In the year 2000, Maggie Hadleigh-West decided to shoot a documentary about Half-A-Mil a.k.a. Jasun Wardlaw, (a rapper from Crown Heights Brooklyn) and his crew about his life in the hood (Albany Projects) while at the same time trying to make it in rap world. The timing of this period is very important because this is pre-50 cent getting hot on the mixtapes. This was the time of big budget videos, the independent scene was not at prominent as it is now especially on the east coast, the internet being used as a promotional tool for artist was still in its infancy. For Maggie, she says about the film..
“I listened to hip hop all the time. I knew there was something going on in the projects. I always knew the media was racist and I felt I needed to get in there and find out so I went looking for somebody who got signed by a record label.” “We went through a whole bunch of people, some were late, others went to jail.” “There was one guy in Brownsville I started shooting but I felt he wouldn’t have enough juice to keep us safe. I met Half, he showed up and could sign the contract.”
The process was an adventure for Maggie and according to her a pretty funny one. She made it clear to Half-A-Mil she was an advocate but was going to make mistakes because of a certain naivety of being a white chick not from the projects. All she asked was for the unvarnished truth. She says her first production meeting was a shock when in the meeting some of Half’s crew stopped by.
“There was a lot of people who showed up big huge black guys with guns but it was fine though” says West. In this time there weren’t many documentaries out about hip hop stars and West describes tension on the set sometimes between the film crew and Half’s crew. But eventually the crews became familiar with each other. West says it took a while to get to know Half but he really had that star quality. There is also a learning process between the film maker and Half-A-Mil where they learn about each other and find a way to be comfortable around each other.
“In the beginning there was a distance and then it got better and warmer, I had a bodyguard when I started and then he stole my bodyguard” says West.
Maggie Hadleigh-West and her team were doing a documentary on Half-A-Mil and it was built specifically around the release of his first album Million on Warlock Records. The timing of the documentary was around early 2000 and ended in 2003. According to Maggie it took 10 years to get the documentary to the point of releasing it to theaters. West says it was the best and the hardest thing she had to do. According to her there was a funny misunderstanding with Half’s crew that they thought because she was white, she was rich which was not the case. The completely self-funded project is what the title describes a love story and a growing process of Half-A-Mil going through the daily drama of living and surviving in the hood, his problems with the label, the problems his crew were having, and trying to manage the day to day life of being an artist. West says what she wants is for people to love Half-A-Mil.
“His story represents not only him but hundreds of black men who are dying way before their time says West. I went in knowing and talking about death, I thought he was going to make it because he was so loved and revered but it wasn’t enough. There was too much trauma and damage in his life and going on in the projects. Both of his parents abandoned him, he saw a lot of hard stuff and it damaged him really early.”
As for the rest of his crew, she still keeps in touch with them but about the crew she says she didn’t know she would fall in love with them. “Some of them have seen the movie, I told everyone what I was doing every step of the way” says West. “The story I shot is not the story I ended up telling. There was a change in the sequence of events that helped me tell a greater truth” says West.
On Half-A-Mil she says people should buy his music. “He was on his way to stardom through no fault of his own it didn’t happen says West. People should know him, he was an amazing person. I hope people will buy it and share it so that his legacy can be shared” says West.
Quad Cinema April 6th – April 12th
34 West 13th Street New York, NY 10011
Indie Screen April 13th – April 14th
289 Kent Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11211