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Interview: 5 Questions with Gina Prince-Bythewood, writer-director of Beyond the Lights

Gina Prince-Bythewood was a joy to interview. As is clear from her answers to the questions about her upcoming film Beyond The Lights, Prince-Bythewood just flew naturally through the interview, dropping some really surprising knowledge along the way, including a story about how Minnie Driver was the one part of the story that was true, (based on the fact that she is Prince-Bythewood is adopted and her birth mother was white), how some actresses would not even consider reading for a role with an adult daughter, how DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers ended up in the film, how well the film tested, her enthusiasm did not flag, and we definitely could have continued the conversation longer. She is a just a cool, down-to-earth person. Here are the five most fascinating answers that we received from Prince-Bythewood.

What are you expecting the reaction to your film to be?

(Laughs) I honestly have no idea. I mean, I’ve just been locked in the editing room for so long, and it’s been mine, and now, finally, I have to release it into the world and hope for the best. So, I know I’m proud of the film, and very excited about the performances in it, and hope that people respond.

A lot of films being released are darker and more elliptical and this film is more upbeat.

Absolutely, you know, that was really the goal. For me as a filmmaker, if you are going to give me two hours of your life, I’d like to speak to you, and hopefully let you leave the theatre inspired.

I think that you missed your calling, though, music video director!

beyond-the-lights5(Laughs loud) Well, we’re going to release that music video closer to the release of the film, you know, as Noni, not as Gugu (Mbantha-Raw), because, you know, that’s not Gugu. (Update: the full music video for Masterpiece by Noni feat. Kid Culprit is available to watch at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pP7gLPRDojg) Actually, I love music videos. Just such a cool…thing. I mean, I write to music and music videos are like little stories in the genre. So obviously, that was a lot of fun. It was fun to do with MGK, (Machine Gun Kelly), who is obviously a real hip-hop artist in the genre. It was fun to work with him, and he (helped) pushing Gugu, and helping her understand what the genre was about. It was very important for me for the character of Kid Culprit to be a real musical artist, and bring that authenticity. It was interesting, you know, I had a vision in my head of who it was going to be, and it was going to be a black hip-hop artist, and I happened to watch Wild Boy on YouTube, which was a huge hit by MGK and I was like “My God, who is this guy?”. I mean, he had so much natural rhythm, and I brought him in for an audition, and he just had so much natural chops. He was just THE GUY, and he also just wanted to be an actor. He auditioned three times and kept flying himself back; he wanted it that bad, and you see his persona, and who he was on set, just a completely different person, extremely respectful, of the process, of Gugu, and it was really good, and good for her as well. Honestly, the BET performance scene, he disrespects her, I mean, I had to keep pushing him, and he kept telling me “Please go tell Gugu this is not me. You are making me do this” and I said “I promise”, you know it was really hard for him to do that, because they developed a pretty cool friendship.

How did you cast Gugu?

It was a search, but the second I saw her, I knew that (Noni) was her. It is interesting though, because this is not her world (hip-hop, R & B), at all, and so it was really me, I was really giving her a crash course, I mean, she and I developed the character over two years, and I just inundated her with music videos, and some were great videos, and some were just foul and ratchet, but she needed to see everything, because that`s where the character was, and I surrounded her with Laurieann Gibson, who is this great (Canadian) choreographer, who works with Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj…we went to Beyoncé concerts, Rihanna concerts…went to the Grammys, went to clubs and then getting The Dream to do the music was huge, because I knew he could do the ratchet stuff, but also the break-up songs. To get him, and have Gugu in the studio with The Dream, I mean, he’s a genius, but also the music industry’s totally different than the film industry, you could say, “you have to be here at eleven”, and he doesn’t show up ’til three…in the morning, it’s maddening, but for me and Gugu, it is what Noni would go through; you are at the mercy of the people who write the songs that you have to sing, you are not writing your own stuff, this is what your life would be. As annoying as it was, the songs were great, and that was Gugu singing, and I mean, they’re great songs.

Why aren’t there more films like Beyond The Lights?

Black actors should be in every genre. The story is universal, it just happens to have two black leads, two gorgeous black leads, but for me, they were the two best people for the role, and my hope is that it should reach a broad audience. With Love & Basketball, my first film, I have an equal number of white women coming up to me as black women. You know, they could really identify with the love story, and identify with the character, and that’s my hope with this as well. The same way I could watch, you know, The 40-Year-Old Virgin or When Harry Met Sally, and be completely enveloped in it, I want people to do the same for me.