State Property II: An Interview with Damon Dash
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By Wilson Morales
From music making to movie making, Damon Dash is certainly moving up the chain in the Hollywood industry. Not only did he produced the critically acclaimed film, The Woodsman, last year, but he's coming out this week with his own film, State Property II, the sequel to the indie film that did financially well when it came out a few years ago. Dash is wearing major hats with this film as he directed, produced, and acts in the film. Believe it or not, it's the third film he's directed with the other two being "Paper Soldiers" and "Death of a Dynasty". With "State Property", produced by his company, Dash Films, and Lions Gate Films, Dash hopes to be a major player in this business as he is on the music side. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Dash spoke about why he chose to make a sequel and why he's directing it.
When did you decide to do a sequel for this film?
Damon Dash: I don't know. I think I just started writing the script and I figured there needed to be a sequel because there was such an overwhelming response to the first film. I don't remember when it happened but I knew it would coincide with Benny Siegel's album. What we try to do is prepare for the worst and the worst is that Beans wont get any radio spin like he usually doesn't and they won't his videos on MTV like he usually doesn't. We didn't anticipate him going to jail. But it was there, and I figured it we were going to do this again it would have to be at another level. It would have to be a definition evolution from the first film. The reason I chose a director for the first film so that I could accomplish everything that needed to be accomplished within that budget. For this film, we got a lot of production value for $2 million dollars. As it ended up, while we were shooting a movie about him going to jail, he was actually on his jail. So it was definitely art imitating life, unconsciously.
How did you go about in choosing Victor "N.O.R.E" Santiago for a starring role?
DD: Initially, the role was written for Petey Crack, but he ended up going to jail while I was writing the script. I knew that I needed this Spanish character and N.O.R.E had been in all my movies and he would have been in this movie regardless, but it just bumped him up. He was going to be a part of Petey Crack's crew and I just bumped him up to the role that Petey Crack would have played.
Generally speaking, sequels have a bigger budget. Was that the case here knowing you were bringing some of the cast from the first film?
DD: The budget for the first film was $600,000, and initial intent was for it to go straight to video, basically we made money, and with this film, we went half, me and Lions Gate Films. So I basically took my money and put it back in. Let's flip it and do it better. Instead of this film being $600K, it was $2 million, and they still bitch and moan, but whatever.
This is the third film you have directed, the others being "Paper Soldiers" and "Death of a Dynasty". Do you feel you have received the creditability you think you deserved as a director?
DD: This is my first theatrical and there's a big difference between that and straight to video. That's why it was important for me for this film to be theatrical. I don't really do anything for creditability from other people. I'm just learning. "Paper Soldiers" was the first film I directed, and I thought it did well, and I actually helped people with their careers like Kevin Hart. He's moved on to be a star in movies, and my film was his first opportunity to be in front of the camera. "Death of a Dynasty" was a personal thing I did. It was me expressing myself to a degree. I was spoofing a situation I knew was going to come and I knew people would take it and exploit it the wrong way. So I just used that opportunity and that million dollars, which was how much that movie cost, and just had fun with it. This was the first movie I really prepared for and prepped and storyboarded and edited and I took it really serious this time and we will see afterwards what kind of accolades I get, and what kind of opportunities present themselves from it. I don't do things for creditability. I take my credit. That's what I do. I let my actions speak louder than my words and if people don't want to embrace it, them f***k them.
Going back a bit, how did you end up producing "The Woodsman"?
DD: Marvet Britto is a publicist and she mentioned that the movie needed $2 million dollars, and I said, "What movie?" I'm not into cutting checks for movies. She told me about the script and that I should read it and about the cast, which had Kevin Bacon and Benjamin Bratt, and etc. I thought it was a good thing to do, number one, because how socially conscious it was, and for the perception of an individual like myself; to validate me in the movie business. That's why I did it. I built a lot of good relationships from that movie. I have a lot of respect for Kevin Bacon and I have a lot of respect for Lee Daniels.
Because of your producing credit on "The Woodsman", have you received numerous amounts of scripts to finance?
DD: Back in the day when I walked in the club, folks were giving me demos, and now when I walk in a club, I get demos, I get scripts , I get portfolios from fashion designers, I get books, I get patents for electronics, I get liquor ideas, and that why I don't go out any more. I'm a businessman and an entrepreneur and that's what I'm known to be and anyone that aspires to do what I do elects to give me what they got. I get a lot of scripts and a lot of different opportunities. The thing about the movie business is that once people know that you are cutting a check, everybody tries to hit you for money and I don't think understand that I am not a check cutter, and I not a bank. I rather produced a flick and I chose to invest in one movie, but I doubt I would ever put up my own money again. I made my money back from "The Woodsman" and I immediately put in "Shadowboxer" because Lee Daniels did such a great job and I trust him. That's a good movie starring Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding Jr.
What's easier for you to do, directing, writing, or producing?
DD: If I ever write something, then my intent is to produce and direct it. I can't do one without the other. The reason I started directing is because as a producer, when you pass your vision, something that you have started from the inception, and you give it to a director, it becomes his vision; and if he's working for a studio, he's doing what the studio wants. He's not necessarily doing what the producer wants; so if it's my vision, I feel that I have got to see the whole thing through. That's why I try to study and learn because there are a lot of different movies I want to see made and I don't know if anyone has the courage and guts to make it the way I want to make it; so I have to direct, and sometimes act, and sometimes identify the financing. As a producer, there are a couple of people I can trust with my movie and Lee Daniels is one of them. He's supposed to produce the next film I direct.
Are you worried about what young fans of your work may try to emulate from your films?
DD: Because it's a comedy and a spoof to a degree, and because of the way I position myself in the things that I say I don't advocate violence at all. There are always repercussions whether it's in a funny way or not. There are no happy endings in these gangster films, and because of that, I think people get the right message and look at it as just entertainment. I think overall in the hip hop community and hip hop culture, we are so heavily critique at everything we do, that I doubt when ŒThe Terminator" was made, people wonder if their kids would turn into robots and start shooting people. From the urban market, everything you do has to apply to everyday life; it can't be just entertainment, no matter how unrealistic it is. A movie like "Paid in Full" dealt with repercussions and another movie I'm doing deals with repercussions.
Why should folks go see "State Property II?
DD: Number one, look at all of the people that are in the film. We have Cam'ron, Beanie Siegel, Mariah Carey, and myself. There's the comedic element of it. People are curious to know where you go from "State Property" and how could you make that movie good. Sequels are traditionally worse than the first, but with this film, it's better. I just hope people are entertained, and truthfully speaking, I made this movie for them.
DD: I'm prepping this movie called "The Counsel" and "Inside Out" that I will direct. One film is about Nicki Barnes and his life. Not about Barnes, but about Jazz, who was a good friend of Barnes that went to jail. The other film is about Chazz. Chazz is from Queens and back in the day, he used to rob banks and he went to jail as a young man for robbing banks; and while he was in jail, he was put on work release. During the day he would go to school and be back in jail at night, but instead he was back at robbing banks during the day. But he since he was back in jail at night he would be ruled out as a suspect. It's like an urban "Heat".
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