Exclusive: Former Drug Kingpin Rick Ross Biopic Updates (In Talks w/ "Scarface" Producer + Nick Cassevetes Still Directing)

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by Cynthia Reid
April 20, 2012 2:43 PM
13 Comments
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He once was one of the biggest drug dealers in American with an operation that yielded at least $600 million but since his release from prison, where he served 13 years of a 20 year sentence, Rick Ross has embarked on a new chapter in his life that includes making amends with the community he affected and starting a new media empire.

So what can be expected from this emerging empire?  So far, an autobiographical book is in development, a growing music label, a social networking site with over 20 thousand members that was initiated while Ross was in prison and a much-talked about biopic written by Nick Cassevetes.  In addition, an upcoming documentary, Crack In The System, is in production and being helmed by Marc Levin, the creator of the award-winning series Brick City.  Although Ross will be a focal point, the project will also explore the rise and impact of crack cocaine in America.

I had a chance to speak with Ross and Antonio Moore, his business partner and attorney, regarding all their endeavors.  They reveal some honest feedback on the struggles they've encountered with the biopic, their involvement with the horror flick The Lost Coast Tapes, the mission of their film production company and more.

S&AHow did you two meet and decide to work together?
Moore:  I met Rick at The Foxhole, Jamie Foxx’s event at the Congo Room, and we started talking about his projects and my skill set.  From there, we just vibed.  Ironically, I’m actually an entertainment attorney now but I’m a former Deputy District attorney, I was a prosecutor here in LA. To be working with Rick, a former drug kingpin, you usually don’t have those kind of synergies come together. 

S&A:  So you both just clicked?
Moore:  Yeah, it’s kind of like kismet.  I think we were brought together to bring a message to the greater American public, particularly the black community, about why and how these black men are in the position they’re in today.  Right now, black men are the most imprisoned group in the history of the world.
Ross:  I was just at the University of St. Francis speaking yesterday and I had the opportunity to listen to Michelle Alexander, one of the premiere civil rights attorney in the country who wrote the book The New Jim Crow.  She broke down some statistics of bias that she didn’t know existed when it came to black men and, even more so, black men with a felony.
Moore:  So with our documentary and film projects, and our company as well, the goal is to change the view people have of black men.  Make America be honest about what’s going on with these men.

S&A:  What kind of projects will Freeway Studios produce?
Moore:  Well our first project, ironically, isn’t even about anything about African Americans.  The Lost Coast Tapes is a pov horror and it’s shot like Paranormal Activity.  We just had a screening for distributors.  While our goal is to produce film and television shows relevant to African Americans, it’s not our only goal.   We do want to start off producing this horror film and Rick’s movie, then this documentary Crack In The System and a television series, in the frame of The Wire, about the reality of Rick’s life.

S&A:  How did you get involved with producing The Lost Coast Tapes which was helmed by director Corey Grant (Dysfunctional Friends)?
Moore:  We have a third partner and he actually financed the film.  There’s three of us involved with Freeway Studios -- myself, Rick Ross and Neil Harrington.  So that led to Freeway being a production partner on the project.
Ross:  We actually went out to the set and helped out.  We did whatever was needed.  This film was made guerrilla style and it’s really the way we plan on doing everything because, in my opinion, they’ve hypnotized us into believing if things are not perfect don’t do anything.

S&A:  How did the private screening go?
Moore:  We already sold some foreign rights and we got an offer for domestic.  Overall, the reception of it went really well.  The pov horrors are doing really well with Paranormal and Devil Inside.  Our goal is to ride that wave and we believe this is a solid film that will do that.

S&A:  What’s the status of Rick’s biopic?
Moore:  We were contacted by Martin Bregman, the producer of Scarface, and he has some interest in producing the story of Rick’s life.  We actually have our second meeting with him, and his team, in an hour to decide where we go from here and if it’s a good fit.  Rick’s life actually parallels Scarface in a lot of ways, from the lows to the highs. 

S&A:  What have been some of the setbacks in getting the story out?
Ross:  Having ownership.  People don’t think that I should have any ownership in dealing with my film.  They think I should have sold my rights and walked away because of my past dealings or because of who I am, being a black man in America.  I think they don’t believe we should have ownership of intellectual properties.  So it’s really been tough for them to deal with somebody like me because I’ve always been my own man.  I don’t really take orders well and when I do, you have to show me why I should take orders from you.  I’m not going to take orders from you just because you’re in a certain position.
Moore:  I would say that issue, him having ownership, has segued beyond the movie.  You can see that with his name rights and identity.  I’ve come to realize with Rick, for the good and the bad of it, his enterprise had him reach the glass ceiling of what it was to be a black American of his time having made the kind of money he made.  The Oakland Tribune estimated it at 600 million dollars and that’s in 1980’s money.

