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Meet the 2015 Sundance Filmmakers #40: Rick Famuyiwa Went Back to the ’90s For ‘Dope’

Meet the 2015 Sundance Filmmakers #40: Rick Famuyiwa Went Back to the '90s For 'Dope'

Dope follows Malcolm,  a high school geek with a high-top fade, carefully navigating life in The Bottoms, one of the toughest neighborhoods in Inglewood, California. He and his fellow outcasts share a voracious appreciation for all things ’90s hip-hop, opting to sport Cross-Colours and Z. Cavariccis at the risk of being clowned at school. He dreams of attending Harvard, but first he has to make it home every day. When a drug dealer takes a shine to Malcolm and invites him to his birthday party, Malcolm’s crew is swirled into a hilarious blender of offbeat characters and bad choices where redemption can only be found in Bitcoin.

What’s your film about, in 140 characters or less?

A comedy about a geek obsessed with 90’s hip hop culture as he navigates his days through one of the toughest neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

Now, what’s it REALLY about?

Perception vs. reality. About how hard it is to have a unique voice when everyone thinks they know you and your story.

Tell us briefly about yourself.

I’m a first generation American of immigrant Nigerian parents. I went to USC with intentions of becoming a lawyer and ended up in film school. Bullet dodged! Made a short film at USC that got into a festival called Sundance. While I was selling sneakers for a living, I developed my first screenplay at the Sundance Labs. That script ended up selling to a studio and became my first feature film. Been struggling to stay employed as an artist ever since. Maybe I should have become a lawyer?

What was the biggest challenge in completing this film?

The same challenge ever since I was making Super 8 movies. Not enough time, not enough money.

What do you want audiences at Sundance to take away from your film?

Film has always been about transporting an audience to places they might not normally see. Whether that’s the far reaches of space, or an Italian New York City neighborhood in the 1940’s, or a few blocks in Inglewood, CA. I hope people have fun. It’s a crazy little movie with big personalities. Sundance will be Dope’s first big audience. I have no idea what to expect, which is exciting and friggin’ terrifying at the same time.

Are there any films that inspired you?

I made “Dope” as an homage to the many amazing independent and studio films of the 1990’s that rewrote the rules of mainstream entertainment. As I was in film school, movies like “Boogie Nights,” “Jackie Brown,” “Bottle Rocket,” “Menace 2 Society” and “Kids” motivated and inspired me. They were character driven event movies with a singular voice. I pretty much just tried to steal as much as I could from them.

What’s next for you?

I have a couple scripts I’m finishing up that I’m really excited about. One, titled “Lost Angels,” is a supernatural drama set in Watts about a very unique low rider car club. The other is sort of a spin off of “Dope” titled “Hack” about a diverse group of hackers whose leader happens to be a teenage kid from the projects. It’s inspired by Lulsec. So as always in this biz, I’m hustling to get the money for them.

What cameras did you shoot on?

Arri Alexa. Anamorphic lens package.

Did you crowdfund?

Definitely had serious thoughts about crowdfunding, but fortunately my producers were able to raise the funds.

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2015 festival. Click here for more profiles.

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