Director Scott Sanders is a name that isn't instantly recognizable in filmdom, but it just might be in the near future. After making his feature film debut with Thick as Thieves, the filmmaker stepped away from Hollywood, taking an 11-year break to pursue other endeavors. Now he's back with the new blaxploitation film Black Dynamite, which will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on February 16. I had the chance to speak with the co-writer/director of this film and here's what he had to say.
First of all, I'm just curious where the "Chili and Donuts" came from? Are you guys working out a deal with Roscoe's right now?
Scott Sanders: (Laughs) That comes from Michael (Jai White). One of the things I've learned about him in traveling all over the world with him, is he eats very very healthy to have that body. The whole concept of chicken and waffles was just such an odd pairing to him, like why would you put those two togethers? Chili and donuts just sounds so random, so that's where that came from. It's funny because we're always traveling together and he's very particular about what he eats so he can stay fit.
When I first heard about that, I thought that had to be just the most random thing I had ever heard in my life.
Scott Sanders: (Laughs) Yeah, but in a way having chicken and waffles together is also random.
I watched our video interview with you guys from the junket and it sounded like this thing came together pretty fast. Can you talk about the process of writing this with (co-writer/star) Michael (Jai White) and (co-writer) Byron (Minns) and how this all started?
Scott Sanders: Well, Michael and I had worked together 10 years ago on a movie called Thick as Thieves. I kind of dropped out of the movie industry for awhile and became a DJ but then I started writing scripts and wanted Michael to be in it. I approached him about it and he really liked it a lot and I asked him what he had been up to. He shows me a photograph of himself and he did a photo shoot where he has the nunchucks, the gun, the afro and the suit. He's like, 'Yeah, let's do a blaxploitation movie.' The picture looked just so perfect, I thought this would be great. Let's pursue this. At the time, the character's name was Superbad, but a movie you might have heard of took that title, so he became Black Dynamite. We made a video, just blaxploitation scenes using stock footage, to raise money so we raised the money actually before we had the script. It was awkward. We have lines in the trailer that don't have anything behind them. Lines like, 'You can kill all the two-bit hustlers in the world, but it still won't bring Jimmy back.' There was no Jimmy, it just sounded like something somebody would say in a blaxploitation movie. We went on writing the script so that's how it started.
I didn't know about the Superbad thing. That's crazy.
Scott Sanders: Yeah. We were well into it already and then this Superbad comes out. We were like, 'What are we going to call this movie?'
Can you talk about getting the rest of this cast together like Tommy Davison and Arsenio just kind of came out of nowhere too. What was it like getting this amazing cast assembled?
Scott Sanders: A lot of people were just friends of Michael's. He'd just call them and say, 'Hey, Arsenio, we've got one day. Come in and you get to be the head of a pimp counsel and you're the Captain Kangeroo pimp. What do you say?' Arsenio is like, 'I'm in.' Once we were already in motion, it sounded like something that was fun for a lot of the people in the movie. It was pretty easy to get them on board.
Yeah. How could you say no to a phone call like that?
Scott Sanders: (Laughs) Yeah. Arsenio has been incredibly enthusiastic and he's been out promoting the movie as well.
I read that you guys actually used a lot of stock footage from old blaxploitation films. Can you talk about the process of finding all of these and was it more for the look or for budgetary reasons, or both?
Scott Sanders: A little bit of both, certainly with budgetary. It was one of those things where, within the context of Black Dynamite, I felt I could get away with it. You can pack a lot of stuff in a movie, and we just built it around stuff that had already been shot. Certain things we looked for to match what we had already written and just tweaked it a little bit, like the car chase stuff. Some stuff we just stumbled upon and built a scene around it. That scene where he picks up the car with a helicopter and a giant magnet, as soon as I saw that I said, 'OK, that has to be in the movie somehow.'
You said a lot of these guys were friends already before the film. Can you talk about an average day on the set and what the vibe was like when you were shooting?
