Barry Michael Cooper: Dramacydal Part Two Your film that changed me was actually Above the Rim. It’s the only reason I ever played ball in school. However, it’s not a “basketball movie.” The relationship of Kyle and his mother made the movie much greater than the basketball. What commentary were you trying to make? Barry Michael Cooper: Benny Medina, Jeff […] Your film that changed me was actually Above the Rim.

It’s the only reason I ever played ball in school. However, it’s not a

“basketball movie.” The relationship of Kyle and his mother made the

movie much greater than the basketball. What commentary were you trying

to make?

Barry Michael Cooper: Benny Medina, Jeff Pollack and I wanted to come

up with a story that was a-typical but typical. The beauty of it is…and

you made my year saying it, is it’s more than just a basketball movie.

There was a very warm relationship between Kyle and his mother. To

Duane Martin’s credit, he understood that without a father, he had to

be almost a companion. Because of how his mother sacrificed for him, he

knew he had to give back. That’s important to convey to the audience.

When Benny and Jeff hired me to do the script, I wanted to make it a

very soulful piece. I remember when Roger Ebert did the review, he said

that family was the thread between Above the Rim and Sugar Hill.

It was really important to tell that story. You need that [fatherly]

love to nurture you. Kyle wasn’t a perfect kid; he got got up in the

mythology of Tupac’s [character Birdie]. That was one of Tupac’s

greatest roles. Gridlock’d was hot, Juice, he killed it.

Birdie was a special role. That graveyard scene, which Jeff added after

I turned my script in…to Tupac’s credit, when he’s in there talking to

Leon, “You weren’t there; I had to step up!” It’s almost as if to say you’re not being there added to the ingredients of making me this Ghetto Frankenstein; don’t you dare talk down to me like that! That film brought Tupac back to New York. Great,

wonderful things came of that, and terrible things came of that… all

with Above the Rim forever changing it…

Barry Michael: 1994 was a very surreal experience. I was the first

Black screenwriter to not only have two movies in one year, but

released a month apart. Sugar Hill came out on February 25, 1994 and Above the Rim came out March 23, 1994. It was 30 days between these two movies. It affected me, in good ways and bad ways.

I really got caught up in the Hollywood scene. I’m working on a

collection of my work over 25 years–my investigative journalism,

essays, an excerpt from my novella “The Diary Of Nino Brown: The Untold

Story Of A Street Legend,” and a few other pieces–titled “The Day New

Jack City Burned 2 Tha Ground (Smoke Got In My Eyes).” It’s almost my

travelogue from the Village Voice years through Hollywood to the present.

I talk about how the original Pookie was not Chris Rock, it was Martin

Lawrence. Martin Lawrence came in and auditioned and tore everybody up.

The guy filming it had to stop; he killed it. He had the role. When his

mentor Robyn Harris died from sleepapnia, I don’t know if it’s true or

not, but legend has it that Martin Lawrence had a nervous breakdown.

Chris Rock actually gave a horrible audition; he’s known to not give

good auditions. They gave the role to him.

The first day of shooting was on Woodcrest and 166th Street, where it’s

him and Ice-T making the drug transactions, saying “The Lord’s Prayer.”

Chris killed it. He and Wesley could have nominated! After he did that

scene, Mario [Van Peebles] and I applauded. He’s a brilliant comedian

and social commentator, but as an actor – give Chris Rock that script,

and he’ll get it – he’s gonna get an Oscar before it’s all said and


[The log] is just a look back to see what Benny and Jeff did. I gotta

give credit to [Dr.] Dre and Suge Knight to the soundtrack of Above the Rim.

What it did to take West Coast music outta here…wow. People asked, “How

do you feel?” I’d say, “I’m numb.” I’d go from chilling it the cubicle

at The Village Voice to the next day chilling in Quincy Jones’

basement in Bel-Air with the late Hal Ashby. To see all of that, and

look back on it now, I had to put it all in a book. This is what “The

Day New Jack City Burned 2 Tha Ground” will include, a collection of my

essays, stuff I’ve done for The Voice, Spin, a piece I did on R. Kelly for America magazine, and a few other pieces. What else do you having popping right now?

Barry Michael Cooper: I did a film called Blood on the Walls.

I have re-edited it into a 14 part webiseries to play online, and

Webisode 1 is playing on I-Film right now. I shot an un-aired pilot for

UPN in 2003 called Streets Incorporated that me and my partner,

Joe Marrone in Philadelphia – who helped create Kurupt’s Antra Records

– are doing online. It was so good, but so scary that UPN didn’t air it.

