Black Dynamite is a blast. There’s no other way to say it. This little homage/love note to the blacksploitation genre by Scott Sanders and Michael Jai White had me and Steve [unemployed] Murphy giggling like the little white bitches we are throughout its running time. Partially because the movie is loaded with fun stuff but also because they had the good sense not to wink at the camera and actually played it serious. The movie opens this weekend and I defy you to find a better flick to take your best and favorites to Friday night. You will find plenty to love, and there is no shortage of KUNG FU TREACHERY!
Want a sample of the greatest shit in town?
You back? I had a chance to chat with the director and writer/star of the flick on their tour through Atlanta promoting the flick, and I was blown away by how wrong I was about the funny and talented Michael Jai White judging him just from his action work.
NickNunziata: We’ve been talking about this
movie for quite a while because about a little less than a year ago
some stuff started to surface out there, whether it be a teaser
trailer or some of the artwork you guys were doing, and it’s always
been kind of one of those little films on the horizon that everyone’s
been really excited about. I don’t know if you’ve seen the grass
roots kind of thing building up for it in the geek community.
Scott Sanders: Yeah. Well we originally shot
the trailer to get the money for the movie, so we did one that cost
us like five hundred dollars and incorporated other blacksploitation
movies and we gave it to our financier John Steingard to see and that
got the movie made. That trailer we put online in June of 2008 before
we even finished the movie. And then that’s when that trailer
got picked up by the internet community. It started off on a Japanese
website and then all of a sudden one day in June it just spread. And
we were like “wow we haven’t finished the movie yet,” and
none of that footage was in that movie, so it was really confusing to
people. We shot it on Super 8 and it looks really old–the original
Nick Nunziata: What did you shoot the actual
Scott Sanders: We shot it on super 16 color
Nick Nunziata: The cool thing is that you have
all these guys that are trying to replicate older films like the
whole grindhouse thing. They were done with big budgets and big stars
and it was like hey, look at me! But your approach felt so much more
natural, genuine, and like there was an actual love that permeates
the entire movie. Was it was just kind of a cool idea that hit you or
had this been something that had been bubbling up for a while, like
kind of paying homage and at the same time having a little fun at the
expense of the filmmaking style of that era?
Michael Jai White: It was an idea I had a while
ago. Its birth was quite a while ago. I used to have blacksploitation
parties at my house and somehow along the way I thought it would be
really funny to do another one of them, but do it with current folks.
But the only way you could do it was to make people feel like were
actually watching and old one. I was listening to the James Brown
song ‘Superbad’. And that’s when I kind of got the idea for a movie. I
had a vision of it. So then we started the process shortly
Nick Nunziata: You have a reputation as the
hardass. You’re in movies where we don’t really see the funnybone
side of you a lot of times, and knowing you were one of the creators
of it, I literally had no idea. It’s one of those redefining type of
experiences because it’s a chance to see a different side of you. Was
it just fun completely letting loose?
Michael Jai White: Yeah, well the crazy thing is,
that if you looked at my body of work, you’re gonna find that there
is more comedic stuff than the other stuff. Many times in the
television stuff I’ve done I’ve been somewhat of comic relief like
Wonderland, Clubhouse… We worked on a movie earlier
Thick as Theives We did that ten years ago. I’m doing Why
Did I Get Married? My friends, its not strange for them. I’ve got
stand-up comedian friends who are begging me to get on stage and do
stand-up. But I think for the rest of the community when you do
something like playing the hardass or some kind of ridiculous
creature or something that resonates pretty deep.
Nick Nunziata: I think that’s good though
because you’re getting to reach new people with each film. And
something like this, it crosses so many different demographics now.
Obviously the film geek community has jumped onto it. They’re totally
into it. You had a presence at Comic Con, did you not?
Michael Jai White: Yeah we did.
Scott Sanders: That’s film geek central.
Nick Nunziata: Yeah I’m sure you saw some things
there you cant unsee.
