2013 Rooftop Film Filmmaker Profile: Shaka King (Writer/Director – ‘Newlyweeds’)

Winner of the Rooftop Films and Edgeworx Studios Post-Production Grant, Shaka King’s feature film debut, ‘NEWLYWEEDS‘ is an insightful dark comedy about love and marijuana. Lyle works as a repo man, delivering some of the funniest and most serious scenes in the film. Nina is a free spirit and an occasional baker who decides to work at a children’s museum in order to save money for a trip to the Galapagos. And the only thing that keeps them both sane is smoking pot.

Newlyweeds‘ is a sophisticated stoner romantic comedy, a rare film that graciously walks the fine line between the ills and the humor of chemical dependency. The film boasts amazing performances from co-leads Amari Cheatom — known for his role in ‘Night Catches Us‘ — and newcomer Trae Harris, plus cameos from ‘The Wire‘ veterans Hassan Johnson and Isiah Whitlock, Jr.

We spoke to Shaka King in anticipation of ‘Newlyweeds‘ screening as part of the 2013 Rooftop Films Summer Series, which will take place on Thursday, July 18, 2013 at the Trilok Center for the Arts in Brooklyn, NYC.

For More Information on Rooftop Films & ‘Newlyweeds’ Click – HERE

Newlyweeds

‘NewlyWeeds’ marks your feature film debut as a director.  Can you explain a little about the process of getting this film made from a financial standpoint? How was the idea of a Marijuana-centric love story initially received from potential investors? 

It took about a year and a half to raise the financing. Michael Matthews, a frequent collaborator and friend from NYU was the first producer attached and soon after he brought on board our second producer, Jim Wareck. Michael associate produced Jim’s first movie “Below The Beltway,” which was purchased by Showtime Networks and Fox International. Jim was able to convince many of the investors from that project to double down on our film. Once we got closer to shooting, Michael secured additional financing to get us through production. Post-production funds were culled through our EP’s at 10th Hole Productions, Kickstarter and I’d be remiss to leave out my dad, who was also an investor on the project.

Shooting mostly in Brooklyn, NY how did you find the process of producing an NYC based, NYC shot film?  In your opinion what was the most difficult part about shooting in NYC?
I’m born and raised in Brooklyn so it was always my plan to shoot my first feature here to take advantage of all of the resources at my disposal: from locations to actors…I actually cast a number of friends with no acting experience in substantial supporting roles. Even though this is a stoner flick, the neighborhood (Bushwick and Bed Stuy) is a character, so authenticity was paramount. Amari Cheatom, the star of the film, lived in my building for a month and a half and got to embed himself here and hang out with my friends, many of whom who were inspirations for this story. So the whole process was more art than craft in a lot of ways.

Newlyweeds

The topic of Marijuana seems to be very prevalent throughout society, culture and media these days.  What is it about Marijuana that made you feel ‘NewlyWeeds’ was important to make?  How is the story of ‘NewlyWeeds’ relatable to 21st Century audiences (Marijuana users or not)?
I didn’t spend too much time thinking about where this movie fit into the stoner lexicon. I knew that it was a unique take on the genre, but above all I wanted to make a movie for my friends, most of whom don’t go to the movies. Generally speaking, my friends are college educated 20/30-somethings who grew up in the hood. As far as comedy goes, studio or indie, there’s a dearth of equally crass and intelligent movies out there featuring people of color. I wanted to fill that void.

Personally, I stand for the complete legalization of Marijuana on the federal level.  Where do you find films like yours, as well as cultural depictions of Marijuana use in general, fall into the legalization conversation?  Meaning, how did you want to portray the plant in the film?  Do you think that there are certain negative depictions of Marijuana in film and media, which ultimately hinder its widespread social acceptance?
I love weed. Weed changed my life. I was a stress case in High School and struggled as a result. In college I started smoking while writing essays and found the experience liberating…my GPA went up. I also spend way too much money on marijuana. If I bite into an apple my gums bleed. I live out of two laundry bags and see no problem with this…so the reality is I enjoy smoking and would love to scale back. Reality comes in shades of gray. This movie doesn’t make a statement for or against the legalization of marijuana because it’s a character piece and not a film with a social agenda. That said, sometimes I wish we’d made the latter, because the drug war is crippling Black families and entire communities nationwide.

Newlyweeds

Speaking as a director, what influences did you draw from (if any) when making stylistic decisions for the film?  What was your strategy on working with the cast?  How did you manage to bring out the full potential of their performances?
Little Murders” by Alan Arkin was a big influence. So was “Flirting With Disaster,” all the films of Robert Altman and “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.” Tonally, I wanted to play around moment to moment. This was built into the script but required a ton of improvisation. We didn’t want to shoot this like a mumble core but couldn’t afford two cameras, so Daniel Patterson (the cinematographer) and I shot-listed together and on our own probably 3-4 times. We were working on the mise en scene months before we started shooting so that by the time the camera rolled we could adapt on the fly as one mind. The actors improvised quite a bit, particularly the first time actors. But I was only comfortable letting them do so because we’d casted properly. Good casting is everything.

– Interview prepared by Steve Rickinson

Newlyweeds

Thursday, July 18, 2013
Rooftop Films Summer Series presents
‘NEWLYWEEDS’
@ Trilok Center for the Arts
143 Waverly Ave
Brooklyn, NY

Facebook: /Newlyweeds
Twitter: @NewlyweedsMovie

 

 

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