Exclusive: Gina Prince-Bythewood Talks ‘Beyond The Lights’

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Exclusive: Gina Prince-Bythewood Talks ‘Beyond The Lights’
Posted by Wilson Morales

September 30, 2014

Beyond The Lights poster

Making its World Premiere at 2014 at Toronto International Film Festival, and then opening up the 18th Annual Urbanworld Film Festival was Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Beyond The Lights.

Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw in the lead role, the film also features Nate Parker, Danny Glover, Minnie Driver, Aisha Hinds, Aml Ameen, and rapper Machine Gun Kelly, making his film debut.

Beyond The Lights is the story of Noni Jean, a hot new artist who has just won a Grammy and is primed for stardom. But the pressures of success compel her to nearly end her life until she is saved by a young police officer. They fall hard for each other, despite the protests of their parents who want each to focus on their own career ambitions. But he might be the missing piece to unlock her artistic potential.

Gina Prince-Bythewood at TIFF 2014 2

For Prince-Bythewood, who’s films include 2008’s ‘The Secret Life of Bees,’ the well-loved classic 2000 ‘Love and Basketball,’ as well as the 2000 HBO film ‘Disappearing Acts,’ it’s been a long journey in bringing this film to the big screen. Between getting funding, finding a distributor, and convincing producers that leads can sell, the payoff is that work will be remember, acknowledged, and hopefully loved as her previous.

In speaking exclusively with Blackfilm.com, Prince-Bythewood talks about bringing ‘Beyond The Lights’ to fruition.

How long did the project take to complete?

Gina Prince-Bythewood: I had the idea before ‘The Secret Life of Bees,’ and started putting it together. That was back in 2007 and it’s been a long process and once I really started writing it, it took four years from really getting the script where I felt it was good to where we are today.

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How did you end up with Gugu Mbatha-Raw as your lead?

GPB: She was a newcomer and ‘Belle’ hadn’t happened yet. Once I got out of the thought of using a musical artist and started focusing on getting an actor, she came in and auditioned and I knew immediately and in sitting and talking with her, she just identified so closely with the character and what I was trying to say and I knew she was the one.

And working with Nate Parker again?

GPB: Yes. We worked on ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ and we have a great working relationship and he was in my head early on. Once I put them together to see if they had chemistry, it worked.

DSC_2297.NEFIt was good to see Minnie Driver back on the screen.

GPB: People forget how good Minnie is. She’s a gift to this film. She came onboard a week before we went into production and it’s interesting because a lot of actors, and her character had a baby at 17, and she’s a mother, but they (producers) balked at the thought of her being Gugu’s mom. Minnie didn’t care. She just loved the part and she brought so much great stuff to it and so many unexpected things as well. They favor each other and in one scene, anyone can see that they are mother and daughter.

Along with your husband, Reggie Rock Bythewood, Stephanie Allain, and NBA player Amar’e Stoudemire, there’s BET. The network is not so much known as being producers in the film business.

Producer Stephanie Allain, director Gina Prince-Bythewood and producer Reggie Rock Bythewood

GPB: BET came aboard once it left Sony. Reggie had just done a project with BET and said to send it to them. We sent it and they got it immediately. They said they would put in a couple of millions but I also needed a partner, and they ended up helping us finding Relatively. Without that seed money, I wouldn’t be here.

Why is it we haven’t seen a lot of films from you?

GPB: A couple of reasons. I write slow. I have had two to three projects that I wrote and developed and they were very close, but they fell apart. That’s 2-3 years of your life right there. Also, for me to do a movie, I have kids, I have a family, I have to be passionate about it. Making movies is hard. It’s your legacy. It has to be good. You have to be passionate about it and lately, and not to be egotistical, but I’ve been passionate about what I write and I enjoy that more as opposed to direct what someone else has written.

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It’s a love story, but is there a message behind the film?

GPB: At the heart of the film, there’s a love story. It’s also a woman’s journey about defining herself, finding her voice, finding her authentic self, and that’s something I feel is really needed now in today’s society women especially and girls are getting lost in this chase for 15 seconds of fame; and the way that you’re willing to get half the time is sexually and it’s just not necessary. We hope to change the conversation with this film.

Was there any singer that you that were trying maybe model this story from?

Beyond The Lights Urbanworld 2014 - Gina Prince-Bythewood, Nate Parker and Gugu Mbatha-Raw

GPB: It wasn’t anyone specific. I did a ton of research. It’s really about the world. Obvious there are shades of lots of people within Gugu’s character, but ultimately, it’s this character’s story and her inauthentic life until she was able free from some obstacles.

Can you talk about the music?

GPB: It started with needing great music for Noni. We have to believe that she’s a star and I went to the best. I went to The Dream. It was a pipe dream when I first went to him because we had a very low budget, but he saw a presentation I shot and he loved ‘Love and Basketball’ and it was that combo and said, “I’ll come aboard and do it.” That was the catalyst to get that music. I knew he could write the raunch but I also knew he could write great love songs. It was really exciting to find up and coming artist like Stacy Barthe and Cynthia Erivo, who are on the soundtrack. We also have Beyoncé on the soundtrack with “Drunk In Love.” It was the first time she has ever licensed it. I love music. I write to music. It was really great to start putting the soundtrack together.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker

The original title of the film was called ‘Blackbird,’ based on Nina Simone’s song. Can you talk about her music?

GPB: That song really inspired the movie and inspired Noni’s story. I’ve used Nina’s music in ‘Disappearing Acts’ and I had her all throughout the film and she is phenomenal. I actually saw her one of her last concerts and she should be really celebrated because she’s been an inspiration to so many.

Beyond The Lights hits theaters on November 14, 2014


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