Michael Jai White: I was a veteran of Comic
Con with being Spawn. So coming back to that, it’s like okay, I
remember this stuff.
Nick Nunziata: There is one line I gotta ask
about: “I threw that shit before I even came in the room.”
That was like kismet. A perfect scene. How did that moment happen?
Scott Sanders: Mike wrote that. To me it
was just in the script. It wasn’t the standout, breakout line which
it totally is across the board. I think it just has to do with his
delivery which was so bananas and so enthusiastic.
Michael Jai White: And that line was a little
bit influenced by a story that Iced T told me.
Nick Nunziata: Of course!
Michael Jai White: That rapper Iced T is one of
the funniest guys you’ll ever meet. He’s hilarious. He’s got funniest
stories of anyone I’ve ever met in my life. But his persona is so
dead serious with the whole rap thing and the whole gangster thing.
He’s one of the funniest guys ever.
Nick Nunziata: Well once I started seeing him
in movies like Ricochet and obviously New Jack City… even
some of his music where there is that kind of sarcastic tongue in
cheek thing that permeates it…
Michael Jai White: Nothing he has done has
given us a glimpse of how funny that guy is in person. He can go up
on stage with no material and crack you up. He’s really that funny.
He’s really funny. And it’s hard to believe.
Nick Nunziata: How did you not get him in this?
Michael Jai White: I don’t know. We had a
number of people waiting to get on it. And knowing that he’s on a
show and he’s in New York… I don’t wanna mention that. I don’t
wanna go down that road.
Nick Nunziata: There’s a lot of folks in this
movie. Some of them are people you might expect to see in it, and
some completely not. There’s a balance. Did you ever come to a
crossroads when you were making the movie where you were like oh crap
that looks too good or oh crap that looks too bad or this looks too
intentionally… I mean how do you find that balance? Because the
scene with the microphone obviously is completely playful. But some
of those movies, what made them so easy to love was the kitchen sink
mentality and the approach they took that was sometimes not really
from a place of true filmmaking skill but of just getting the job
done and getting in front of the camera. How did you find the balance
of the tone, keeping it from living in that world?
Scott Sanders: One of the great things
was that our budget was so low that we actually had to think in the
same ways that they had to think in those movies on a twenty day
schedule. A lot of it was just that we had seen enough of those
movies. The scene with the boom mic, that happens in Dolemite quite often in the fight scene. Mostly for us, it was just
trying to make it look like those movies and have the same feel of
those movies. If something was seventies era, then that’s okay. But
if something was kind of modernish… I think going thirty-five,
forty years later, it’s easy for the modern world to slip in like in
the way somebody speaks, or there goes an SUV or there goes this or
that. Trying to hold out the modern world is becoming increasingly
difficult. That was a big challenge for us.
Michael Jai White: And sometimes with some of
the actors or some of the comedians, you had to really keep a close
eye because they would do something that’s modern. You had to really
kind of protect the speech of how the people spoke back then. You
didn’t want any modern slang to slip into any kind of improv.
Nick Nunziata: I can imagine that there is stuff
on the cutting room floor that is insane. Do you have a gag reel that
is going to be on the DVD?
Both: We were just talking about that!
Michael Jai White: We’ve got some funny stuff.
We have some really funny things that I hope we get on that gag reel.
Scott Sanders: Yeah. Definitely.
Nick Nunziata: It seems like that kind of movie
that would be amazing for home. The amount of potential…
Did you see Not Quite Hollywood,
that documentary about the Australian grindhouse culture? It’s just
coming to DVD, but it hit the circuit a while back. It’s a really
cool movie. It was the same era as the blacksploitation stuff but it
was in Australia and no one paying attention to those guys. There was
nobody checking them. So they were doing tits and ass and
violence–crazy stuff, but done once again on a shoestring. And
there’s like a kinship. It’s almost like these two things were
happening parallel to each other without knowing it. And it just so
happens that that’s Australian and here we are in America doing it
this way. The timing of your movie and that are kind of like a
renaissance. You’re going to reach an entirely new group of people
that are going to go back and now that they can find those movies,
because DVD allows them to see it… you are almost like a gateway
drug to those movies and it’s cool because you didn’t cheapen up an
have a music video or give in to the vibe of taking advantage of CG.
