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June 2008
An Interview with Executive Producer Nelson George

An Interview with Executive Producer Nelson George
By Wilson Morales

June 9, 2008

As a writer, director, and producer, Nelson George has spent the last 20 years putting together projects that most of his colleagues wouldn’t take a chance on. From ‘The N-Word’ to Queen Latifah’s Life Support, George put his passion behind these projects and stories. For the last few years, George has been an executive producer to BET’s American Gangster series, where the lives of some of most notorious criminals are displayed. Unlike what one sees on Hollywood films where liberties are taken for commercialism, what you see on the series is raw and real.

In promoting the DVD release of ‘American Gangster: The Complete Second Season’, which comes out on June 10th, George talks about the work it takes to get the real story on these guys such as Frank Lucas, Melvin Williams, and John Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, the D.C. Snipers.

What is your role as an executive producer for this series?

Nelson George: I’m involved in helping pick out the subjects. I’m involved in selecting the producers and writers for each particular episode. I read all the scripts at various stages as we begin developing them. Depending on where the pieces are being shot, I try to go on location, but at times, I try to stick my head in to see how things are going. I’m also in the editing room and watching it all the way through; so I’m involved in every creative aspect of the show.

How do you go about selecting who will be profiled in the next series?

NG: We are working on the next season now. It’s not that easy because the truth is that the show works best when the person who is the subject has some kind, or essentially a great story. Most of the people we find are either national figures like Nicky Barnes or people like Felix Mitchell of Oakland who may not be nationally known but have a tremendous reputation in their area. We’ve done some people who have interesting stories. I have all the stories are excellent. I think the best thing on the DVD on the ones that not well known. I people will discover a lot when they look at the DVD.

Should we be at the point where we are glorifying these individual criminals by giving them national spotlight on the small screen and on DVD?

NG: In the case of some of these guys, if you watched ‘American Gangster’ the movie, and you watched the Frank Lucas episode of ‘American Gangster’ on BET, it’s not the same guy. The real Frank Lucas is not a suave guy. He’s a rough country boy. A lot of what we do is give you a close look at who these people really are.

Is there a challenge getting the rights to display the stories of any of these individuals?

NG: A lot of these guys have been out of jail like Frank Lucas and others where we can speak to them and negotiate directly. Some are deceased like Felix Mitchell so what we try to do is get family members or people in their family to cooperate. We really want them to be comfortable with the piece. The third level is to get the government to cooperate from the local police to the FBI. It’s about two or third levels of negotiations that have to go on.

How far can the series go on if you have already highlighted a majority of the notorious criminals we know of?

NG: I don’t that there are many more. We are working on a new season, which we are doing right now, and after that we have to look and see how much more we can do.

What’s on the DVD that we can see that wasn’t shown on BET?

NG: Well, you get longer stories such as Frank Lucas and The Philly Black Mafia, and also on Melvin Williams. Melvin and Frank were interesting men. Melvin is a spellbinding talker. Part of HBO’s The Wire is based on a small part of his life. In regards to Frank Lucas, the big difference between the movie and real life is his childhood background. If you watch this DVD, you will get a real understanding of who he is.

On Tuesday, June 10th, when DVD comes out, why should anyone pick it up?

NG: Hopefully, it’s good storytelling. I’m hoping for people to look at the other stories besides Melvin Williams and Frank Lucas because of the connections to Hollywood, but guys like Larry Hoover, the brains behind Chicago's largest and most powerful street gang and John Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, the D.C. Snipers. I’m hoping people will discover the depth of the storytelling, and the effort and care that goes to making these shows work.

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