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A NO-HOLDS-BARRED

"CONVERSATION WITH MARIO VAN PEEBLES"


 


By Liisa Kyle

 

Any devotees of independent films who have not seen Baadassss! are missing out on an extraordinary motion picture. Lauded by Roger Ebert as ‘one of the best movies I’ve seen about the making of a movie,’ it has been featured on countless Top Ten Films Lists of 2004, garnered three Independent Spirit Award nominations (Best   Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay) and won the Audience Award at the Philadelphia Film Festival.

 



"When I first was trying to get Baadasssss! done…one studio said 'We love it! Such original material! Can you make it more of a hip hop comedy? You know, have black folks that are bumbling and dropping cans of film and put a rap soundtrack in there…Clown it up a little bit. And your people will love that. And we’ll make money.'”--
Mario Van Peeples

 


Besides being a detailed chronicle of the Sisyphean determination required to make a movie, this is an important history lesson about a particular project that launched independent filmmaking, desegregated film crews and gave cinematic voice to African-American stories and characters – Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song (1971).

What makes Baadassss! especially fascinating is that it is made by someone who, at age 13, was a part of the original production – and someone intimately familiar with its director. Mario Van Peebles delivers an uncompromising performance as his own father as the elder director/actor/writer faces relentless, overwhelming obstacles in making his film. As the film’s co-writer, Mario Van Peebles layers into the story his own memories, as well as perspectives of the original cast and the first multi-racial, mixed gender crew to shoot in Hollywood. As director of Baadassss!, he embarks on a parallel journey to his father’s earlier experience, shooting this homage in just eighteen days, on a scant million dollar budget.

It was my pleasure to talk to Mario Van Peebles about this very special film as well as to gather his insights into both the history and future of independent filmmaking:

HGEN:   Congratulations on Baadassss! -- it’s just a wonderful film. And congratulations on all your well-deserved success for it.

MVP:     Thank you.

HGEN:  What made you choose to make this film now, at this point in your career?

MVP:    Well I think there were various events that came together and, the movie gods, you know, do what they do. One was, I was working on Ali and I was thinking that if one could make a movie about the first Black Power overtly political athlete, could one make a movie about the first Black Power overtly political director, as I saw him. [I saw] the sort of connection between those two and at that time. Michael Mann was directing me. I was playing Malcolm [X] and my father had interviewed Malcolm when Malcolm was in France. (My father was a journalist in a previous incarnation in France). And so there were just all these connections. And then it turned out that Michael Mann’s first movie that he saw with his wife on their [first] date was [Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song]…33 years ago… and they’re still married.

And I just started to think about some of the things my father went through. And the further I went into the business that he happened to be in, the more I sort of understood him – it was walking in someone’s shoes. So I went to see the old man about getting an option on his book that he had written about the making of Sweetback and he said “Yeah, I love you. I don’t wanna get screwed on the deal, so you have to pay for the option.” So I had to pay for the option. And then my writing partner [Dennis Haggerty] and I wrote this script together.

I think the other thing was, I’d say loosely ten years ago, I decided I would start to not put off doing the things that I wanted to do. That there was a line in life and on one side of the line seemed to be having things you want and on the other side seemed to be doing the things you want. And we all make those choices on a daily basis but I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to start doing more in the ‘do’ column and less in the ‘have’.’ Of course, the more you do in the do column, the less you’re going to have. And the more you are in the ‘have’ column, the less you have time to ‘do’ because you’re making money to have all the haves. So I picked up and went to India for a couple months. I went to China for a while. I went to Nepal, trekked through Nepal. I did a movie about my father…I got a place next door to my mother. She lives with me.

You have this idea that somewhere out there I’m going to do these things and then you look up one day and go ‘Wow! Time is passing’ -- and how many of us really try to do those things? How many of us really try to raise the bar and do things or do work that we’re proud of versus get a new cell phone or a new ‘this’ or a new ‘that’.

HGEN:    What was the impetus for this shift, do you think?

MVP:    It was gradual. I’d always had the intention that I would, in my own tiny way, try to make some sort of contribution -- whatever that means and as Pollyannic as that sounds. And so, when I was a budget analyst, I was a budget analyst for the Department of Environmental Protection during the Koch administration in New York. And I found I could only do but so much in the political realm and I thought I may have to do some less worthwhile films to eventually get to ‘the place’, whatever that ‘the place’ is. But I would try along the way to make those characters that I played as interesting and layered as I can but that as I got to a place where I could affect positive change, I would try to bring some kind of consciousness to bear…Okay, do I want to do this TV series about another cop finding another dead body? Another doctor finding another dead body? I wanted to do something different.

