The Root Interview: George Tillman Jr. Talks Movies
The director of Faster, starring Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson and Billy Bob Thornton, talks about Cooley High, blaxploitation movies, Tyler Perry and making the African-American experience universal.
GT: I respect all of the films that were made back then. Cooley High, though it might have been considered a sidebar, was a different vibe. You look at Truck Turner, which starred Isaac Hayes, and the movie was just a combination of great conversations. And the music was great! I'm looking at all these films and saying, "These films kept the studios alive." And a lot of people -- actors, directors, musicians -- were working.
TR: What would it take for that kind of era to be repeated?
GT: It would take a succession of films making a lot of money.
TR: Arguably the most successful African-American filmmaker on the scene is Tyler Perry. What do you think about his work?
GT: He does what he does … he's a great businessman. I really have to be honest, though; I haven't seen a lot of his work. I'm a fan of folks like David Fincher, Quentin Tarantino and Michael Mann. I'm making films about the African-American experience, but the challenge is how do I open it up and make it universal.
TR: Where is the next wave of African-American directors coming from, and how will we find them?
GT: That's part of my production company, trying to find young directors. The next guy could be in Cleveland, in Colorado or wherever. They don't have to be here [in Los Angeles] anymore, because of the Internet and YouTube. Now all you need is the story, and you can go shoot it with an HD camera. I still say you should go to film school, but technically you can pick up a book and learn anything. What you do get in school is that you learn about the French new wave or Robert Altman. And we are all students.
TR: What do you say to folks who think the Internet and YouTube are devaluing and undercutting some of what is coming out of Hollywood?
GT: I think it's taking away in a manner. But it's getting Hollywood off its butt and saying we, as established filmmakers, have to be smart. There are negatives to it, but it gives you an immediate access to what other artists are doing.
Nick Charles is a regular contributor to The Root.