A directors' love delivers a new, classic love story. Gina Prince-Bythewood is the screenwriter and director of "Beyond The Lights" a modern, compelling and utterly convincing modern love story starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw ("Belle") and Nate Parker ("The Secret Life of Bees").
The film opens November 14th and I'm on the strictest embargo not to share too much but, OMGosh, it's time to gush. I'm making effort not to use every known cliche to attempt to express how well crafted this PG-13 gem is and how "root-to-foot" proud I am of Mrs. Prince-Bythewood. It's produced by Stephanie Allain, Ryan Kavanaugh, Amar'e Stoudemire and Reggie Rock Bythewood,
"Beyond The Lights"—which was the opening night film for the 2014 Urban World Festival and received a standing ovation—is the story of Noni, the music world's latest "rising like a bullet" superstar. But the price of fame is staggering and the pressures of it have Noni on the edge - until she meets Kaz Nicol, a young cop and aspiring politician who's been assigned to her detail.
The buzz surrounding the screening hit twitteedom like a four alarm storm alert—it's a hit!
I attended a private screening, with several executives from Essence communications, and our collective reaction turned us into "girlfriends" making spontaneous comments inspired by the spectacular performances and explosive chemistry between the leads. My hand on the Bible, I heard (at least three) my colleagues "exhale."
I'm on lip-lock until November but here is a tiny bit of my sit down with Gina Price-Bythewood.
myNewYorkeye: It's a hit. The screening audience went bananas. The casting was perfect. Was it easy? I'm setting it up for ya, go!
Gina Prince-Bythewood: (laughing) Funny. I was very touched by the audience reaction. The journey has been long and the need to find the perfect cast was a challenge. I learned an important thing in making 'Love and Basketball' I realized that you can fake a jump shot but you can't fake a close up, so I cast an actor. I did the same thing here.
myNewYorkeye: Gugu and Nate have the "it" factor. How did you get that alchemy? Are you hiding "Breaking Bad" type chemistry skills?
Gina Prince-Bythewood: In the audition, Gugu went for "it," her chops are insane. I saw the movie when she was auditioning and that's such an exciting thing to experience as a director. I rushed home with her audition DVD , to show my husband Reggie, who is also the producer, and we were like 'OMG' are we seeing what we think were seeing?"
myNewYorkeye: Then what happened ...?
Gina Prince-Bythewood: Then the work to get her approved began. She wasn't known and the studio (I was at Fox at the time) kept saying "no" because she wasn't a "star." As a director, when you find that right person you fight for them. I decided to do a live reading for the studio executives and called Nate to come in (as a favor) to read with Gugu. I had an interior motive. I wanted to get him in and show him off.
myNewYorkeye: You rock! Is that how you pulled off such clever casting?
Gina Prince-Bythewood: No ( laughing) the journey continues. The chemistry was "right there" but ultimately Sony was like "she's not a star and were not going to make this movie."
myNewYorkeye: You are a veteran Hollywood player. I'm confident that you didn't take it personally.
Gina Prince-Bythewood: Your right. It wasn't right for them. So, Reggie and I put in our own money into making an 8 minute presentation and Gugu wore "the music video outfit" that she wears in the film. That's when I knew that she trusted me as a director and was willing "to go" there.
myNewYorkeye: The costume leaves "just a Smidge" to the imagination.
Gina Prince-Bythewood: She gives a very bold performance. We went back to the studios and it's crazy because they loved it and loved Gugu, loved the script but they said "but, she's not a star" and there are no young black men that are stars.'
So close but I kept getting no's. I needed that one yes. Finally BET saw the presentation, read the script and they invested a couple million dollars. We then went to Relativity, the very first studio that didn't question Gugu. They said: 'we see that's she's a star. Whomever you want to cast opposite as the male lead, go for it.'"
myNewYorkeye: Your script is "tight as f$&@."
Gina Prince-Bythewood: (laughing deep and long)
Can you write that? Please?