Damon Dash talks about writing, directing and starring in State Property 2
Damon Dash is a force of nature in the entertainment world. He turned Roc-A-Fella records and its star artist, Jay Z, into household names. Then he fleshed out into clothing (the multi-million dollar Roca Wear fashion line), restaurants, and films. His latest feature, which he wrote and directed, is the sequel to the popular urban flick State Property. I had many problems with this film. I thought it portrayed a lot of negative stereotypes, was incredibly misogynistic, and glorified gun violence. Damon, to his credit, answered every question. He was prepared for a backlash and stood his ground. The entrepreneur continues to work in film with several projects in development and a reality TV show for cable's BET.
What was your reason for the scene where the child is playing with the heroine brick? Isn't that a bit irresponsible?
Damon Dash: Actually it was cocaine. IT was to be as provocative and shocking as possible. The purpose of movie making is to invoke emotion. Not to advocate anything, just to show how real things happen. To a degree, I'm quite sure that has happened before to people who sell drugs and have kids. I wasn't advocating it. I wasn't making any light of it. It's definitely to be shocking.
Are you worried that you are portraying wrong stereotypes?
Damon Dash: It is demographically shot. The reason why I mad the movie in the first place is so Beanie Sigel would get the attention. He makes albums that no one hears. I was providing another venue for him to be creative. It's a movie. The governor of California used to be the Terminator. You can't have a double standard like that. We can't be pigeonholed into making the same movie. You can't just say I have to make one kind of movie.
Are you worried about glorifying gun violence?
Damon Dash: No, I'm not. When you see the Terminator, that's not urban at all. Why isn't it looked at negatively? I think we're so critiqued and that we're under a microscope so much that we're only limited to doing one thing. I don't think that's fair. That's the reason why I chose to put humor in it. It's not realistic.
What's so funny about a gangster?
Damon Dash: I didn't mean gangsters are funny. Everyone is funny. Everyone has a sense of humor. We're all human beings. Who ever is serious all day long has a fucked up life. They're not enjoying the fruits of life. To say someone doesn't laugh is ridiculous. I don't care who it is. Whether it's right or wrong it's the truth. When I make movies I want to make the truth. Not what's politically correct. I want to make things that are socially conscious but it has to be the truth. Whatever is going on in the world.
What did you want to do to State Property 2?
Damon Dash: Just everything. When we first made it, the intention was to make it straight to video. I never anticipated it being theatrical or well received. All my partners said don't put it out because it didn't represent what we wanted to do in terms of quality of production. It was intended to be a demographical movie, something that's just directed towards the urban demographic. I told them to do a lot of styling. I just wanted the script to be a little better as well. I wanted it to be a little more humor as well. I don't know any gangster that's not funny. Mostly everyone I know has a sense of humor.
Did you find it difficult directing non-professionals on the set?
Damon Dash: Not really, just because I knew everybody. Basically as I was writing the movie, I was writing it for those people. I had a cast in my mind, so I knew what to take from them. Everyone that I worked with I hung out with them. I just wanted them to be themselves. I didn't try and make them go too far from their personality.
Why didn't you shoot in Philadelphia?
Damon Dash: It was too far away. It's too hard for me to do my business. I had to run my companies while I was directing. After we would wrap, I would go to my office. At 2 in the morning I had meetings. It's just hard to do too many things at one time. That's why I couldn't be on location and be someplace that I couldn't go home and be with my kids. That was important to me.
Talk more about casting?
Damon Dash: Well, basically I wanted everything to coexist. The movie was written for my artists to have a venue to do other things. Then also if you notice in the film everyone is wearing my watch line, so it becomes a commercial to a degree. Beanie Sigel can act. It's kind of like his life experiences. He's in jail right now. While he was shooting the movie he was on trial for attempted murder charges. Mariah Carey and Rob Sanchez kind of like free styled their parts. With them you have to get them when they are available. It all worked out. It just so happened that they came on the same day.
When is Beanie getting out?
Damon Dash: He should be out in July. He just did 3 months in the hole for no reason at all. He's not doing any easy time. They're fucking with him, almost like they have something against him because he has so much support on the street.
Is street cred important to you?
Damon Dash: Street cred is bullshit. Being truthful is important. That's credible. You are what you are. To try and pretend to be something that you're not is not credible.
What do you want the audience to walk away with from this film?
Damon Dash: Well, this particular movie is catered to a certain demographic. I think its the best movie done for that demographic. But I think it's so good, that I hope it will translate to people from different demographics. Event if they don't like it. The fact that they've seen it is an accomplishment for me.
