Director George Tillman Jr.: 'Faster' not your average action movie

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It’s been years since George Tillman Jr. first burst onto the movie scene with his writing and directorial debut Soul Food. In the years since Tillman has directed several other films from Men of Honor starring Cuba Gooding Jr. to Notorious starring Derek Luke. Now he’s taking on a new challenge directing his first action film.

Faster which opens in theaters on Wednesday is about an ex-con Driver, played by former wrestler turned actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who seeks to avenge his brother’s murder. There’s two people however seeking to complicate matters a cop played by Billy Bob Thornton and a hitman played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen. While Driver pursues the ultimate revenge, it turns out he too is being pursued.

Tillman talked to theGrio about what about Faster drew him in, what viewers can take away from his latest offering, and diversity in the film industry.

TheGrio: What about this film resonated with you, why’d you decide to take it on?

George Tillman Jr.: I think well off the bat it was in the action genre. For some reason it had a lot of other elements that really I connected to, it just had a very strong dramatic sense. The characters they all had their own goals, their own wants. Also the mystery, the twist and turns, it just felt not like your average action movie that’s been coming out in the theaters in the last few years. It just felt like something that was a throwback from the 70s, with the characters. They’re ambivalent, there’s no black and white, there’s a lot of gray areas. Also, the idea that you can probably do this with no visual affects, you can do it live. And the way the film ended, it just felt like it was a throwback, you just don’t see that a lot. And I just felt like I had to get involved. At the end of the day I felt like I was telling the story, just in a different genre.

What was it like to direct a fast paced action film?

It was interesting because every day, you know we had 52 days to do the movie, $24 million, not a lot of money. So it’s like every day you’re struggling just to make the day. Every day I come in okay Billy, okay Carla, we have three scenes to do today. And they’re like ‘three scenes.’ Yeah we got to do all this within 12 hours. We can’t go overtime, because we’re going to loose some money if we go overtime. So they come in, we just go in, and get in done, move on, move to the second scene.

Every day was a struggle like that, and those were some of the biggest obstacles trying to do things and make it work within the time frame that we had. But it just contributed to the idea of “Faster” the movie was moving on, moving quick, giving the sense of exhilaration, and giving that pace we really need to make the movie work. It just felt like not only were we making it a film in the 70s mode, but we’re kind of giving it that style and working like we didn’t have as much money as they did then.

What was your favorite part of making this movie?

I think my favorite part was really was when I got to some of the emotional scenes you know with Billy, him more blunt, really seeing Billy at work, and how strong an actor he is. The emotions, really finding a new side of Dwayne, some of the scenes and some of the emotions we haven’t seen from him. Those were the exciting things. Working with Annie Corley and the actors really doing what they do best. I think at the end of the day it provided an intimacy that the cast and the crew really needed.

What about this film do you think will resonate with African-American filmgoers given that there’s no African-American lead?

Well I mean, I look at like this, Dwayne you know, we as an African-American audience he’s one of us. He’s us, we root for him and at the end of the day, it [the film] is rooted in spirituality, it rooted in universal humanity, being human. Revenge is a very universal thought, at the end of the day I think this film becomes a very universal story, and I think at the end of the day that will be what resonates with everyone.What do you hope viewers will take away from this film?

Actually the idea that we should not live in the past, we should keep moving forward. That’s what happened with Driver he is able to move past revenge, and go past the past of his brother’s death. The cop, the character played by Billy Bob Thornton is able to move past the things in his past to get back to his family, and the killer, played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen. And what this movie is saying is revenge, some times we have to let go and forgive and be able to move on, move past things that’s holding us back, and that’s something that everyone can relate to.

Last year the New York Times ran an article The Erratic Fortunes of Black Filmmakers in which director Warrington Hudlin said, “the appetite for and expectations of what sells for black filmmakers remains very narrow.” What do you think of that?

I think what the studios are trying to green light is very narrow. I think right now audiences are only getting one thing. When I started in ‘97 there were like five or six different kind of filmmakers just in African-American films: there was Spike Lee, there was the Hughes Brothers, there was John Singleton, and they were all making movies all within one year. I don’t know if it’s because of the recession or what’s out there that there’s only one type of movie being made.

Hopefully as we get through this financial state, hopefully the industry will be able to open up, because of what’s on YouTube. Once it goes on the Internet, we have a variety of different things, hopefully. It all comes down to money, if these movies make money, if different types of movies make money they will be seen and they will be made.

Moving forward after this experience what types of movies are you looking forward to making?

Good stories. I think that’s the key as to why I’m able to move around to different genres from family, to musical biopic, to pure drama, and then now action. At the end of the day they all got good stories, and they all, almost relate to the same kind of stories. I think that’s what I’m looking for to continue to tell good stories.

Are there any actors you aspire to work with?

Oh yeah there’s a lot of great guys out there Christian Bale, you got Ben Affleck, Denzel Washington, you know there’s so many great guys out there. I’ve been blessed to work with some of the best with DeNiro and Cuba Gooding Jr., and Billy Bob Thornton. There’s so many great guys out there, and I want to continue to do real work and work with the best.

Are there any stories out there which you feel need to be told through film?

Oh yeah there’s some great things the Marvin Gaye story still needs to be told, you still got the MLK story. There’s so many different things, you know subject matters to be written about, and in some ways I just want to keep knocking them down and keep getting closer, and to keep telling good stories.

If there’s a young boy or girl out there who wants to do something in entertainment. What would you say to encourage them to look at film directing?

I think the most important thing is really to really think about the writing aspect of it. I always wanted to direct, my way in was writing Soul Food and when the studio wanted to get another director, I refused to give it up. I said that’s my script, I want to direct. You have that power when you have decent material. It’s your calling card and that’s what you can use as collateral. I feel like that’s a big aspect for young filmmakers to write your own stuff, if not you’re not really going to understand the aspects of making a good story.