Robinson, T.I. combine for feature debuts
On the set of Untitled Chris Robinson Project a.k.a. Jellybeans
|Director Chris Robinson watches the action during a take. (photo: Morrell Gray)|
The Cascade Skating Rink teems with activity inside and out. Picture cars are positioned in the parking lot; the grip team readies a crane for a Steadicam operator; a flying moon lighting rig hangs high above the driveway; inside the newly renovated rink, colored lights flash and sweep the skate floor as a camera car takes a test run around the perimeter; the first A.D. barks instructions to extras in hip clothing.
This is a busy night on the set of Jellybeans, the unofficial title for a music driven film officially known as Untitled Chris Robinson Project. Loosely based on the experiences of producers Dallas Austin and Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, Jellybeans tells the story of four teens coming of age in southwest Atlanta where hip-hop music and roller skating rule. "Skating was a means of escape from the pressures of [life]," Austin says of his youth, "We went to Jellybeans (a legendary Atlanta skating rink) to skate, dance and hang out." It was at Jellybeans where Austin and Watkins met. They both have worked for ten years to bring the project to the floor.
Outside in the thick, humid night air, the camera rolls as a red El Camino rolls through the parking lot, packed with shiny tricked out rides, and parks underneath the big lighted sign that spells "Cascade." Four young men hop out of the car and stroll like VIP's past a line of people waiting to enter the skating rink. The Steadicam operator follows behind as they make their way through the lobby to the skating floor.
|Rapper T.I. makes his feature film debut. (photo: Morrell Gray)|
One of the four is Tip Harris, the platinum selling Atlanta based rapper better known as T.I. Jellybeans is Harris' feature film debut, and he is up for the challenge. "My job is to make sure my [performance] is authentic," he says. Harris plays Rashad, a talented artist struggling to keep his family together, and there are many similarities between them. "This is not acting to me. I've done this before."
Chris Robinson, an acclaimed music video director, makes his feature film directorial debut with this project. "This is a marathon versus a sprint," he quips, comparing the length of motion picture production to that of a music video. Robinson has come to Atlanta several times in the past to shoot videos. As a water truck washes down the Cascade driveway, Robinson reflects on the Atlanta film scene. "This city is on the come up. There seems to be a lot of respect for film here. It's a cool place to shoot."
Austin and Watkins share his view, and feel strongly about showcasing Atlanta's talent. "We have a style that only we have and the vibe is here," says Watkins, watching a group of skaters rehearse a dance number, "People need to see that there's a lot of talent in Atlanta." For this reason, part of the reality show R U The Girl With T-Boz and Chilli?, produced by Watkins and her TLC partner Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas, was filmed in Atlanta. She looks forward to working again as a producer.
Austin produced the 2002 hit Drumline, also shot in Atlanta, and plans to produce more films here. Austin is also involved in community and legislative affairs to help bring film and other projects to Georgia, and was instrumental in the passage of the 17% tax incentive. He plans to work with public schools and colleges in Atlanta to educate students on working in the film industry.
Harris also looks to produce and star in movies of his own in Atlanta. "This can happen [all the time]" he says, noting the flurry of activity on the Cascade set, "If I apply the same hard work and dedication as Chris Robinson, T-Boz and Dallas Austin, I can make it happen, too." With that, he joins his cast mates at the El Camino and readies for another take.
Untitled Chris Robinson Project AKA Jellybeans began production on July 11 and wrapped on September 10. It is produced by Overbrook Entertainment and will be released by Warner Bros. Pictures in April 2006. Will Smith and James Lassiter also produce. Karsten Gopinath is DP, Robb Buono is production designer, and David Blackburn edits.
Stephen Hart is a Clayton County Georgia librarian by day, and a
screenwriter and filmmaker night and weekends.
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Untitled Chris Robinson Project
photos by Morrell Gray
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