Who are your heroes?
Damon Dash: Martin Luther King is definitely a hero of mine. Bob Marley, Russell Simmons.
How do you think they would view this film?
Damon Dash: I think they would appreciate it to a certain degree. For what it is and what I tried to do. I would think they would understand it.
What would Martin Luther King say?
Damon Dash: I don't know. I don't know him that well so I couldn't say what he'd say. But I think in his mind it would be an accomplishment that I was able to direct, produce, and write it. I think that's what he would review more than anything as opposed to the content of it. At that time a black man couldn't even look a white person in the eye let alone direct and produce a movie.
How did you teach yourself to be a director?
Damon Dash: Just by observing and being humble enough to listen to people around me. I needed to surround myself with the right people that can get me the crew. I spent a lot of time making music videos. I don't know what I would do if I had a budget of a hundred million dollars. I'm a student in the game. When I go on different sets I look at how other people direct.
You were once quoted as saying if people didn't like what you're doing, fuck them. Is that true?
Damon Dash: Well, I give a hundred percent effort in whatever I do. I can't see how someone can't see that. If they don't they're too judgmental. They're looking at the wrong shit. If you're taking so much time to judge me then you're going to stay in one place at one time forever. You're not going to be productive to the community. That's how I look at things. Who is to judge me and who am I to judge anyone? Just as long as what I'm doing is being reflected in a positive way. As long as I'm creating opportunities or putting money in people's pocket. I don't really care what judgmental people think. I never have. I like to be an ambassador to the people and create opportunity.
Who would you say mentored you?
Damon Dash: I think my mother had a lot to do with the confidence I have, for me to play the game. I'd rather play the game and lose then not play at all. I'm not scared to lose. I'm scared not to try. That came from my mother. She died when I was 15. I have taken different things from different people. I love Martin Luther King and what he did. He was so eloquent in how he carried our culture and how he spoke. He was in the south marching with everyone. He died for his cause. He spoke in such a way. I love Muhammad Ali because he stood up for what he believed in, but at the same time he was a funny guy. He took care of his business in a time where he could have gotten himself killed. I loved Russell Simmons because of the doors he's opened. He is an ambassador to the hip-hop culture. He has evolved as an individual. He's such a peaceful individual. It's a lot of people in different ways. I had a lot of help. For example when I get a script, I might ask my publicist because I respect her opinion about it. She would make sure I have the best people around me and do the research. Joe Pesci came in to look at the movie and give me some insight. Lee Daniels definitely. He leads by example with his fearlessness.
How did you meet Lee [Daniels, Hollywood producer]?
Damon Dash: I met Lee at Cannes. I threw a party and he was at the party. I got the biggest house in Cannes for attention and it worked.
If you had to choose between film, music, and fashion what would you choose?
Damon Dash: I wouldn't. That's like saying if you had to choose between your first, second, or third kid. I love them all. They just all need a certain amount of attention depending on how old they are.
What about your acting career, would you act in other people's films?
Damon Dash: I would if I looked cool. I'm not trying to go out of pocket and play myself. I'm good at acting like me. I don't know if I could do some Shakespeare. I don't know if I could shave my mustache. (Laughs) It depends on the character and how the movie is.
Are you working on a project with Annette Benning called Diva?
Damon Dash: Yeah but it cost too much. It was a movie I wanted to make and I tried but I couldn't get the funds. When you come into the movie business, they think you're new money. Everyone comes to you for a check. I understand it though because a lot of people thought I would save them. But I'm not the bank like that. I've got a little money but not enough. I've invested in so many different things like America magazine. I chose The Woodsman to put my money up. I'm not cutting any more checks.
Jay Z is moving to running Def jam, are you going to be competing for artists?
Damon Dash: I haven't competed with anyone my whole life. I really don't. I think it's good that he decided to become a corporate individual. I decided to remain an independent spirit. I feel like I'm not employable. I decided to run the Damon Dash music group. I wish him luck. I think it'll be entertaining. It'll be interesting.
What can you say about the BET show?
Damon Dash: Whatever show I do will be hot. It'll be dope. It won't be what's expected of a reality show. It'll be something inspirational and enlightening to my community and my culture. Hopefully I can broaden BET's awareness.
Will there be a State Property 3?
Damon Dash: I don't know. I left that door open just incase we might visit there. I don't know if by the time we get there it'll be as powerful….unless it's like a serious moneymaker.
Dont't forget to also check out: State Property 2