The Source Magazine caught up with legendary film producer Stephanie Allain at the Urban World Film Festival premiere for her latest film “Beyond The Lights,” which was written and Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball”) and stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nate Parker, Minnie Driver, Machine Gun Kelly, and Danny Glover.
Allain also produced “Black Snake Moan,” Hustle & Flow,” and “Peeples,” to name a few. We spoke with her on the red carpet at the SVA. Check out what she had to say about “Beyond The Lights,” which will be released by Relativity Media on November 14.
Q: What attracted you to produce this project?
Well, number one, Gina Prince-Bythewood! She’s amazing, I’ve loved her movies, I loved working with her, we co-produced Reggie’s movie “Biker Boy!” about a decade ago, so it’s kind of like family. Then when I read the script, I just thought, “wow, this is a movie we need to make, a movie we need to make now,” she already had Gugu, and so we put Nate Parker together with Gugu, fireworks, and the rest is history! And then Relativity came in and totally paid for the movie with BET’s help, which was awesome, and we got it done. And we got it done in LA! Which is great, because we didn’t have to leave home and pack up the kids and what not.
Q: Gugu is an incredible actress on the rise; tell me what makes her so special.
What makes Gugu special is that she becomes that character, it’s why all great actors are great, because they literally just become – when you see her go from Belle to Noni, you see the breadth of her chops and they are BIG.
Q: Tell me about working with Nate Parker.
So sweet. First of all, he’s gorgeous, so we were just trying to get him to take off his shirt as much as possible, and he obliged us. But other than that, he’s just a sweet guy – very respectful, very passionate, and just really working with Gina in-step to give her what she needed out of it.
Q: We also have Machine Gun Kelly starring in the film. Tell us about that.
He was adorable; I was there for his first audition, and he was so good, he’s natural. He’s just natural. And that was the first thing we noticed about him. He’s nothing like his persona on-stage, because I was like, “oh no, here we go,” but he was very sweet, and just really, really wanted it – hung in there, flew himself out a few times, fought for that role, wrote Gina a letter…
Q: Tell us about the music in the film, because I heard there’s some wonderful music.
You know The-Dream, Dream wrote amazing songs for us that Gugu actually sings, and it’s “Masterpiece,” “Private Property,” “Blackbird,” and “C’mon Boy,” and they’re all just great tracks, I mean, we’re putting together a soundtrack album, it’s going to be great. Feels like those old movies when, you know, the music was so good, you knew the songs going in, so we’re excited about it.
Q: We have some legendary actors; we have Minnie Driver and Danny Glover. Speak about the casting of those two roles.
Yes, Minnie [Driver] plays Gugu’s mother, a driven stage mom, who goes to any length to see her child succeed – maybe, probably, a little too far, and she is good, she is real. It’s beautiful because they play british, and Gugu is biracial, so just it has all this reality. Gina’s mom is white, it’s just all fraught with real stuff, and they deliver, I mean, that relationship is … so powerful and emotional. And then Danny is Danny, I mean, he’s a master. Took us all to school, and that was it, because he was just so good.
Q: Is there something that personally touched you, beyond just a great story?
I think it’s a movie about love, and think we don’t see enough love on screen – brown love, black love on screen – and so for us, the movie is really about how love lifts your up and that’s what we need more of.
Q: The title of the film changed from “Blackbird,” to “Beyond The Lights.”
We couldn’t get the title. There was another movie named “Blackbird,” there was “Birdman,” which is the Michael Keaton movie coming out, so Fox had a hold on ‘bird’ part, so it just got to be very complicated.
Q: How did you decide on “Beyond The Lights”?
You know, it’s a process. People throw the name out; that one stuck. And, you know, we think it really does symbolize what the movie is about, because it’s beyond the celebrity and fame, and… the lights.
Looking forward, you have Justin Simien’s directorial debut “Dear White People,” which you also produced, do you want to give us a little teaser?
So “Dear White People” is dropping October 17, and we’re so excited. But it’s sad because it’s so relevant. You know, when Ferguson happened, we’re just like, “oh my god, here we go again,” then it’s just like, in the news all the time: race in America. It’s a topic that needs to be discussed, needs to be dealt with, and not just saying, “it’s done, it’s over,” because it’s not over. So, both these movies, I think, really touch on social issues that are prominent in the news that need to be dealt with, that we kind of don’t deal with. I’m excited that art interacts with life and society and culture, and just kind of churns it up and gives us something to aspire to make better, because that’s what we’re here for.
The Urban World Film Festival is presented by BET and HBO. Definitely add November 14 to your calendar because “Beyond The Lights” is a must see!