The sound stylists at the Boolean Studio house band (aka Twin Goat) tagged yours truly as part of The Next Big Thing. Briefly, TNBT is a way for writers to promote recent projects by answering a set of standardized questions. Twin Goat thought why not musicians? And why not filmmakers too? Below are the questions I’ve been assigned to answer in regards to the film I’m producing, called Street Fighting Man (w.t.), for your edutainment. Enjoy!
Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing
What is your working title of your film?
Street Fighting Man (unless the Rolling Stones come to hunt us down!). Street Fighting Man tells the story of 3 men battling to save what they love most in post-industrial Detroit, a place where everyone is left to fend for themselves. Deris Solomon is a young father trying to care for his daughter and get an education without succumbing to the siren call of the streets. Recently homeless, Luke Williams chases the American Dream as he scrapes together just enough cash to rebuild a former crackhouse, making him a pioneer on block threatened by arson. And James “Jack Rabbit” Jackson is a retired cop forced to police his own streets after the local precinct shut down. As we witness each man’s herculean fight to claim what’s his, the film reveals that no one can do it alone.
Where did the idea come from for the film?
I’m one of the producers on this project and I work with director Andrew James. When Andrew was searching for the subject of his next documentary, he stumbled upon a story about a retired police officer on the East Side of Detroit. He started patrolling his own neighborhood ever since the local police station had shut down due to a lack of tax revenue to keep it open. The title of the piece was called “Street Fightin’ Man” and it was about James “Jack Rabbit” Jackson, one of the main subjects of our film.
I found Andrew through a film series I program called The DocYard. Andrew’s last film Cleanflix was the kick off-film to the entire project. He told me about Jack Rabbit and visiting Detroit and sent me some footage not too long after. Seeing the footage got me hooked immediately and I knew I had to be a part of making this film a reality.
What genre does your film fall under?
I could simply say “documentary, but non-fiction film is a varied field and it’s experiencing a bit of a renaissance with all kinds of newly-imagined creative directions shifting and reshaping the terrain. I would say that our project is best described as a character-driven vérité piece, which means that we experience the story directly from the camera’s observations of what occurs in these people’s lives (also often referred to as “direct cinema”). But the film is also very dramatic with the story unfolding much like a fiction film would. So it’s a bit hard to reduce to simple categories.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
This is tough. But I think I would select Forest Whitaker for Jack Rabbit, Don Cheadle for Luke, and maybe Usher for Deris. Though I loved Michael B. Jordan from Friday Night Lights, and I heard he knocked it out of the park with Fruitvale at Sundance last January. Sadly, there is no room here for Idris Elba. I would just like to be in a room with Idris Elba in general.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your film?
I included this above when mentioning the title. In doc film, this one-sentence synopsis is also called a “log line.” Our’s is this: Street Fighting Man is a character-driven documentary that follows three men – each a generation apart – as they seek to define their lives in post-industrial Detroit. It’s okay, but doesn’t get enough of the story arc and what’s at stake for our characters in a way that draws you in. It’s simply a description. A friend floated this suggestion to me: “When the police stop working a struggling Detroit neighborhood, a former
cop and two homeless men use their street-wise to help build a safer
community.” Hits many of the right beats and it offers a better sense of what’s at stake, but it’s not QUITE the story. I’m working on it!
Will your film be self-published or represented by an agency?
Well, this is a concept that translates a bit differently for films than for books. We do not have an agent yet. We hope to secure one. We are in post-production now and we feel that when we have a solid rough cut, we’ll be in a better place to get representation. The film has largely been funded through producer cash, donations, and Kickstarter campaigns. We still have a few grant requests pending, which will really help us finish this film if we get them! But we are determined to make a beautiful and important film either way. Our hope is to premiere at a festival in the fall or winter and secure distribution from there.
So the question posed is this: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I’m not sure what the film equivalent would be. We’ve been working on the film for over 2 and ½ years. We’re in post-production now working with a Story Consultant (the amazing Jamila Wignot) and about to start work with our editor (the equally amazing Jason Tippet). We expect to be done by July. But our timeline has been extended several times and so much depends on available funds, so we just use timelines as rough guides at this point. In a weird way I feel like we are constantly in first draft and final draft mode at the same time.
What other films would you compare this story to within your genre?
I’m not sure that I’m comfortable comparing the film to others, but I can speak about what films I’m inspired by. Recent films that leap to mind include: Leviathan, Sweetgrass, Last Train Home, 45365, Only the Young, and When We Were Soldiers. These films have beautiful visuals; specific, intimate stories with universal appeal and application; and try to play with story structure in interesting ways. They also require a deep trust of the audience and their willingness to go on a journey different from what they might typically expect from the documentary experience. I also believe that all of these filmmakers truly love cinema, like we do. We hope to accomplish much of what these films did in the film we’re creating.
Who or what inspired you to make this film?
I find it deeply troubling that the poor remain invisible in this country. Though the election cycle is now over, you might remember that we spent much of our time speaking about the haves (Wall Street, wealthy, privileged) and the have somes (often referred to as “working American families”), but almost no time on the have nots. There are an increasing number of have nots in this country. And by have nots, I mean have nothings. In our film, you see Luke cashing in cans to find money to build a home for himself that is, then, tragically taken away. Deris buys take-out regularly for his girlfriend and daughter because their apartment has no refrigerator or stove. Their stories are not unique, and yet they remain invisible to the majority of this country.
People have their own troubles; the global recession hit all economic sectors and no one but the super-rich were immune. But the African-American community has been uniquely affected. In 2009, the Pew Charitable Trusts published Downward Mobility from the Middle Class: Waking Up From the American Dream, a study demonstrating the connections between race, gender and class mobility. As the study notes, “Nearly 40 percent of black men raised in middle-class families fall from the middle in adulthood, double the number of white men who do so.” This married with statistics about incarceration rates for black men tells a story about systemic racism and classism in this country that needs to be addressed.
I also have a lot of anger about the financial mess our country is in. And anger can be very motivating – if you can’t tell, it’s motivating this response! The dire fiscal straights many of our cities and towns find themselves in across the country are a direct result from the unchecked greed demonstrated by Wall Street, the failures of industry, and the blind eye of the US government. The result: the near bankruptcy of one of the most significant cities in the US (not QUITE bankrupt yet, but appointing a bankruptcy lawyer as your emergency manager does not bode well). Granted, this has been a long path of decline for Detroit. But its current condition can be linked directly to the home mortgage crisis and the outsourcing of American jobs oversees. Beyond that, Detroit’s specific challenges, including transitioning to an emergency fiscal manger, may be the largest example in scale of the “new normal” for US cities, but not the first. Among the first was in my own backyard – Central Falls, RI. The outcomes of what happens in Detroit and Central Falls will affect regular people like you and me for years and years to come. It’s time we start shining a light on what happens when a nation abandons its cities, forcing cities to abandon their citizens, and then the citizens have to make a go of it on their own. Because this is certainly the “new normal.”
What else about your film might pique someone’s interest?
The cinematography by Andrew James (our humble director also shot the film!) is stunning. It will blow you away.