Writer/director Scott Sanders is preparing to unleash one of the greatest blaxploitation characters of all time in his highly anticipated new film, ‘Black Dynamite’. The film has been generating a huge buzz at film festivals around the world and stars the multifaceted Michael Jai White as the title character. The story is a classic vengeance tale that follows Black Dynamite as he aims to take back the streets from the clutches of “The Man” who has killed his brother and is pumping heroin into local orphanages. Along the way he is forced to hand out heaping helpings of bloody retribution as he follows the trail that leads him all the way to the White House and President Nixon. Taking the audience on a thrill-a-minute fun ride, while giving nods to blaxploitation cinema past, ‘Black Dynamite’ is sure to be the biggest sleeper hit of 2009! Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Scott Sanders to discuss the origins the film, the animated series that it will soon spawn and the challenges involved in bringing such a unique film to the masses. Can you dig it?
I wanted to give our readers a little background on you, in your own words. What got you started on journey in the entertainment industry?
Film was my major in college. I went to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. After that, I just came out to Hollywood. I actually ended up working at the United Talent Agency right when it started. I got fired from that job and I started writing a spec script with the money that I got from that job. The script was for a television show. Then they signed me as a client and I was a TV writer for a while, then I did a short film and that lead to me doing a movie called ‘Thick As Thieves’ with Michael Jai White and Alec Baldwin. That was my first movie, ten years ago.
Who were some of your influences directorially?
I think it started off for me with Spike Lee. It has been a real honor to show him ‘Black Dynamite’. He has been extremely supportive, so that has been great! I’d also say the Coen Brothers, who I just love. I can’t wait to see ‘A Serious Man’. Stanley Kubrick is another one.
That is definitely a mixed bag.
For those how don’t know, how did the original concept for ‘Black Dynamite’ come about?
Well, as I mentioned Michael Jai White and I worked together ten years ago on ‘Thick As Thieves’. I was doing some other projects and working on some other things and I had approached him about another movie that I was interested in having him star in. He was really into it and I asked him what he was up to. He showed me a photo shot that he had done of himself with the afro wig, the gun, the nunchucks and the suit that he is wearing in the last scene of the movie. That is when it dawned on me that this would be the best thing to do! [laughs] It just became so obvious! Let’s make a blaxploitation movie, set in the seventies, now. It felt like it would be a blast to do. So we got together and shot a trailer for five hundred dollars, like a fake trailer, where we cut in stock footage with him on the other end. He would shot a bullet and kill somebody from thirty years ago! I showed it to our producer friend, who produced our first film ‘Thick As Thieves’, and he was like “Why are you showing me this old blaxploitation trailer?” I said to him “That’s Mike!” He did not even recognize that it was Mike in the trailer. [laughs] He said “Ok, I can raise the money for this based on the trailer alone.” That is how we raised the money. We didn’t even have a script yet and we had already raised the money for ‘Black Dynamite’. Actually, it was called ‘Superbad’ at the time but another movie took that title away from us. [laughs] So that is how it became ‘Black Dynamite’. It was really funny too, because we had the original trailer posted on a little website just for us to show other people and a Japanese website picked it up and it just spread all over the internet! It was the old trailer that we had just done for promotional purposes and there are still people out there that think that ‘Black Dynamite’ is a remake of that movie!
Oh really?! Wow!
Yeah! I mean, there are people who have written whole articles saying “Why would you remake ‘Black Dynamite’!?!!” [laughs] It’s like… “Ok?!!!”
As a director, what key elements did Michael Jai White bring to the to the role that made it jump of the page and screen?
It’s a rare situation where Mike is a born blaxploitation star. If he was old enough to be an actual blaxploitation star, he would be the biggest one! He is built like a football player and has eight black belts in karate. Not even the guys then were like that! He is just as big as those guys. I mean, in ‘Black Dynamite’, we don’t move the camera or anything and he literally jumps ten feet in the air and kicks out a light! All of the blaxploitation stars were football players, except for Jim Kelly who a karate star. The fact that Mike is a combination of both and that he has amazing comic timing really brings it all together.
Was it difficult to balance the elements of those original films while you added you own flavor to it and was there ever a point where you pulled back because you thought something might be going too far?
I think we knew where the lines kinda were. I mean, if we took the worst of blaxploitation movies, it would go way over the top. The worst ones had crazy stuff in it.
If you look back on those films, it is hard to believe that they got made in the 70s!
