Black Dy-no-mite! An Interview with director Scott Sandersby Judge Mike Rubino
In 2006, actor Michael Jai White (Spawn) showed Scott Sanders (Thick as Thieves) some photographs of himself dressed as a 1970s blaxploitation action hero. As odd of a film pitch as it was, the afro-mustache-nunchuck getup would soon become Black Dynamite, a hysterical homage to films like Dolemite and Shaft.
Judge Mike Rubino had a chance to talk with Scott Sanders, the film's director, about his inspiration for the film, some of his favorite blaxploitation movies, and the importance of picking good stock footage for a car chase.
Mike Rubino: Did you have to do a lot of preparation in terms of research for this film? It feels like every joke, every scene, is referencing a different blaxploitation film.
Scott Sanders: Well, Michael [Jai White] had a really good jumpstart on it, but I had also seen a lot of the movies myself. I think it was basically just sort of seeing all of them, which was kinda tough because a lot of them are really, really horrible. After a while you start to really pull out what a lot of the scenes are, and a lot of the ideas going behind them--things that were conventions of the genre that started to stand out. And I think it made it a lot easier to figure out what to write, and how to approach the movie.
MR: If you had to pick one, what's your favorite blaxploitation film?
SS: I think I could split it up into two categories, one that I think is a good film and one that I think is a not-so-good film but made me laugh consistently. So, the first one would be The Mack, which is just a fantastic movie. It's really hard and kind of cold blooded, and well acted--you know, it's just an engaging film. The next one would be probably Rudy Ray Moore's Avenging Disco Godfather, which had a huge influence over Black Dynamite just because there are so many crazy, weird, awkward moments in that film, a lot of which we used. So yeah, that's kind of how we approached the movie, too: here's stuff that we like... and here's stuff that we think is amusing, and trying to mix those two things.
MR: How did you go about getting all of the stock footage? Did you make the movie first and say "Okay, we need this kind of footage," or did you find the footage and then figure out to get it into the film?
SS: It was a little bit of both. We get a piece of footage and then we go "Oh wow, we got to put this into the movie." One of the scenes we have is a helicopter picks up a car with a giant magnet. As soon as I saw that I knew it had to be in the movie somehow [Laughs].
A lot of it was, say we needed a car chase, let's just build it around whatever car chase we find. And so a lot of the stock footage comes from the Sony stock footage library and also a company called Third Millenium... and these are the things they have in their library. So it's like: "Okay, we got a car chase, let's have this happen: here's some stock footage of a car going off a cliff and exploding for no reason. Well that fits!" [Laughs] It was just sort of doing it all together, piecing it all together, at once.
MR: One thing that really impressed me was the way the stock footage blends with your actual footage. How did you achieve that, was it all in the film stock you chose?
SS: If you kind of watch the movie, you'll see--especially in the stock footage scenes--the look kind of changes slightly. You're used to seeing the character, but say, in the sequence where Black Dynamite shoots the plane out of the sky with just his gun, that was kind of hard footage to match because it was fairly low res. But we just made our stuff look low res to make the sequence look the same.
MR: You mention in the commentary for the DVD that a lot of the characters are based off of types of actors found in old blaxploitation films. Can you go into Michael Jai White's "Black Dynamite" character, and who that was modeled after?
SS: He's sort of a combination of Jim Kelly, Fred Williamson, and Jim Brown, but mostly Jim Brown. Michael Jai White is actually friends with Jim Brown, and he's sort of like a surrogate father to him. So, he's a big fan of Jim Brown... like even in the love scenes, Jim Brown is such a big macho guy when he had to do some kind of corny, tender love scene he wasn't 100% comfortable with... that's the way Black Dynamite is. Jim Brown, also, when he would shoot a gun he would blink a lot. So when Black Dynamite is using his nunchucks he starts to blink a lot because he's afraid he's going to hit himself in the face.
MR: You have an incredible ensemble cast in the film. Was there a lot of improvisation on the set with so many comedians, actors, and musicians around, or was it fairly tight script-wise?
SS: I think it was probably more scripted than it seems, but there was a lot of improv-- some of our best lines are improved lines. Cedric Yarbrough delivers a line that's a lot of people's favorite line in the movie, and it's improv-ed. When he says "I sell drugs to the community!" That's something we've always put in the trailer, and people seem to really like that. So, there was a little bit of improv, especially in the pimp scene. That's where most of the comedians were.
MR: Is there a joke you think most people have missed?
SS: The most hidden joke is one of the militants--and it's a joke that you might only get if you read screenplays, actually--but one of the militants reads his stage directions. So most of the time in the script the stage directions are in parentheses but he just goes ahead and reads it anyways. So when Black Dynamite says "Who's in charge?" He says, "Sarcastically I'm in charge!" He's not supposed to say "sarcastically," he's just supposed to deliver it that way... he does it like three or four times in the movie. He goes, "I want to show you a picture of Betty Joe. Shows picture." [Laughs]
MR: So can we expect a sequel from this?
SS: I hope so. I mean, if people go out and get the DVD and it becomes really profitable, I think we will make one. We all really want to. It's a fun world, and it'll be a fun world to revisit.
MR: Well thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview, and I wish you guys the best of luck.
SS: Thank you very much!
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