Articles: Life Imitates Art For Young Director




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Jeff Usry
Special To

  The Wood, starring Taye Diggs, Omar Epps and Richard T. Jones is based on writer/director Rick Famuyiwa's memories of growing up in the middle-class African-American neighborhood of Inglewood, Calif. which he and his boyhood friends refer to as "The Wood."

  Famuyiwa, 25, originated the story several years ago when a friend of his announced he was getting married and he and Famuyiwa found themselves reminiscing for hours about the good old days.

  "Two hours later we were still talking," Famuyiwa says. "You can't help but look back when you reach milestones in your life. This conversation started the wheels turning in my head about how these moments of recollection and sentimentality would be a good subject for the film."

  Famuyiwa attended USC where he studied liberal arts, political science and pre-law. He also played basketball as an undergraduate before switching to USC's School of Cinema-Television to major in film.

  One of the things that Famuyiwa says spurred his filmmaking interest was seeing Oliver Stone's epic JFK.

  "When I saw JFK, I realized what a major impact films can have on people and I wanted to do that with my own films."

  In 1995, during his senior year at USC, Famuyiwa wrote and directed his critically-acclaimed thesis film Blacktop Lingo, a 12-minute short about basketball. In 1996, the film was one of only 29 films selected from 1,500 submissions to be screened at the Sundance Film Festival and earned Famuyiwa the distinction of becoming the first undergraduate from USC to ever have a film shown there.

  After graduating in 1996, Famuyiwa teamed with his former USC film school professor Todd Boyd and worked on the story for The Wood. Famuyiwa submitted the screenplay to the Sundance Institute's screenwriters and directors lab, which helps independent filmmakers develop features and line up financing. He attended the lab in the summer of 1997. At the time Famuyiwa was working at the Beverly Hills Niketown, selling sneakers by day and writing his screenplays at night.

  Famuyiwa says interest in The Wood represents a shift in the marketplace toward new representations of African-American life.

  "It was important to me to reveal the Inglewood that I grew up in," Famuyiwa says. "Inglewood is a middle-class community where people care about their families and want the best for their kids, just like any other city. It has suffered from a lot of misconceptions. Negative elements are only a small percentage of daily life."

  Filming in Inglewood gave Famuyiwa a new perspective of his boyhood home, and an even deeper appreciation of neighborhood ties.

  "It was kind of weird because we shot at the school and a convenience store right around the corner from where I grew up," Famuyiwa says. "Between takes it would hit me that I was back home, but looking at it with a much different eye. People came up to me who I remember from back when I was a kid running around with my friends. It was a great experience."


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