Scott Sanders: It was a great ride. Everybody knew we were under really strict time constrictions. Some days I would just wake up and it would be the craziest day ever. We originally had a lot more Presidents in the movie and you'll see them in the deleted scenes. One day, George Washington is walking around with Richard Nixon and there would be a couple of porn stars there. It was like, 'What movie IS this?' (Laughs). It seemed like one of those things where you walked into a studio in the 50s and everybody has a wild, crazy costume on when you walk through. It was a delight. It was really really fun. It was just a wild, crazy time.
Movies like this, sometimes they digitally enhance to make it look like an older film and you guys didn't do that. Was there a reason behind that?
Scott Sanders: Initially, I thought, 'Is there a film solution to make this look like an old film?' We used different kinds of film stocks, different lenses. My DP Shawn Maurer did these tests on Super 16 Color Reversal stock and I thought it just looked fantastic. Without really any effort, it made it look old, but the downside to using the film stock is that it's very unforgiving, so once you use that stock, that's what your film looks like. I think we used that film stock more than any film, ever. Nobody could shoot a whole film on it, maybe they've shot it on 35 Color Reversal Stock. I think Three Kings was shot on that, but nobody really shot a movie on Super 16 Color Reversal because it's really unforgiving but it makes it look really great. It was worth it.
I know the film didn't exactly make a lot of money in its theatrical run. Do you think this will blow up on DVD because the critical response was quite amazing. Are you guys expecting this to blow up when it hits next week?
Shawn Sanders: I think so. You know, it seems like it, through Twitter and all these other things... actually, I was just looking up our Amazon film rankings and things look pretty good. We're already the #1 African-American movie on DVD this week, so that looks pretty good, and the #2 martial arts film. I can't really tell because especially with this film, our online presence is so huge. Our Twitter is huge and there are so many things. How those things translate into actual numbers, I'm not really sure, but I'm really encouraged by it. It's been growing, people's interest in the movie seems to be growing and that's different than normal.
Is there anything you're writing now or that you're working to develop?
Scott Sanders: Yeah, I'm just working on a variety of things. I'd like to stay in this kind of world, not necessarily blaxploitation, but twisting genres, playing around with them. I'm a big fan of District 9. I thought it was a fantastic film. You take an alien movie and set it in Johannesburg, that to me is great. To have a big genre, fun movie with somewhat of an independent spirit, is kind of where I want to keep my focus.
Can you give us any hint about what genres you might be twisting around?
Scott Sanders: I am currently playing around with the idea of a Jamaican zombie movie. Weed plays a big factor.
Is that how they become zombies?
Scott Sanders: (Laughs) Well, the most potent weed, apparently, comes from the CIA on a farm in Mississippi. I think it's called G-13, if I'm not mistaken, so they come up with G-14... and you get zombies.
(Laughs) That sounds awesome. Are you writing this with (Black Dynamite co-writers) Byron (Minns) and Michael (Jai White) or just on your own?
Scott Sanders: It's on my own, but I'd like Michael to star in it. We've talked about. It's been fun playing around with it.
I'll definitely keep an eye out for that.
Scott Sanders: Yeah. That's been fun playing around with that.
Finally, what would you like to say to people who might not have caught Black Dynamite about why they should pick it up when the DVD comes out next week?
Scott Sanders: I just think it's a fun movie. I think it's funny but I think a lot of other people think it's funny too. It's a movie we put a lot of love into and everybody did that, from the production designer to the costume designer to the cinematographer. It really was a labor of love. We just had a great time making it and hopefully that's something that will come through in the film and hopefully people will enjoy it.
Excellent. Well, that's about all I have for you, Scott. Thanks so much for your time, and I'll definitely keep an eye out for that new film of yours.
Scott Sanders: OK, great. Thank you.
You can pick up Scott Sanders' Black Dynamite on DVD and Blu-ray starting on February 16.