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"You Never Know How Long You Have To Reach For Your Goals"
Interview with Brandon Sonnier, director of "The Beat"
Brandon Sonnier Interview
In 1998, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck won an Oscar for their screenplay Good Will Hunting. They were 28 and 26 at the time, so I figured I had 8 years to at the very least get a film made before I’d start feeling worth little more than intrepid aspirations.
In 2003, I saw a movie called The Beat, and the abovementioned goal swiftly kicked me in the buttocks. The director of this film was only 20 years old, a junior at USC named Brandon Sonnier. I was 25, and enrolled at the University of Jive-Headed Honky-Ass Gatorade Brains, Ohio Campus. The best I had was a screenplay in the works, but certainly nothing even remotely tangible.
It would have been easier to stomach this if The Beat was a stereotypical flick, more concerned about being chic than genuine. Alas, this is not the case, for The Beat is a remarkable movie, full of sincerity and creativity, one that not only tells a fresh story, but does so in a rather unconventional manner.
So, I did what any other God-fearing American would do- I set up an interview with Sonnier, so that I could tie his shoelaces together when he wasn’t looking. “Ha! How great are you now?!” I’d laugh as he tripped in front of a group of onlookers. This might not help me get anywhere, but that’s irrelevant; what mattered was making myself feel better.
Then I meet Sonnier, and tossed my plan aside. Not only is he cool as hell, but he has a true passion for Film, so unbridled that it emanates from him, actually leaving me inspired.
I figured the next best thing would be to try to learn something from him:
How long did it take to shoot The Beat?
Brandon Sonnier: Shooting took 20 days, and pre-production was four weeks. I actually started writing it when I was a freshman and throughout my sophomore year.
Do you feel it’s hard for people to get into making movies?
BS: Yes, it’s definitely hard, but then if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be as prestigious.
Did you face any problems getting this made at all?
BS: Oh yeah. Our major problem was the loss of our producer, Ricky Ching, who was also my roommate and friend. That was the largest disaster.
What changed about The Beat after Ricky died?
BS: After Ricky died the film became much more about having to deal with the loss of a loved one. It picked up the feeling of having to strive for your passion, ‘cause you never know how long you have to reach your goals. Ricky’s death gave the film a soul. After that, it had a life of its own.
What were your main influences for this movie?
BS: My major influences have been John Singleton, Denzel Washington, Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarrentino, and all of the Hip-Hop heads out there trying to do their thing and bring a voice and a passion to their music.
What is this Tripped Out Productions thing?
BS: Right now, it’s only The Beat; it’s the company that I started as the copyright holder of the film for the business purposes of producing and selling the film. My co-producers, Symbolic Entertainment, have done a play in L.A. that was along the same lines, and a couple music videos for some underground bands.
Do you think Film is generally better today than it was 20 years ago?
BS: It is hard to say. I think it really depends on what films you are watching at any given time. If you’re in to John Hughes then you love the films of the 80’s. If you’re in to Blaxploitation then you love the films of the 70’s. If you’re into MTV-style pacing and the craftiness of Postmodernism then you love today’s films. Personally, I am in love with the films of all the generations that came before me. There is something to be learned from all of them, and each filmmaker brings a new lesson to the table, and that’s what I love.
The film began with a small group of USC students who thought that we could go out and make an exceptional film on a tiny budget. Ricky, the ringleader of our outrageous plan, my roommate, and good friend, was killed in a car accident a month before we were scheduled to start production. The film that made it to the screen is much different than the one we started out with. My producers and I pulled together and delivered a film that is not only entertainment for entertainment’s sake, but one that will provoke thought and have people talking in the theater lobby; the way Ricky would have wanted it. This one is for you; we made it.
©Jake McGee - Get Underground