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Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Art Of Guerilla Filmmaking--As Told By The Hammer

While rereading my interview with Barry Jenkins, I was reminded of an email sent over to me by Eric Easter, who writes a blog I enjoy very much, the Ebony/Jet blog "Big Ideas". It was about Fred Williamson's maverick filmmaking. Barry spoke of being creative on a small budget, as Fred Williamson does here (tho it was admittedly much hairier)--flashing back on making one of my Blaxploitation faves "Black Caesar".....great stories!

Tales from Guerilla Filmmaking.
By Fred Williamson

The first in a series of conversations with the pioneers of Black film, No Money, No Permit, No Problem is a first-hand look at what it takes to get a movie done in the hard-scrabble world of independent and under - funded filmmaking.

We started with one of the originators – Fred “the Hammer” Williamson, who with his self-produced string of 1970s hits, broke open the door for independent Black film distribution in Europe.

Here, Fred talks about his favorite behind the scenes stories from the filming of the movies Black Caesar [and others]:

Film: Black Caesar
Location: New York

We made Black Caesar in 1975. One of the many memorable scenes is when my character, Tommy Gibbs (aka Black Caesar) exits Tiffany's jewelry store on the corner of 5th Ave & 57th St.

Tommy is carrying the famous little blue box, and starts to cross 5th Avenue. It's the middle of the day, there are lots of pedestrians bustling along the crosswalk with him, and about half way across 5th Avenue Tommy is shot. He continues, stumbling past unsuspecting shoppers.

We didn't have a permit to shoot on the street and getting one would have cost big bucks because we would have had to block the entire intersection and create a lot of chaos, so, we stole it. No one knew we were shooting - the camera was well hidden.

As I crossed the street and passed the shooter, we saw him pull out the gun - later in the studio we put in the sound of the gunshot. I had a big blood pack in my hand so that when I passed him and he shoved the gun into my side, I hit my side with the blood pack and blood splattered all over my light colored jacket.

I went down on the pavement. Cars were blowing their horns, people passed me as I lay on the street - they just walked around me and kept on going. Only one person stopped. He picked up the small blue Tiffany's box I dropped when "shot" and he handed it to me. I pulled myself halfway up and stumbled over to the curb, where I fell again and knocked over a large trash container on the sidewalk. Still no cops, so I continued to milk the "hurt victim" role. Finally a cop came by, took one look at me and said, "What the hell are you doing, Hammer, shooting a movie?" Before I could really answer, he continued, "Yeah, well you're in my street. So, I'm gonna walk around the block and when I get back you'd better be gone." "No problem," I answered.

He left, we left, and that's how that scene got made. (from IW: dang!)

Then there was this great taxi cab scene and we shot it on 56th Street between Lexington and Park Avenue.

As Tommy Gibbs, I was in a big hurry. I jumped into the cab, handed the driver some big money and told him to get going. The cab jumped up onto the sidewalk and flew past the cars on the street.

Problem was, no one was warning the pedestrians on the sidewalk that a speeding cab was coming at them. All the people you see in the film jumping out of the way, were real pedestrians scared out of their wits and just trying to save themselves.

We had one camera inside the taxi and one more on the street. We knew we could only do this once before the cops came, because - yup, you guessed it - no permit.

The taxi driver did what he was supposed to do for the money we gave him in the film. As for me, jumping out of a moving car was a little hairy, but you got to do what you got to do.

From IW: Gangsta! I remember reading about similar bold (or crazy) moves by William Friedkin while making "The French Connection". Check out this trailer for Black Caesar to see the taxi scene he talked about--it is a miracle somebody wasn't killed:


bluebird said...

LOL!!! Wow! That was great! I've heard of Black Caesar, but have never seen it, but I'll definitely be looking it up now. Love the blog; it's one of my favorites! Keep up the great work!

clnmike said...

Black Ceasar is part of my collection, it's grerat top see what a little determination will create.

MsMarvalus said...

Now that's what's up!

Black Caesar...mmm, mmm, good! I may have to slip that in this evening (the movie, I mean)...

daez said...

Absolutely one of my all time faves...great write up! (((HUGS)))
....just me...daez

Invisible Woman said...

@bluebird: thanks so much :-) and yes, you definitely must see it

@clnmike: determined or demented, haha!

@ms m: you are funny! tho Freddie was looking quite delicious back then, yes?

@ daez: good to see you--cracking up at your post on your 2 husbands at the wedding and not caring about making your feelings known to new daughter in law...good stuff!

michael a. gonzales said...

i like how fred acts like he directed the movie, when it was my man larry cohn behind the camera...i'm just sayin'

Invisible Woman said...

@ Mike G: ya know, I was thinking that the whole time I was writing this post, but I was being polite. Leave it to a New Yorker to put a Negro on blast! lol!

michael a. gonzales said...

but, aside that, black caesar is one of my favorite flicks; and the soundtrack is killer. i interviewed fred once and he told me james brown was mad, because he wanted to play the lead.

reminds me of when i read that orginally, mgm wanted to cast sammy davis to play, picture that.

Invisible Woman said...

@mike g: thank you so much for telling me that--it is so interesting. i think i'm gonna post it tommorow