Herrington: When did you move into the new office?
Brewer: January of this year. Its the Memphis branch of [Brewers production company] Southern Crosses the Dog. Ive got a personal production deal with Paramount Pictures, me and my producing partner Stephanie Allain. We both have offices in the Gloria Swanson building at the Paramount lot [in Los Angeles]. But Im never in my office there, and thats because I put in my contract that my part of the office would be funded here in Memphis, which is something they dont usually like to do. They like to keep everybody on the lot so all of your money keeps going back into their own real estate coffers. But I just knew I was going to be here most of my time, not to mention that most of the films in development are going to be either shot here or in the state of Tennessee.
And is that a part of that three-picture deal that came out of Sundance?
No. A lot of people get confused about that. That three-picture deal was not for me, it was for [John] Singleton.
That deal wasnt for Singleton to produce your movies?
No. And I dont think Paramount realized that until the next morning that they didnt have a deal with me. So I immediately had Black Snake Moan ready to go, and Stephanie and I were running all over town trying to get our production company up, and Paramount was eager to snatch us up. Wed just made Hustle & Flow. We had a script they wanted to do. So they gave us the offices, and now were in development on numerous projects. Were trying to make some movies for the CMT brand and the BET brand, and work on my own films.
Black Snake Moan was originally set to open this month, but has been pushed to next February.
Right. We were set to open this September, and two things were really hurting that. I was never pleased with September. None of us were pleased with September. It isnt a good movie month, as weve seen. The film industry has really taken a big hit on some of these bigger releases. Jackass sort of broke the September crunch, but The Black Dahlia, Hollywoodland a lot of these movies are not performing the way theyd like them to. Its not summer. Its not quite fall. People are just getting back to school. Its just not a good month.
But even more so, the press was so taxed with Snakes on a Plane, and we really feel that Sam [Samuel L. Jackson] created an incredible character with us, and so we wanted to use his time to really sell the movie. Perhaps if we have a screening [out of competition] at Sundance, we can really use that as a platform where I can return back home and have a big press blowout there.
Given that the content, on the surface, is rather provocative, has there been any hesitation or concern?
None. Ive got to say, my studio has been really great. Theyve been very supportive. Theres never been a turn weve made where the studio hasnt been with us. Its a really cool company over there, the smaller division of Paramount, which is called Paramount Vantage. They embraced the way I wanted to sell it, to decriminalize it a little bit, allow people to know its about a woman thats on the end of a chain and they can have fun with this movie.
Was there a sense of trying to obscure that early on?
I dont think there was any sense of trying to obscure that. I just dont think there are any movies out there that are dealing with the kind of subject matter Im dealing with. They do this thing out there called running the numbers, where they want to know if there are other movies out there like yours so they can gauge how to market it. There just havent been many buddy movies that have my premise of a black bluesman trying to chase the demons out of a white sex addict.
Has the delay of Black Snake Moan caused any delay for you in terms of moving on with other projects?
Oh no, quite the reverse. If I was having to sell Black Snake Moan right now, I dont think I would be able to do the things I have on the cooker now. So its worked out rather perfectly. Ill probably have to do the international push for [Black Snake Moan] in March, and head all over the globe then. And I want to be filming Maggie Lynn next summer.
Maggie Lynn is the next film?
Yes. Im finishing up the script right now. And then Ive got to do the same hustle. Its not a done deal in terms of making the movie. They loved the pitch. They loved the idea. Theyve paid me to write the script. I havent turned in the script, so well see.
Whats the pitch?
Well, my pitches are a little bit evolved. I bring in a boom box and play music and dance around the room and act out different characters. But, in essence, its a story about a mother of two whos married to a dirt-track racer, and all their weekends have always been spent loading up the RV with snacks and supplies and putting all their efforts towards the husbands racing. Then Maggie gets her heart broken because she finds out her husbands been cheating on her, and its about her moving back into her family house with her mother and her brother, whos a drunk now, but used to play music in Nashville and kind of failed at it. Its about them getting back to playing music in a barn, remembering some of the music that her and her Daddy, whos died recently of cancer, used to play together. Its basically about a girl trying to find her voice again when so much of her life was devoted to her husband.
