“Gimme the Loot,” a gritty day-in-the-life film marks Adam Leon’s feature directorial debut. Leon, who co-directed the short film “Killer,” stresses that what enabled him be successful with his first feature was the collaboration of everyone involved and the fact that everyone shared the same vision about what kind of movie they were trying to make. Leon also took advantage of all the advice he could get. He and producer Natalie Difford took all the producers they knew out for coffee to get all the tips they could. Bringing on the actors was also a big help. Leon wrote Malcolm for Ty Hickson, but the search for Sophia was more extensive and took longer. When they saw Tashiana Washington, they knew they’d found Sophia.
From the start, Leon says, “It was really important to make sure that everything was very authentic, from the language to the characters themselves.” So he and the team spent time walking around the city, listening in on conversations and scouting. The goal was to find places that felt like New York, Leon says, but “a New York that you don’t usually see right now in movies and TV.”
What was your inspiration for 'Gimme the Loot'?
Adam Leon: I really wanted to do a movie that was about these kids that I knew growing up. I knew them from working with them on other projects; these kids that have come from tough backgrounds, are working class kids, but they’re not necessarily miserable people. I felt like, why do all the kids in “Dazed and Confused” or “Superbad” get to have the fun? But the kids in New York that are of that age it’s usually their parents raped them or they all get AIDS? Those are important stories to tell, but that’s not the only story, there’s also the story that’s more about the joy of youth that’s set in that environment. And so without selling out who they are, without ever sort of shorting them as characters, we could do something that is more of an adventure and a little bit more fun. Again, without whitewashing, you know, or covering up what their existence is like. The characters developed out of that. The story developed out of that, and it really started to click when I found the characters, the voices of Malcolm and Sophia.
Were you familiar with the graffiti scene?
Leon: I’m not an expert in graffiti; I did grow up in New York so you’re sort of surrounded by it and I did know some graffiti writers… but then we brought in this really legendary graffiti writer named SP1 and he came in and he did graffiti class every week where he would teach the art and also talk about the culture and the language and the mindset of being a graffiti writer.
Did you have a lot of rehearsal time?
Leon: Yes. The idea was always prepare as much as possible, rehearse every day for several months, and then go out and shoot it really fast. And know that things were going to go wrong because of the way that we were shooting the movie, just sort of throwing a camera down in the middle of the street, shooting guerilla style, that things were going to go wrong but that was okay and we could kind of have a looseness and embrace that, but that only came from our preparation.
And did things go wrong? What was challenging to shoot?
Leon: The water tower scene where the girl goes swimming in the water tower was very nerve-wracking. The scene in the beginning of them doing graffiti on the wall is actually a reshoot and the original version of that scene was very challenging to shoot and then the reshoot was also very challenging. The reshoot was done on the coldest weekend in the winter, and it’s a summer movie, so just finding a location that we could shoot for the summer and then my poor actors who were in shorts and t-shirts and couldn’t breathe out their mouths because you could see the steam. We had to do takes [with] them holding their breath and that was hard and tricky and I felt bad for them. We were really as good as we could be, and we kept them warm. We had coats and hand warmers and we did the best that we could, but they were cold and so that was hard.
Was it a challenge to work with young actors?
Leon: Anything is always a challenge, but I think that it was, I mean I don’t want to misquote John Hughes, and I’m sort of regretting having to start this sentence to paraphrase him, but he said something about how you know people would ask him that question, but no when I was starting out working with young actors, it’s like you feel more comfortable telling them what to do because they are young, what are they going to say. So I think there are challenges with everything, but I really loved working with the kids.
Do you have advice for actors?
Leon: I love working with actors so much. I need advice from actors; I don’t need to give advice to actors. I just really love the collaboration. I just have so much admiration for actors. They just put themselves out there constantly in both just the audition process and then when they do land a role they have to sort of - they are the face of the movie and it’s an incredible responsibility. I wouldn’t sort of even pretend to be able to give a general note to an actor like that. Go out and get ‘em; break a leg.