The Source Magazine recently sat down with “Baggage Claim” writer and director David E. Talbert. The Fox Searchlight film, which is based on Talbert’s book of the same name, hits theaters September 27. This is Talbert’s second feature film. His directorial debut was the 2008 release “First Sunday,” which starred Ice Cube, Katt Williams and Tracy Morgan. Talbert is also an acclaimed playwright.
Tell us about the book “Baggage Claim” and what inspired you to write it?
The book was inspired by eavesdropping in my wife’s conversation with her girlfriend, a girlfriend of hers went to go visit a guy in Chicago for Thanksgiving and called her when she was back at the hotel trying to tell my wife about how great a weekend that they were having, a night they had. She was like, “Well why aren’t you at his house?” And so I’m listening, and the story didn’t end well and so I’m like “this is the saddest thing that could happen” because the guy ended up being married, and so I said, “this particular girlfriend is always flying all across the country trying to find a guy,” so that’s where I got the inspiration.
Can you tell me about you know your choice to make the book and then adapt it to screenplay as opposed to just make it as a film first?
Well the thing about novels is it gives you more information than you ever would be able to find in a film. You have 300 pages as opposed to a script, it has to kind of scale it down. The thing about novels I like is so I can learn more about the characters. And you learn the most about the characters in a novel, because you have a lot of time to live with them. So by the time it was time to make it into a screenplay, it was easy for me because I already knew the characters. I knew their backstory their front story, I knew everything about them.
Were there any challenges of turning the book into the screenplay?
Well there were a couple more men that she dated that didn’t make the movie, because it was too many men and so I had to choose which men I wanted, and then the hardest thing was, Gail and Sam were the favorite characters out of the book and I said, I got to find two actors that will make those characters come to life. And when I got Jill and Sam, I’m like, oh perfect.
Tell us about your leading lady, Ms. Paula Patton. You had met her so many years ago, how did she get on your radar and what made her perfect for the lead?
Well I watched “Hitched,” and you couldn’t take your eyes off her. And then I saw “Idlewild,” and I’m like “I can’t take my eyes off of her” and she just lights up the screen. She’s a movie star in every sense of the word. And so when I met her, I think she came and she stumbled, she tripped over something when we were about to hug or something, I said, “oh this woman is fun too and she doesn’t take herself serious,” and I said, “that’s Montana Moore,” and I’ve been chasing her since 07 to do this role. And finally when it came back around five years later she was available.
It’s incredible the amount of time that the project has been in people’s hearts.
Yes, I met with Taye Diggs like five years ago to do this thing in Boris, and it all came together, but there’s nobody better I could have chosen then Paula Patton. This character could have been Reese Witherspoon and it wouldn’t have changed anything you know, but what Paula brings is such a beauty and an elegance, and a fun, a youthfulness and a freshness to it, where now she’ll be mentioned in the same conversations with all the other leading ladies that are doing romantic comedies.
This is your second feature film. Can you speak about diving in again as a director?
Well what I had to do was, learn what I didn’t know, that’s what I learned from “First Sunday,” what I didn’t know about filmmaking and that who I needed to surround myself with to make it better. And so I got a great DP cinematographer, Anastas N. Michos, a great editor,Troy Takaki, a great production designer Dina Lipton, so the movie looks like a 30 million dollar movie, but it was only shot for 8 millions dollars. I mean all the twinkle lights and the locations and the camera movement, everything looks like it’s a mainstream big budgeted romantic comedy, which was made for a little bit of money. So that’s what I learned that the smartest person in a room hires people smarter than he. That’s what I learned.
Can you speak about all the casting for our leading men, our boyfriends?
My wife did the casting. She was like, “Oh, you’ve got to have Boris in the movie, he’s got to take his shirt off. You got to have Taye Diggs, oh yea you need Trey Songz.” And you know my wife went down the list basically. She’s the audience so she’s like who do I want to see in a movie and that’s why there’s so much eye candy in this movie. Now do I want a movie of all good looking men in this movie? No! Because I’m not the audience, I want good looking women in the movie. So the women in there were cast by me and my boys. They were like “Oh, you got to put Lala in there, Lauren London in there, Jill Scott.” I mean all the women are gorgeous, too. So me and my boys cast the women and my wife cast all the men.