Im trying to follow a little bit of the model of Coal Miners Daughter, where for the first hour youre in the holler and for the second hour youre in the world. Ive always liked that, because it really gets you into the family dynamic of the narrative and really gets you into the character. So I really want to be in some East Tennessee town, and then the second half of the movie is her going to Nashville to play in this one club.
In the past, when weve talked about your next projects, [the rock and blues epic] Devil Music and the King assassination/sanitation strike movie have always come up. Where did Maggie Lynn come from?
You know, where a majority of my inspiration comes from. My wife and my kid and my life. Making two movies back to back when youve been selling your family and friends on, hey everybody, trust me and believe in me and maybe well be able to make movies for studios. Well, achieving that dream is a little bit of a double-edged sword. You finally get where you are, but theres a little bit of a weight in that rush, where the people who are around you are suddenly eclipsed by you and its time for them to start finding what they want to be and want to do. Its something that seized me, that I wanted to explore and have fun with. Its definitely more accessible. And Im really into country right now, and I wanted to explore that genre before I got into the sanitation strike.
What other projects are you working on?
Well, I havent really talked about this, but the thing thats generating a lot of interest and a lot of my time right now is something Im really passionate about, and thats Bluff City Chronicles [a long-simmering concept set amid the Memphis music scene]. I cant really find my way into a story until I find the music, and Im so in love with Memphis music right now. I think were in a real special time. And as a local filmmaker in residence, I would be foolish not to want to make something with the artists that are around me. I look at Amy Lavere and Harlan T. Bobo. I saw the River City Tanlines last night. They are just the most exciting thing in Memphis right now, and I want people to know about them. So Im trying to figure out a new way to tell stories about Memphis musicians. How they have to struggle to record and struggle to pay their rent and load up into venues and how they all relate to each other. Thats something that Im very interested in right now.
What format will that take? A feature-length film? A series of shorts?
I dont know yet. I know that whatever manifestation it is, itll probably be something where you have to buy a DVD or go online. But its not going to be something that ends. Itll be something open-ended. I just think that artists and audiences are getting more interested in real people. I believe in actors. I believe in their craft. I think its an incredible art form where you can stand on a mark with lights and grips and crew guys all around you and try to be honest about something you just memorized. But theres something different in the energy of capturing people that are real doing what they do. Even if theyre having to recreate an argument telling a bartender to please turn the jukebox off because now theyre about to sing their gig. That kind of bullshit conflict that musicians have to go through all the time, I think would be more interesting than doing an independent film with actors. Theres something there. It may not work, but I dont think thats going to be the case. I go to YouTube all the time and Im entertained by real people. Even people making music videos that are so raw and basic. Simple video camera videos that are more interesting than things that are shown on 35 millimeter on MTV.
What else is on your plate?
The sanitation strike movie 4/4 I think one of the most incredible times in Memphis history is from January through April of 1968. The movie I want to make tells about the time in-between the death of Otis Redding and Martin Luther Kings assassination. You look at Stax on McLemore and the Lorraine and City Hall and its a very interesting triangle. And thats where I want this entire movie to take place. Ive read the accounts of the workers and what theyve had to go through. Mayor Loeb suddenly coming into power and having to deal with this crisis.
So it's not a movie focused on the King assassination?
No. Kings only a part of this movie. But really the characters are young Isaac Hayes, T.O. Jones, who led the guys off the job. The AFSCME president Jerry Wurf from New York, and Mayor Loeb. If we can pull it off, it would be epic. I think there are a lot of young people in Memphis and in the world who dont really know what their parents and grandparents went though in that first March that went violent. I really want to put the Invaders in this movie. The Invaders were almost like a militant group, along the lines of the Black Panthers, but they were right here in Memphis. I dont think any of the young people around today even know about them. This was a very interesting town at that time. They were making music in the middle of it, and music really changed at that time. And I want to do something where the narrative takes place in the crucible of that conflict.
Whats really wonderful about the story is that everyone was at a crossroads in their life. Everyone in this movie was at a crossroads. Even Dr. King was going against his own team. He wanted to lead a poor peoples campaign. And it was not popular. But he felt compelled to go where he was needed. It became less about white and black and more about right and wrong. And the first thing that he responded to were more than 800 workers who walked off the job without any sort of union help, without labor even calling the strike. They were just fed up with it. My story begins with the two men being crushed in the trash compactor, which ultimately leads to everyone walking off the job.
What I like about the title I always knew the title was going to be 4/4: The Common Time is it starts off with Isaac Hayes talking to one of the kids that sings on Soul Finger about what 4/4 is. About how its four beats to a measure. About how the world basically spins on 4/4. And then he takes him to Stax and people are like, Yeah, well, Daddy was best with 6/8. And the kids like, whats 6/8? And they say, Thats what Otis Redding sang in. And they take him into the studio with Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn and Jim Stewart there, and they play Ive Been Loving You Too Long .... And they remember Otis, who brought everyone together.
Theyve rebuilt the studio for you.
Yeah, you know, the hardest thing Im finding about Memphis right now is progress. Me and Mike McCarthy made an early career out of crumbling buildings.
So, are you still interested in making the Devil Music script youve been talking about for so long?
Oh yeah. The problem with Devil Music is that its so big. I see it as a big extravaganza, with special effects. Its a fun movie, and I think its an expensive movie. And I think were at a time in entertainment where the expensive movies are a gamble I dont want to take right now.
It also prohibits you artistically. Because theres so much money involved, decisions get made on a marketing level that arent necessarily conducive to the kind of storytelling I want to do.
So whats the story on the Hustle & Flow 2 rumor thats out there? Is that really happening?
Yeah. Its not something that Im going to be doing right now, but after Hustle & Flow came out one of the questions I kept getting asked was, did DJay become a star? And I said, oh no, no no. But after the movie came out, I started thinking about it. And I dreamt the sequel and a third movie on a plane ride. It was very clear in my mind when I landed.
Have you put pen to paper on those?
Yeah, Ive got them outlined. Ill go ahead and tell you the names, the temporary names. The second one is called The Chitlin Circuit and the third one is called Platinum and Gold. The second one is all about the struggle to get your single played, touring on buses and dealing with disc jockeys and other rappers on the bus trying to do the same thing and how cutthroat that music industry is.
Would making those movies be contingent on Terrence Howard continuing in the DJay role?
Uh, yeah. If Terrence doesnt want to do it, then Im not going to do it. Terrence and I, right now, are trying to figure out what we want to do next with each other. Were exploring a Charley Pride movie. A lot of people dont know that Terrence is a big country fan. He doesnt really like rap.
Whats the plan for the Indie Memphis event this weekend?
Well, were trying to turn this into a storytellers celebration. It just happens to be filmmakers this time. Im big on trying to get as many people out to local films as I can. Whatever I can do to bring attention to that, I want to. Not only is Indie Memphis a place where I got my start, but Burkes is really the first location that I shot my first movie, The Poor & Hungry. So I felt that it would be great if we could have an event at Burkes where I would sign posters of my new movie, Black Snake Moan, for anyone who bought a book. If you make a purchase at Burkes, Im going to give you one of these special collectors posters, which, by the way, are not the movie poster. They are collectors posters that will soon go away. For local movie fans, its a good thing to have.
Jason Freeman is going to be playing and were going to show trailers of all the local films [screening at Indie Memphis] and also a trailer for Black Snake Moan. Itll be a big ole party, but more importantly, its me reiterating to the community that you have to support the new young filmmakers. The biggest reason Ive stayed in Memphis is that I know, for certain, that Im going to have some stinkers in my career. There may be a move that completely crashes. I need to have a family around me that loves me regardless, and thats what Memphis has been.
If I lived in that world in L.A., where I put my self-worth in what the numbers are that are coming in or what the critics are saying, then Im going to hang myself in the shower. But at home, I feel very safe. And if theres something I would like to do, its provide that same safety to other local filmmakers. You cant be judged on one movie or one short that you make. You need to be judged on the body of work that you do, and that requires some growth. There are some entertaining shorts and films that some locals are doing, but they may end up being filmmakers on a bigger level, the way Ive had on opportunity to do. I love the Lil Film Festival that Christopher Reyes puts on and Im always supportive of anything that the MeDiA Co-op does, but Indie Memphis is kind of the big daddy as far as Im concerned, because theres always this time when everybody is trying to finish their films by the deadline. Theres a great excitement.
Craig Brewer hosts the Indie Memphis Film Festival preview party Friday, October 6th, at Burkes Books in Midtown. The event runs from 7 to 11 p.m. and will feature trailers of Brewers Black Snake Moan and of local films screening at this years festival.