Based on a story by Wesley Mills, Sharon 1.2.3 is the latest film to be greenlit by Forest Whitaker's collaborative independent film studio JuntoBox Films. The romantic comedy centers on a tech geek and Blaxploitation enthusiast who gets sexually involved with two different women named Sharon, and finds himself in a bind when he falls in love with a third woman, also named Sharon.
Writer-director Mark Brown (Barbershop, How to be a Player, Two Can Play That Game) made time to talk about the film with Shadow & Act from the production set in LA.
SHADOW & ACT: This movie is a departure from the urban comedies that you've become known for. What attracted you to the project?
MARK BROWN: Traditionally I live in the romantic comedy or urban comedy space so I wanted to expand my horizons a bit. I enjoy the Judd Apatow-esque type of pictures and I've always been a massive John Hughes fan. When I met with Nina and Forest, they gave me an opportunity to take a picture that was originally African-American and flip it for more of a mainstream audience. I jumped at the opportunity. I did a rewrite on the script. It was an existing script called Sharon is Caring, and I did a page 1 rewrite.
S&A: Wesley Mills originally brought the script to JuntoBox. Tell me about how you got involved and what the development process was like.
MB: JuntoBox has a program where they take new writers and aspiring filmmakers and team them up with people who've done a project or two, like myself. They contacted me and said, "Hey, we have a script that has an interesting premise but we really need a rewrite." I've done many rewrites around town, so I came in and put my own particular spin on it. The concept was good, but it just needed some development, some body.
S&A: What changes went into perfecting the script?
MB: The characters needed to arc and we had to develop a little more his family and how it is that he became the way he is. I brought in an interesting backstory of bullying, which is a massive thing these days. Even though this guy is sleeping with three women, there’s a story behind that and why it takes place. Hurt people end up hurting other people, so as a result he ends up hurting this "Sharon 3," which is the girl that he loves. So it really is the frustration of his bullying years that has come full circle, and the fruit of that bullying is misusing other people by having three women.
S&A: What was behind the decision to change from an an all-black cast?
MB: I thought it would be more interesting to see a white guy being into Blaxploitation movies, being intrigued by the whole pimp era, than a black guy. That story has been told a number of times and this sort of flips it on an angle.
S&A: So it had more to do with story than it did with audience. Oftentimes black filmmakers talk about Hollywood trying to “whitewash” their characters.
MB: And the opposite is true too. As a black filmmaker you're not on the first tier of their thought process to direct a white project or a white comedy. The general rule of thumb is that [white directors] are able to tell our stories, but we can't tell theirs. So from that perspective, it was important to me to be able to demonstrate that these are universal stories. With some of the movies that I've done, like Two Can Play That Game, it's been classified as a black movie and it is a black movie, but it’s a universally themed picture and so is [Sharon 1.2.3].
This film has a lot of black sensibilities and elements of black culture but it's experienced through a nerdy white guy. All you have to do is look around on MTV or any other station and you'll see that black culture has always and will always pervade pop culture. It's in how people dress and think and speak, and that's part of what this picture is about.
S&A: White appropriation of black culture is getting talked about more and more. Does this film speak directly to that, or would you say it's an undercurrent of the main story?
MB: You don't have to say much when a guy is mimicking black culture, when it colors his life and his very existence. It's understood that there’s an appreciation and love for that culture. So he doesn't say it overtly but it's in the subtext.
S&A: JuntoBox Films is only a year old, and a relatively new way of getting films made. What's the process like working with them?
MB: I have nothing but applause for [associate producer] Chase Kinser and [producer] Nina Yang Bongiovi over at JuntoBox, and of course Forest. From the time that I came onboard to the time that we actually went into production, it's been four months. I did a draft of the script that they loved and we immediately went into production. That's unheard of, but that's independent filmmaking. You have a draft and it doesn't get stuck in development hell.
Part of the reason for doing an indie is that you have the creative freedom to do what you want and there's not a studio executive dictating what goes into your picture. But it's structured like a mini-major so there's still the professionalism and the structure associated with a studio film, but they maintain the independent feel and spirit. This was probably the smoothest version of an indie film that you can find.
Find more on Sharon 1.2.3 at JuntoBox Films.