I can’t imagine the kind of choices and decisions you’d have to make
during that process and the attention to detail and not lose that
demeanor that you were mentioning where a little bit of slang creeps
in and cheapens it a little bit.
Michael Jai White: A lot of people ask, why did
we not go the route of getting cameos of people from the seventies?
And it’s for precisely that reason. Because if you’ve got an older
person who’s currently in their seventies, and you knew he was
supposed to be younger back then, it destroys the illusion. Like
getting Jim Brown into a cameo. We kept calling it cutesy, but it’s
not well thought out because here’s a guy that should very well be
young. We had talked about it one time–getting footage of a young
Robert DeNiro and splicing it in, like me dealing with that person.
Now that would be one of those things that we would do. But
we cant have a seventy-year-old Jim Brown or Fred Williams crop up.
Scott Sanders: We were trying to work that
in too. There was a Robert DeNiro movie called The Swap. It’s
a movie where he did a short that he didn’t finish and it was in the
public domain so the canning group took it and built a movie around
it. So you can use that footage. It would have been a little weird.
It was Robert DeNiro in the back seat of a car and that’s the
footage. It officially is in public domain. I’m thinking, so the bad
guys are in this car.. you don’t wanna veer it too much because
then… if it was organic and it didn’t pop too hard it would be
great. But it was a little weird.
Nick Nunziata: There was definitely a sense of
“if something’s available, take it,” back then. You get
what you can. If you can get extra value added, then hell yeah. But
it’s the young DeNiro, right? It’s the young Mean Streets
Scott Sanders: Oh yeah. It’s before Mean Streets. He’s really young in the back seat of a car about to do
Nick Nunziata: It would have been his best
performance of the year too! I do have a gripe. The first scene, pretty
much right at the beginning, you’re in the bed with the three girls.
And then we don’t see any more nudity.
Scott Sanders: A boob pops out, later!
In the nurse scene.
Michael Jai White: And there’s the woman in the
Scott Sanders: Oh wait, that was in the Sundance
cut. It’s not in the new cut. In the Sundance cut we had a bare butt
coming out of the pool.
Michael Jai White: Oh okay. Well there’s a tiny
Nick Nunziata: There is a very tiny
penis. And we get to see it three times. Speaking of extra production
value. Honestly, I thought we were in for a complete romp with the
nudity. A little goes a long way now because it’s so different. The
Scott Sanders: Well in the original red band trailer we let it all out, so I think that’s one of the
things that threw people for a loop.
Nick Nunziata: Did you guys ever try to go above
and beyond in terms of the violence? Or did you always have it
tonally right where it is. With the shooting schedule of twenty days
it seems like you pretty much had to know exactly what you needed to
get by then and didn’t have a lot of room for too much improv.
Scott Sanders: They pretty much planned the
choreography on the day. A lot of it.
Michael Jai White: Well yes, some of it. We
want to always incorporate where we are into the choreography. But as
far as toning the violence?
Nick Nunziata: Right. Well it’s not extreme in
those respects. Because judging from the first trailer I saw, I
didn’t know where it was going to be, if it was going to be something
that was going to be exploitive in terms of the violence and nudity.
And then when I saw it it seemed like it was very sure of itself and
it didn’t try to go off in those directions. It seems like a lot of
films are shaped in editing and I didn’t know if you guys had to tone
Michael Jai White: Largely, it’s the script. We
shot the script. We really didn’t have to make any…
Nick Nunziata: So you didn’t have some directors
cut that was two plus hours or three hours that you had to trim back?
Michael Jai White: We had to trim back some
stuff because as far as pacing is concerned, we learned that even
though we are getting the feel that it was a blacksploitation movie,
we could not possibly shoot it in the pace of those movies. Those
movies back in the seventies, people brushed their teeth in real
time. If you look at Deer Hunter or something, in those
scenes that are going on in real time, we couldn’t possibly do that.
