Friday, July 21, 2006

28: Rock The Bells

Issue #28--sizzling hot, just like your summer!


BREAKING NEWS...Just as we were going to press, we got word from BET officially announcing that its newly minted animation unit will join with Vin Diesel’s One Race Productions to produce “Hannibal the Conqueror,” an animated series based on the life of Hannibal of Carthage, considered one of history's greatest military leaders. One Race vice president Samantha Vincent and Diesel will executive produce. "From my first week at BET, I have been pursuing this project,” said BET's president of entertainment Reginald Hudlin in a press statement. Added Diesel, “It only took Reginald Hudlin becoming President of Entertainment for me to know that BET would be the perfect network to launch a franchise, the story of the great African general who fought an empire.” Diesel has been developing the project for ten years, now we'll see if it has the power to conquer the ratings.

CRIME SPREE...As you may know, master penman Nelson George has just done a deal with BET. But we have the exclusive on "American Gangster"--'cause we got it like that. George tells The A-List that "'American Gangster' will be a window into how crime has shaped the fortunes of Black America." While the six-part series takes an in-depth look at African-American crime figures, including Leroy "Nicky" Barnes, "Freeway Ricky" Ross, The Chambers Brothers, and the recently executed Stanley "Tookie" Williams, it won't be a gangster love-fest. The series--produced by George, Frank Sinton of Asylum Entertainment, and Mark Rowland--presents the ill effects of crime on the Black community. Explains Nelson: "We do this not by looking at statistics but at criminals, many of them legendary in their communities, who left deep scars in their wake. White racism and neglect play a huge part in the series as well as we'll explore the political and social conditions that allowed these men to thrive. 'American Gangster' is not a celebration of these criminals. This is not a for-the-streets DVD." Nelson says he's expecting the BET audience to look beyond the so-called glamour of "thuggism." "BET is the perfect venue for 'American Gangster,'" he adds, "since its youthful viewership needs to see how thuggish behavior has undermined the black community and threatens our future." "American Gangster" airs November 28.

SPIKE'S KATRINA...Spike Lee is set to show a side of the Katrina disaster in New Orleans few others have explored. His four-hour docu-opera When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts airs in two parts on HBO August 21 and 22. Among other issues, Lee explores the theory that the U.S. government had something to do with the levee collapse--as a way to "unbrown" the Crescent City. As Lee recently told a group of TV critics: "I know this may be hard to understand, but if you're African American, you don't put anything past the United States government. Anybody know about something called the Tuskegee Experiment?"

A NEW INSIDE MAN....Speaking of Spike Lee, word from the Hollywood Reporter is that he has inked a one-year deal with NBC to develop a new drama series. It all happened after Lee directed the pilot episode for the new CBS/20th Century Fox TV drama series "Shark." Seems word got around TV land about the never-miss heat of Lee and he went into talks with NBC. Under the deal, Lee will executive produce the new series and may possibly direct. Hey, a new frontier for Lee to conquer.

HIGH IN HOUSTON...The folks behind reality shows "The Ultimate Hustler" and "Making The Band 2" are coming back with another show, "Houston High" for MTV. It will follow the lives of upcoming rappers in the Houston area. The project is being cast through, is the "high" for high school or something else? Guess we'll have to tune in to find out.

OPRAH NO-SHOW...Oprah now appears eager to have some rappers on her show, perhaps to counter the backlash she's received from the mighty hip-hop community who spoke out about her seemingly lack of interest in and respect for the culture. So, according to the media buzz, she ran to "safe" OutKast, who rumor has it turned down an offer to go on her show to promote their August 22nd film release, Idlewild. Well, this may be one community the "Queen" has not conquered, and in true hip hop fashion, they don't have any rulers.

SEARCHING FOR THE HOLY GRAIL?...Samuel L. Jackson will voice the role of God in a new audio version of the Bible called The Bible Experience. The CD set (with the Old Testament being released late next year, and the New Testament hitting stores in September) is being recorded with Blair Underwood as Jesus (a role he must like--remember his own film The Second Coming). Denzel Washington is said to be reading the Song of Solomon, T.D. Jakes is reading The Holy Spirit and Abraham, and Forest Whitaker channels Moses. Created by Media Group, even the Good Book goes Hollywood.

SALE OF SALES...Our friends over at, got the scoop that rapper/actor T.I. (ATL) has sold his screenplay For Sale to New Line Cinema. Centered around a used car lot in Atlanta, it was written by T.I. and partner Jason Geter. T.I., of course, will star. Let's hope the Lemon Law won't be necessary.

PEEK-A-BOO PLAY...We just got
word that E. Lynn Harris' on-the-down-low novel Invisible Life is heading to Broadway--and it's a musical! Nicholas Ashford & Valerie Simpson are composing the music, George Faison will direct. It is expected to hit the Great White Way early next year, after a run in DC, Atlanta, Chicago, and Detroit. Could the big screen be next?