Trey Songz is in the film and this is a big acting role for him. Can you tell me about how you got him on board and what it was like working with him?
Well Trey came in because I saw “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and they were like he’s a dramatic actor and we don’t know about comedy, I said “he’ll be fine,” so we came and met and Trey was like “man anything you need man, I got you.” And we worked for a couple of hours on a role and then we put him on tape and it blew everybody away. And no one’s expecting Trey to be as funny as he is in this movie. And I think Trey is one of those actors that’s up and coming and can travel at any lane. You know, he’s like a Will Smith you know to me and I think you’ll be seeing lots from him.
Another musician turned actor, Jill Scott is in the film and she is incredible. Tell us about her playing a role that fans may not expect to see her in?
Jill steals the film. I didn’t expect Jill! You know when they said Jill Scott, “I said well she’s pretty much a dramatic actor” and I met with Jill and I said “You know Jill, you know, this character shows a lot of cleavage,” she said, “I’ve got cleavage and how much you need?” And I said, “Ok, Jill.” And so then we cast her and she nails it. She knocks it so far out the park, which you can’t take your eyes off her in any scene that she’s in.
Can you tell us about the airport scenes and the location scouting?
Well we shot the whole movie in the Ontario Airport and then the Ontario Airport and Ontario Convention Center. We converted that to feel like it was in all the airports and that’s my production designer, Dina Lipton who did a great job. But all the running through the airport, and then we shot the interior plane stuff on a soundstage and so it was only built to see half of the plane and I mean it was just amazing how it all comes together and you just feel like you’re traveling all across the country.
It feels very authentic, I thought you were in ten airports from the film. Can you tell me maybe a favorite scene of yours to shoot or just a special day, just reflecting on it?
I think that the boat scenes, I wanted it to be a beautiful movie. To take people places, and there’s three scenes that really did that for me. It’s a scene on the boat, outside on the boat, and then underneath the boat, and then it’s a scene in the snow when Derek Luke’s character drops off Montana and it’s snowing outside, you just feel like you’re right in the east coast and then on the rooftop with Djimon Hounsou and Paula when they are talking from night to day, it’s just so romantic. And that’s what I wanted to be able to show.
And Paula busts out into some singing in the karaoke scene at the hotel. But she has to sing bad on purpose.
Well, Paula can sing, that’s what people don’t know. Absolutely, and there’s a song that her husband Robin Thicke wrote, “Can U Handle It,” that Usher sings, well that’s Paula in the background of that song, “Can you handle it, if I go there baby with you,” and then the female voice says “I can handle it.” That’s Paula singing. And so Paula can sing, so we had to get her to sing off key for the role.
You also worked with Jamie Foxx on the 2006 TV documentary “Jamie Foxx: Unpredictable.” Can you tell us about collaborating with him?
I’ve known Foxx for years from the Bay Area and we both got started out there, so he was shooting “Miami Vice” and they flew me down to Miami because they said they wanted to do this thing that was part play, part concert, and we put it together in about a couple of months and it rocked on NBC, but Foxx is a pure genius. He’s a mad scientist, and so working with him, it prepares you to work with people that are really heavily into their craft.
And also you worked with Ice Cube, another hip hop icon on “First Sunday.”
Yeah, I worked with him and I wrote a novel with Snoop Dogg, how about that? Snoop and I wrote a novel about eight years ago, but Cube was the very best because Cube, is like a director himself, so the whole time on the set, Cube was coming in whispering, “Hey, think about this, think about that” and no one ever knew he was doing it, you know I have so much respect for him. He didn’t loud talk me or anything, and it was my first movie, he could have clowned me the whole movie, but he pulled aside and helped me, you know and I always always respect him for that.
And can you speak about Snoop Lion and working with him?
snoop was hilarious to work with, but just a really cool dude, and we wrote a novel called “love don’t Live Here Anymore” and it was based, loosely based on his life growing up and my life growing up, and it did really well but snoop is just smarter than people think and more in tuned and more alert.
Any final thoughts about the film?
It’s what I consider my signature movie, I feel like this is the best representation of who I am, and what I’m about and my favorite line in the movie is about my commentary on marriage and it’s that, “The magic isn’t in getting married, it’s in staying married.”