Yeah! It is amazing! You have a movie, made by a major studio called ‘Boss Nigger’. It is hard to imagine a time where that would ever happen again, ya know! Fred Williamson was “Boss Nigger.” I can’t imagine going into a major studio and saying “Yeah, I’d like to make ‘The Legend of Nigger Charley’.” Ya know!? I think it would be impossible! So, there were lines that we knew that we didn’t want to cross, but the thing is that it does give us license because we are just kinda examining the genre. So with that, we had a license to go farther than most go.
You have been traveling around quite a bit to promote the film. How have audiences been reacting and what has the whole experience been like for you?
It’s been great. It has been something that has been totally unexpected. The fact that it has been so embraced by the film festival circuit has been a joy. I’ve never traveled, so it was great to travel as well. Traveling has been great. My favorite trip has been to the Czech Republic. We had the movie at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. That was the biggest audience that we have ever had. They had 1200 people and they let 100 more people just sit in the aisles. They were all just laughing and having a great time! It was translated in Czech and I guess it was a great translation! It was great! To me, that experience made me very encouraged that the film might be a lot more universal that we had expected.
For you personally, what was the biggest challenge in making “Black Dynamite”?
The challenge, but I think made the movie better, was having such a limited amount of time and a short schedule. Everyday we had to put ten pounds into a three pound bag! What is good about that is that’s how those original movies were made. I feel like you can see that energy on the screen.
Did you originally envision ‘Black Dynamite’ as a series of films, and the word is that ‘Black Dynamite’ may soon find his way onto the small screen by way of an animated series. What can you tell us about that?
It is pretty much all systems go on the animated series, which is great. That is kinda the first byproduct of the film. It’s going to be on Adult Swim on The Cartoon Network. Carl Jones, who worked on ‘The Boondocks’ is going to run the show. He is hilarious and really gets it, so that is a really fun thing that we are going to do. So yeah, I definitely want to do more! It would be hard to come up with a directing job that is more fun than ‘Black Dynamite’. Just going through the stock footage from the stock footage houses and saying “What scene are we going to work around?” It just feels so loose. My editor goes “Here is some footage I have of a chopper picking up a 1972 Chevette Caprice with a giant magnet!” Then we just work that into the story! It is just so much fun!
Is there any date that we can expect to see the animated series? And I would assume that Michael Jai White will be back to do the voice of Black Dynamite?
We are just working on the pilot right now and I am really bad with cartoon lead time. I just don’t know where they do it or how they do it but it is all moving forward fairly quickly, so that is exciting.
I know the movie is just being released theatrically but do you have anything special that you are preparing for a DVD release?
Absolutely! The great thing is that we have never stopped making viral videos, there is a lot of stuff on the internet and it will be great to have it all in one place. There are a lot of great outtakes and a lot of funny stuff with Richard Nixon in it, because he was a method actor and never stopped acting. There is some really crazy stuff with him!
What is the best piece of advice that you can give to aspiring filmmakers?
There is some good and bad going on right now. Right now, it is very, very difficult to go through the studio system and get things done. It is just difficult. The upside is that if you have a good idea and you are entrepreneurial, the world really can be your oyster. You have to do things, you have to make things. You have to make things that you feel are going to bring attention to yourself. You have to just do it. With us, it started off with five hundred dollars and a trailer and led to all of these things. It started very, very small. You just have to get out there and do it. I don’t think the rewards are as far off as people think that they are.
Obviously you have a lot on your plate with the release of ‘Black Dynamite’ and the animated series on the way, but what other projects are on the horizon for you?
I’d like to stay in this kind of world. I like doing things that are genre based but have an independent spirit minded thing to it. There is some stuff that is pretty much in the early stages but I can say something like ‘Black Dynamite’ or ‘District 9’, I am kinda into that sort of thing.
Cool. It sounds like we will see you behind the camera again sooner rather than later, right?
Yeah. I was thinking about staying on the “ten year plan”, doing two more films and then dying but now I think I need to do them a little bit quicker! [laughs]
Looking back on making the film, what is you fondest memory of the project?
I have one that really stands out, because all of these things are such little wars. It was when we were getting all of the production design together, which is difficult for a movie like this where you are trying to get all of this period stuff. When I got to the neighborhood of Ladera Heights, we were literally walking through the neighborhood and knocked on a door. There was an old reverend there and he let us in his house. It looked like perfect 1970s house for a brothel! [laughs] That was a moment of relief! We barely dressed that house and it looked perfect.
Anything that you would like to say to the fans before I let you go?
Just that I hope that they come out to see the film on October 16th. I hope that they really enjoy it in the spirit that it was meant to be enjoyed in!
Thanks for your time and we will be spreading the word about the film!
Ok, thank you very much!
For all the latest information on ‘Black Dynamite’, visit the official site for the film at www.blackdynamitemovie.com. Be sure to check out the official trailer for the film below.