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&A: How 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.