You Got Served :
An Interview with Christopher B. Stokes
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By Wilson Morales
You Got Served: An Interview with Christopher B. Stokes
Christopher Stokes may be known as the man who discovered Brandy, and guided her and IMx (formerly Immature), Marques Houston and B2K to success as the Chairman and CEO of The Ultimate Group (T.U.G), but he's also a talented video music director, having done over 70 videos to his credit. Now he's moving to another arena where his success can continue. While it's been some years since he directed his last film, House Party 4, he hasn't forgotten the skills to making a film. Coming out on Jan. 30th is his latest film, You Got Served, which features Marques Houston, B2K, Steve Harvey, Jennifer Freeman, and Meagan Good. In an interview with blackfilm.com, Chris talked about fulfilling his dream of being a film director.
WM: How did this project come to you?
CS: I've had the script for a while, and when we decided to do the film, we wanted to do it independently, but MGM became involved. We were going to do it with MGM, but then we ended up doing with Screen Gems, at Sony Pictures.
WM: Were there any challenges as far as you writing and directing the film?
CS: No. I am a writer-director, so that hasn't been a big deal.
WM: Why the long gap between House Party 4 (2001) and You Got Served (2004)?
CS: It's not easy for an urban director to get into the game. I guess it was just time. Once I got ready to pitch, it worked out. With House Party 4, I did it with my own money and I sold it to New Line. The same goes here. I served myself with my own money and people just wanted it, in mid-stream when I was ready to shoot it. Film companies just wanted to buy it.
WM: How did you manage being an executive at your company while writing and directing this film?
CS: It was easy to do it. I have a staff of 12 people so it's easy for them to handle all the management and the day to day at the company while I'm directing.
CS: I think it's the dancing. That's what's getting people from the commercials. They don't even see B2K through the commercials, and it's selling through the roof. They see more of Steve Harvey, Lil' Kim, Omari, and Marques in the commercials and it's responding like crazy.
WM: For someone who doesn't see the commercial, what's the focal point of the story?
CS: It's more of a story than you think. It's more dancing but has a story too. It's 50-60% of a story and people don't know that yet. I think critics will like that because it's emotional. It's got a lot of good emotions in it.
WM: Were the members of B2K the first people you thought off when you wrote the script?
CS: No. When I wrote the story, I had written it for Elgin, which was Ginuwine, Dave Scott, the choreographer, and Aliyah, and that who was in mind when I was writing the script. Later on, we decided to go with other actors. Plus Aliyah died, and Ginuwine and I didn't talk about it anymore. I decided that Dave Scott was best suited as the choreographer along with Shane Sparks.
WM: What were some of the challenges to the dancing scenes?
CS: There were very interesting. I used five cameras in all the dance scenes. They were not as hard as it would have been for another director because I've done 70 music videos. I know how to shoot dance scenes. The DP, Dave Hennings, that I used, had not shot anything like this, so him taking my direction and him following me and everyone trusting me like Clint Culpepper, the head of the studio, I was able to get all the dancing we needed and get it right. Every dance scene was shot with at least five cameras.
WM: How many hours went into practicing? Can you tell me something about the choreographer?
CS: Yes. It was really interesting because I really wanted to do a good dance movie and I wanted to have choreography that was very different. I was able to have three choreographers that I discovered in the same movie, Dave Scott, Shane Sparks, and Wade. Wade didn't actually choreographed, but he was able to be there for everything. He has a show like MTV and was at the end of the movie. I gave him his first job with Immature. I thought that they did a phenomenal job. I worked with Dave because he's done a lot of my music videos, but the reason I liked Shane Sparks a lot in this movie is because he bought more of a street edge to it. He was very different and street and I think he will soar really high from this movie.
WM: There's been some negative talk lately about rappers and singers taking the work away from those who are coming out of film school. When B2K came on as the actors, did you talk to them about the craft and to take it seriously?