MEMORIES OF MARLEY....Screenwriter John Dixon gmailed to let us know he has just copyrighted a movie script called The Black Beatles (, a story inspired by the legendary reggae group Bob Marley and the Wailers
. The project is based on fictional and factual events.Though Dixon is now shopping the script, he has big dreams. He says, "Can you imagine Terrence Howard as Bob Marley, Samuel L. Jackson as Peter Tosh, Don Cheadle as Bunny Wailer, and Nick Nolte as Chris Blackwell?" Any takers?



After creating and then selling BET for $3 billion in 2000, next venturing into the sports arena, then banking, and the hospitality industry, entrepreneur extraordinaire Robert L. Johnson is reentering the entertainment industry. Late last week, he announced plans to form a film studio with independent producers Harvey and Bob Weinstein. It will be called Our Stories Films, and produce family friendly features about African Americans that will be distributed in theaters by the Dimension Films unit of Weinstein Co., which will be part-owner of the venture. According to reports, New York bank J.P. Morgan Chase will provide up to $175 million to fund the company. Johnson will be chairman and chief executive of Our Stories and the studio will be headquartered in Los Angeles with offices in New York. Johnson is also currently looking for someone to run Our Stories.



From Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 to Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, documentaries are on the comeup. And it couldn't be soon enough for documentary filmmakers Casey Suchan and her partner, Denis Henry Hennelly. Each has worked on a number of documentaries. Suchan has produced a series of best-selling documentaries on hip-hop culture and history with Quincy (QD3) Jones, III, including Thug Angel about the life of rapper/actor Tupac Shakur and The Freshest Kids, focusing on the development of East Coast breakdancing. Hennelly produced Beef (awarded Best Music DVD of the Year by VIBE Magazine) and Beef 2 with Suchan and QD3 Entertainment. Now the pair, who work with production company Open Road Films, has created a rare glimpse at the making of a mega hip-hop concert, specifically the Rock The Bells concert in San Bernardino, Calif.

Using their own funds, calling in favors, lowballing for as many services as they could, their documentary Rock The Bells ( is a kind of The Show for the new millenium, expanding on the concept to tell the story of the whole process from behind the scenes. The documentary takes viewers behind closed doors... with concert promoter Chang Weisberg, and the artists--a reunited Wu-Tang Clan, Redman, Supernatural, Dilated Peoples--and even the audience. And of course, there are the performances themselves. "This was an incredible lineup of artists, including the reunion of The Wu-Tang Clan," notes Suchan. "But we didn't want this to be a story about the artists alone. We wanted it to be about the entire experience of the Rock The Bells concert." Adds Hennelly, "We wanted to capture the momentum of putting together the show and passion of hip hop. We wanted to tell an honest story." The project may turn out to be a pivtal turn in hip-hop cinema, as it not only delivers the passion, but also an understanding of the hip-hop culture--from promoter Weisberg, who promotes rap shows not just for capital gain (he mortgaged his house to finance the concert) but the love of the genre to the artists who strive to not only carve out a business niche but to spit glorious rhymes to the audience, gathered to be entertained and enlghtened by words.

After shooting and editing enough footage to show, Suchan and Hennelly hit the phones searching for financing. But while they were still raising capital, they continued to make the film. "We were told a milion times no, but we didn't stop shooting," says Suchan. "The most important thing for us was to continue whether we got financing or not."

Eventually, Civilian Pictures and Mayfly Films stepped in and produced the documentary with Guerilla Union. While the pair is not yet prepared to release production costs, they say they kept expenditures to a minimal. "Ten years ago we could not have made this film with our budget," says Hennelly. "We used a Panasonic DVX100, a great affordable documentary camera."

Now they are taking the film, which they started in 2004, on the road to film festivals with the ultimate goal of getting Rock The Bells into theatres. In fact, The A-List first learned of the documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival. Coming up, the film is screening next at The Melbourne International Film Festival July 28 and August 10 and then the Edinburgh International Film Festival, August 18 and August 23. Suchan and Hennelly are taking every opportunity not only to promote Rock The Bells, but also to pass on lessons learned to other filmmakers. "If you can afford a publicist, even a small firm, it will really help get the word out about your film," offers Hennelly. And, adds Suchan, "Create a web presence for your project. We've gotten 600,000 hits since the website went up. It's all about building marketing." A DVD is also planned. "We have over 200 hours of footage," says Hennelly. "There are a lot of things we just couldn't fit into the film that will make a great DVD."

While the duo has been pondering their next hip-hop doc, Rock The Bells is still their main focus. "Someone once told me that when you make a documentary, be ready to sign away five years of your life," says Suchan, "if that's true, we're just getting started with Rock The Bells."

Thursday, July 20, 2006

issue 28: continued