Sundance: Dope’s Rick Famuyiwa on Getting the ‘Full-On Harvey’

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One of the darlings to emerge out of Sundance was Rick Famuyiwa, the writer and director of Dope, a film about a bunch of geeky kids who are into Bitcoin and manga. Only, the kids live in Inglewood, specifically in the part known as "The Bottoms," where there is no shortage of crime and gangs. After shopping his movie around Hollywood, he and producer Forest Whitaker decided to make the movie independently with the hope of selling it at Sundance. And this weekend, they did just that. After Dope's premiere, the movie sparked a bidding war that ended with Open Road Films and Sony Pictures Worldwide buying the movie for a reported $7 million. The film also picked up an award for Best Editing Saturday night. Rick Famuyiwa spoke with Darby Maloney, an editor of Southern California Public Radio's new arts and entertainment show, "The Frame," about the sudden attention and getting the "full-on Harvey" — Harvey Weinstein, that is. (Listen to part of the interview below, and subscribe to "The Frame" at iTunes or Stitcher.)

Give us a window, because this is what every filmmaker who gets his or her movie into Sundance wishes for.
Yeah, one, it was the first screening in front of a real live audience. And then so, just to get the reaction of people and laughing where I hoped they would and enjoying stuff and clapping at where I had no idea applause would come from was staggering. And then to go straight from that, it is literally like right after your Q&A. There were folks shaking my hand, in my face, "We’re going to talk later today. I’m talking to your representatives now." And I went from there to the after-party for the film. We were just celebrating how incredible it was and, of course, there’s potential backers at the after-party as well. I guess it’s sort of like a beauty pageant. You feel like you’re going down a line and you’re shaking hands and you’re smiling really big. And as everyone compliments you and it’s surreal because how do you react to all that? How do you react to just everything coming at you?

And how did you react? I mean, part of the smile was probably genuine, but at some point was it like, "I now have to perform for these people"?
Well, it’s crazy. It’s the other way around. I mean, you’re so used to having to do that because anytime you’re trying to make a movie at any level unless you’re James Cameron or Christopher Nolan or whatever, you have to go in there and you’re putting on your show and you’re putting your stuff together. And so, to be on the other side of it was a little weird, especially with a lot of people who had seen the script before, because Dope had gone out in a traditional way. So we went to a lot of the studios and they see the script and they read the script and they didn’t get it, and so it was interesting to be in the room with a lot of the people you had sent the script to earlier now telling you, you know, how brilliant it was.

Had it changed at all?
It changed just because budget-wise we had to change it because we couldn’t raise the same amount of money that obviously a studio could do. So we just had to make some logistical changes, but the script was the same script. But, I mean, I'm going to let them off the hook a bit because I think it was such a different kind of script and what I was playing with was the idea of this familiar world that we’ve seen a lot of on film and television, these types of neighborhoods, and we think we know these kids. And we think we know everything about this environment, and I was completely scrambling with what those notions were. These three geeks who were living in the Bottoms of Inglewood, which is one of the toughest neighborhoods. It’s gotten better, but when I was growing up, one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city. But they’re into punk rock and hip-hop and manga comics and, you know, skateboards and BMX bikes and all kinds of different stuff. And it was like a server error in their mind. It was like the wheel of death that spins on your computer was going. I feel like they were looking at this script and it was short-circuiting everything that they thought and so, I think, until they saw it realized, they couldn’t quite get into it. But from there, it was back to the people representing the film. My agents have a cabin and it’s like you go up to the cabin and everyone comes by and says hello.

And they court you.
Yeah, yeah.

Are they bringing frankincense and myrrh?
Yeah! They are! It’s completely absurd. And then they come in and they passionately talk about your film and deals going back and forth, people getting upset: "Why am I meeting at three in the morning and not one in the morning?" Harvey Weinstein calling you up giving you the full-on, you know, full-on Harvey. And it’s just surreal because six months ago, there was nothing. We were still struggling to try and figure out the final financing of the movie, and here we are. We shot the movie over the summer, and here we are at Sundance. It’s unreal.