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Kendrick Lamar on ‘Wanting to Bring the Drama’ to His Live Action Short Oscar Contender ‘We Cry Together’ With Taylour Paige

Oscar race for best live action short heats up with many big names in music vying for the Academy's attention

Kendrick Lamar
Courtesy pgLang

For Kendrick Lamar’s “We Cry Together” short film, it was crucial that the visuals captured the vulnerability and toxicity of a relationship in an intimate space.

“It challenged me to actually live in what I was writing, and really be there and be present with Taylour [Paige],” Lamar said. “And I remember us going back and forth and feeling like, damn, I understand this character even more because I’m evoking the energy from it and the passion from it because it’s alive, and it’s direct.”

Directed by Free, Lamar and Jake Schreier, “We Cry Together” follows Lamar in a heated argument with his partner, played by “Zola” star Taylour Paige. The video features the theatrical song from his fifth album, “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.” The immersive experience was shot in one single take with live vocal tracks.

“We Cry Together” is among the many films hoping to find love for best live action short at the upcoming Academy Awards. For a film to qualify for any of the three short categories, which also include animated and documentary, a film must not exceed 40 minutes. The eligibility window is different from the general categories, running from Oct. 1, 2021, until Sept. 30, 2022.

“When we went into this project, Kendrick was telling me about how he wanted the room to feel thick, and the room to feel intense,” Free explained. “He wanted to really address topics that we, as a society, kind of shy away from.”

“So in writing, I say, ‘OK, how can I make this feel personal, but also holding up a mirror as a collective concept, rather than just a personal concept,'” Lamar said. “I wanted to bring that drama because, at the end of the day, whether we like it or not — the good, the bad and the ugly, the pros and cons — that’s what makes everything evolve.”

On the setting of “We Cry Together,” Free explained that they wanted to convey “the frustration of just life itself already painting the room” while maintaining a “youthful and light” feeling in the couple’s apartment.

“You get into a relationship, and it’s like you have to blend the two worlds together,” he said. “She wants the humidifier, you want a picture of some barbershop shit in the house. But you blend that shit together, you know what I’m saying? So it felt like that, it looked like that — a blend of two personalities that were similar.”

“Ultimately, the main thing is people that we can actually identify with. Not only from our culture but from cultures all around the world,” Lamar added. “So the environment plays a huge role, and that’s something we definitely wanted to bring to life along with the script. It was just as important as the individuals that were actually spewing out the insults.”

For Lamar, the creative collaboration and filmmaking process saying it “gave me more freedom, as a person. Being able to run toward my fear and say the things I want to say and do it in an artistic way — it allowed me to live my truth even deeper.”

In recent years, major talents such as Matthew A. Cherry, the late Kobe Bryant and most recently Riz Ahmed, have found their way to an Oscar stage for their short films. More major films in the live action film discussion include “All Too Well” by Taylor Swift (also contending for best original song for “Carolina” from “Where the Crawdads Sing”) and “38 at the Garden” from Oscar-winner Travon Free (“Two Distant Strangers”). Other submissions include “Ball & Vase” (dir. Dave Baram), “Life Rendered” (dir. Emma Needell), “Miso” (dir. Kelly Walker), “Sideral” (dir. Carlos Segundo), “Evoke” (dir. Aaron M. Abelto), “Moshari” (dir. Nuhash Humayun and executive produced by Riz Ahmed and Jordan Peele), “Remembering” (dir. Elijah Allan-Blitz) and “Exposure” (dir. Holly Morris).

Oscar shortlists voting takes place Dec. 12-15, before the 10 films advancing to nomination voting are named on Dec. 21. Oscar nominations will be announced on Jan. 24.

See the latest film predictions, in all 23 categories, in one place on Variety’s Oscars Collective.

See the 2022-2023 Awards Season calendar for all key dates and timelines.