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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

7 Questions With Screenwriter Barry Michael Cooper....

"About five years ago, I accepted the fact that I had fallen off.

Let me be clear: I knew I fell off in 1998, when I couldn't sell a script, couldn't get a call-back from a studio, producer or a manager, and my agency--William Morris--decided to drop me, all because I slapped a call girl in the lobby of the Sofitel on Beverly Boulevard, a call girl who I had a relationship with and promised to blow up like MJB.

Oh, of course I was married and had two young children while I was why?-lin' out in Hollywon't. Don't let me forget that."

That is the opening of the cautionary confession that Barry Michael Cooper, aka BMC, wrote in an article that you can read HERE. His journey has been one of success, trial and tribulation, lessons learned, and triumph. After penning such community favorites as "New Jack City", "Above The Rim", and "Sugar Hill", he enjoyed fame followed by infamy, then a crushing career flatline...only to rise like a phoenix out of the ashes.

His honesty is beautiful, and a morality tale that one should never take anything for granted. I am honored that he took the time to participate on my post of "7 Questions":

Question #1

The films that you wrote were staples of the nineties. It is pretty well documented how you came up with the idea for "New Jack City", but how did you come up with the screenplay for "Sugar Hill"?

Sugar Hill came about after I had seen a Cassavetes retrospective in the East Village in the summer of 1991. I actually watched the film "Faces" maybe 3 times in one day: I was blown away by the freedom of the narrative and the acting, and the neo-realism of the cinematography. I began to research and study John Cassavetes, who I remembered from the film "The Dirty Dozen", which also starred Lee Marvin, and Jim Brown. I also read that Cassavetes was also influenced by Black filmmaker William Greaves, and all of the groundbreaking documentaries and films like "Symbiopsychotaxiplasm", that he had done.

It was at that point I wanted to write a piece that was urban but still kind of a existential character study of a street dude who wanted more than the dead end life he had chosen for himself. I also watched the George Cukor version of "A Star Is Born" which starred James Mason and Judy Garland. So a myriad of narratives were tracking in my head. The first draft of "Sugar Hill" was a script I wrote in 1991 called "Skeezer", and it was from the p.o.v. of this party girl who was a struggling actress by day and a phone sex operator at night, who meets this drug dealer and they fall in love in the midst of two lives that were burning from the flames of bad choices. And the title "Skeezer" did not refer to this woman, Melissa: it described the guys she was meeting at the Chelsea bar/club called Nells. Actors, ballplayers, boxers, ghetto celebs, who weren't just sexual whores, but life-whores: the debauched. Dudes whose mindset was, "I want the world and everything in it, and I will do anything to get everything." These dudes were the real "skeezers".

But Beacon-Fox thought that subject matter was a little bit much, and the title as well, so needless to say, the movie went through a few changes. But it is my favorite film, hands down.

Question #2

Tupac made only a few films, each one showing his immense potential as an actor. What was your experience like on the set with him on "Above The Rim"?

I wasn't on the set of "Above The Rim", and the day I was supposed to meet Pac, I was editing a music video for the singer Jeff Redd, in Soho. By the time I arrived to the Rucker Basketball court on 155th Street and 8th Avenue, Tupac had gone. I think that guy is an acting legend. So tragic that he is not with us anymore. GOD Rest his soul.

Question #3

You seemed to have worked through the betrayal on your career in Hollywood, but many other shining and revered black auteurs in the same period in the nineties seemed to have faded away as well; Matty Rich, and The Hughes Brothers, just to name two. What is your take on that supposed Black film renaissance and resurgence just disappearing into thin air?

The Cinematic Black Renaissance of the 90s is a unique epoch: we may see a resurgence of Black film in the age of President Barack Obama, but not like what we experienced two decades ago. Check it: nineteen films between 1989 and 1992-3, that had either Black producers, directors, and screenwriters? Nah. I think it was a phenomenon that kind of dovetailed with what the great author and cultural critic Nelson George wrote about in his book Post Soul Nation: we found our voice and our gravity as Black people in the oppressive and dismissive years of the Reagan era.

It was Jesse Jackson, it was Michael Jackson, it was Michael Jordan, it was Prince, it was Al Sharpton, it was Spike Lee, it was Barry Michael Cooper, Greg Tate, and Nelson George at the Village Voice. It was David Dinkins as mayor of New York. Reagan and the Reagan era had an intense disdain for Black folk, and Black folk responded by rising to the challenge and excelling in all endeavors, and that sense of pride and work ethic transposed itself to the world of film, too. However, I think we became complacent during the Clinton era. I believe rap and Hip Hop found a darker but profound voice during the Clinton era, but in film, we had a foolish sense of entitlement. And a lot of us--and I am speaking for myself--we lost our way. We thought the gates at Sony, Warners, Fox, etc., would stay open forever. But Hollywood not only eats its' young, Hollywood eats anything that's green. And when it's not green its not part of their menu anymore. So I believe a confluence of those factors led to a lot of folk losing their way.

Question #4

Do you think there is a double standard in Hollywood with bad behavior? Non-black Hollywood's DUI's, car crashes, drug addictions, and other even more questionable behavior seem to be overlooked--indeed sometimes even garnering more support for the persons involved. Hollywood and it's ilk usually seem to rally around those that have deep personal issues. Do you feel that Black Hollywood doesn't offer the same support systems? Is that why you weren't able to even work with your own community?

