Former Fashion Model Turned Producer Datari Turner Talks About ‘Another Happy Day’by Wilson Morales
November 16, 2011
Coming out this week is the independent film, ‘Another Happy Day,’ which is directed by Sam Levinson, son of Oscar winning Director Barry Levinson.
Ellen Barkin, Demi Moore, Kate Bosworth, Thomas Haden Church, George Kennedy, Ellen Burstyn, and Ezra Miller star in this darkly comic story of the emotional rollercoaster of a family gathering.
Among the producers on this film is rising talent and former model Datari Turner, who earlier this year produced and wrote the screenplay for ‘Video Girl’ staring Meagan Good, Haylie Duff and Ruby Dee. The Oakland, CA native also has several projects lined up for release including ‘Dysfunctional Friends,’ staring Stacey Dash, Terrell “T.O.” Owens, Meagan Good, Stacy Keibler, Wesley Jonathan, Hosea Sanchez, and Reagan Gomez.
Turner was the Creator of the BET hit show ‘The Ultimate Hustler’ starring hip hop mogul Damon Dash, and also the Creator and Executive Producer of the acclaimed hit series, ‘Lisa Raye- The Real McCoy.’ The reality series centered around actress/ model and former First Lady of the Turks and Caicos Islands Lisa Raye McCoy.
In speaking with Blackfilm.com, Turner talked about getting in the business, getting involved with ‘Another Happy Day,’ and his upcoming projects.
How did you become a producer?
Datari Turner: To backtrack a little bit, Gordon Bijelonic was one of the first people I met when I came to LA in ’98. Gordon is older than I am and he had made a lot of money in the stock market in the ’90s. He financed and produced Vin Diesel’s directorial debut, feature-length film ‘Strays,’ and that got into the Sundance Film Festival. It’s the film where Steven Spielberg discovered him in. Too make a long story short, while Gordon worked on other projects, I was working as a model in the fashion world. We decided to get together about eighteen months ago and form Gordon Bijelonic– Datari Turner Productions. I had also been successful with creating and producing reality shows, but I also wanted to do more than one type of genre, not just urban. In order to have a career like the Jerry Bruckheimers and the Brian Grazers, we have to be producing 3-5 films a year like those guys do.
How did you get involved with ‘Another Happy Day?’
DT: A mutual friend of ours set us up with this producer, Celine Rattray and she has produced a lot of things on the indie side with her company called Plum Pictures. At the time she was involved with Mandalay and I met up with her and we talked about films. I can talk about films all day and after a couple of hours, she told us that she was producing this film ‘Another Happy Day’ and that it was directed by this 25 year-old, Sam Levinson. He’s Barry Levinson’s son and wrote this incredible script. He had wrote a film that Ellen Barkin was involved beforehand and had given her that script on the set. She wanted to play the lead role and brought on the agency CAA, who packaged the film with the cast and talent. We were involved with the film from the beginning. We were in Auburn Hills, Michigan everyday while the film was shooting.
What was the appeal on the film that made you decide this is a film you wanted to be a part of?
DT: I’m full of energy and just sitting down with Celine and talking about films was inspiring. Some of our taste were similar. I’m young and I don’t think she thought I knew as much as I did on films. We just vibed on that first. When I read the script and was impressed to see that Sam, at the age of 25, had written a film where it had a lot of complex female characters being acted from Ellen Burstyn, Ellen Barkin, and Kate Bosworth, I was just blown away. Gordon and I flew out and met with him. I thought I knew a lot, but with him we talked for nearly six hours on film, from Truffaut, Fellini, Elia Kazan and Brando. I liked who he was and that he didn’t try to ride on his dad’s coattails because his dad was an Oscar winning director. He did know his stuff and I wanted to take that journey with him. Gordon and I read every script that is sent to us. That’s the reason I got involved with my other project, ‘Dysfunctional Friends.’ When I wrote ‘Video Girl’ after leaving the fashion world, a lot of people tried to put me in a box. I just wanted to have to a shot and now when people send me scripts, I tried to give them a shot as well. If it doesn’t grab me in 20 pages, I may not finish it, but I definitely read everything that is sent to me.
As a producer of the film, were you able to talk to the talent? Did you get to know Ellen while shooting was taking place?
DT: Ellen is a good friend of mine. I met her on the set in Michigan and when they were shooting the film, it was freezing. I talked to her then but I felt we really got tight when we went to Sundance. When Sam won the best screenplay at the award show, Gordon and I were the only producers at the show with them. I hope Ellen gets nominated for this film. She gave in a great performance.
As a producer who’s been associated with urban projects, how would you sell this film to your audience?
DT: As an artist we want to make all types of films from comedies, to dramas, and films that appeal to all audiences. Whether you are black, white, or Asian to a certain degree, we all have similar stories that everyone can relate to.
One of your next projects is ‘Dysfunctional Friends,’ which premiered at this year’s ABFF. What is the next step for the film? Will it be in theaters at some point?
DT: It is. I just finalized a deal with AMC Theaters. It will open on Friday, February 3rd, 2012 in theaters in LA and New York. AMC had also released ‘Video Girl’ in theaters this past April. Coming out the gate, I was hoping to get a bigger studio release, but it’s one of those things. At the same time, while folks may say that the black market is being underserved, I really feel it’s a great time to be an independent producer. At the recent Oscars, seven of the ten films nominated were independently produced. I’m happy with the movie that we made. We have amazing cast from Stacey Dash, Wesley Jonathan, Terrell Owens, Keith Robinson, and Reagan Gomez to name a few.
You also have another project with Common called ‘L.U.V.’ Can you talk about that film?
DT: Yes. The script was written and directed by a talented filmmaker, Sheldon Candis, who came from the USC film school. Gordon had read the script a few years back and had known Sheldon for a while. This was one of the films we wanted to produce after we left Sundance. Common wanted to do this film and I think it’s one of his best performances to date. ‘L.U.V.’ also stars Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton, Megan Good, Michael K. Williams, Russell Hornsby, Lonette McKee, Tracey Heggins, who was amazing in ‘Medicine for Melancholy’ and will be ‘The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2.’ It’s about a kid, played by a wonderful actor named Michael Rainey Jr., who spends a day with his uncle who just came out of prison and basically grows up and matures really fast. He learns a lot of lessons in that one day. We’re excited about the film. We’re also the producers on James Franco‘s film ‘Cherry.’ That film is about a troubled 18-year-old who moves to San Francisco, where she gets in the porn industry and becomes involved with a shady, cocaine-addicted lawyer. Franco plays the lawyer. We’re hoping to have both films be selected in next year’s Sundance Film Festival.