In case you’re not already aware, there is a John Singleton directed Tupac Shakur biopic that has been in the making for several years now. The good news is the film was recently acquired by Open Road Films, a move that has not only sped up production, but also guaranteed the movie will be released on over 2000 screens nationwide. BOSSIP spoke exclusively to Tupac producer L.T. Hutton about what we can expect from the upcoming project and how it will be different from anything we’ve seen on the big screen so far.
BOSSIP: We’ve been hearing about the movie for a long time, but how long has it been exactly?
LT Hutton: The total process? I don’t even want to talk about that number (laughs). But honestly, about 3-4 years. Which I would say is not bad. In actual production time after we dealt with all the legal stuff, we’re only talking about maybe 2 years, because we had a few little bumps in the road. But look Marvin Gaye’s biopic STILL hasn’t been made. And a lot of these other pictures would not be getting made if I wasn’t making Tupac. Tupac put a lot of gas in a lot of projects’ tanks. (laughs). So, it hasn’t been that long. And when you add in dealing with what we have to deal with in Hollywood in general on these types of films, it’s really been short.
People don’t really understand the importance of the distribution side of things when it comes to these movies and how difficult it is to get these black films into theatres everywhere. Can you talk about the deal with Open Road?
When I go in and I pitch to my partners about what I want to do in this slate, you have to understand they are not in this world. A lot of them don’t even know who Tupac is… But for them to take a chance and say, ok, $30 million in this budget and $20 million in P&A – that’s a $50 million commitment. It’s hard to get people to commit to $50 million on anything. So for them to have faith in me and this project is a blessing in itself. The fact that I’m from the Hip Hop world and I’m able to get a picture like this done is a great day for Hollywood.
Open Road is a newer studio, but they actually own most of the theaters that the films are shown in. That makes them a different type of monster. So they’re distributing to their theaters and we have a minimum of 2000 theaters. That was just our minimum. When you talk about 3000 screens and things of that nature, you’re talking about Iron Man. So, just to know that we are getting close to Iron Man screens – which we should, but Hollywood doesn’t see it like that but we got it for this – it’s incredible and it’s an emotional feeling that people just don’t understand. Open Road gave us a deal better than most of the “big guys” out there. Their theatres are state-of-the-art and they’re trying to break this mold that I’m trying to break. They’re on board and they were fluent, passionate, quoting these Tupac lyrics — you would have been floored. But, they got it. When I looked at those guys and how they were reciting the lyrics, it was a vision of a world that Tupac saw at 24. This is 2014…Tupac had that vision that this was going to be the world right now. A lot of the moves that we’re making – I don’t like to get spooky with people – but Pac’s spirit kind of guides all of these moves.
Can you give us a picture of what to expect from the Tupac biopic?
I talk to everybody. Most of the people that were involved in his life are still my friends. With Suge, we talk every other day on different scenarios. This film is not going to be something that people just pulled out of their a**es and made up stories and say “Hey, this is what I did to make Tupac, Tupac!” We’re going to give you what Tupac did to become Tupac. What Tupac felt about this; what Tupac felt about that day; how Tupac dealt with addiction and a mother that was addicted; how Tupac still loved his mother in spite of; how he took care of his sisters; what he had to do in his trials and tribulations. This film is not set up to be self serving to anyone but Tupac.
We’re also paying tribute to how strong Afeni was to be able to go through what she went through and still raise her family. She was a victim of American society no matter what people say. She didn’t just get on drugs — she was beat down. We show that process. She didn’t just wake up and say “Hey I want to use drugs.” It may not have been the right decision, but that day she just needed a getaway. If it was that, that’s what it was, and that’s what they shoved down our throats. They give us liquor and drugs as the answer to our problems. It’s not correct, but you can’t just say she was just using drugs just to have fun and try to party. We’re not on that. I came from a household similar to Pac’s, and I know for a fact that my mother didn’t want to be where she was. She hated it. It wasn’t fun for her, but circumstances made her believe that this was her go-to. So we get into all that. It’s not a individual drug-use scenario. We make it a worldwide epidemic, because it was. My mother, his mother, this person, my aunts – we had that. So it’s a bigger issue. It’s still through Pac’s POV, but we’re dealing with world issues.
Hit the flip for more info on ‘Tupac’
BOSSIP: How much is Suge Knight involved in the making of this film?
Of course we’re going to tell a part of Suge’s story. There’s no way to tell this story without telling his part. Me being fortunate enough to be around that particular era, I saw the relationship that Tupac had with Suge. I still talk to Suge. It wasn’t what a lot of people perceived it to be. At the end of the day, regardless of how he did it or who did it, he got the man out of jail. And when you get somebody out of jail, you have a certain gratitude. He was sitting there for a very long time and nobody went and got him. Suge did whatever he had to do, moved coins around or whatever – it wouldn’t make a difference if he cut a deal – whatever. He got him out. So Pac was a loyal guy and he appreciated him for getting him out of jail. Pac was having a tough time in there dealing with the things that he was dealing with, especially – if anybody knows anything about Pac – Pac always felt his voice was his biggest thing he had, and he lost his voice in there. He couldn’t react, he couldn’t say anything, nobody could hear him, nobody was hearing him. So, he was at a strange point and only him and God knows why he made the decisions that he made after that. But, he made the best decisions for him at that particular time.