It was interesting because I got to play Malcolm in the latter part of his arc. And in the earlier part of his arc, when he was preaching more of a black, nationalist version of Islam –- the kind of doctrine that maybe had white folks down as blue-eyed devils, he wasn’t really a threat, and in fact was maybe more of a galvanizing force for the Right -- for the more extreme elements. Like a KKK recruitment poster. But when he came back from Mecca and said ‘I’ve prayed next to Muslims of all colors and it’s not what your skin color is that’s significant, it’s where your heart is that’s significant. And he started to preach collectively and give unifying [messages] and bringing elements together, that’s when he became a threat. And they took him out….

When Dr. King was just doing his own thing [he wasn’t a threat but] when he linked up with clergymen of other colors and rabbis and Christians and marched into Washington and said ‘Now we’re going to direct economic policy’ – we’re talking about money -- and took a stance on this War issue, he became a threat. So the empowerment message, if it’s just to one group is a problem, but if it’s a unifying one, if it’s collective, if it’s something that unifies ethnic Americans, then it’s a real threat to the status quo.

The New York Times printed that, “Here you have a movie called Soul Plane opening on the same day as a movie called Baadasssss!. Let’s look at these two films: Soul Plane was made by a big studio, run by powerful white folks that says the idea of black people running the airline is a joke. For $15 million. Baadasssss!, made for a million [dollars] by an independent filmmaker with no economic clout whatsoever, says that the idea of people of all colors coming together and making a good film is a possibility.” So that empowerment message when it’s a unifying one, is a harder message, for whatever reason, to get out. It seems to be a more threatening message to the status quo for some reason.

I saw the struggle with that. When I first was trying to get Baadasssss! done…one studio said “We love it! Such original material! Can you make it more of a hip hop comedy? You know, have black folks that are bumbling and dropping cans of film and put a rap soundtrack in there…Clown it up a little bit. And your people will love that. And we’ll make money.”

HGEN:    They didn’t really say that.

MVP:    Pretty much, yeah. This other studio said, “Look, the characters are complex. You’ve got a complex relationship between a father and a son and that kind of complexity will work for a festival audience. Can you make it more of a ‘Boogie Nights’ thing?” i.e. make it more for a white crowd. One studio said it was too sexy. Another said it’s too political. And everyone said that Melvin Van Peebles was a despicable character and you had to make him more likeable. My dad had already told me, “Hey, I know who I was and I know who I am and don’t try to make me too damn nice.” I maintained that you would understand him as you saw the piece unfold.

So the problem was that (a) [Baadasssss! didn’t depict people making a film] by accident-- it was sort of an empowering thing and (b) it was multi-racial, because life is multi-racial and it’s political and sexy and complex and sometimes likeable and not.

Now, I immediately knew that I was onto something that we, as Americans, aren’t used to seeing. That kind of complexity from a character not just dealing in an all chocolate world, you know what I mean? ‘Oh, hmmm, this character’s complex, but he’s in an all chocolate world’…

The way you get beyond that is [to ask] where are people? Are they reading books? Are they in the library? No, they’re watching TV and they’re watching movies. So if you can make a film …that’s also entertaining…then maybe you can reach them.

HGEN:    The interesting thing for me is [Baadasssss!] had only a million dollar budget – and yet it sounds like finding funding was a struggle.

MVP:     I used my house. As a hotel. I had actors stay there because I couldn’t afford a hotel. I called in a lot of favors. John Singleton came in for free, basically. Ozzie Davis stayed at my house…Earth Wind & Fire – all those folks [contributed to the film].

HGEN:    But you’re someone with a whole lot of connections in this town and still you had difficulty finding funding. It’s incredible.

MVP:    Well it’s the nature of what I was trying to do, as I said. If I was trying to do a hip hop comedy [it would have been easier to find funding].

Look, things have changed since my Dad made his film. To some degree. You can go on the set now and see women and minorities and folks working together. But you can’t go to studios and see that much. Every head of every major studio is [white]. There’s no African-Americans, no Asian, no Latin-American…and not a lot of women. So you’re dealing with the same group of older white guys. It doesn’t mean that they’re not smart but they have a similar point of view. So when you want to spend money, they’ll look in Variety and see what made money. And if Soul Food or Soul Plane or Soul This ‘n That makes money, then they’ll make more of those.

