Going from drug kingpin to film producer is not the mid-life epiphany that it seems to be when you meld the two worlds. Anthony “Tone” Gonzalez’ experience running the Bronx streets in the 80s serves as prime fodder for his films.
In his latest documentary, Superfly: The Untold Story of Frank Lucas, Tone interviewed Pee Wee Kirkland, Jesse Gray and other street legends. These guys are not some band of distant street dwellers needed for field research – they are his buddies.
As a true pioneer of the “gangster documentary” genre, Tone has gone from illegal to legal without even changing wardrobes and hes got the major film companies knocking at his door. As owner of Street Certified Entertainment, he’s ready to tell the people when to be too legit to quit, and when to quit and go legit.
AllHipHop.com: What’s your connection to the streets?
Tone: I have a strong credibility to the streets and that’s because I was one of them. I sold crack on the biggest level in the 80s. From there, I went on to heroin and was the biggest in the Bronx at that time. Guy Fisher and Boy George were before me. I proved myself to be strong enough to play on that level.
AllHipHop.com: What charge did you do time for?
Tone: It was drug conspiracy. I was under investigation three times and I got around the big charges. I got stuck with a case in Harlem actually. A dude snitched on me. They gave me five years. I took that with a smile.
AllHipHop.com: How have your ambitions changed from your days hustling to now?
Tone: My role models started out with street hustlers. I grew up with Guy Fisher. Once I had my chance to shine, I gained that type of success. It was no longer a dream of mine. It was now legitimizing myself. Doing some time in federal prison woke me up. At the time I wanted to be a hustler, I [also] wanted to be a filmmaker. As a kid before the Master P era, people told me that [filmmaking] was not me. They looked at me and laughed. The same ones that looked at me and laughed when I said I was gonna be a drug kingpin. Right now, I’m accomplishing my goal as a filmmaker.
Allhiphop.com: How did you get into film producing?
Tone: An old partner of mine, Troy Reed, actually was the first one to start the whole gangster documentary. He did Game Over and [when] I came home from federal prison, he had started filming Larry Davis and Guy Fisher. He sought me out [because] he wanted to take it on a broader level. When i was in the streets, I was able to distribute drugs throughout the city. He knew I had that experience and he said, “Man, you know I can’t do this by myself,” so we became a strong force. I became an assistant director on the Larry Davis and the Guy Fisher [projects]. Then I became actually one of the producers really distributing nationwide.
Allhiphop.com: So how is Superfly: The Untold Story of Frank Lucas different from American Gangster and Mr. Untouchable?
Tone: It’s completely different. It’s not glamorizing or glorifying what these guys did. I didn’t like the direction of American Gangster. I didn’t like the direction of Mr. Untouchable. It was basically bringing kids back to hustling. It was giving them some motivation to feel that they can be this American gangster. I want to show them if you decide to make these choices, this is all the sh** that comes with it. Don’t just think the money and the girls and the partying it because that’s only a third of it. You gotta deal with losing your life, losing your freedom.
There was a time when they tried to kidnap me. I used to talk to my crew and let them know when we go down, we’re not gonna be together. We’re gonna be separated. If we stay strong and everybody keep their mouth shut, we may get 10 years. We were dealing with our consequences. We were ready to deal with the choices we made. That’s the message that I wanna put out there. I know dudes who were unable to make it home. Them dudes is coming home 30 years from now, or have life where they’re never gonna come home ever again.
AllHipHop.com: What new techniques about filming have you picked up while completing Superfly?
Tone: Just different ways of editing. You know cinematography is big in films. I learned little tricks like how to make it more realistic and the cameras you use. I didn’t work on a HD camera, I did that all on a 24p and I got excellent footage out of it.
AllHipHop.com: Who did you interview for Superfly?
Tone: Jesse Gray, he was one of the legends. He was on 116th street. He ended up doing 25 years. He was one of the dudes that ruled Harlem. You got Pee Wee [Kirkland] who came before Frank Lucas. You got Jesse Gray who was there when Frank Lucas wasn’t even making that much noise. Then you got Jazz, he was part of Nicky Barnes’ crew.
Allhiphop.com: We look at Frank Lucas and people like him, in certain aspects, as businessmen. How is selling drugs like a business?
Tone: I never knew that they were names to the type of ways we were doing business – the way we were marketing our product, having a chain of command, lookouts and a management level type of staff. I took that and mixed it with some college. When I was in prison, I got a business degree. I took those as rules not only to the game, but to business period.
AllHipHop.com: How do you feel about Frank Lucas becoming an informant to lessen his sentence?
Tone: There’s no doubt about it, he violated the code. He broke the rules. He sold drugs on the highest level. He was man enough to sell these drugs. You’re telling people to be part of the game. Then, when it gets too hot, go out the back way as far as being an informant. I don’t agree with any of that. You made the choice to deal with this game, just like you made the choice to risk your life. If it’s your freedom that you’re losing for whatever amount of time, just be man enough and take that.
AllHipHop.com: How was it collaborating with Ron Chepesiuk who wrote Frank Lucas’s biography?
Tone: We from two different environments, two whole different mentalities. He’s Canadian. I’m a Spanish guy from the Bronx, I hung with Black guys all my life. We come from with two different backgrounds, but we made it work for six months together. That was important for us. I could have called him on as just a consultant. I didn’t. He brought a lot of talent to it. He did the majority of the book, I did the majority of the filmmaking and we helped each other on both aspects.
AllHipHop.com: What new projects you got coming up?
Tone: I got Frank Matthews coming up. I got the Bumpy Johnson story. Frank Matthews was the one that escaped. He left with $15 million back in 1973 from Brooklyn. I also got this piece called Hell in East Harlem that I partnered with a friend of mine from Harlem.
AllHipHop.com: Now that you’re like a certified business man, do you feel like a role model to a lot of people that you knew before you were legit?
Tone: Yeah, man. My goal, number one, as a filmmaker is to just to be a role model. Not only for the kids who look at me as a legend, but also for those in prison coming home to help them realize that man you can do it, too. This is my fifth year being home, and I went from being one of the starters of this whole gangster documentary [genre] with Troy Reed to one of the biggest urban distributors. Now my goal is setting a name for myself like Spike Lee, Quentin Tarentino and Robert Rodriguez.