The Making of ‘Love Jones’

Fifteen years later, director Theodore Witcher discusses his first film and why he's never made another.

TR: And you don’t like one of the film’s most romantic scenes?

TW: The Buckingham Fountain scene bothers me to this day. When we got there to shoot, it was fogged in. You couldn’t see five feet in front of you. Then we rescheduled it and it was foggy again, and the studio wouldn’t give me any more money to reshoot.

It’s not how I wanted it to look. I guess people like it because it has an ethereal glow — the fog and the fountain are backlit — but I hate it, and that’s the thing that people like the most. Go figure.

TR: How did you cast Nia Long and Larenz Tate?

TW: I’d originally written the film with Jada Pinkett in mind, and she liked it but passed. I met Nia Long through executive Helena Echegoyen, who recommended her. The studio was keen on Larenz because he’d done Menace II Society, but he didn’t want to work with a first-time director, which I was, and I thought he was O-Dog [his character in Menace], which was not what I wrote.

He liked the script, and once I realized he wasn’t O-Dog, the only question was, could he act enough to be Darius Lovehall? Then I screen-tested he and Nia together and showed the tape to my female friends, and they all said the couple had a spark.

TR: What was your experience as a first-time director?

TW: The first day, my line producer and I were riding to set and he said, “Are you ready to have 100,000 volts wired to your testicles?” Turns out directing is more like having 100,000 paper cuts slowly bleed you to death. You’re never prepared to be a first-time director, particularly on an aggressive schedule of 35 days. Maybe this changes as you go on — I only directed one movie — but you never feel like you get out in front of the train, and by the end, the train was running over me. 

TR: Is that why you seemed to disappear after Love Jones?

TW: No. I intended to have a long list of credits, but I couldn’t get another movie. There has to be something that you want to do that a studio wants to pay for. I was never able to sync that up. I wanted to do ambitious films with more black people. You don’t get to do that.

Some things came my way that I passed on, and I have no regrets. I continue my career as a screenwriter and I briefly directed videos — I was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award for City High’s “What Would You Do?” — and commercials, but I didn’t like them. Now I’m working on an adaptation of Invisible Life by E. Lynn Harris. We’ll see what happens.

Hillary Crosley is a contributor to The Root.

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