Four Seasons Philadelphia Interview: Ryan Coogler: FRUITVALE STATION

Saturday, July 13, 2013

I knew nothing about the true events which Fruitvale Station is based upon - I'm sure the controversial racial implications of Oscar Grant's death reached the East Coast, but sometimes I go underground news wise for weeks at a time, and when I emerge, I don't go back to find out what I missed. I do however pay attention during the Sundance Film Festival.   And when I read about Fruitvale Station, winning so much praise, I thought, how dramatic can it be? We know the guy dies. But I was so wrong, the film has real heart and emotional involvement because it is so "day in the life of". As you're watching the events leading up to this senseless end, you become more and more invested in Oscar Grant. By the time the credits roll, you're left with rage and sadness. At least that's how I felt.  

Winner of both the Grand Jury Prize for dramatic feature and the Audience Award for U.S. dramatic film at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, director Ryan Coogler’s FRUITVALE STATION follows the true story of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who wakes up on the morning of December 31, 2008 and feels something in the air. Not sure what it is, he takes it as a sign to get a head start on his resolutions: being a better son to his mother (Octavia Spencer), whose birthday falls on New Year’s Eve, being a better partner to his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), who he hasn’t been completely honest with as of late, and being a better father to Tatiana (Ariana Neal), their beautiful four year-old daughter. Crossing paths with friends, family, and strangers, Oscar starts out well, but as the day goes on, he realizes that change is not going to come easily. His resolve takes a tragic turn, however, when BART officers shoot him in cold blood at the Fruitvale subway stop on New Year’s Day.  Oscar’s life and tragic death would shake the Bay Area – and the entire nation – to its very core. 

It's obvious, Ryan Coogler (writer/director), although personable and authentic, is still quite dazed by his swift rise in the film world. He stutters a bit and isn't always sure of his answers, but considering the fact he's had no time to prepare for his success, he handles himself quite well.

Another sunny day in Philly turned torrential rain, became the back drop of our interview with Coogler at The Four Season's hotel.  In attendance was, Tinsel & Tine blog contributor, Chris "Flood the Drummer" Norris, me (Le Anne Lindsay -might as well give myself a new Google search item) and Thomasena Farrar of MusicMovieThoughts.

All questions/answers used in this post are from yours truly.

T&T: It's amazing that you thought about making a film based on the Oscar Grant shooting and then access to the case fell into your lap through a lawyer friend working on the civil case. Do you feel like this whole movie has been charmed like that, as if perhaps Grant himself is leading you on this journey?

RC: I definitely feel blessed. In terms of being fortunate - cause I know it's rare that people get to make things they're passionate about, especially not this fast. Really, all I wanted to do was make the best movie that I could and work hard at it. That's was all I wanted to do. And hope when it was done, have something that people may want to see and think about it.  And that's still kinda where I am. I'm surprised man, when we get any kind of honor.  She (Coogler gestures to fiance, who's on her laptop nearby) can tell you, I'm as surprised as anybody,  ya know what'a mean?  Getting into Sundance was incredible. You know, and getting distribution (The Weinstein Co.) is a dream come true, cause when you make something you want to share it with people and talk about it.

T&T: But you don't have like, sort of a spiritual view on the projection of this journey?

RC: Absolutely! I thank God everyday for all of this, ya know what'im saying? And I pray for strength to keep, to keep ummm... to keep working and making the right decisions, cause I had never done any of this before. I hadn't done a feature before. Not that I haven't made a lot of mistakes, and I'm the one who notices them the most. but... I definitely feel that way. 

T&T: I was very moved by Fruitvale Station. Chris can tell you I was blubbering like a baby at the end. I haven't been to a tearjerker like this in quite a while. But what do you say to the critics that say it's manipulative and contrived. That based on true events still leaves a lot of room for the filmmaker to tell the story he wants to tell?

RC: I mean everyone's entitled to their own opinion. I can't tell somebody how to think, ya know what'i mean? We did a lot of research on the film. Everything... every decision we made was based on that research.

T&T: Did you have access to his (Oscar Grant's) actual cellphone? I like the way you superimposed the cellphone image on the screen in several scenes.

RC: Yeah, we had access to a lot! We started with court documents of testimonies, and with a testimony you've got everybody's perspective. And then from there it was talking to the family. I mean people are entitled to their own interpretation, but one thing I often hear is that Oscar's character is too positive. The funny thing about that is, I see what Oscar does in the film and I see him doing a lot of bad things. And it's kinda shocking to me that somebody can look at it and say, that's too positive. And I'm like, whoa - how comfortable are you looking at people that look like Oscar doing negative things? The movie starts off with him using drugs and talking to his girl about how he cheated on her.  We show this man in prison, we show him doing stuff that got him in prison. We show him getting in gang related altercations both in prison and on the train, Ya know what I'm saying? I don't know what else... but cause he looks a certain way, people say "he should be doing more negative stuff, this ain't real. This dude don't brush his teeth with his daughter". And I'm like, wait, what?

T&T: I can't believe we're out of time already, we didn't get to talk about Harvey Weinstein or Sundance Labs, but because Tinsel & Tine is a film and food blog, here's a quick question - What was the best thing you ate at Cannes?

RC: Some people we met at the festival invited us to their home for lunch. We had amazing spinach and mushroom quiche and roasted chicken with... what was it? (again addressing fiance)... Caprese salads of buffalo mozzarella, basil and tomatoes. 

T & T Lamb Score: 4.5 out of 5

Check Out This Related Post by Blog Contributor 

Chris "Flood the Drummer" Norris

“Freedom ain’t free for a black man,” continues Williams, wearing a hoodie and holding a can of Arizona ice tea. “The thirteenth amendment makes freedom free only behind bars at six feet beneath our feet. Manslaughter can be only considered manslaughter if you’re killing a man. So the current comprise is to equate the black man to 3/5 of the human, 3/5 of the man.” 

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is about discovering what I find pleasing in screening & eating - in case you missed it, the name is a play on Tinseltown using the Tines of a Fork.

Feel free to send me info on a film or new restaurant you'd like me to highlight.

Will there ever be a cap on movie prices?

Will we one day pay $20 a pop?

Why don't we pay on a scale?

A crap movie like everything Adam Sandler has ever done should cost about $4.50.
Big action movies like"Lord of the Rings", "Iron Man," "Transformers" are worth $10.
Woody Allen movie or something like "Silver Linings Playbook" $6-$7.
A chick flick or light comedy $5.75 and most Indie Films $5.25.

You could even do it by seasons - all summer block busters from May to August - $10
Sept - November 15th $3.50 - $4
Back to $10 for Thanksgiving and Christmas etc...

Or you can do it by A Actors ($9 - $10), B Actors ($6 - $7) TV actors on the big screen ($3.50 - $4)

Surely I'm not the first person to realize this makes sense. Has it been voted on in the Motion Picture Industry and then vetoed? If so, why?

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