CS: I don't like artists who are actors. I like artists, but I don't believe in that. Marques is a good actor and he was also on "Sister, Sister" a lot longer as an actor than he was doing anything as a singer at first. As a director, I plan to hire actors. I don't want to hire artists who are actors. I have that already and they all work and they are all good but I believe in actors being actors. When you spend your life going to acting school and it's your dream to be an actor, I don't think an artist, because they have sung and became famous, should walk into the role of someone who is an actor.
WM: What do you think about the growing trend in Hollywood being that music video directors are being hired to be film directors?
CS: I just want to be a director. No offense to "Belly", but I didn't really like Hype Williams' "Belly". I wasn't too fond of Billie Woodruff's film, "Honey", either. It did okay at the box office, and "Belly" didn't do anything at the box office. I expect to be a real film director. I don't want to just come from video. I've studied technically on what I want to do and how I want to do it. I feel that I will be more of a feature director and I will go away completely from videos. I want to do features and have written several of them. I'm looking to be more like a Steven Spielberg. That's who I have loved and admired since I've ever been directing. I never admired or thought that I wanted to be some big video director one day. I didn't start directing videos because I wanted to be big in that field. I've always wanted to be a feature director.
WM: I've recently read that you have a 3 picture deal with Screen Gems. What else can we expect from you?
CS: For one, I'm not exclusively doing things with Screen Gems because I'm currently trying to work out deals with 20th Century Fox and other companies. My next movie is called "Crazy House" and I start shooting it in March. It's a scary movie and it will be coming out for Halloween. It's a kid's scary movie with Marques Houston and Omari Grandberry again, and Haylie Duff, Hilary's sister. We start shooting on March 9th.
WM: Whenever a film comes out, there's something that happens to a member of that film, whether it be the director or a cast member, which brings publicity to the film to boost sales. With the recent breakup of B2K, people may see this as a marketing stunt to promote the film. Is that true?
CS: No, it's not a marketing ploy. They really broke up. A lot of people keep asking me if this is a publicity stunt. It's not. They're fixing the problem and getting together and probably end up being friends again, people will think even more that it was a publicity stunt, but B2K is no longer together.
WM: When folks hear about the film and ask what the film is about, B2K will be mentioned as opposed to the story.
CS: I think people will be surprised when they see it. I'm sure when you saw the film; you saw that it wasn't a B2K film.
WM: From what you have seen through test screenings, is there anything you would or could change at this point?
CS: The movie is testing through the roof. The tracking results came back recently and it's testing as if it will open up #1 at the box office. I think the film can do $17M opening weekend. If it does $12M, I'll be happy because that's considered a big success for a film like this. I'm very happy. I think it will open huge. I think everyone has responded bigger than I wanted them to on this film.
WM: Did you work on the soundtrack?
CS: Yes, I did. I put it together through my company, Epic Records.
WM: What were looking to add to the soundtrack that will help pump this movie?
CS: The soundtrack is not helping the movie right now. I think the movie is holding its own ground. The soundtrack is really good. It has 6 cuts from B2K, and Marques Houston, O'Ryan, ATL, and Jhene, and I hope it does well. I'm concerned about the movie and what it does.
WM: With the street dancing in the film, did you look at previous films for comparisons?
CS: No, I did not. It's not like "Breaking", but close to "West Side Story". It has breaking competitions but it's more like a fight, more like battling against each other, which hasn't been done on film yet, not this way. I think this will cause folks to battle in the streets, and in the neighborhood. I think it will become a trend from this movie.
WM: With the lack of African American directors in the game, what would you say to anyone who wants in?
CS: Don't give up. I did "You Got Served" five years ago. It was called "Dance" and I have several scripts and I have never given up and my dream is come true as a director; the way that I wanted it to. I've done other things, but this is where I want to be. If you believe in yourself and you don't give up, your dreams will always come true.
YOU GOT SERVED opens on Jan.30th
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