HGEN:    What made you become an economist, having grown up in the business here?

MVP:    I grew up with a guy that was telling me he had learned how to make money, but not how to spend it. i.e. invest it. It’s called ‘show business’, not ‘show art’. And that, at its core, America was built on capitalism and democracy. And if you weren’t a part of, or didn’t have knowledge of, how the system works on the economic side and how the system works on the political side, you were out of the game. And that, in particular, people of color who had been deliberately cut out of the game -- like the grandfather clauses that prevented them from owning homes and land or businesses or voting –- it was a very conscious effort to keep them from the centers of power. And that a lot of black folks to this day, could be manipulated in a business sense. You know, great boxers or great ball players or talented artists would end up broke with their royalties gone. They didn’t have business sense. So I guess that was a part of it.

And that ultimately, now when I make Baadasssss! and I have to make it for a million [dollars] in eighteen days, I comes down to, can I get the camera donated from so-and-so? Can I get some film stock from this? Can I get some video from that? Can Michael Mann bring this? And so it becomes economic. If I’m in it and it’s focused, can I get Jerry Offsay to give me that million dollars? …And Jerry will say, okay make the film the way you want to make it and not give me a lot of notes. If I take $8 million from the studio, then I’ve got to, in essence, use their notes and make their movie and turn it into cinematic Wonderbread. If I use my own truck as one of the production vehicles or use my house as a hotel, can I save this? It comes down, on some level, to business sense because it’s not painting, it’s not weaving, it’s not pottery. Film is expensive. And getting it out is expensive. There aren’t many times someone will give you a million dollars to make a piece of artwork, you know? They want to know that you’re not sniffing it up your nose and you’re going to be able to deliver. And I don’t blame them.

So that was a part of it. How do I, especially if I’m going to enter through the talent door, how do I expand in the producing door and have a credibility where they can say, “Hey, this is a guy that’s level headed and gets it.” And I’ve done it several times now.

HGEN:    So it was a strategic decision? You knew that you were going to come back?

MVP:    Yeah, it wasn’t that I wanted to be [an economist].

HGEN:    It was just part of the journey, part of the preparation, part of the tools?

MVP:    Yes.

HGEN:    So what was the impetus to come back to film?

MVP:    My dad, being a wise ass. I went to see him, because I thought it was time for him to put me in the movies. And he said, “Well, I’ll make you a star – early to bed, early to rise, work like a dog and advertise.“ And he cut out a little piece of paper in the shape of a star and he said, “Here you go.”

So I started doing theater in New York and eventually got a film called Cotton Club, directed by Mr. Coppola. And got out to L.A. and slept on kitchen floors for about three years. Got into a film called Heartbreak Ridge, with Clint Eastwood. And started directing and got a show called Sonny Spoon, with Stephen Cannell producing. And he let me direct. And then I got to direct a movie called New Jack City.

I looked around and I saw that black folks that had cinematic clout were Whoopi Goldberg, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby and Eddie Murphy. And they were great, talented, and they were all able to make the dominant culture laugh. They were all in comedy. I thought that was interesting. Like the court jester can make the king laugh without getting beheaded. He can say interesting, incisive, political things without getting beheaded.

So my first roles were comedic. In Heartbreak Ridge and Jaws: The Revenge and films like that I played the comedic guy. And eventually I looked around me and I saw that other actors, like myself, were always either playing the best friend of the white lead or ‘the funny guy’. But never ‘The Guy’. If you look at Major League, the funny baseball player is Wesley Clark. The supportive guy in Apocalypse Now is Larry Fishburne. In Rumblefish, again Larry Fishburne and Matt Dillon. And me, the funny guy in Clint’s movie. And I was lucky to be there. But as time went on, and I re-read Malcolm’s book, his autobiography, said whatever I felt passionate about, I had to take action. I had to do something. I’m one of those people that had to do it.

And I realized that as an actor, I could only affect change within my character. But maybe as a filmmaker, I could affect change at a bigger level – a broader level. So I put my acting on hold and I got to direct a film. Clint Eastwood took me over to meet this Warner Brothers’ guy. And Stephen Cannell gave me the shot to get in the [Directors Guild of America]. Soon, I was able to direct New Jack City.

