HBO?

Tim Story: The Greenlight show was going on while we were filming and literally, Bob would call me and say, ‘do not watch it.’

Bob Teitel: I would not let him watch that show.

MS: Were there any overwhelming days on the set?

Tim Story: The most overwhelming stuff was shooting at night when it was cold. I remember when it finally got below zero and they were telling me it’s negative two degrees, and I’m going, you know, I’m from LA, what do you mean “negative”? The weather was just brutal.

Don Scott: You should have scene the clothes that Tim had on. He had some boots from Afghanistan.

Tim Story: It was funny, I had on so many clothes, that sometimes I’d just stay outside.

MS: What about the marketing for Barbershop? Who handles it and are you happy with the marketing efforts to date?

George Tillman: Bob’s on the phone everyday. He takes care of business

Bob Teitel: I think what they’re doing so far, is like you see billboards up five weeks before the release date and that’s great. What we brought to the table from our past experiences with Soul Food and Men of Honor is to say ‘lets screen at the NAB (National Association of Barbers), lets go to the hair shows in Atlanta.’ You have to spread it out, let people see it and let them be the judge. My hardest thing with them (the studio) right now, is to convince them that this is not just an African-American film, it’s for everybody. What I need to do is convince them that this film is for everybody. And that’s the kind of films we set out to do – they’re African-American characters and African-American stories, but they are so universal. It’s hard to get them to see that. And you look at that cast, I mean Cube, come on, he’s the Sir Anthony Hopkins of the Hip-Hop world, you know what I mean. You look at Sean Patrick Thomas who made, Save the Last Dance - one of the biggest films and Eve, whose audience is everybody. Cedric who’s doing these Budweiser commercials that are geared to like everybody – I mean come on, I’m trying to tell them this film is for everybody. So for me, they are hitting our target audience and I think they’re doing a great job, but I have to get them to open their minds and expand and really let people see and that’s hard sometimes, just like it was hard making it. Every film we’ve made has not been like “okay, let’s shoot”, its always this whole game of “look what we’ve done” and hopefully by doing something like this and if it’s successful, it gets a little easier, just a little easier.

MS: Barbershop seemed to have a few messages. Was there any intended symbolism in the screenplay?

Don Scott: Makes us sound like we were pretty deep, huh? (chuckling)

Tim Story: At the end of the day, we are filmmakers and we do need to have a point. There’s a little message and if you get it, cool and if you don’t, did you enjoy yourself?