Were you a hip hop head when you made the film?
I wouldn’t call myself a head, but I was a fan. I went to shows. I really liked it. I thought it was the most exciting music happening at the time and I kind of discovered it mainly through working at CKLN at Ryerson. That wasn’t the first time I heard it, but that was really the only source back in the day in Toronto to hear the music. There was no Flow [93.5 FM]…CIUT [University of Toronto campus radio station] didn’t have a hip hop show. CHRY wasn’t around.
One of the first things we thought when we watched the flick was that it must’ve cost a bunch of money. How much did the movie cost to make?
It probably cost, actual cash budget…about a $100,000 in actual cash, but the value that we got from the [National] Film Board in the processing and post production was probably $40-$50,000.
What was the size of the film crew and how long did the film take to make?
The crew was me [as] producer/director, camera man, camera assistant, sound recordist…that was the shooting crew. And then a picture editor, and a sound edit team of like 3 or 4. I think we shot over about 10 or 11 months and basically just shot as things were happening. [Today] if I were doing it I would choreograph a lot more. In those days, in documentary, you waited for stuff to happen, you didn’t want to force things. But now there is a lot more leeway.
And how was the film financed?
Toronto Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council, Canada Council, OFDC – a which is now the OMDC [Ontario Media Development Corporation]. National Film Board. National Film board put a lot into it…they basically gave us an edit room and because it was shot on film, they did all the film processing.
Was the film intended to be about hip hop generally or specifically about Toronto hip hop?
Well, it’s about hip hop but it’s focused on Toronto. I thought that there was a lot going on in Toronto that was under the radar that really deserved attention. I consciously made a decision – and I’m not sure if it was the right one – but to not follow the Toronto artists that were really blowing up.
Did the film get distribution after it premiered?
TVO [TV Ontario] offered to buy it, but because I was so inexperienced and I was being a tough negotiator, I ended up not making the sale because I held out too long. So I lost my TV sale. I learned a lesson. It was a hard film to sell…I got a lot of attention from CBC; they were really interested in the film. I mean at that time, hip hop was still pretty underground in Canada. People just didn’t really get it.
How did you get access to a lot of these rap groups?
Well I really got to give credit to Johnbronski – John Adams – because I knew that as a white filmmaker, I was outside the scene. I mean I was a fan, but I wasn’t part of the scene and to have that trust, I wanted somebody to be my entré to the scene. His girlfriend at the time, Lisa, was going to Ryerson and she was friends with my girlfriend and my girlfriend told Lisa, “my boyfriend’s working on this film about hip hop” and Lisa said, “you know my boyfriend’s Johnbronski. He’s kind of, you know, really involved in hip hop.” So we met and I talked to him …[h]e didn’t really know anything about film at the time, which is interesting because he’s in the film business now. I offered him a role as associate producer, so that he would have some creative input and would help kind of negotiate my way into that world. [W]e didn’t know that he would be as much of character in the film as he turned out to be, but I think it worked out well.
John just said what was on his mind, he wasn’t very political. Like he would just tell people what he thought and people didn’t always like what he had to say. But I thought that, you know, he definitely has a great on-screen personality.
Almost every element of hip hop culture is covered in the film except break dancing. Why is that? Did you film any break dancing scenes?
We didn’t. You know, none of the characters that we were filming with were involved in break dancing. Maybe we could have made it work; it just didn’t come up in any of the stories. We kind of followed the lead of what the characters in the film – what they thought were important. Looking back on it now it’s kind of ironic…there’s always stuff you wanna put in and stuff you wish you left out.
Do you have any examples of what you wanted to cut?
I don’t know if there is anything I would want to cut. There’s definitely stuff I would want to include. I think we could have done a better job of structuring the film and I think there are scenes we should have let play out longer. Like Jelleestone’s [freestyle]. I mean we were trying to let the music kind of carry the film in a big way, but you always want to go back and change things and now, of course, digitally you can…but you know, it was [my] first professional film and it did get a lot of attention. We got a lot of great press.
Who were the graffiti artists in the film?
One is [a prominent Canadian rap music video director who shall remain anonymous] .
Whoa! How did he get involved?
I am trying to remember… I think it was through D-Fluke, who was the graphic designer that did the [film’s] titles.
Were all the performance scenes staged?
Not necessarily. I mean, I think some show – a couple of the shows – John[bronski] was emceeing, so we’d go because John said it would be good to shoot. A lot of it was just for atmosphere because there weren’t a lot of live shows. They were kind of few and far between. But there were always dances! So you’d get the vibe, get the atmosphere. We shot a lot of that, we mixed it up a lot.
Did you ever consider filming bigger acts like Maestro Fresh Wes or the Dream Warriors?
Well, in some respects, if we had decided to shoot with Maestro or Dream Warriors or Michie [Mee], then we might’ve had a marquee name, it would’ve made [the film] more sell-able. But I wasn’t really thinking. You need to have more business acumen, which I didn’t have then. I mean, I was talking to Ivan Berry – we shot with Ivan Berry and didn’t end up using any of that.
Who is Ivan Berry?
Ivan Berry was the Dream Warriors manager/producer. He started a label – Boombastic Records, which was the first rap label [in Canada] and the first act he signed was Organized Rhyme featuring Tom fucking Green, if you can believe it! So when Tom Green started rapping a few years ago, I said “no he’s been doing that for a long time. He’s still not good, but…” [laughs].
I remember that was actually a story that I considered including in the film because people were so angry at Ivan for doing that.
For doing what?
For signing these white boys from Ottawa who were so bad. You know what? We did try to shoot the Dream Warriors. They didn’t show up!