Our pacing is the only thing that indicates where we are as far as
bringing in a modern society. There is always something going on.
Nick Nunziata: There’s a lot of that though if
you watch some of those movies where it’s not the same
short-attention-span world we live in now. It’s certainly a little
more deliberate. The thing is, there are those moments that stick out
like the sensational things that kind of carry you. Just like in a
lot of the horror movies. They give you little nibbles and it tides
you over until bigger set pieces. You try to watch some of those
movies now and it is definitely a different experience. Some of the
things that they reuse like the footage of the car going off the
cliff and the poor man’s process driving stuff. There’s that one
highway shot. Did you actually shoot that where it was all the old
cars? Or was it found footage?
Scott Sanders: That was from a pilot for…
you know Dean Martin made a movie called Matt Helm? That was for the
pilot of Matt Helm that didn’t star Dean Martin.
Nick Nunziata: What kind of little discoveries
did you guys come across over the process of making the movie in
terms of finding stuff like that. Was it eye-opening? Or did
you have some technical advisors that helped to steer you in certain
directions toward how to pull it off?
Scott Sanders: Well that’s how we did the
original trailer before we even made the movie. We incorporated other
footage into it. So we’d have Michael on one end and somebody getting
shot thirty years ago on the other end. So it became one of those
things where were like, “let’s do that process for the film.”
The movie couldn’t have worked otherwise. We just didn’t have the
money to have all those explosions and have vintage cars going in the
opposite direction in traffic.
Michael Jai White: And with the background
Scott Sanders: It was impossible. It was a
weird, weird process. We had scenes, but even in preproduction we had
to figure out how those scenes were going to happen. We had two
places where we got vintage footage. One of them was Sony. This is
before we sold it to Sony. Sony has an amazing library and it’s set
up really well on the internet. They helped us find footage. A lot of
things weren’t in the script, like the whole thing with the
helicopter picking up the car with the magnet. That just was
something that our editor Adrian Young found. He’s like, “well
look what I found!” And I was like okay, “well there you
go, that’s in the movie now!” So it was weird because we had a
script. And it was like, well, here’s the car chase that we can get.
Nick Nunziata: Well a lot of times in a script
it’ll say “action scene happens here” and you’ll figure it
out. Do you have any examples of a situation where the limitations
forced you to be creative and it ended up better because of it?
Michael Jai White: I think the entire film was
like that. It made you focus on what was important. Even writing the
thing, it had to be from the standpoint of okay, this revolutionary
kind of writer who’s writing the ultimate badass… his exploits are
very transparent. We had to shoot it like we were characters from
there, and that kind of defined the line that you can’t go beyond. It
was like, what could we possibly let go in our movie? You could
forsee, say the boom getting in the picture, right? We could possibly
think that nobody is going to see that. But that slapstick type of
thing, we wouldn’t have it in our movie. If we were these 1970’s
filmmakers, what would our line be? So we are using an acting
approach to it as well so it is truthful throughout.
Scott Sanders: Mike’s idea for it
originally was that he was playing a football player named Forante
Jones who was playing Black Dynamite. And taking it
from that, I always thought of it as I was not directing the movie,
but directing the movie as a director of a movie who was a hippie
who smoked too much pot directing a blacksploitation movie… And
then he fights Nixon! He was just going overboard!
Michael Jai White: So you see very
transparently the filmmaker’s view. Those people had to come from a
real place for the film to be real. You’re inside the mind of these
revolutionary 70’s filmmakers.
Nick Nunziata: Someone got the keys to the car that maybe shouldn’t have. I mean, why don’t we have a fight
with Richard Nixon?
Michael Jai White: Because he’s behind
everything. And of course, all presidents know kung fu because that
would be within their normal thinking. In the black community, as a
kid, I always had these uncles and older people from that time period
who believed in all these ridiculous conspiracies. Well how do you
know, bus driver? My uncle is a bus driver for a grammar
school. And my other uncle works at a printing place. But they know
everything. It’s that black paranoia thing. You gotta speak to that
kind of mindset.
