In celebration of his 20th year in the film industry, director and producer Benny Boom links with Birdman to put out a new movie about manhood, cross-culturalism, faith and pledging.
As a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Boom understood the premise of Solomon ___ script from the moment he first read it. He knew he wanted to not only bring this story to life but wanted to open the door for another young director.
Located in Texas, Tazmanian Devil takes the audience to two different continents, lets us catch the Holy Spirit, and attempts to gently walk you through what membership intake used to look like (when organizations turned a blind eye to the practice of hazing).
The famed director sat down with AllHipHop to talk about his career, why this project was so important, and working with Birdman.
AllHipHop: You said that you were celebrating 20 years in the business. Can you talk a little bit about your journey? How did you move from Philly to the big streets of New York and to the big streets of the music industry?
Benny Boom: So, I started you know I was um I went to Temple University after graduating high school at Overbrook High School and I studied film. I was, actually, a double major in African-American studies in film. From there I got an opportunity to move to New York and intern with Spike Lee on Clockers. It was at that moment; I just wanted to be a director.
But then, when I got to New York I realized the harsh realities of trying to make it.
This is 1994 and I am trying to make it into business, which was really, really tough. I think I stayed in that mode of directing for quite a few years. I worked with some of the greats in filmmaking: Woody Allen, John McTiernan, Spike Lee, and Sydney P######. I mean these are giants of filmmaking and I was a production assistant on a lot of these films. Then I got an opportunity to meet and work at Big Dog Films which was Hype Williams company. That’s really when everything sort of changed the direction of my life and instead of just wanting to make movies.
I realized that I had an avenue in by making music videos about directing videos so I was always attached to music. I was a rapper at one point in time and it all sort of came together at Big Dog under the Hype’s tutelage.
AllHipHop: What was your favorite music video to work on?
Benny Boom: “Well, that I didn’t direct but it would have been ‘Big Pimpin’’ because you know we all like it was myself, Hype, and Lil’ X, we all went to Trinidad to shoot that video. I always say [that], when people ask me, that was the beginning of the end … in terms, two million dollars be spent on a video. It was super successful. It was big and it sort of was the benchmark of Hip-Hop. I think [it was] that video. You know we had a whole bunch of videos before then … but it was something about that moment in time … where Hip-Hop arrived. You realized it’s not going anywhere.
… It was a great experience for me because it was on that video where Hype turned to me (I think we were shooting like the third or fourth day) and he said to me, ‘Look you know um if you want to direct you got to direct you can’t just be an assistant director anymore. You got to be a director. So, it sort of was him telling me that he wasn’t going to hire me anymore as an AD in order for me to move out and do my own thing. So, it was a good thing to happen, but it was a very great shoot. Definitely, a historic moment.”
AllHipHop: Tazmanian Devil which we’re here to kind of talk about is a great film that deals with a lot of cultural dynamics. At the core of it, the center of it is “Black Greek” life. What was it about this particular project that was interesting to you to attract?
Benny Boom: Here’s the thing. Being a Black Greek myself, when I first read the script, [witnessed] our final outcome, and watched different iterations of the edit, the story to me is really about ‘fatherhood.’
We could extract the ‘Diyo story’ and put it into another world. [We could have taken] it out of the college world and then you have this son who’s estranged from his father, who wants to go live with his father and it’s not everything that he thought it was going to be. That’s really the core of the story. So, when we have that … that’s something that everyone can relate to.
So, whether you’ve been to college, whether you pledge, whether you didn’t want to pledge, whether you hated the Greeks or not, whether you went to a white school or a Black school, the idea that you have a relationship with a parent um that just can’t be resolved and that you’re seeking resolutions outside of family … and friends become family. This is how people get into gangs. This is how people get into drug usage. That is a common thread um through this film.
Then you add, which a lot of times is a taboo subject ‘religion,’ Black culture, the Black church into this storyline. So, we have quite a few different themes going through and I think Solomon (I don’t want to continue without mentioning Solomon Onita jr. who is the writer and director of this film) did a masterful job at crafting a script, casting, finding the locations, doing all these things to bring the story to life. With all these different themes in the film, it’s easy to lose track of a story. He really kept it together and tied everything up in an amazing way.
AllHipHop: Birdman: you guys brought him in as an Executive Producer and he put a lot of money behind it. But he has a lot of influence with the music and the sound. Talk to me about what it was like. The music just seamlessly really tied everything together.
Benny Boom: Part of that is Solomon. I mean Solomon grew up in Texas, in Houston. It’s funny … when I finally was able to introduce Birdman … had already gotten involved with the film. I got him the script, got him the first rough cut and he came on to help us finish the financing … So, when he met Solomon he asked him … I just remember that meeting he said, “Hey young man, where you from?” and Solomon said, “I’m from Houston.”
Solomon was a little nervous …
He was nervous because really being from Texas in the south, Cash Money was like [gods to them.]
He really was being able to sit in the room; it was just the three of us sitting in a room we watched.
Birdman had already seen the film but had watched a couple of scenes and asked questions right so we’re not just talking about somebody that just gave us money and walked away and said you know let me know when it’s done he had questions you know he asked about the actors he commented on scenes he asked Solomon about his next movie.
You know that kind of thing um so he treated our relationship and our situation with the film the same way he would do the music you know sitting with an artist listening to the album right asking a question about a song um asking them what’s the next song they’re gonna make our next album or who you gonna get that kind of thing it was a very um nurturing meeting and I was glad to be able to set that up I was very glad to for this to be in my first sort of uh producing ep of a film to be able to bring somebody on from my music career from my music side just very interested and have them come in and be a part of it I thought it was great um and even today you know just talking to him today and going over some things he’s uh you know all the way in on promoting the film because bigger than the movie he sees that we gave a young Black filmmaker an opportunity to make a move of making a film and that’s what uh intrigued him the most about it yeah the cast was great that um I mean you see the filmmaker I mean it’s just a fresh movie.
Benny Boom, Birdman and also the writer/ director Solomon Onitra, made a graphic film, but an incredibly honest and impactful film about community.
Tazmanian Devil is now streaming on Amazon Prime.