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October 2004
Hair Show: An Interview with Leslie Small

Hair Show: An Interview with Leslie Small

By Wilson Morales

Independent films are all up against the studios films. It's a chance to tell your story without having any interference from more than just one person. It's a chance where you can find out if there's audience out willing to see your film because of either of the talent or the plot. The same happens with a studio film but the difference is the marketing process. With indies, there's not a lot of capital to spend, so the word of mouth is really a big deal. In the world of black cinema, there's always a common theme that seems to sell at a certain time period. With the success of "Barbershop" a few years ago, everyone's now tapping into that genre and spawning variations of that theme. Earlier this year, we had the sequel to "Barbershop" and we also had "Nora's Hair Salon" come out on DVD. Next year, Queen Latifah will be starring in "Beauty Shop", which coincidentally was the title of another film that is slated to come out this year. That film, an indie, is now called "Hair Show" and stars actress-comedian MoNique. Blackfilm.com had the chance to speak to its director, Leslie Small, about the film and the process he went through to get the film in theaters.

Take me through the development of this film

Leslie Small: Initially, I was working with MoNique getting ready to do her one woman comedy show, One Night Stand, which is out on DVD; and the producer of that along with myself talked about doing a female comedy surrounding the world of hair, glamour and fashion. So we approached MoNique with it, and she signed on, and we approached Kellita Smith and she said she would be interested in doing it. So we sort of brainstormed and came up with the concept of having to go to hair shows and I liked that whole world of hair shows. We agreed that we would do something, a comedy set in high fashion, a hair show, and we brought in a couple of writers and developed a script, and we shot it. We went from idea to script to production.

Was there any challenge in trying to get this film to theaters?

LS: Actually, what happened was when we went out to the marketplace, several studios wanted to put the film out, and they were talking about putting it out in 1200 theaters, but the complications we ran into, and it was nice to be 1200 theaters, but films like this sort of make their money in DVD sales. Theatrical releases pay the bills, and DVD is the profit, and the profit margin that we would have been able to participate in on the studio side was very minimal; almost like non-existent. We decided as a collective as opposed to taking a deal that really wouldn't benefit us to raise the P & A funds ourselves and hire an independent theater booker and put the movies out ourselves and platform it. Because they were trying to put it out in so many theaters, we already knew that we had a strong piece enough that studio executives believed it would do well and penetrate the market strongly; and so we weren't willing to give up all of the profit potential just to be associated with a studio release.

Can talk about getting the other cast members?

LS: I called Vivica Fox and asked her to do a scene for me as a cameo, more like a spoof on "Kill Bill"; she chose to do something different. Serena (Williams) was playing in Wimbledon and I called her, and finally got to talk to her. I actually wanted her for an extended role but by the time we were able to get back in contact in her, and she was playing tennis tournament, she decided she would do a cameo scene, which was cool. Gina Torres came in and auditioned and she was just incredible. Taraji (Henson) auditioned again. It was a combination of reaching out and touching some of the names that had familiar faces that we have seen before, and the other side of it was that some incredible people came and read and auditioned and took the role. It was a wonderful process.

At one point the title was known as "Beauty Shop", but now it's called "Hair Show". Was the change because of the MGM film with the same name?

LS: Initially when we started this movie and titled it "Beauty Shop", there were no two companies. We pretty much were in the can before MGM decided to go out and do theirs. When it came up and became controversial, one, we didn't want to confuse the audience, but two, when we did focus group screenings, we found that the audience from the focus groups, and we did several of these and ask them they could title the film, what would it be, everybody felt the film was so much more about a hair show in a world of fashion than it was about a beauty shop. So one, it was about carving out your own space and having your own identity, two, we felt we had a film that stood on its own and didn't need the title "Beauty Shop" and association thereof. Three, the audience felt that this much more than a beauty shop; and the hair show world had its own subculture, which is a wonderful world where these hair esthetic artists create creations of hair that are amazing. We thought it should be highlighted as a strong part of a culture. Again, it wasn't a hard decision to make.

How much research went into this movie?

LS: I went to two hair shows and I thought about how I could this better from a film perspective. I could up the ante. I liked what they are doing but I thought about how to make it theatrical. I went to a couple of hair shows, doing some reading, and taking to some people, and it became like a great challenge, so I assembled a team. I got a hair consultant and we put together an incredible team. It started with me putting out the vision and telling what I wanted to do and then I found the technicians that can do it. I had a producer specifically assigned to the hair shows for the whole shoot. There was a lot detailed work from the makeup to the wardrobe, and the sets as well. It was a wonderful collaboration.

To be continued...

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