Nick Nunziata: I had a blast with the movie.
The thing that impressed me the most is that it felt genuine all the
way through. There were so many ways you could have gone wrong, but
you managed to steer clear of it. I would have liked more breasts…
The group of people you have. You have Richard Edson, the guy that’s
in all these indie movies. You’ve got Arsenio Hall.
How the hell did you cobble this together? Was it like you knew
these people and hey we’re doing this movie and how do you not want
to be involved in something like this? Was there a keen sense of
putting the pieces of the puzzle together there?
Michael Jai White: We knew most of the people.
And it’s funny because there are some people who couldn’t make it or
weren’t quite sure who are kicking themselves now. You’d be really
shocked. You know how I wanted to deliver the bullet, in that one
scene where the guy says “and look what I found.” I was
going after Mike Tyson to do that. And now he’s like, man, I wish I
Nick Nunziata: Obviously The Hangover
didn’t hurt his ability. And his documentary.
Scott Sanders: That was at Sundance when we
Nick Nunziata: What was that experience like for
Scott Sanders: Well we’ve been there.
We were there ten years ago for Thick as Thieves.
Nick Nunziata: With Baldwin… and Richard Edson!
Scott Sanders: Yep. That’s where we met.
Michael Jai White: Rebecca DeMornay, Andre Braugher…
Nick Nunziata: The site covered it, ten years ago huh? We should retire. Ten years on the internet is like a gulag.
Scott Sanders: Sundance. Fantastic. It was surreal. People ask me about it and the thing was so fast and surreal and strange. We had an online presence for a while, but we’d get the the theater and people are wearing Black Dynamite t-shirts already and there’s a guy outside with a cardboard sign looking for tickets. It was such a frenzy. We did the screening and answered some questions and we had a party and it’s four in the morning. At four-fifty our producer says we’re in total negotiations to sell the movie. I go to Mike and tell him I think we’ve sold the movie. Then my mom calls and says ‘you sold the movie’. It’s in a magazine. And this is over the course of four or five hours. You go around town…there are pictures of Black Dynamite on both trades. It was a lot to take in.
Nick Nunziata: Please tell me you had as much fun making the movie as it looks like you did.
Michael Jai White: We had a ridiculous amount of fun. I don’t think there was a tense day on the set ever.
Nick Nunziata: Did you shoot it in the valley?
Scott Sanders: We shot it in Ladera Heights. A lot of old seventy year old black people whose houses haven’t changed for thirty of forty years.
Nick Nunziata: You drive through some areas and it’s scarily a step back in time.
Michael Jai White: The same.
Scott Sanders: Honey Bee’s brothel literally came from walking through a neighborhood and knocking on a door. We walked in and were like ‘whew this is great’. A preacher owned that house and we were shooting a brothel. We shot the pictures of Richard Nixon in lingerie. The preacher’s like ‘what did I sign up for?’.
Nick Nunziata: I’m sure he’ll be very proud. After all, you’re a Sundance darling. So, you don’t what we can expect from the DVD yet?
Scott Sanders: We’re still working it out. We haven’t stopped making viral videos. We’ve been releasing stuff. Cut scenes. Hopefully that stuff will be on there. We have a ten minute cut. The whole kung fu banquet.
Nick Nunziata: You see snips of it.
Scott Sanders: Snips of it, yeah. That whole scenario is now part of a song, the whole ‘cleaning up the streets’ montage. That was ten minutes of stuff.
Nick Nunziata: That’s what the DVD is for. You can reach your audience on a more personal level. This generation is so tied to that, they’ll digest all of that. I’m sure the studio sees that. I can’t wait…
[Dena, our local rep who handled the event then stepped in after being patient and finally had to cut us off]
Nick Nunziata: Yeah yeah, whatever!
Michael Jai White: Here comes the big hook!