S&A:  This is obviously a Hollywood type story.  Did you have a lot of industry folks say they were interested but wanted to cut you out Rick to do it their way?
Ross:  Let me tell you…I was out of jail one week and I was sitting in the office with Michael Lynton from Sony Pictures, Ari Emanuel from William Morris Endeavor’s office, Jeff Berg, Spencer Baumgarten of CAA and there was another guy who was the president of Universal Pictures at the time but I can’t remember his name…All these guys tried to tell me my movie wasn’t that valuable and I should cut ties with it, let them take it and do it the way they thought it should be done.
Moore:  I was at the Jeff Berg meeting myself and what he said was this story is very much “new content” and Hollywood right now is having major problems finding new content that resonates.  He also said the script right now, which was written by Nick Cassavetes (screenwriter of Blow, director of Johnny Q and The Notebook), has four nominations.   We’ve made contacts with several black actors who we want in the picture, like Mike Epps, but most notably we’ve made a connection with Jamie Foxx.  We’re in discussions to get him to play the lead possibly.  He’s read the script and talked to Rick about it.

S&A:  Telling a story about a black man seems to be a hard thing for Hollywood.
Ross:  Absolutely.  Especially if he comes out on top in the end.
Moore:  In reality, not to beat the same drum, Rick’s story is the black Scarface.  It just doesn’t have as much violence in it.  The irony of what Rick and I have run into is this question of  ‘So why would we want to put a black kingpin on the screen?’ but they never asked that question with Scarface or Goodfellas and these were movies with extreme amounts of violence.  So the question has to be posed…Why is it these movies are classified as okay, meaning stories of European kingpins, but when you deal with an African American it’s too criminal?

S&A:  It’s bizarre but hopefully you’ll push to get this story out there and bring an insightful perspective on the drug world.
Moore:  Well our documentary with Marc Levin, Cracking The System, is coming together.  We had a chance to interview the guy who wrote the crack sentencing law.  I’m not sure if you’re familiar with that law but it’s a 100:1 crack to cocaine ratio.  He apologized to black America, in our doc, for putting more black men behind bars than anyone else that’s alive in America.  He explained the law didn’t have the research like other laws, they just casually put it out there.

S&A:  When will that project be completed?
Moore:  Our goal is to go into editing pretty soon.  We’re still shooting some scenes but we want to have that out before the election.
Ross:  The trailer was leaked to the director of Sundance and he said if we have it ready, they’ll definitely accept it.

S&A:  Backtracking a bit, how did Cassevetes structure the script for the biopic?
Moore:  It’s like the film Blow but with crack.  It has narration and it tells the story from three different perspectives.
Ross:  Right now we have Nick, who wrote the script and is going direct it.  Potentially, we could have the producer of Scarface on the same project.  Man, if that’s not crazy!  To have both of them saying my story is so relevant, to me it’s like a sign.  Nick did a lot of research and one of the things I asked him was ‘Nick, why do people like me?  I sold dope to their kids, their mothers and fathers, to their uncles.’  He said his research showed that when I broke down 100 keys of cocaine in my neighborhood, 8 million dollars was being transcended everyday through my community.  So a lot of people were eating off of what I was doing, not just myself.  It was a lot of money being circulated through the community…I’m not saying it was right or wrong.

S&A:  How do you see your company making an impact?
Moore:  I want to see black filmmakers, producers, actors, accountants, attorneys and other professionals get more opportunity.  A lot of people don’t understand Hollywood is on its third generation and, as a result, it’s a real legacy-driven business and a lot of us are coming in from families that aren’t in this industry.  Even the people inside aren’t hiring other blacks.  So our goal is to give you an equal opportunity to come through the door and get a shoot to be a cameraman, a grip or a sound man, something you don’t really see on these sets.
Ross:  And just something so our kids can see and say… ‘Oh he did it, maybe I can do it as well...'

Special thanks to Rick and Antonio for this interview.  Go to freewayrick.com for more info and updates.  You can also check out  their social networking site at freewayenterprise.com.

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13 Comments

  • Ms. Newman | April 23, 2012 9:11 AMReply

    This was a great interview to read. Nobody is perfect and we all have endured life-learning lessons. Sometimes the best motivational speakers go thru and do some terrible things, but their testimony from the experience helps others to make better decisions with their lives. I look forward to seeing the movie.

  • Rick Ross | April 21, 2012 7:30 PMReply

    Thanks for the support, thanks to indiewire for the story. Visit www.FreewayRick.com for more info and updates. Support Shadow and Act.

  • Jon Stanzen | April 21, 2012 7:23 PMReply

    The last comment wasnt only shortsighted, it was unfounded. May CareyCarey study American history and learn what the whole story is before spouting off at the mouth. To often people out of their element speak on topics without knowledge of context or topic. The messages in this interview are too rare.

