Tim Story: The Man

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Los Angeles-born Tim Story is no stranger to controversy. After all, when the 35-year-old director made Barbershop, he took potshots at such revered civil rights icons as Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The movie so outraged certain segments of the Black community that everyone from barbers to Muslims to Reverend Al Sharpton to Jesse Jackson called for picket lines, a lawsuit, and a nationwide boycott. But the brouhaha only helped publicize the film further, turning the comedy into a huge hit, since so many people rushed to theaters to see whether or not they agreed or disagreed with the protests.
Tim has been handsomely rewarded for that success, becoming the first African-American to be blessed with a $100+ million budget to direct a bona fide summer blockbuster. And he has found himself at the center of another media maelstrom after boldly predicting that Fantastic Four will prevail at the box office over its prime competitor, War of the Worlds. Recently, Tim and I shared this frank tête-à-tête, barbershop style, on all of the above and more.

BSN: Do you regret predicting that Fantastic Four will kick the butt of War of the Worlds?
TS: "Oh, shoot, I wouldn't want to jinx anybody. It's like, I hope it does very well. That's an 800 pound gorilla that I'm not going to tease. I'm just so happy to finish my film. Hopefully, the audience enjoys it."

BSN: Did you have a love of super-hero comic books as a child?
TS: "Oh, yeah, especially this one, and just as much as Batman and Spiderman. This one was a little bit more obscure, but I grew up with it as well. So I kind of felt that I knew this material, even the first time I got the script, because we used to play these characters in our backyard. If you wanted to be anybody when you were little, it was Johnny Storm, so you could fly and turn on fire. It was one of those comic books that I definitely knew, so I just felt familiar with the product."

BSN: Was it hard fleshing out these comic book characters from cartoons into people for a live-action adventure?
TS: "Actually, it was quite easier than you might think. You'd be surprised. I kind of had a lot of the blueprint set out for me inside the comic books. I just needed to embellish it a little bit. What's great about the Fantastic Four is that the characters are so human, very down-to-earth. I like to say they're very everyday people. It's just that an extraordinary situation has happened to them. And I think that myself, as well as the audiences, can just relate to them. It called for figuring out how to build upon relationships which were already well-defined in the comic books. What was great about it was expanding their involvement with one another. That was cool."

BSN: It seems to me that you've made history, here, in landing a big-budget production. Do you think the studio was at all hesitant about hiring you, as an African-American director?
TS: "You know what, they never specifically told me, but I knew there had to be something to that. Of course, they would never tell you that. The fact that I even got a meeting in the first place was like, okay, that's one door you get through. And then, the second part is that, at the end of the day, I'm a filmmaker. And I knew that some of the stuff I brought to Barbershop was exactly what I wanted to bring to this movie."

BSN: Like what?
TS: "The thing that I would love to have in every movie I do is to have my characters arguing about stupid issues in the process of solving some problem.
Here, I envisioned the Fantastic Four as a dysfunctional family, and to me emotions are colorless. And I think the studio felt that way as well."

BSN: So, color never came up as an issue.
TS: "I knew that was another obstacle to the whole thing, even though no one was going to talk about it. In the way I was dealt with during this whole process, it's never been an issue. I just walked in very prepared. They just looked at my movies and at the way that I do what I do and decided, 'Hey, we like this guy. We don't care what he is.' I could have been an alien, as long as I was going to give them the movie that they were looking for. So, I found the whole experience, in terms of race, kind of non-existent, to a degree. I never got any inkling that that was something that was going to hold me back.''

BSN: That's great. Still, do you feel any burden as the black director with the biggest budget ever that this picture has to deliver at the box office if other African-Americans are to follow in your footsteps?
TS: "I've never looked at it in those terms. But I must admit, that people have reminded me everyday of that fact, that there's something historical going on. There's a certain amount of pressure that that you kind of put on yourself, just in general. I always looked at it as, they've given me this big movie and I better kick ass or my career's over. But to a certain extent, I've been made aware that I am holding a torch, at least for now, and that I better come through, because you don't want that door to close immediately. I must admit that that is something you kind of think about at night, when you're falling asleep, but there's such a bigger job to do. I figured that if I focused on doing my job and making a good film, then everything will fall into place, and doors will remain open for other African-American directors, as well as any other aspiring directors and producers."

BSN: Did you develop an interest in directing because you grew so close to Hollywood?
TS: "No, actually, I kind of stayed away from Hollywood all my life until I finally got into it with Barbershop. I grew up around a lot of kids whose parents were in show business. One of the good things I learned from them was to not get into it too soon, but when I was prepared. That's what allows you to remain in it. But my love for it started when I was really young. I was making movies when I was 12 years-old around the neighborhood with my friends on a little 8-millimeter camera that my brother gave me. And that continued with my independent films which led to my chance to do Barbershop."

BSN: How did you feel about the swirl of controversy around Barbershop?
TS: "The controversy was kind of weird to me, because we made a very specific attempt to make sure that the argument, particularly the Rosa Parks argument, was done with a lot of respects for her. If people really look at the movie, they'll see that it's 20 characters against the one who was saying negative things, which was just his opinion."

BSN: Where did those lines come from?
TS: "It came out of a real conversation that the writer had with somebody who was jealous, because he had been arrested, too, before Rosa Parks, but had never received any acclaim, or made out to be a big hero. So, it was rooted in reality. The script was rooted in reality. Anybody who has been to a barbershop in a black community knows that that's the way people talk. There's no subject that's off limits. It's no holds barred. It was very honest, and I think that's what the audience appreciated."

BSN:  Why didn't you direct Barbershop 2?
TS: "They wanted to do the sequel faster than I wanted to do it. I wasn't prepared, so, at some point, I had to pull back and allow them to go do the movie."

BSN: Are you one of those difficult, demanding directors on the set? What's your demeanor like during a shoot?
TS: "The a-hole, right? No, I'm very laidback. I like to have as much fun as my movies are, hopefully. I think that you can really feel that on the screen. I might change my ways if I were to do an intense thriller. But thus far, I've done fun movies, and I found that it's important to have fun making them because there's a spirit of the movie that you can actually feel when you are watching it. It may not always get on screen, but if the actors are relaxed and feeling good, it allows them to be a little bit more creative."

BSN: Where in L.A. do you live now?
TS: "I have a house in Englewood."

BSN: Did you buy O.J.'s mansion?
TS: "Don't play that one. That was in Brentwood. I don't know who would buy that. I'll be moving to the Ladera Heights area."

BSN: What advice do you have to aspiring young filmmakers?
TS: "Keep doing movies. I learned more from my failures than I did from my successes. those failures are the things the press doesn't even write about, because I didn't even finish them for whatever reason. With technology being on their side right now, because you can have your own studio in your bedroom, I say keep making movies. My best advice is don't stop, because you never know what might lead to an opportunity, that big break."

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