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April 2005
King's Ransom: An Interview with Jeff Byrd

King's Ransom: An Interview with Jeff Byrd

Wilson Morales

After directing the critically acclaimed "Jasper, Texas", we hadn't heard from Jeff Byrd for a good minute. Well, he was waiting for the right project to come along and it's finally here, King's Ransom, starring Anthony Anderson. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Byrd went over the marketing of this film and how it could be successful.

With the success of "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" recently, did that make you think about their strategy, and force you to have meetings in regards to the campaign for your film?

JB: Exactly, that film has change a lot for a lot of people now and not only is Hollywood second guessing black audience, but they are also thinking about the journalists in a different way too. They are thinking about grass roots marketing and we need to get every single black publication involved in this film because at the end of the day, we want the same opening as "Diary". That film really resonated with the black audience because of Tyler Perry and his shows and it because it was embraced by the black media. Although some of the negative reviews came from Variety and The Hollywood Reporter and other mainstream publications, the black media saw the merit to that film.

With "Ray" and "Hotel Rwanda" recently out on DVD and those films came out towards the end of last year, do you think there's pressure on your film to be as good just to keep the spirit of "quality films" in the air?

JB: With "King's Ransom", I didn't make it with that intention anyway. I'm just a big fan of comedy. It doesn't get recognized as much as it should and I think with "Hotel Rwanda" and "Ray", I think those are fantastic films and they should be recognized the way they were, but comedically, its counterpart should be recognized too for making you happy, making you laugh, making you forget your troubles for an hour and a half, that's my goal. I laughed at Anthony. I laughed at Regina Hall. I thought it was funny. As unrealistic as it may be, it's funny, in regards to its unrealism. That to me is what constitutes good comedy to me.

What made this film so special to direct as opposed to the other project you were thrown after directing "Jasper, Texas"?

JB: A lot of projects that came after "Jasper, Texas" were heavy dramas and biopics and things of that nature and after doing Jasper and dealing with that on a daily basis, the dragging death of a human being, I wanted to do something that was more light, and this film was fat. It was also the idea of working with Anthony and not only just working with him, but the first film where he's the star, the standout lead in "King's Ransom". The idea to support another black man's career is what also attracted to me to the story. He also supported me. When they asked him if he wanted me to direct the film, he told them yes, so it's sort of a symbolic relationship between the two of us. We don't often see in the film world especially with black people.

How tough is it to direct a comedy?

JB: It's extremely tough because like I said before what's funny today may not be funny a year from now. It's quite difficult to always stay current or stay timeless. Timeless is what you go after. When ever I do research I go back in the day to the Three Stooges or the masters who did things that were timeless like Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin or others; and that's what I try to go for.

Was there anything in the script that may have seemed offensive?

JB: That's an interesting question because I would never want to offend the black community and what it was I really wanted to stay away from the N word, which always represents a negative depiction. With that said, Charlie Murphy's character comes out of prison. Basically, we tried to make a film where you can put any race in those roles, from Asian to Latino to Middle Eastern, and I think we accomplished that. There's a universal theme within there. There are no Ebonics in the film. I think we, as a community, have come farther than that. There are some film that can do that and have and that's great, but I think we have come farther to not even have to go there.

How do mix the screenplay to your style of directing?

JB: Wayne Conley wrote this and he was open to having me change things around to fit my needs, but also the actors. Anthony has his own voice and his own way of doing things that work well for him, so he and I were able to collaborate on that and stay also within the context of the written word, but still making it our own; still adding the subtle nuances that make it our own and that is the very difficult dance; to be able to dance around a person's script that they have writing for years and years and still pay respect to what they wrote but also having it be true to what's in my heart and what's in the heart of the actor. We were able to do that with Wayne and hopefully still approves of the film.

Have you considered writing?

JB: Writing to me is such a solitary job that I really gravitate more towards working with people. I'm really more of a collaborator than a singular being or singular entity, and as much as I write to facilitate a lot of the ideas that come to my mind when I cant get a writer to write then correctly, I've never really focused on writing. Maybe I write a script every two or three years just because it's a long project and also because when I write I want things to be correct. I want so badly for things to be correct that it's fanatic. That's why it's hard for me tow write.

What do you think make a good comedy?

JB: To have a subject matter that is as universal as possible; something that I think that people can be able to relate to in any form. I think the good thing about this film is the ensemble ness of its nature so there can be a person that looks in the audience and say "Oh, that's stupid. That's unrealistic, but I know that woman." The beauty of an ensemble is that you can sort of work those things out a bit more. A universal theme is what constitutes good comedy; and also make people laugh without being offensive.

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