Interview: Gimme the Loot Director Adam Leon
Gimme the Loot is a gritty and charming indie film about two teenage graffiti artists determined to hustle their way into legend by tagging the Mets home run apple. It comes out March 22 but to get a preview of the movie, Milk Made called up director Adam Leon to talk about out how he brought the people and places of NYC’s graffiti scene onto the big screen. Here’s the short version of our conversation.
Milk Made: Tell me about your background. This is your first feature film, right?
Adam Leon: Yeah, it’s my first feature. I grew up in New York and sort of wanted to do this since I was a little kid. I worked in production
and film festivals and wrote; did my own shorts and music videos and ended up on this project.
MM: Did you do a lot of research into the graffiti and street art scene while preparing for this movie?
AL: We brought in this great writer known as SP ONE — Greg Lamarche is his god-given name. He’s a big writer who came up in the ‘80s out of Queens and we did a lot of research with him. We did some independent research as well but he would come in every week during the rehearsal process and do graffiti class where he would not only teach the kids how to do the art itself but also just really talk about the history, the language, the mindset of a graffiti writer — his owpersonal stories. [Lead actors] Tashi [Tashiana Washington] and Ty [Hickson] got heavily involved in that and they worked together very well, I think.
MM: So they actually got some training in graffiti?
AL: They had notebooks and they had homework to get their tags down and we did some spray painting as well. Greg did a lot of the art in the movie but some of it is theirs and some is a collaboration, so yeah, they got pretty good at it. We didn’t want [their characters] Malcom and Sofia to be the best graffiti writers in the city but we wanted them to be very much immersed in that culture and be typical teenage graffiti writers.
MM: So many times films are shot in New York City but outside of a few establishing shots of landmarks you don’t really get a sense of the city. But in your film it’s unmistakable. Was that something you were going for?
AL: We felt that there still is this New York out there that has a lot of grit to it, a lot of energy to it and that people don’t normally see in movies. So that was definitely a goal of ours, to make New York a major character in the movie but it also comes from a practical sense as well. I purposefully wrote these daytime exterior shots that can capture New York because you get this million dollar production value out of shooting a scene out of the South Bronx or Parkchester but you don’t have to pay for it [laughs]. So those two ideas coincided. Because even though we had a really small budget we wanted to tell this grand, big adventure in the city so we shot in almost 70 locations.
MM: I got a sense of the adventure, but what I think really grounded the film was the chemistry between the two leads. How did you end up casting the two of them?
AL: I knew Ty, who plays Malcolm. I worked with him on a short film that I co-directed a few years ago and I really liked working with him and I felt that he could handle the jump to a feature so I wrote the role with him in mind. Sofia — Tashi’s character — was a lot more difficult to cast. We looked at over 500 girls for the role. It’s a challenging role because it’s someone who needs to be really tough, really feel like they’re from the streets of the city, but at the same time there’s a vulnerability and a sense of comic timing that comes with that role. She is totally different than her character — a really soft-spoken, glamourous girl — but I think she’s a tremendous actress and I’m very excited for people to discover her. And when you see her in person or see a photo of what she really looks like, I think people are just like, “What the fuck?”
MM: There are so many crazy things going on in the movie and it’s often pretty funny. Was that something that was easy to do, making this film so funny?
AL: I don’t know if it was easy to do. [laughs] I wanted to do something that was set in a little bit harder of a world but was fun at the same time. I think it is a sort of comic adventure without being too broad or too silly, hopefully. That was something I was trying to achieve in the script but then a lot of that comes from the actors themselves and also just the vibe that my team was able to create on set, being a place where everything was loose and people felt comfortable going there. And we had a lot of fun making the movie which I think was important to us, to sort of hopefully see that on the screen as well.
MM: Is there anything else about the film that you want to let people know about?
AL: Well, maybe people will read about this movie and not realize that this is a movie that is about taking the audience on a ride in a place that you see all the time but in a way that maybe you haven’t seen before.