SUNDANCE: Directors Tease 'Gideon's Army,' 'Fallen City,' 'Newlyweeds,' 'Soldate Jeannette' And 'Lasting'
Newlyweeds by Director Shaka King [NEXT Section]
Lyle and Nina are in love—with each other and with getting high, but not necessarily in that order. Wafting through aimless days in New York smoking weed whenever possible, Lyle makes his living repossessing rented furniture from the destitute before heading home to be with his girl. Though caught in a loop of self-medication, Nina yearns for more. When mistakes in judgment escalate out of control, the happy couple find the life they have built is quickly evaporating, and the hole they have dug for themselves is growing beyond repair.
Director Shaka King’s feature debut provokes a thoughtful meditation on the habits that hinder modern relationships, navigating through the perilous and comedic with a natural ease and restraint. Craftily luring the stoner-comedy into a meaningful examination of dependency in all its forms, King confronts a community that refuses to grow up and asks the audience what it really means to be an adult. [Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival]
Responses by Shaka King
The Newlyweeds quick pitch:
A love triangle between a repo man, his globetrotting girlfriend and Marijuana.
…and why it's worth checking out at Sundance and beyond:
Compelling performances from never before seen talent and seasoned veterans alike. I think audiences are going to go crazy for Amari and Trae. They have a genuine onscreen chemistry and the plot puts them through hell so they’re given a chance to exhibit tremendous range.
Finding a charismatic and convincing stoner:
Casting the role of Nina was particularly challenging. The actress playing her needed to be charismatic, free-thinking, and well acquainted with the leaf. I didn’t want someone “playing stoned.” I wanted a world traveling psychedelic woman…someone who would go to the jungle for three months on a whim. I auditioned some amazing actresses, but most came off a little too square. Trae was introduced to me through a friend of mine who was helping me cast extras. She showed me a photo of Trae that linked to a blog featuring an interview about her personal style…a style she’d shaped traveling the globe. Once I discovered that she’d studied acting at The New School and possessed technique, casting her was a no brainer.
I look at the final draft of a screenplay as the worst possible version of the movie I’m making. I’m rewriting on set, in the editing room…I don’t stop until we print to tape. That said, if the final draft of the shooting script has major flaws it’ll keep me up at night. And about a week and a half away from shooting, two things bothered me: the character of Chico (Lyle’s foil) and the script’s ending. Chico was the only character that didn’t ring true. I couldn’t hear or see him and he came off as this trope-like lothario. Enter Colman Domingo. He brought what was missing from the character which was a sense of boisterous play. I ruined a few takes laughing on set.
The ending I wrote for the film is drastically different than the one we edited. It required a complicated jib move, 100ft. of dolly track and VFX post-production…all on a budget under $500k. And it was corny. I’d tacked on this Hollywood ending to satisfy the expectations raised by naming the film Newlyweeds. But we’d kept it so real for 70+ minutes it seemed like a cop out to have Lyle and Nina ride off into the sunset. Fortunately, in the dailies I discovered this almost surreal shot that I knew at once was the final frame of the movie and having determined that, I was able to work backwards and come up with a more satisfying, honest, conclusion.
And more about the cast:
Barden/Schnee put together an incredible ensemble. Our cast is a mix of non, fledgling, and veteran actors. The first person attached was my friend, rapper/visual artist Tone Tank, who I wrote the role of Jackie for. He set the standard for truthful behavior because he’d grown up around “Jackies” his whole life. I casted a number of non-actor friends based on their familiarity with the worlds we were creating and found all to be natural improvisers. Producer, Gbenga Akinnagbe, deserves all of the credit for bringing on board his Wire cast mates Isiah Whitlock and Hassan Johnson. He also introduced us to Amari, who he’d worked with the previous summer on a film titled Knucklehead.