Sunday, September 11, 2005

Craig Brewer: The past is one helluva prologue

Wednesday night at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, filmmaker Craig Brewer showed up after a day on the set of "Black Snake Moan" -- the movie he's creating -- to introduce a screening of "The Poor and Hungry," his first feature.

The contrast between his two creations is stark and, feeling a bit raw as he gets ready to start official shooting on Monday, Brewer shared his feelings with wit and resignation. " 'Poor and Hungry' has been on my mind a lot today," he said, recalling that one of the initial screenings of "Poor and Hungry" was in that very auditorium at Brooks in 2000 -- "the first time we had a big audience."

It was, however, the contrast of that first feature -- one into which he invested all of his material and spiritual self -- to his experience in the current production that charged his commentary.

Wednesday had been a day of dealing with lots of cooks in the "Black Snake Moan" kitchen.

Brewer, for example, liked many of the choices that came out of Samuel L. Jackson's research of the character of the bluesman, one in the mold of the late R. L. Burnside or T Model Ford or Big Jack Johnson.

"I really like what he's doing," Brewer said. "One is like Big Jack Johnson -- he's got a full open crown gold grill right across the top, and when he sings the blues and you're really right up close on him it gives you chills. And he's got this gray hair and mutton chops that come out like a wolverine. But he also has this one, ah, mole that's like right here -- and I like the mole, right? And I saw it and I said 'Wow, man, that's real. I like that.' "

But gone are the "P&H" days when he could make a command decision and move on. As "BSM" prepares for shooting to being this week, "We have to do these makeup tests and we have to film these makeup tests and everybody has to watch the makeup tests and comment on the makeup tests."

And everybody does.

So the number and luster of gold teeth are in question. The size of the mole is debated.

What's more, he's having to deal with the babble of misinformation and supposition spilling out -- particularly from talk radio -- about Katrina evacuees waiting to get into The Pyramid. (They're not. The city and county have plenty of better places to put them although Brewer has offered to help if needed.)

"So that's all happening today," Brewer said. And then referring to making "P&H": "I just so remember being covered in my own sweat and the sweat of my brother in law because he was standing over me with the boom pole, and I had just one little video camera."

It was, he observed, particularly special making a movie with next to no money.

"When somebody gives you a lot of money it's their money too," he said. "It is no longer yours. And when you are making something with your own money or no money, what you gain in not having money is 'Man, right or wrong, this is my baby, this is mine completely.' "

And that's the way it was with "P&H," a time, Brewer said, when he didn't see it so much as his first movie but his last.

"So when you watch this movie and you know that I'm making this new movie, keep that in mind, that those of you who've seen 'Hustle and Flow,' you're going to see what made 'Hustle and Flow': You're going to see the demo tape that I made and know that it was at a time when my father had died very unexpectedly and he left me with words like 'Get back into it,' 'Don't be afraid,' 'If you only have a video camera and clamp lights, celebrate it, don't be ashamed of it.'"

And after a rough day at the studio, Brewer welcomes a bracing shot of perspective. "Every once in a while I have to watch 'Poor and Hungry.' "

No comments: