Straight Out Of Brooklyn’s 20th Anniversary
‘Straight Out Of Brooklyn’s 20th Anniversary
An Interview with Director Matty Rich
by Wilson Morales
June 13, 2011
As we continue to look back at the black films of 1991 and celebrate their 20th anniversary, we come back to a film and director who was hailed at the time as the new face of black cinema, Matty Rich and his debut film, ‘Straight Out Of Brooklyn.’
With ‘New Jack City,’ ‘The Five Heartbeats,’ ‘A Rage in Harlem,’ and ‘Jungle Fever’ already released that year, every studio was looking to add a black film to their calendar, and here was a film that was directed by an 18 year old Brooklyn native who used as much money he could gather from credit cards and friends. Prior to its release, the film won a Special Jury Prize at the 1991 Sundance Film Festival. Samuel Goldwyn then picked up the film and released it in theaters on June 13, 1991
‘Straight Out Of Brooklyn’ was the story of Dennis (played by Larry Gilliard Jr.), a black teen living in a housing project with his sister, mother and abusive, alcoholic father. Tired of his household drama and his future looking bleak if he stayed in that environment, he plans with his friends, Larry (Matty Rich) and Kevin (Mark Malone) to rob a drug dealer and leave the neighborhood for a better life.
Rich not only wrote the screenplay and directed the independent film, but he gave himself a role as well like Spike Lee, Mario Van Peebles and Robert Townsend had done themselves in their respected films. Made with a budget of $77, 000, the film went on to gross $2.7 million at the box office.
Afterwards, Rich was courted by several studios and his next film was the 1994 romantic comedy Touchstone Pictures film, ‘The Inkwell,’ which starred Larenz Tate, Joe Morton, Glynn Turman, Morris Chestnut and Jada Pinkett Smith. Unfortunately, the film didn’t meet the same critical success as ‘Brooklyn,’ and we never saw another theatrical release from Rich.
As many filmmakers can relate to, it’s not easy getting a project off the ground and in theaters and some have chosen to do more behind the scene in other capacities such as Christopher Scott Cherot, who directed 1997′s ‘Hav Plenty‘ and recently worked as the editor on the indie film, ‘Mooz-lum,’ and Craig Ross Jr., who directed the 2001 urban cult favorite crime drama, ‘Blue Hill Avenue,’ and has since directed several episodes of the top rated TV drama ‘NCIS.’
In celebrating ‘Straight Out Of Brooklyn’s 20th Anniversary today, Matty Rich recently spoke with Blackfilm.com exclusively and recalled the ’91 release of the film and his life afterwards.
After taking two years to put it together and go to Sundance, how excited were you when your film finally theaters on June 13th, 20 years ago?
Matty Rich: It was like graduation. With all the hard work you put into it, the release date is when people finally get to see what you did. It was heartwarming. Initially the movie was something I wanted to do for myself. I was a crazy kid with obstacles that I didn’t think I could jump over. Some people thought it was funny when I asked my mother to loan me her credit card so I could get a 35 MM film camera, but she did because she saw the determination I had in my eyes. Once the movie was finished, (director) Jonathan Demme, who was doing post-production on ‘Silence of the Lambs,’ had seen it and was impressed. He introduced me to Ira Deutchman, who came on as my exec producer. We went to Sundance and I won a Special Grand Jury award. People forget that I left Brooklyn to go to Sundance as Matthew Richardson, but I came back as Matty Rich. That was nickname back home. It was amazing. It was part of the renaissance of black films.
The movie did very well in theaters.
Matty Rich: The movie had played all around the world and people found common ground with the story of a young man who wants to do something different to change his surroundings. When I wrote this, I never thought that it would take off the way that it did. I wrote it as a high school piece to help kids who wanted out of the hood.
In 1991 we had over ten black films in theaters and today we have had, so far, less than half. What do you think has changed in 20 years?
Matty Rich: The neat thing about the 90s was that every black film that came out was an event. When Spike Lee’s ‘Jungle Fever’ came out it was an event. Films like ‘New Jack City’ and ‘The Five Heartbeats’ were an event. My film had played at Sundance that year and was released by the summer. Everyone wanted to see these films and they showed up on that Friday night. They showed up on that Saturday night and on Sunday. They showed up in numbers and our numbers were strong. It made Hollywood pay attention to us. Mainstream audiences came to support our movie. Today, the films are treated differently. They are now accessible on your computer, and more on the streets. You can also see a film on your cell phone. The bootleg business has grown. You have all these digital components that make it easy for people in your neighborhood to say, “I’ll go downstairs and pick up a copy,” even though the copy is horrible. The inflation of ticket prices adds to the bootleg because with popcorn and soda, going to the movies averages about $40-$50 per couple, and for some, that’s a lot of money. We also have to get back to doing movies that we want to be excited to see. Whether it’s comedy, drama, or action, we have to get back that magic. It’s 2011 and the game has changed, but we have to embrace the technology. There’s a strong African American presence in direct-to-video and VOD, but we have to make a change in the theaters and the strength is with our numbers. Ticket sales make a difference.
Your follow-up film, ‘The Inkwell’ came out in 1994 and it was met with mixed reviews. We haven’t seen anything since then from you on the big screen. What happened?
Matty Rich: ‘The Inkwell’ was ahead of its time. Although the reviews were mixed, the film gets played all over the world on television now and it has a huge following. So many people really enjoyed this movie. I remember Jeffrey Katzeneberg, who was with Disney (Touchstone) at that time, saying to me, “Matty, this is a good movie! You should be commended for how good this movie is.” ‘The Inkwell’ came out when we were all in the hood doing dramatic stories and I wanted to show a side of African Americans we don’t see on the big screen. I really enjoyed making that film and working with every single actor. I liked working with Jada Pinkett Smith, Larenz Tate, and Duane Martin. We had a ball and when the film came out, people expected that hood magic. I don’t like people who want to put me in a box and expect me to do the same thing. The great thing is that the movie made its money back.
After that, I developed a couple of projects with HBO, and some stuff with Showtime. Then I had the opportunity to work on a video game called Notorious for Ubisoft. I was invited to go to Paris, France and help them bring the game to a higher level with the story and bring some Hollywood flavor to it. So I took the offer, move to Paris and became the artistic director. We did well on X-Box, Playstation, and online. I used my Hollywood story technique to work with my team on rebuilding the game. I retitled it ‘187 Ride or Die.‘ I reached out to Larenz Tate to be the vocal character and he was happy to be part of it. I had other Hollywood friends and hip hop artists on board as well.
Did you want to make another film?
Matty Rich: People haven’t seen a film from me in a while but I’ve been working behind the scenes in the gaming world. I’ve also been working in the animation world, producing and directing 3D animation. I was in Seoul, Korea and worked with a team out there for a bit.
What have you been doing recently?
Matty Rich: Last year I spoke at an entertainment summit given by Variety about 3D gaming and 3D movies. I have my own company, Matty Rich Games & Entertainment and we produce mobile games and we have a lot of things coming out this summer and this year. When I moved to Europe I learned a lot about that industry, from the development to the marketing of the product. I fell in love with this. I have a game coming out called ‘The Adventurers of Coco Williams‘ that will be made into a feature film. It’s an action and unsolved crime game, like CSI. I’m actually off to the E3 Expo, which is the video game conference and show at the Los Angeles Convention center. That is what I’m doing right now and it’s exciting.