    In fact the author is in a place of contradiction, hates Rick for dealing cocaine and puts down a black attorney that was a prosecutor. Which is it....

  • CareyCarey | April 21, 2012 9:31 PM

    Mr Stanzen, so now I see the rest of the story. You're a white fellow ( a teacher) and now you want to preach to me about statistics and the disparity in drug sentencing laws? Please stop. Anything you might have to say on this subject does not diminish the problems we now face. More importantly, I think you're out of your lane. Didn't you hear me, this is what I do. Besides, what does Rick hope to accomplish by telling that aspect of his story? It's not like the subject has not been beat to death in the news and in Congress. Just the other day President Obama was taking fire for his stand on the war on drugs (your statistics were at the centerpoint of that discussion). There are many who are quick to say the war on drugs is not working. Consequently, they believe legalization of many drugs is the way to go. Having said all of that, my concerns have nothing to do with laws nor cocaine in general. I am about the messages one can receive if the story (Rick's Story) glorifies a life of crime. We all know the type of stories Hollywood likes and desires. That reminds me, what was learned from the film Amercan Gangster? Well, I'll tell you how the Rick Ross story is shaping up. Kingpin sales Millions of dollars of drugs. Friends and family and communities die. He goes to jail. He get's out. The trickle down affect may have some complicity in his crimes. He produces a thrilling cocaine dealers story of hustle & flow. He makes money , so it's all good. Crime pays in the end. Story over. But tell me Jon, is his story reminicent of "The Hurricane", Malcolm X, American Gangster or Boys In The Hood? Mr Jon Stanzen, I am suggesting that you're preaching to the wrong choir.

  • Jon Stanzen | April 21, 2012 8:32 PM

    Neither just a teacher who had Rick come out and speak to his class. He is a powerful speaker. I think that the problem with isolating Crack, without looking at the 400 years of Jim Crow and Slavery is it does a disservice to why the epidemic happened and why it was so impactful. Maybe you forgot Trickle down, or the 100:1 disparity I didnt I have family member caught bc of these significant changes at the governmental level. Just as said in the article there's no way sentencing should have led to some of these men getting that amount of time. So while I respect your position, I think it is shortsighted and rooted in emotion not historical reality. But I truly feel and understand your pain, and believe Rick should have went to prison for his part which he did, but so should have many other players in this game. He did his time, until you read the script or talk to the man let him tell his story.
    The reality is just like you said you dont know how these two met your just talking, guessing and sounding like your making up ideas. All the best but slow down and listen and youll learn more. In my 50 years I learned to listen more... All you know is the words in this article, your conclusions are unfounded.

  • CareyCarey | April 21, 2012 8:13 PM

    Shortsighted? Unfounded?! What am I missing in history that will change anything in the drug epidemic and the ever present tornadoes it leaves in it's wake? Please tell me what element I am not part of? Maybe you should talk about something you know. Tell us about these RARE messages that I am alledged to have missed? I by no means hate Rick Ross for dealing cocaine. If I did, I would be in essence hating myself. The fact is, I understand Rick Ross. And listen, Attornies of any color have never been above reproach. The core of their profession is based largely on compromise. I am merely suggesting that a union between two individuals with disticntly different, yet connected backgrounds, has to realize that serious questions will be raised. BTW, who are you, their publicist? If you are and if you were my puplicist, I'd fire you. You're obviously unprepared to handle questions and issues which will undoubtedly come your way. My message to Rick: As Priss said, "quiet down and be much more stealth". Let your actions speak for you. I mean, based solely on the words in this interview, your bravado and apparent lack of remorse will only foster enemies. And, if you really want to lead, monitor everything someone says in your behalf.