So we’re behind all of the myths, all of the questions, and even the whole dealing with Suge and Pac’s relationship, we get into that in a way that no one’s ever seen. You have to understand – for me making this picture, how could I make this picture without talking to Suge? The only two people in the car that night were him and Suge. I would be inauthentic if I didn’t have his piece.
Afeni Shakur is listed as a producer on the project and it has been previously reported that Afeni has had some issues with Suge. There’s also been legal issues with some of his music. Have you had to referee any of these conflicts and is that what has slowed down production of this film?
The ownership of the music – we cleared music first off. It’s Ms Shakur – the estate is the estate. The disputes that we were having weren’t really particularly with the estate, it was with a lawyer and we resolved that. Do I play referee? No. People are adults. They don’t even have to see each other, deal with one another – the story is the story. Like I explain to people, I am the producer. I brought the project to my company as one of the youngest Black men to get the title “produced by” on a film of this magnitude. So for me, it was making sure, and I have to make sure, that the film is well-balanced. It can’t be just one sided. For this film to be true and authentic to what it is, and as important as it is for out culture, it has to be balanced.
The Quad Studios shooting of Tupac is still a touchy subject. Tupac had a lot to say about it when he was alive, and we’ve heard Diddy say he had nothing to do with it and Jimmy Henchman eyed suspiciously in that situation. How do you handle those different layers and what gets left on the cutting-room floor?
I had the very fortunate experience to know Jimmy Henchman, to actually be around Death Row, to actually produce Tupac and spend time with all of these people. So for me, as an executive, I come from a place where I’m from the Hip Hop world. Hip Hop raised me. And, I was involved in the later eras. So I’m there as not just some corny guy trying to do a Tupac movie. I kind of get to cheat. I’m able to do checks and balances of what needs to be said. Like, you just hit on some points. The question you just asked…I pride myself in knowing people are still confused about the Quad Studios thing. So we get into that in a different aspect. Then we also know that people need to know that he was cultured from all of the coasts. He’s West Coast, East Coast…we have him as a kid doing “Raisin In The Sun” to show people that he’s been a true thespian since he was a kid.
Part of the reason of bringing John Singleton on, he’s able to pull from personal experiences and write in Tupac’s voice. Because, like I said, at the end of the day it’s not my story, it’s not John’s story, it’s the Tupac story. So we don’t get caught up in too much of any one thing, because it’s all about Tupac. Even in this film, we’re not going to be able to satisfy everyone’s taste about Death Row, because it’s not a Death Row movie. It’s a Tupac movie. So when we go through Death Row, we’re going through it in Tupac’s point of view so some things may not be important to Tupac’s view and getting to the end of the journey that we’re going through, but we will touch on certain things. We may not touch on as much because the way we look at it, as I tell people – one day in Tupac’s life is an entire film.
Hit the flip for L.T.’s thoughts on the impact of Tupac Shakur and music’s role in the movie.
Now the NWA movie is also going into production and we noticed that they had an open casting call for that film. Are you going to do the same thing or do you already have actors in mind?
Yeah, you know the NWA story, it is what it is. We’re taking an approach where we also want to refuel Hollywood so we do want a lot of fresh faces. We’re actually going to refuel the pond. We’re not going with the usual suspects, as you would say. So yeah, having different casting calls, a kind of unorthodox method of casting, because we want that raw, we want that gritty, we want to give back to the community that Pac was so indebted to.
So Anthony Mackie can forget about it this time, right?
(Laughs) Look, Anthony Mackie is a great actor. I will say that. But Anthony Mackie is not OUR Tupac. And I won’t really say anything on that, but there are a lot of people that Hollywood is trying to push right now and my thing is – and like I tell people about the process – I fight the good fight every day, because some people would have just about anybody play Tupac. They’ve even tried to have Terrence Howard Play Tupac.
(AW HELL NAW — NOT BABY WIPES AS TUPAC!!!)
Tupac experienced so much before dying at 25 but a lot of ground has already been covered. What’s the fresh approach for this film?
Everyone has their notions and opinions already. My thing is not to change their opinion, it’s just to give them a better understanding of the man. Just give them bits and pieces to give a better assessment of who he is. I’m going to show you things that will make you say ‘Ohhhh, okay. We understand now why he was confused about this,’ or ‘they did THAT to him as a kid? We understand his distrust for white people’; ‘This is what happened with these lawyers? Those lawyers did WHAT?’ THIS is the behind the scenes deal when these executives acted like they were responsible for Tupac and all of this nonsense, then they left him sitting in jail like he wasn’t a valuable commodity.
