A dispatch from a first-time filmmaker chronicling his experience for The Atlantic
MORE ON FILMING 'BIG WORDS'
- Wait, Why I Am I Directing a Movie?
- Getting Thrown Out of a Bar, Hollywood Style
- The Shoot Must Go On, But Not While a House Is Burning
- On Location, Arguing With Cops and Hip-Hop Heads
- Bye Bye, Yaya: A Star Departs the Set
- Directing a Film Isn't All Terrible
Yesterday we shot our final scene with the rapper Jean Grae, and it is difficult to explain exactly how fulfilling that experience was for me. Understand that when I wrote Big Words, a film about three guys who used to be in a rap group, I had absolutely no intention of stacking my cast with rappers—former or current. No offense to convincing-enough crosser-overs like Mos Def and Method Man, but I felt like the story and the characters would only be safe in the hands of well-trained, experienced actors.
All that said, when I gave a draft of the script to Jean last year for her opinion, I secretly hoped that she would want to sign on. Partly, that was because of her music. Her lyrics demonstrated the same unabashed commitment to storytelling, language, and occasionally brutal, emotional honesty that I was striving for in this screenplay. (If you're not familiar with Jean's music, start at her website and work your way slowly back into a coma.) Also, I knew that Jean understood character. Like all rappers, there is something of a persona to Jean Grae—in case you were wondering, no, her parents did not actually name her after a Marvel superhero. But Jean is not stuck in the box she built for herself. She willingly switches roles and voices for songs and shows—not to mention in everyday conversation. If you don't know "Taco Day," you're missing out: