Interview: Tina Gordon Chism and Stephanie Allain Talk 'Peeples,' New Projects, and Changing the Black Image on Screen

Interviews
by Jai Tiggett
May 10, 2013 11:43 AM
13 Comments
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Jai: Is that what usually gets you hooked on a project?

Stephanie: What gets me hooked is when I'm reading something and I’m emotionally engaged. I have a physical reaction - my heart beats fast, I'm really excited, and that's how I know. It could be comedy, it could be drama, but when it's getting to me and I'll do whatever I have to, to get it done, that's when I know. I can't half-ass something, I'm a really bad liar.

Tina: I don’t know how you made it so far in this industry without being a good liar. Don't you have to be a good liar to be a good producer?

Stephanie: I don’t. I just make you believe it’s going to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, because that's what I believe. I'm not very political. I would probably be more successful, more wealthy, have many more movies behind me if I was, but I'm just not. I'm just interested in making good content that changes the game on stereotypes and changes people's minds. That’s the power film - that you can open up a world to somebody who you never could have otherwise, and change people’s minds about humanity. It seems like a big grandiose thing, but it really is just a little thing I can do.

Jai: And for you Tina, was directing always the long-term plan?

Tina: For years, it was the plan for me as I wrote. With Drumline I worked with [director] Charles Stone, and the film that he made was the same as the script that I wrote. I worked on set, I was with the actors, I was totally involved in the process. So I had a great first experience as a screenwriter, one that most writers don't get. And then as I progressed in the industry I learned the limitations of a screenwriter, that you're at the director’s discretion. That's when I began to realize that I was a director too, because I didn’t want a gap between what I intended on the page and what was on the screen.

With a comedy, especially an African-American comedy, a joke can play a lot of ways and you can only trust so much that the overall aesthetic that's on the page is going to be translated on screen. I didn't want to put my name on a comedy that could veer into a sort of tacky direction. And I also knew exactly how I wanted this to be.

Jai: Tell me about how Tyler Perry came onto the project.

Stephanie: When we were shopping it we took it to Lionsgate, where Tyler has 34th Street Films. And it seemed like a good fit because they were looking for things to produce, and Tyler and Tina knew each other, and he was a fan of her work.

Jai: Was he involved creatively?

Tina: No, he really just let us do our thing. It was free reign.

Stephanie: For me as a producer, part of my job is to make sure that the writer-director’s voice is as clear as possible, and that was totally achieved. Tyler was great about making sure that Tina’s voice was heard and there’s nothing about the movie that doesn’t have her stamp all over it. To me, that’s successful producing, when that unique voice is heard.

Jai: You mentioned that you had to campaign for the project. What was that like?

Stephanie: We just don't wait for a yes. We get to a place where we feel like it's going to get made, and it's unstoppable. So we got on a plane to New York --

Tina: I don't know how we set up meetings. It wasn't even officially set up, but we go to Whoopi Goldberg and say, "Whoopi, we need to meet with you. Epatha Merkerson, David Alan Grier, Kerry Washington, Sam Jackson, we need to meet with you."

Stephanie: We set up shop in a tea room at a nice hotel and people just came and went.  And literally in two days we met with about eight people and they were all on board. So we came back and it was all go.

Tina: I really believe as a writer you have to have a script that matches your interest, so you feel the project and it gets you excited enough to say, "On this we shall stand."

Stephanie: Nobody can push us down.

Tina: And then the talent reads it and it's just an energy they create. This is still without a studio saying they’ll make the movie. This is only the energy of us carrying the script around.

Stephanie: And it was a great script, it spoke for itself. So we came back and took it to studios and Lionsgate loved it.

Tina: I think it helped to have the cast. It was currency.

Jai: Tell me about Kerry Washington. We’ve gotten used to seeing her on Scandal and in more dramatic roles. What was it like working with her on a comedy?

Tina: I initially wanted Kerry when I was writing it. She popped into my mind and I was attracted not to her comedic chops, but to her intelligence. That's why I was attracted to a lot of the cast - one thing they all have in common is that they’re fiercely intelligent, studied, quick-witted individuals. And so I knew Grace Peeples would have those same characteristics that Kerry has. She's precise, she's Type A, and I knew I could take that part of her personality and make it funny, whether she knew it or not. You know how you see somebody and think they’re funny, but they don’t see it? Kerry Washington is funny to me. Some actors can shut down on that because they’re self-consciousness about it. But Kerry was ready to make fun of it and have fun. She was very gracious.

Jai: What about her chemistry with Craig Robinson?

Tina: You instantly believe them as a couple. You never know until you see them together. But just based on the opposites - Kerry’s so tiny and he's a big teddy bear. She’s really fast and sharp and he’s sort of deadpan, quieter. They come at it from two different directions, very different energies. So you know that as such opposites, they could have chemistry.

Stephanie: What I love about it is that they actually really look like a couple. Only in the movies is everybody gorgeous and perfect. But this was a genuine attraction, this beautiful black couple that wasn’t like a "movie couple." And that also fit into the overall gestalt of the film - that it was fresh and real.

Jai: Have to ask - what do you make of comparisons to Jumping the Broom?

Tina: I think it's so funny because when we were making it I kept saying, "You know it's really different." But I realized that there are so few black films that if you say there's a black family movie at the beach --

Stephanie: You could have 10 white movies at the beach, 10 different versions.

Tina: You could. But it's a symptom unfortunately of the fact that we just have so few [black] movies. And I realize that it's actually pointless to try to argue it. You have to just let people see the movie.

Stephanie: I would just say that it's not a movie about class differences at all. That's the biggest thing, that there is no class difference.

Tina: Our family in Peeples is wealthy. In Jumping The Broom they’re wealthy also. We can have 8,000 movies of us in the projects and nobody says, "I saw that hood movie before." I just feel like people need to get used to seeing us in all aspects of life. 

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13 Comments

  • NO BRAINER | May 11, 2013 10:22 PMReply

    "Changing the Black Image on Screen"

    Really? Delusions of grandeur.

  • Campbell | May 11, 2013 9:17 PMReply

    Enjoyed the read.

  • Katie | May 7, 2013 11:22 AMReply

    this mos def not my thing. Imma pass. I like films with complexity. It just too simple and trite for me.

  • donnadara | April 22, 2013 5:49 PMReply

    I was going to skip this based on the trailer, but now I think I'll give it a chance.

  • EP | April 22, 2013 1:38 AMReply

    The trailer looks like some'ol BullSh*t, the dialog sounds like it was written for a 14 year old, and the comedy looks horrible....No disrespect to the Actors, they have to with what they have to work with.

  • CC | April 22, 2013 11:56 AM

    "With a child's heart go face the worries of the day. With a child's heart Turn each problem into play. No need to worry, no need to fear, just being alive makes it all so very clear. That's with a child's heart nothing can ever get you down" ~Stevie Wonder

    Mr or Mrs EP, please slow down and take a deep breath. I am not a 14 year old but sometimes I go to the movies to be entertained. If living with a child's heart for that period of time, relieves my pain and worry, I don't care what you say. Me and my baby are going to this movie. And, we will continue singing Stevie's song...

    Love, love is welcome
    As a sunny, sunny day
    No grownup thoughts
    To lead our hearts astray
    Take life easy
    Easy like a child
    So gay and care free 'Cause with a child's heart nothing can ever get you down

  • Booker T. Mattson | April 20, 2013 4:56 AMReply

    Stephanie Allain rocks.

  • Sheneith H | April 19, 2013 9:45 PMReply

    :-) I look forward to seeing #Peeples this Mother's Day Weekend. Thanks!!!

  • CareyCarey | April 19, 2013 9:07 PMReply

    So round, so firm, so fully packed, so free and easy on the draw...

    Well, I'm sure Sergio is old enough to recognize those words from the 40's Lucky Strike commercial, but for those who are in the dark, let me explain. Lucky Strikes is a cigarette, but...

    While reading the post, those words expressed my exact emotions. I'm serious, I've always loved these extended interviews, they go beyond the superficial fluff that's normally associated with "selling their film" interviews, and this one didn't fail me. So round, so firm, so fully packed, so free and easy on the draw.... oouuuweeeee "Some where to rest my aching mind, where there's no time, your love just divine. Heaven must be like this, it must be like this"

    Okay, I'm not an Ohio Player so I'll stop singing their song, but I loved this interview.

    First, Stephanie mentioned how she becomes hooked on a project... "I’m emotionally engaged. I have a physical reaction - my heart beats fast, I'm really excited, and that's how I know"

    Well, I am hooked, I am going to see the movie. Yeah, the entire interview gave me a picture, a nuanced image that emotionally engaged me. In essence, they convinced me that me and mine will have a fun night out at the movies.

    It wasn't anything in particular that hooked me like a catfish swallowing a dew worm, I just think I felt their conviction, dedication, honesty and professionalism. Nor does it hurt to have a great cast who I believe were perfectly cast, not to mention their stellar acting credentials. That reminds me, who said matching Kerry Washington with Craig Robinson is like putting caviar on pig feet? Please, I totally disagree. I mean, look at Jay-Z and Beyounce, it happens. And as Sergio said, for all of us ugly guys, it keeps hope alive. Hey, I wonder if Tina and Stephanie have ugly men? :-) I know Stephanie said her husband can play the piano, but...

    But moving on... I loved how both women did their due diligence. I laughed when Tina said Stephanie came with a Power-Point presentation. And Tina didn't come on the half-step.

    "She [Tina] wasn't talking to me like a writer. Tina was creating this world that was already full-blown. She was talking about the wardrobe, the production design, the set design, the tone of the comedy. Her vision was crystal clear for the piece."

    That's what I'm talking about. Although someone could say they're "plugged", they didn't take each other for granted. So they sat down with their minds set on BUSINESS. That reminds me of their take on the business of television. I found the following to be very interesting and insightful:

    "with television there's no pay wall, and it's so accessible. Those characters are in your home every day. And those gatekeepers guard that influence much more adamantly than I estimated... you have to balance out what you're trying to win in terms of pushing black images forward, balancing what the studio might expect of you and sliding in the things that you want to deliver. The excellence level has to be so high because what you might want to slide in, in terms of your messaging to whomever, it's scrutinized."

    In short, this whole post was a thrill... so round, so firm, so fully packed! 3 black women doing the dang thang - to the highest degree. Bravo!

    I know one of my stops on Mother's Day weekend.

  • Ali | April 19, 2013 6:46 PMReply

    I don't have to read the article I can tell from the promos that this movie is NOT going to change the images on the screen in the same way that "Something New," "Love Jones," "The Best Man," or "Think Like a Man," did. ... I buy the family as upper-middle class and all, but the story premise is plain stupid. And, I'm certainly not buying that Kerry Washington's character would be attracted to Craig Robinson's character. He's extremely average and in real life they only way the two of them might -- and that's a big might -- be together is if he were loaded with $$$$. So, I'll be skipping this one.

  • Donella | May 10, 2013 4:54 PM

    Er... maybe Craig Robinson's character is good at... thangs. You know? LOL

  • ALM | April 19, 2013 4:16 PMReply

    "What I love about it is that they actually really look like a couple".

    That is truly a matter of opinion. Maybe their coupling will work when I see the film, but I don't believe them as a couple at the present time. I should have picked Chris Tucker or Blair Underwood, etc.

    Also, can you all start including Soundcloud players for these longer interviews? It is much more user friendly to listen to an audio file when you have this much content.

    Nice thorough job Jai.

  • Jai | April 19, 2013 6:27 PM

    Thanks! We post audio at times, but I'm a writer to the core and prefer to do interviews in print ;)

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