My overall impression of my third screening, FILLY BROWN by director Michael Olmos and writer/director Youssef Delara, was that it is a very exceptional take on the familiar “young musician trying to make it big despite class/family obstacles” genre. I would consider it close to 8 MILE crossed with HONEY, but way better and featuring a dynamic Latino cast.
This was another on my must-see list so I was probably the most eager person waiting in line for the 8:30am screening. It was a full house which made me super happy because I’d been talking up the film to people.
There were so many of the components that had me drawn to the story: witty dialogue, backdrop of Latino hiphop scene in Los Angeles, prison family dynamic, and a coming of age story from a girl with a huge chip on her shoulder. FILLY itself was refreshing due to its cast of veteran and breakout Latino actors of all age groups. The gem of Filly Brown is near perfected by Gina Rodriguez. She actually learned to rap and help write the rhymes featured in the film. The authentic rap/electronic/dubstep score and performances really elevate the low budget piece. It’s practically a character in itself.
In the Q&A, the entire cast each brought up how the crew really became a family (actually many of them are related). The music of the film came out before production and now it looks like Filly Brown herself will be releasing tracks in the future. The DP revealed that although they were shooting mostly handheld with the RED camera, they fought hard to use two of them. He knew for the performances that he didn’t want to exhaust the actors by having multiple takes. He (and I) follows the school of thought of having a wide shot and then finding a motivated medium shot. I give them major props for that because I’ve always believed that actors aren’t puppets and unnecessary takes are a sign of not being confident in your production.
There was eight months of prep with cast and the script originated from the writer being inspired after watching a Latina spoken word artist. Gina and costar Lou Diamond Phillips said they both read they script and instantly wanted to join. That was the greatest news to hear because I always wonder how one can build casts of seasoned and newcomer actors. The answer is pretty simple. Write a script so great, actors will call you after they’d read it in an hour (which Gina did) and eagerly take a pay cut (Lou believed in it that much).