All week we’re covering this year’s Sundance Film Festival and talking with the filmmakers behind some of the hottest movies in Park City, Utah. Rick Famuyiwa is one of those guys. He wrote and directed “Dope” — a comedy set in a historically tough part of Inglewood known as the Bottoms.
But unlike other films set in these kinds of neighborhoods, the main characters in "Dope" are geeky teens who have a lot in common with the kids in Judd Apatow's "Freaks and Geeks." Still, they also live in a place where they could get shot buying a hot dog.
Famuyiwa and his producers Forest Whitaker and Nina Yang Bongiovi had shopped the script around Hollywood studios to no avail. So they made "Dope" independently.
After "Dope" premiered at Sundance, there was a fierce bidding war, which ended when Open Road Films and Sony Pictures Worldwide reportedly bought the movie for $7 million. On the day after the deal closed, the Frame's editor Darby Maloney chatted with Famuyiwa about his surreal Sundance experience and upending stereotypes on screen.
Give us some insight into what's happening for you, because this is what every filmmaker who gets his or her movie at Sundance wishes for.
One, it was the first screening in front of a real audience, so just to get the reaction of people laughing where I'd hoped they would, and clapping where I had no idea applause would come was staggering.
And then to go straight from that to literally right after your Q&A where folks were shaking my hand, in my face like, "We're going to talk later today, I'm talking to your representatives now."
I went from there to the after party for the film and we were just celebrating how incredible it was, and then there are potential buyers at the after party as well. [laughs] I guess it feels sort of like a beauty pageant -- you're going down a line, shaking hands, and smiling really big as everyone compliments you. It's surreal; how do you react to all that? How do you react to everything coming at you?
And how did you react? Part of the smile was probably genuine, but at some point was it like, "Now I have to perform for these people?"
What's crazy is that it's the other way around. You're so used to having to do that, because any time you're trying to make a movie at any level, unless you're Christopher Nolan or James Cameron, you have to go in there and put on a show.
And so being on the other side of it was a little weird, you know? [laughs] Especially with a lot of people who had seen the script before, because "Dope" had gone out in a traditional way and went to a lot of the studios, and they read the script and they didn't get it. [laughs]
They didn't get it, and so it was interesting to be in a room with a lot of the people I had sent the script to earlier and now they're telling you how brilliant it was. [laughs]
Had it changed at all?
It changed just because of the budget: we couldn't raise the same amount of money that a studio could, so we just had to make some logistical changes. But the heart of the story was pretty much the same, and the script -- besides cuts for locations that would be too expensive -- was the same script.
But I'm going to let them off the hook a little bit because I think it was such a different kind of script, and what I was playing with was the idea of this familiar world that we've seen a lot on film and television. We think we know these neighborhoods and these kids and everything about this environment, and I was completely scrambling what those notions were.
These are three geeks living in The Bottoms of Inglewood, which is one of the toughest neighborhoods -- it's gotten better from when I was growing up -- in the city, but they're into punk rock, and hip-hop, and manga, and skateboards, and BMX bikes, and all kinds of stuff. And they're talking about Aaron Schwartz and Bitcoin, so I think it was like a server error in their minds; it was like the spinning wheel of death that goes on your computer. [laughs]
They were looking at the script and it was short-circuiting everything they thought, so I think until they saw it realized they couldn't quite get into it. It was something they needed to see first. But from there it was back to my agents' cabin, and everyone comes by and says hi. [laughs]
And they court you!
Are they bringing frankincense and myrrh?
[laughs] Yes, they come and it's completely absurd. They come in and they passionately talk about your film, and it's literally a crazy, overnight, "deals going back and forth" thing with people getting upset, like, "Why am I meeting at three in the morning and not one in the morning?!" [laughs]
We've even had Harvey Weinstein calling you up giving you the full-on, [laughs] you know, full-on Harvey. And it’s just surreal because six months ago, there was nothing.It's surreal, because six months ago there was nothing. We were still struggling to try to figure out the final financing of the movie, and here we are; we shot the movie over the summer, and here we are at Sundance. It's unreal.