How to Make a Hip-Hop Weed-Fueled Flick
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Making a movie starts with one thing: the idea to make a movie.
When all you’re trying to do in hellworld is smoke weed and write, being asked to pen a movie set on a cannabis farm is a strange trip.
But let’s take it back to the San Francisco Mission District in the early 1990s.
I’m a California Mexican, the youngest in a family of five. I’m watching an analog dial television. In my immigrant household, it was usually on the Spanish stations — gunslinger movies and telenovelas. At some point, there I was, an obese child, watching one telenovela in English: Days of Our Lives.
In those days, I lived for going to the video store where my sister worked. It was the same one immortalized in Green Day’s “When I Come Around” music video.
Every summer, home from school — I had grown up and become the first in my family to go to college — I would hit the video store up. I majored in English at St. Mary’s College of California because it didn’t have a film program, but I really wanted to be a filmmaker.
My friend Gerard Roxburgh from Scotland asked me, out of the blue: what did I really want to do with my life? I wanted to make movies.
Then five post-recession years into print dying/internet content creating, after throwaway gig after throwaway gig, a Scottish friend, Gerard Roxburgh asked me, out of the blue: What did I really want to do with my life?
I wanted to make movies. I hadn’t thought about it in seven years.
Gerard and I shared that goal. So right away, we co-wrote an arthouse horror-drama, Devour.
But in February 2018, four up-and-down years into developing Devour, Gerard called and asked if I remembered his Scottish friend, Paul Telfer.
Yeah, I remembered him. In a weird twist of fate, Telfer was the hunk from Days of Our Lives.
The real question was: Did I want to co-write a true crime thriller with Telfer?
Even though Telfer plays a bad guy on TV, and was going to be the lead antagonist in our movie, he’s a real sweetheart. Hell, yeah, I wanted to co-write something with Telfer.
I wanted working on movies to be the film school I never went to. And I was gratified to get to write something new. In this case, supplying the landscape’s demand for current events films, and doing what I could to have Gerard knock his directorial debut out of the park. It was all dialed in: my first feature project was going to be a micro-budget thriller inspired by actual events and having everything to do with weed.
The catch was Telfer and I had to write it, fast. That upped the challenge. With Telfer’s shredded Call of Duty-uses-his-likeness-and-actually-played-Hercules-on-TV heavyweight physique, and my nerdy, taco truck on every corner, Andy Ruiz Jr.-deceiving heavyweight frame, I knew we could hit it, and hit it hard. And if it took not sleeping to get it done we could get it done.
Still, the goal was to deliver a film that punches above its weight class and budget. That can be difficult even in circumstances better than the ones we had. But Telfer and I penned a script about a cannabis farm home invasion on schedule. Then Gerard’s vision was brought to light and life by keen Canadian cinematographer Matt Irwin, alongside a great crew that went hard until the final bell.
Which is where UFC Hall of Famer Urijah Faber entered the picture. Faber is Gerard’s production partner, and had been working to produce Gerard’s first movie, what we were now calling Green Rush.
I had also covered Faber’s MMA career for various media outlets; in 2010, at my first job out of college, I wrote a cover story on Faber for Fight! magazine. As a hip-hop-head, I cringed at the cover copy: “Don’t Call It a Comeback: Urijah Faber Hasn’t Gone Anywhere,” which massacred the intro line from LL Cool J’s iconic “Mama Said Knock You Out.” (For the record it was “Don’t call it a comeback / I been here for years.”)
But back to the matter at hand: Writers aren’t always necessary on a movie set. I was lucky enough, though, to double as a set photographer and so got to contribute to the production in that capacity too.
I shot the ensemble cast: Mike Foy, Declan Michael Laird, Misha Crosby, Alexius Zellner, Michael Roddy, Kriss Dozal and, in a compelling debut, Faber’s MMA teammate Andre Fili. Plus, my co-writer Telfer, in front of the camera as our main heel.
And the movie itself? No spoiler alerts necessary, but Green Rush is a movie about a Latina caught up in the drug war.
If you had asked me pre-coronavirus what I wanted for the film, I would have said that, even though it’s not a hip-hop movie like Juice or Paid in Full, I want it to resonate with the hip-hop community. Because, well, I have been here for years. And no, I’m not calling it a comeback.
I just want to walk the path paved by the Bay Area’s recent surge of indie action, from Sorry to Bother You, Blindspotting and Last Black Man in San Francisco, to Mahershala Ali and Ryan Coogler, film talent from my alma mater.
Until then, I’m just going to keep it lit and keep it moving. So while novelas are no longer a part of my life, being able to watch Green Rush get picked up by Lionsgate and seeing it on VOD/Redbox? Priceless.