Tupac was a pioneer for the Hip Hop world. People don’t understand — Tupac came at a time where Hip Hop was NOT the mainstream. He was like a freedom fighter for everything that people are doing now, he paved the way for that. Coca Cola wasn’t looking at us at that time. Tupac knocked those doors down that people can have Coca Cola commercials now. Chrysler – Chrysler wasn’t looking at us at that time. Tupac knocked those type of doors down. He was a revolutionary in so many ways. He was a pioneer in this Hip Hop scenario. A lot of people who came before him just have to realize, he had a bigger platform because he went to different heights.
And then look, he was shot down at 25. This is a cautionary tale. He could have been so much more, but look at what he did at 25. When people say, “what can we expect from the film?” – just expect to be awed. This is not a long music video. That’s not what we were going for here. We know that music part. You’re going to get your pieces in that part, that’s entertainment. But we’re going to spend our chips where they count – meaning, when you walk out of there you should feel a sense of “I know this man.” You’re going to feel like “okay, I’m glad that they did that for the culture.”
Tupac represented an era of culture, not just him as a man, he spoke for a certain people – for the downtrodden, the misunderstood, the poor, the people just trying to make it, the people who just wanted a better life; not an over-excessive life, just a better life. He spoke for those people. He wanted to give hope to the hopeless. This film gets into that back story, and like I said, you’ll see some of the mistakes, the misguided mistakes that come from him being just 25. He was figuring out the message. He wasn’t always there on certain times, he was contradicting himself like we all do. If Martin Luther King had have died at 25, he would have been a small Baptist preacher. Malcom X would have been Kansas City Red still street hustling. Obama would have still been in college. He didn’t have that type of time, and that’s part of the tragedy that we want to show. Everybody’s “I’m on some Tupac isht…” Listen, you have to weigh that out if you want to be on that. For a lot of people, that means getting yourself into some situations that in our world, it’s just unfortunate that if you live a certain way, something’s going to happen. Whether it be jail, whether it be death, you do certain things, there’s repercussions.
There are a number of great music biopics that have been made already, what sets this one apart?
This film is going to be fresh. It’s LT Hutton, John Singleton – this film is going to be real. It’ll probably be one of the realest films for Hollywood – like as real as Wolf of Wall Street was, they like to water us down, though. We will not water down Tupac. You can quote me on that. This won’t be the watered down version. This will be the real side of it, and not on ignorance, but on what he was trying to portray, and where he was going mentally. You’ll have some fun, you’ll get that. But you’ll see that this dude was very highly intelligent. He had an acumen out of this world. He had a plan. He had structure. He knew what he was doing. It’s not some crazy accident and he just stumbled on it. He really was ordained. And that’s what we’re getting into. When you got us in there doing what we’re doing, we’ll fight against the political monster and we’re going to deliver something incredible. We just did our distribution deal with Open Road which was groundbreaking thing for us in Hollywood. We’re just here man and Tupac is one of the many great stories we have coming. We just wanted to do it justice, and it’s epic. We didn’t want it to be just thrown together like some of these other biopics that they’re putting out and they have not a person of color in the room.
You’re a music producer as well, is there going to be original music in the film as well or mainly just Tupac music…what is the music philosophy of the film?
The music side is – there were more songs that inspired Tupac than just Tupac. So in the movie, you’ll go through a time capsule. When we’re in the 80’s, we’re doing music that is going to take you back to the 80’s and that period. When we’re in Marin City you’ll hear RBL Posse, E-40, Too Short back then – you’ll hear things that influenced his music. There’s Tupac music throughout in the timeline, but when you’re doing a movie like this…if I have wall-to-wall Tupac music, it wouldn’t do the service that we’re doing with this film. This is a film, a real one. So, we’re getting into when he first heard Big Daddy Kane, “I Work.” You get his reaction. When everybody looks at Tupac with the gold chains and you’re looking at Big Daddy Kane, you see Hip Hop inspiration. You will go back to “I remember that summer and I wanted that shirt and I wanted those rings!” because that’s the influence. Then you’re going to hear Tupac listen to Janis Joplin and other artists He listened to a lot of different types of music. So you’ll a lot of different music.
As far as the soundtrack, I’m doing a tribute album, because we’re not going to do another Tupac album with people remixing all of those songs. There’s a lot of artists and a lot of people who like to pay tribute. Even Ross when he did “Tupac Back,” he did a tribute without even knowing that he did a tribute. It’ll be a lot of songs like that. People turning in some crazy songs with the same titles, but they’re different records. But those songs won’t be in the actual film they’re just for the soundtrack. And in the movie, you’ve got your different songs that you’re going to hear in that process, but it’s not typical. We wanted people to have a good time. We’re going to take you back, we’ll take you current, we’re going to go through the last 20 years of life.
We can’t even express how excited we are to see this film made. Hutton says the project is on track to go into production this Summer and they are anticipating a 2015 release date. We can’t wait!
Who do you think should play Tupac? We think Michael B. Jordan kind of resembles him, but is he ready for the role?