To fill out the cast of his first feature film, “Who’s the Man,” director Ted Demme has called in a lot of favors that he earned over five years of doing “Yo! MTV Raps.”
Acts that have made appearances on “Yo”– which was created by Demme and was the first program to target the hip-hop audience on MTV–are working on the film for scale as a favor to the director.
The $ 4 million comedy, starring hip-hop artists Ed Lover and Dr. Dre, has about 50 cameos by such names as Queen Latifah, members of A Tribe Called Quest, Run-D.M.C. and Flavor Flav. Former MTV talent Ken Ober and Colin Quinn also have parts.
Ed Lover (aka James Roberts) and Dr. Dre (Andre Brown) play the two worst barbers in Harlem. As a result, they are forced to seek work elsewhere; after they become members of the police force, the two are called upon to solve the murder of the man who owned the barber shop where they worked.
Charlie Stetler of Tin Pan Apple, manager of Dre and Lover, put together the project, which was then picked up by New Line.
Dre and Lover, a former schoolmate of Demme’s, requested he work on the project. The script is by Seth Greenland. Stetler and Maynell Thomas produce.
Three weeks into a six-week location shoot, Demme, the nephew of filmmaker Jonathan Demme, says the project is moving along well and he’s getting more than he anticipated from his cast and crew.
“This is so much bigger than anything I’ve ever done … the size of it and what we’ve got to do,” Demme said from a Harlem location yesterday. “I’m not used to so many hands–there are 9,000 people at the studio and another 9,000 people helping us out.”
“MTV was my grad school. In seven years there I learned everything I know,” Demme explained. “MTV was a place for me to experiment. I made a lot of mistakes and I made a lot of friends along the way.”
Demme took a leave of absence from MTV to direct this film and is unsure in what capacity he will return. Once he’s done with “Who’s the Man,” Demme will have a brief rest before his second feature, staring comedian Dennis Leary, starts lensing for Touchstone in May. Tentatively titled “The Ref,” the script is by Richard La Gravenese (“The Fisher King”).
“I really love the process of film,” explains Demme. “I know what it takes to get it done. … I’m not the type of director that knows the different frames per second or f-stops, but I pride myself on working with actors.”
Nonetheless, filling the cast with talent from the music business that have very little, if any, acting experience could pose trouble for a new director. But Demme’s not concerned. “It’s been terrifying and on the same note really cool,” he said. “I’ve worked with all of these people before (on “Yo!”) and it’s a film about real people.”
He also is not concerned about any comparisons to his well-known uncle. “It’s unbelievable to have a filmmaker always at the other end of the phone who is totally supportive,” Demme said. “I’m lucky to have him there.”