‘Set It Off’ 15 Years Later

Celebrating ‘Set It Off’ 15 Years LaterAn Interview with screenwriter Takashi Bufford
by Wilson Morales

November 10, 2011

This week marks the 15th Anniversary of the release date (Nov.6) for ‘Set It Off,’ which was directed by F. Gary Gray and starred Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, Kimberly Elise, and Blair Underwood.

Released by New Line Cinema, the film centered on four Black women, all of whom have suffered for lack of money and at the hands of the majority, undertake to rob banks. spoke with screenwriter Takashi Bufford (‘House Party 3’ and ‘Booty Call’) as he talked about writing the film for Jada and her refusal to do a sequel.

Why do you think the film still resonates as an urban cult classic?

Takashi Bufford: Because it was a very good story. It was the first of its kind in that it featured four women. I think it had a certain truth to it that rang out and resonated. They were going to do a sequel and I never saw a studio so excited to doing it. They went to all through the departments and were cleared with the budgets. Everybody gave it a green light and then they went to Jada, but she didn’t want to do it. So that killed it.

Wasn’t the appeal of the film based on the four women and not just Jada?

TB: New Line’s thinking was that they had done sequels and prequels of the original stars like when did the second film to ‘Dumb and Dumber.’ They did that without Jim Carrey and it tanked. They did ‘The Mask 2’ without Carrey again and it tanked. So they felt that if they were going to do a sequel, then they needed one of the stars from original. When Jada said thumbs down, it killed the entire project.

How did you end up writing the film?

TB: I actually wrote it for Jada and Queen Latifah. I didn’t know them but they had the look and the vibe that I was looking for. When you are doing a black film, they are only a handful of stars that are bankable to get a black film done and they were the two stars at the time. When the script went out to them, it was an immediately yes on their part and we were able to move forward. I didn’t know Kimberly (Elise) and I met Vivica (A.Fox) on set. It was a movie that had to succeed on the chemistry between the four characters; so you needed four actors that could deliver on that. That’s what we went for.

How was working with F.Gary Gray?

TB: He delivered for New Line a director they felt could get the film done on the budget we had. He could make the action scenes more visual and add some comedy in there as well. He brought in the whole package.

Was there any changes from script to screen?

TB: Yes, quite a few. For some reason, the studio thought they needed to show why these women went from menial jobs to robbing banks. I think they over did it and that resulted in a couple of themes being in the movie that I felt were superfluous. There were two scenes that were not in the film that I felt should have been. There was a scene where’s Jada’s character is on the bus and she passes a playground and she has a flashback of when all four girls were 8 or 9 years old, playing in that playground. That scene defined their friendship. There was another scene where Tisean’s mom is with her baby and they’re looking in the parking lot to see if she’s (Tisean) going to come home. The audience knows that she’s already been killed. That’s a scene that could have been emotional. It wasn’t an expensive scene to shoot so I’m not sure why the studio said no to it.

Why is that we don’t have as many black films on screen as we did in the 90s?

TB: Well, back then we had a lot of films that studios wanted. For the last 4 or 5 years, we’ve had primarily Tyler Perry and everybody is on his bandwagon, which limits the scope of the black experience that’s expressed through film. I think bootlegging is another economic issue that undermines the black films. Additionally, it seems that P & A and its cost has caused many black films to go straight to DVD. When you take that combination of factors, we can see why there’s such a dearth of black films today.

Was there resistance getting the film off the ground?

TB: I thought there was a hungry market. When we took ‘Set It Off’ to New Line Cinema, they rejected it three times and the reason they rejected it is that they thought black males would not support a film with gunslinging black females. That obviously proved not to be true.

What are you working on?

TB: I’m working on a project based on the book, ‘And Yet, You Still Chose Me.’ It’s based upon the true story about a woman who was sexually abused by her stepfather at a very young age. We’re wrapping up the script and we’re hoping to go to a named actress with it once things are nailed down.

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