  • CareyCarey | April 21, 2012 6:11 PMReply

    I'll tell you what's real... an entertainment attorney who once was a former Deputy District attorney, who once was a prosecutor LA, who's now working with a former drug kingpin is a snake... is a snake... is a snake in The Emperor's New Clothes. He may fool some of the people some of the time, but for some of us, his game is weak as rain. Granted, he talks a good game, but those of us that have been in the game knows that game is meant to be sold and not told. And that's exactly what he's doing... selling Rick's story to put money in his pocket. Forget all that mumble jumble about seeing black filmmakers, producers, actors, accountants, attorneys and other professionals get more opportunity! Yeah riiiiight. And Rick Ross is out of his element. I can't believe he said "it's really been tough for them to deal with somebody like me because I've always been my own man. I don’t really take orders well... I'm not going to take orders from you just because you're in a certain position". HEY RICK, NEWS FLASH... your business was killing black men & women with the evils of drug addiction and all the horrendous things it takes to maintain a drug habit. Let's talk about prostituting one's body, selling more dope to get more dope, robbing and killing other black men and selling your soul to the devil. Why stop there, lets talk about how your business savy left legacies of fatherless children and promoted the idea that street life is the right life. Yeah Rick, you're a man's man, you don't need nobody to show you how to rape and pillage the black community. I know... I know, it's not what a person was, but who they are now. However, I say these things because I can. I was in the drug game. That's right, I am not proud of my past, but like Frank Lucus, I smuggled drugs from Southeast Asia during the Viet Nam war. I was so-called "nigga rich", but I also had a huge drug habit, which, eventually, many years later, lead to my incarceration. "So what are you saying Carey, a man can't change his evil ways... did you change?". That's a long story but you know the deal... game recognizes game and the strong survive. And as I said before, game is made to be sold and not told. I smell game, but... but please, people do what to tick Ross? People like Rick Ross because he circulated lots of money through the community… and he's not saying if his actions were right or wrong?! Oh lord, those words of "incouragement" sounds like a spoon full of rationalizations & justifications. Besides, what folks liked him... caretakers, funeral home directors, gun merchants, treatment centers, DA's turned entertainment lawyers, pimps, crack whores or hospitals who cared for crack babies,? Yep, as S&A said: "This is obviously a Hollywood type story" tick tock the game don't stop!

  • cinexa | April 21, 2012 4:52 PMReply

    Whats' "real"? If he has a meeting, does that not make him "real". If they are offering to buy his life story, does that not make him "real"? If he turned them down, does that not make him "real"? All this "Professional" this and "real" that is nonsense. the eye opening statement for me was "This film was made guerrilla style and it’s really the way we plan on doing everything because, in my opinion, they’ve hypnotized us into believing if things are not perfect don’t do anything.". I for one will start doing something. This brother is definitely,"Real". Sometimes you have to be bold, do you think he's scared of not making it in Hollywood after all he done and been through? He's earned the right to name names, what are they gonna do black ball him...lol.

  • Scion | April 21, 2012 3:52 AMReply

    I love that they mentioned top execs interest in BLACK stories, guys like Berg and Emmanuel Kudos. I dont think it could have been answered any other way than specifically by Ross bc the question was "Did you have a lot of industry folks say they were interested but wanted to cut you out Rick to do it their way?"
    The fact that he had specific people of that caliber that soon after leaving prison is the story. Glad he said it, and gave us Black Filmmakers hope that Hollywood sees our stories as powerful.

  • Charlie | April 20, 2012 11:02 PMReply

    I'm proud of Rick and what he's doing. As the saying goes, "Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future". Rick has come out of prison and made more efforts to rebuild his community through charitable efforts than many of the people who sit back in judgment of him. I am looking forward to the upcoming projects and endeavors that he and his business partner, Antonio, have undertaken. Keep up the good work!

  • Anthony | April 20, 2012 7:36 PMReply

    I don't really know how I feel about it all. Rick had always been a smart guy and his drug dealing tale is one of the most interesting ones being that his involves government scandals. A lot of what they're saying sounds like money to me. Media enterprise. Films being produced on the subject of drugs. It's a bit of a catch 22. I believe that the youth should realize the negative ends of such a conniving business. Then again, who doesn't know what the game has to offer nowadays. You tell kids that being on the streets will lead to prison or even worse, death. And they already know that. They are like "yeah. So what. I gotta get mine." That's the interesting thing about advocates against the abuse and distribution of narcotics. Those that were involved in the game themselves have had the same thoughts that they are fighting against. It's a difficult battle. Part of me wants Rick to be advocate but then again, I know the money in this industry and a lot of me does not want Rick to prosper from anything having to do with drugs. While that brother may have not started the crack game, his face would definitely be chiseled on a mountain if there were ever to be monument created based upon it.

  • Jon Stanzen | April 20, 2012 6:34 PMReply

    I wish Black America luck, too often we have negative comments about our projects and dont work together to achieve enough. This was a powerful post because it exposes how so many of us have forgotten black men particularly young black males. The last comment of real and unreal are out of touch that neither exist. The only thing that exist is who gets the project done and who does not. You tell me who got mtgs with Lynton, Berg and Emmanuel alot of people who were REAL producers have not. SUPPORT Black Film Makers.

  • Priss | April 20, 2012 4:47 PMReply

    I wish them luck but first lesson is to quiet down and be much more stealth. They come across as naive Hollywood wannabes. Real players don't name their meetings and what people said in those meetings. Real executives and experienced attorneys don't name drop or let their clients namedrop. Real producers don't tip that the director of Sundance gave assurances off a trailer. Because real smart ones in this dog eat everybody industry know that executives move, stars take back their word and festival directors aren't serious about a damn thing until the final film is in and their schedule is boarded. Like I said -- wish them luck.

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