They dissed us [laughs]. We were supposed to meet them at Jane and Finch mall and we were going to shoot something and they never showed up. I mean, there was a lot of that. You know the music business – sometimes people just don’t show up.
In the scenes with MVP rapping in front of a high school, were those kids actually in high school at the time?
Oh yeah. They were young.
One of the most exciting things about watching this movie now, is seeing guys like Wio-K, and Dan-E-O when they were just starting out…
Yeah. [That MVP freestyle scene] was fun. It was wicked cold. And those guys…they were good sports, they stayed out. We shot for a couple hours in the freezing cold.
So that explains all the lines about being cold.
Yeah. [laughs] “chillin’ in Canada” Did you see the cameo at CKLN?
Oh yeah, Mos Def makes a cameo in the film! Did you know who he was at the time?
He wasn’t anybody. That was the thing: at the “Masterplan” or the “Power Move” show you’d just have people show up – friends, friends of friends. There was a guy who had a clothing store [called] Hundred Miles…Garie…he brought his buddies from Brooklyn. I just thought [this rapper] was really good, and later it turns out that that’s Mos Def.
The Rexdale crew gives you a little bit of a hard time in the film, saying things like “if you were here after 9pm, we might just borrow your camera’” Did you ever actually feel threatened?
I didn’t, but a couple members of the crew felt a little nervous after that. I mean, I’m from Etobicoke and I spent a lot of time in Rexdale…we were there with Kwajo, we were there with Ghetto Concept, so everything was cool. But I think I was also a little bit naive as well, cause…I had been living downtown for years at that point, so I think I was a little blahzay about that. But there was never any kind of threat or worry.
You are still making films, what are some of your recent projects?
Wal-Mart Nation (2005) that was sort of the last big documentary that I did. I did a dance film for Bravo last year [Ah! Mes Synchronettes]…two years ago now. I actually work full time for World Vision. I am the TV producer of World Vision, so I basically do commercials and fundraising programs. Go to Africa, go to Asia and do stories, both about our work and about trying to raise money. So that’s a full time gig and that’s my first ever in my life full time job.
Are you still checking for hip hop?
I am, yes. I have been listening to CKLN [or] CIUT. I have been listening to them more. Well, CKLN now that they got their shit together. I mean basically they were going to go off the air. I am more into old school. I don’t like commercial hip hop very much. I can’t listen to Flow. The funny thing is, I was on the board. I had a film show at CKLN when I was at Ryerson and I actually hosted it with Cameron Bailey who is now the co-director of the [Toronto International] Film Festival. So we did that show together and at the time, the people behind Flow asked for our support. We wrote [that] “we supported them in this license application” ‘cause we thought “Black [radio] Station” of course – Toronto should have a Black station. Didn’t turn out exactly how we hoped but…
Are you in touch with Johnbronski these days?
I haven’t talked to him in a couple of years. I know that he was living in Finland ‘cause his girlfriend/baby mama is Finnish and they have a baby, I guess a toddler now. I know he was working on [movie] sets, I know he was assistant director, but I haven’t talked to him in a really long time. The only person I ever really see occasionally is Motion [of Nu Black Nation].
Motion is awesome in the movie!
She is, she’s incredible! I think she could have gone on to do anything. She’s a teacher, and a mom. She was living in [my] neighbourhood and her son was at my daughters’ school just around the corner for a while. I know she was doing a lot of spoken word…she won a CBC spoken word contest.
Do you know what T-Sole/Thando (Hyman-Aman) [from Nu Black Nation] is doing these days?
She is the principle of the Black high school – the Afrocentric high school [the Afrocentric Alternative School in Toronto], and what’s interesting is that she never really accepted me…The hardest thing I had, was convincing Nu Black Nation to be in the film because they are so race conscious. They were very influenced by the Nation [of Islam] at that time. It was tough. But Motion and the DJ…they basically got what I was trying to do. [B]ut T-Sole and their manager…everything had to go through him and he was really suspicious. I was like “I’m gonna make a film about the band that is gonna give them publicity. Somehow this is gonna help them. This can only help them. I genuinely love the band [and] what they stand for. In all honesty, this is a good thing you should jump all over it.” And other people were telling them [the same thing].
Can you school the people on Ron Nelson?
He was the first DJ in Canada to play hip hop basically. He started this show called the Fantastic Voyage [on CKLN] in the mid 80’s, when I was at Ryerson and it was Saturday afternoon. [I]t was probably CKLN’s most popular show and it was where you heard hip hop in Toronto – in Canada. [P]eople would make tapes and send them across [the country] because nobody else, no commercial station, not even any other college stations were really playing hip hop. He’s now more of a reggae/dancehall guy, he does Reggaemania at CKLN now and he’s a promoter. I interviewed him, but it wasn’t a great interview…it’s funny, you shoot a documentary on film like this and once you make those decisions and you cut the negative, that’s it. You can’t go back. Now, you shoot digitally…you can always go back and make changes. There are so many things that I’d love to put in a DVD, like a DVD with extended scenes with outtakes.
[Andrew shows a picture of the Bloor Theatre marquee showing a double feature of Make Some Noise followed by Hoop Dreams (Steve James, 1994)]
When you make a film, this is what you really want to see: your film up on the marquee and playing with Hoop Dreams! They programmed it like that. And the thing is, I know Steve James who made Hoop Dreams and he’s a super nice guy and that’s an awesome film.
Well, shout outs to the Blacklist Crew and uh….oh man Farley [Flex]. It’s funny, I tell people that Farley was in my film and they go “Whaaat?!!” Just everybody who’s still, you know, on the scene. Everybody who is still making music…Thrust, Kwajo. I got a lot of respect for people that are still doing it…I mean it’s a hard game, music in Canada.