I have to say this about Joe Marrone: this guy is not only one of the

best criminal lawyers in Philadelphia, but he is a real visionary. He

is the guy who really resuscitated Kurupt’s career after he left Death

Row in the late ’90s, and to be honest, he kept Dr. Dre in the public

eye until Dre blew up once again with Eminem in 1999. Joe also helped

my career during that time when I was pretty much blacklisted at the

studios and no one wanted to hire me. He hired me to direct Dre and

Kurupt in “Ask Yourself A Question” back in late ‘98, and we created Streetz, Incorporated

for UPN back in 2003. He is about to come up again with two important

artists coming out of Philadelphia. Jamie Knight–who is as sexy as

Beyonce, but a musical genius like Lauryn Hill, and Philly Swain, a

rapper who was on the Takedown label who might change the game the way

Jigga did with Reasonable Doubt. Keep an eye out for Joe’s label, PhillieTown, because I think it’s going to make a lot of noise this year. So you’re using the Internet for Blood on the Walls?

Barry Michael Cooper: Blood on the Walls

is my twisted, roman a clef about my life after the celebration and the

bon bon vie of being this young, Black Hollywood screenwriter. The

bottom fell out. In the film, the protagonist is this guy named Cooper

Michaels, who had this fantastic career, blowing up as this journalist

in the ’90s, goes on to write a television show called Filthy that stars Dr. Dre and Kurupt. It’s like a New York Undercover.

This guy lives the Hollywood life. He has a family in Baltimore, but

he’s out there with the broads, and he gets caught up in crack, and the

bottom falls out. The show has its run and he has nowhere to go. All he

has is this crack habit on his back. He comes back to Baltimore,

becomes a journalist again. He investigates a murder/suicide that’s

world news. As he’s piecing together the case, he’s piecing the ruins

of his life also. That’s playing online, yes. I did it in 2005. It was

an official selection in the 2005 American Black Film Festival in South

Beach, Miami and John Hopkins Film Festival in Baltimore in 2006. I

wanted more people to see it, and I wanted to test the waters of this

online thing. I cut it up into a 14 part webiseries. A few more sites

online, including The Village Voice and City Paper are interested in airing it–so soon, anybody around the world will be able to watch it.

Really, it’s my love letter to Hip-Hop. It’s Hip-Hop-driven. It’s about

a guy who came out of the era of Starski, DJ Hollywood, Spoonie Gee,

Cold Crush, and seeing Hip-Hop in its infancy all the way into now.

It’s a story of redemption. It’s all of those great things. It’s a

moment in time about a guy that’s trying to come back from the dead.

It’s a character study, it’s a detective story, and it’s a story of

redemption. It’s shot as this raw documentary. I’m a fan of John

Casavetes, Jonas Mekas, Andy Warhol. It took four months to edit, and I

did all of the editing. It was like film school for me. The story had

been in my head for four years. If people stick with it from webisode 1

through 14, there’s a real payoff. We look at Hip-Hop, and there was always competition

between the boroughs, most notably Queens versus The Bronx. In the

early ‘90s, when Spike Lee was making films that covered many aspects

of Brooklyn life, you were making Harlem as cinematic as ever. In the

film world, or Black Hollywood, was there friendly competition?

Barry Michael Cooper: [Laughs] You’re a very perceptive dude. It’s

funny that you asked that question, because Spike is…overlooked. After

his banner year last year, Spike is on the level with Spielberg,

Coppola, and George Lucas. He’s in the pantheon of the Top Five

Filmmakers. Spike and I always had this mutual admiration, going back

20 years. He used to read my writing. He asked me to do the

introduction to the book The Making of Do the Right Thing.

We’ve always had these very friendly, but spirited and competitive

debates about Brooklyn and Harlem. He says they’ve got better

basketball players and fighters. I say, “Yeah, but we’re better dressed

and more well-read.” [Laughs] Subconsciously, I guess it was like that.

Not long after Above the Rim came out, Spike shut everything down with He Got Game.

I think on some level we always went back and forth – of course, he

won, hands down. I can’t say enough good about the person he is, the

man he is.

People have not recognized what he has contributed to American cinema.

Forget the fact that he this mantle of an angry young man, and Malcolm X,

so on and so forth…look at the filmmaking technique. Look at the

attitude throughout the entire corpus throughout American filmmaking,

period. The anger was shtick. He wasn’t that angry. He knew that as a

Black filmmaker in a racist business, which is Hollywood, “If I’ve got

to use this mask, I’ll use it.” He did. I’m putting this in my upcoming

essay on Spike. When you look at everything from Joe’s Bed Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads to Levees, it’ll make your head spin. Levees

is one of the greatest American films in the last 30 years! It is a

requiem of America in five parts. I hope it’s a clarion call for all of

us to come together; that’s what he’s saying in that film.