January 2003
Biker Boyz : An Interview with Reggie Bythewood

Interviewed by Monikka Stallworth

Director/writer REGGIE ROCK BYTHEWOOD.Biker Boyz: An Interview with Reggie Bythewood

Reggie Rock Bythewood made his directorial debut on the acclaimed independent feature Dancing in September. He also wrote the screenplay for Spike Lee’s drama Get On the Bus. A native New Yorker who grew up in the Bronx, Bythewood began his career in television, working as a staff writer on the comedy hit A Different World. He later served as a supervising producer on the hit cop drama New York Undercover. I had the opportunity to speak with Reggie about his latest film Biker Boyz, an action-packed contemporary Western on wheels, that explores the world of underground motorcycle clubs.

MS: First I just want to tell you that Dancing in September was one of my favorite films.

RRB: Thank you, it’s good to hear those words. Getting that one made was a battle in and of it self, it was a tough one, thank you.

MS: One of the aspects of Dancing in September that I really appreciated was its seeming authenticity of the world that it explored and in Biker Boyz , you’ve certainly achieved a level of authenticity as well.

RRB: One of my favorite parts of the process of filmmaking is doing the research and one of the things that I set out to do with Biker Boyz was to really bring people into this world. I wanted to give everybody the same experience that I had when I was first in their clubhouse. I mean its like you just realize that this is a world that you’ve never been in, so part of the challenge is in how you put that on the screen. The objective is to bring people in and not have them at a distance sitting just as spectators, but rather to involve them as much as possible.

MS: Have you found that you’ve had to make many, or any compromises along the way in the telling of your stories?

RRB: I can honestly say that I don’t feel that I’ve compromised in any way. When I did “Dancing In September”, it was really unique because I did an independent film; raised the money and I really had nobody to answer to. It was like “this is my vision - I lived it, I researched it, I’m making this”. And the big challenge after I made “Dancing” became who wanted to distribute it.

MS: Did you ever contemplate making Biker Boyz as an independent film?

RRB: I had actually, quite frankly thought of raising the money for Biker Boyz independently, but that was just too steep for some of the investors, so we took it to the studios- to Dreamworks.

MS: Were there any complications with Dreamworks?

RRB: Well, one of the fears early on was “Are they going to try to make me compromise?” What I found was that Dreamworks was actually giving me suggestions and creative ideas, but never once did they say ”don’t do that” or “you have to do this?” It was sort of like, “This is your vision, run with it.” And they allowed me to do just that and it was amazing to go from independent film to a big, action film and have the support of the actors, producers and the studio. What can I say, I was just really, really blessed.

MS: This was a concept that the producer, Stephanie Allain, had brought to you based on an article. Did she attach the writer?

RRB: Yes.

MS: So, the script came to you finished?

RRB: You know, my background is writing, so what I had to do was make it my own. The research part is huge for me. Craig Fernandez wrote a really good script and it was good enough to get me involved in this film. So the first thing that I did was contact Pokey (Manuel Galloway) and hung out with him and his club.

MS: How open were they to being open with you about sharing their world?

RRB: I think that they were really guarded, but the day that I met with them, I was straight up about what I was trying to do and how I just wanted to tell the truth and I wanted to see from them what it was about. And slowly, but surely they let me in to the point now where now, we’re friends. They’re my boys.

MS: Are you a member of their bike club now?

RRB: I’m an honorary member of the Valiant Riders. And I’ve become an honorary member of other clubs, too.

MS: You didn’t have to be a “Prospect?”

RRB: No, but it was kind of touchy because you’re only suppose to be in one club, so the fact that I was embraced that way was special. And let me tell you, when these guys embrace you, they really, really embrace you.

MS: I recently had the opportunity to interview John Singleton on the set of Fast and the Furious II. He said that his experience on the set of F & F II was really the first time that he’d been able to wear just one hat as the director, instead of having to take on lots of other responsibilities. Was Biker Boyz a similar experience for you?

RRB: During the actual production, I mainly wore the director hat, but it wasn’t like the sort of thing where somebody said, “Hey take all the money you need or want and go.” We had to be very judicious with our time and very calculated in how we were going to shoot and manage the money and manage the day and also, we had to do a lot of work to get the movie made. We assembled our cast before we even got the green light and really packaged it that way. You know that on Dancing in September I was the producer, investor, and director. Fortunately once we got up and running with “Biker Boyz”, I was able to mainly focus on the directing. Stephanie, Gina and Erwin (producers) did a really good job of taking the pressure off of me.

MS: What an awesome cast Biker Boyz boasts. Could this be the beginning of a sort of “Reggie Bythewood Camp?”

RRB: I don’t know if there’s a “Reggie Bythewood Camp” yet. I just have to say that the thing that was really important for this film was that I had strong actors so that I could make an action film that had a lot of depth. But there are a lot of people that I’m excited about working with again like Lawrence Fishburne, Derek Luke, Orlando Jones, Lorenz Tate, Vanessa Bell Calloway.

MS: What do you think it takes to be a great director?

RRB: I’d say for me, having something to say. And then being able to execute that and both are a challenge. It’s one thing to have something to say and another thing to execute it. Part of the challenge is just fighting. There are a lot of battles that you deal with in trying to find ways to execute your vision whether it’s raising money or getting actors. It usually starts with being able to tell a good story. But I would say that a really good director has something to say and knows how to execute it well.