I don't think the double standard has anything to do with race: it lends itself to who makes the most money for the studios or networks. If you are a cash cow, you can almost kill with impunity, and get away with it. That's what fixers are all about, the highly-paid "sin eaters". If you are making money, you are valuable. It not, you become expendable. It has nothing to do with race. Look at the gossip blogs, look at the blind items, and if they are to be believed, then a lot of our popular icons in the Black community are living more off the hook than Caligula, lol. But as long as they make money for the studios and networks, their negative behavior will not only be protected, but encouraged. Once the dollar dries up though, their mugshots will be online, along with the tearful confessions on YouTube and Access Hollywood. You know the routine...

Question #5

A subject that comes up here quite often is the dissatisfaction with what "The Hollywood Machine" is producing in the way of Black Cinema. What, in your opinion, can the public at large do to change things? (Everyone gets asked this question, btw)

The public can support idiosyncratic Black film, be it online, on cable, at the local art house cinema, or just buying the Dvd online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble. We can support these kind of films. Because at the end of the day, that ka-ching is the lever in the voting booth of Hollywood. We vote with our dollars and Hollywood needs that vote!

Question #6

What projects are you working on now? Anything we can look forward to in the future?

I have transitioned into television: TV is really hot right now, and a gold rush for filmmakers, especially cable. Like the real estate mantra, "Location, location, location", in TV it's "Content, content, content". I produced the Season Three premiere of BET's crime doc series "American Gangster". The episode focused on the 80s Bronx gunman Larry Davis, and that particular episode was the biggest Original Series premiere in BET history, with 2 million viewers thus far. The episode aired 23 October 2008, but you can see the episode and the other episodes American Gangster on iTunes. Please order it! (lol) I also have an indie movie playing on the web titled "Blood On The Wall$" which can be viewed at

I am also blogging for Huffington Post: I am also doing a few more films and TV shows that will premiere online. When they are about to happen, IW, I will give you the scoop before anyone else.

Question #7

Any thoughts or advice you would like to leave for the readers? We have filmmakers as well as film lovers on this blog regularly.

My advice to other filmmakers out there is never, ever give up. With the advent of online cinema, the playing field is wide open. Do your own films, and premiere them online. If you post it, they will come, to paraphrase the catchphrase from "Field Of Dreams". And know that Providence will make a way out of no way. Even if you don't believe in GOD, believe in the Essence of this life that's bigger than you. Because cinema is about the belief of the unbelievable. So keep grinding, and don't give up.

From IW: Veeeery interesting. A testament that one should never give up, and keep it moving and keep it positive no matter what....loves it. Look for him on The Huffington Post HERE. Be blessed BMC!


Sergio said...

Another Hollywood sad tale of someone lead astray. He's not the first and he certainly won't be the last. But he never explains how a married guy with kids winds up slapping a call girl in a hotel in front of witnesses. He's got nobody to blame but himself.

But I have to admit I really like Sugar Hill...

Tafari said...

My comment may be very unpopular but I never cared for any of his movies. They were too raw for me to watch in full so I did not. And I am so not watching anything on BET.

I have the Larry Davis DVD & it is a real trip. Misguided purchase.


Wonder Man said...

interesting, very interesting

Lenoxave said...

I love this interview. Real people, Real Mistakes & Real Consequences. I loved "Sugar Hill" the most though it broke my heart to watch it.

Black Bohemian

Undercover Black Man said...

I have been missing his journalism for years. I didn't know he was writing at the Huffington Post now. Good to know.

Great post, IW. Now see if you can find Matty Rich!

Sergio said...

And while you're at it Ted Whitcher and Christopher Cherot too

The Obenson Report said...

Didn't know he writes for HuffPo. I'll be checking him out there...

uglyblackjohn said...

Most (Black) cinema is the same story; Tyler Perry, Gangs, Poverty or Ideal lives gone bad only to find redemption.
Spike's "She's Gotta Have It" was pretty clever. "Basquiat" was interesting. But on the whole, most (Black) cinema is the same story told by a different person.
I like that he says to support independent productions. Maybe there will be be something original there.

Dr. Tracey Salisbury said...

Great interview!

Lester Spence said...

Excellent interview. I don't stop by here enough. That's going to change.

Qadree said...

Cassavetes? I would have never put those two together.

I'm glad he mentioned William Greaves. He deserves more credit than he's currently getting in cinema. The man was ahead of his time.

Nice Interview.

Invisible Woman said...

@sergio: all i can say is i've made some serious mistakes too, and it takes a lot of bravery to come clean with it. i think he knows pretty clearly that is was his own undoing...

@tafari: i have a really hard time imagining that anything is too raw for you, lol! the larry davis dvd in the picture was posted just for relevance, bmc's version was on american gangster on bet. did you buy that one?

@wonderman: i thought so

@sdg1844: yeah girl--i think of the 3 it is my fave too. and i love the realness of bmc.

Invisible Woman said...

@UBM: thanks :-) been searching for something on the Rich for a while--if you find something first, let me know!

@sergio: i may be telling on myself, but i have no idea who those dudes are...

@obenson: i think it's a worthy trip

@ubj: one can only hope...

Invisible Woman said...

@professor tracey: thanks, but wish i could keep up the great writing every day like you do :-)

@Lester Spence: thank you...and i'm really glad to hear it :-)

@qadree: you are right. it would make for a great post...

tamara s brown said...

Totally unrelated, but wanted to say this:

"Sugar Hill" by AZ......LOVED THAT SONG!

Oh and this movie was good too. LOL. Thanks for the interview and insight :)

Invisible Woman said...

@madame z: that song was definitely the ish...i wrote sometime back that i styled one of videos for the soundtrack. check the archives if you haven't read it already--it also includes a little story about wesley and michael wright.

Unknown said...

BMC is one of the best black screenwriters of the new jack 90's,those were the best days of new art forms of entertainment in black hollywood,I would like to see more black screenwriters get more recognition and respect,more than hip hop,Sports,and the bling.

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