Then [I was able] to take Wesley Snipes and put him in there, not as ‘the funny guy’, or as ‘the best friend of the guy’ but as ‘The Guy’. And so, after New Jack City made money…which is the operative word—made money…they were able to put Wesley in Passenger 57. …So suddenly we had viable leading men. If you look at ’91, ’92, you see the emergence of the viable African-American leading man. Spike [Lee] laid Denzel [Washington] out in Malcolm [X]…And John Singleton with Larry Fishburne in Boyz N the Hood, he said he’s not going to be the funny guy or the best friend, he’ll be ‘The Guy’.

Once we visible minority directors saw ourselves as leads, that was okay, but once those films made money, Hollywood said, “Oh! Shit! [We can make money this way!].”

So often we had to start in comedy. Comedies were the dominant pulse. [Mainstream audiences] could see you and say, “Oh he’s cuddly and friendly and you can hug him and we want him in our homes. We like Will Smith as the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” So he can become eventually, if he has the skills, and Will does, to become king of the ring in Ali. And Jamie Foxx can start out in In Living Color and become, eventually, Ray. And Mario Van Peebles can start in Sonny Spoon or Heartbreak Ridge, and eventually become Melvin Van Peebles in Baadasssss!

So we had to start over here, get that ball in, get that blessing, if you will: “We’re okay. We’re ‘nice guys.’ “

And so I was a part of taking action and part of the change in how black Americans would be seen in Hollywood, and I’m also one of the beneficiaries of that, as an actor. It’s an unusual spot to be in. Jesse Jackson has this thing he says, “The tree shakers and the jelly makers. The tree shakers shake the tree. The fruit falls down from the tree. The jelly makers gather the fruit and make the jelly.” I’ve been a tree shaker and a jelly maker. And my Dad has, as well.

So in 1991--twenty years after my Dad did Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song…in ’71 – I did New Jack City. In fact, there were a lot of similar things if you look at the two films. In fact, there was a theater that was running [our two films] side by side.

So it’s been a pretty amazing journey to grow up in it as a kid…If you look at the end of my film Baadasssss! where the end crawl says ‘Sweetback became the top grossing independent film ever, up to that time, making $15 million’ -- which would be, at a dollar a ticket then, maybe $150 million now. It changed the game. Bill Cosby got paid back [the $50,000 he loaned Melvin Van Peebles to make the film], Earth Wind & Fire blew up, and where I don’t go [in the end crawl is] that little skinny kid with the afro became a director, directed a film…twenty years later that became the most profitable movie of 1991 for Warner Brothers and ten years after that would play [Melvin] in this movie. Dickens couldn’t do that!….It’s unbelievable. It’s been an amazing, amazing ride…to [film my dad’s film] in the very same streets. And 33 years later, having eighteen days to shoot a film he had only nineteen days to shoot. …with a multi-racial crew of white folks and black folks and women and men [who can get in the union] now because he did that. It’s been a trip. I can’t get my mind around it.

I was at the shop the other day. I was editing Poetic License. [When] I went across the street, I heard a little voice, “Mario! Look at me!” I looked in the [shop] window and it was this Stingray replica of the bike that my dad didn’t let me keep [when I was a kid]. So I marched in the store and I rode the bike and I’m way too big for it now, but I’m like, “I want that fucking bike.” And I bought the bike and I tell my Dad this story and he says, “How much was it?” And he paid me for the bike. He bought me the bike. Pretty wild, huh?

And one of my boys played the little angel muse in Baadassss! And when we did that sequence, we were losing light and he wanted to go for lunch and he was hungry and the camera broke down and as I looked up, he scampered up the street to have lunch with everybody else, all the other kids. And I heard my Dad’s voice, “Get back here!”

HGEN:    And it was coming out of your mouth.

MVP:    Yeah. Out of my mouth.

HGEN:    When you’re not filmmaking or writing or acting, what do you like to do?

This is going to sound corny again, but I find I’m at my best, like a body of water – we’re ninety-some percent water—when is water at its best? When it’s moving. If water is still, then it stagnates and starts to turn on itself. But if fresh water’s coming in and other water’s moving out, then it’s a river and it’s moving and alive and producing…So if I find that if I’m learning over here – learning spiritually, socially, politically, physically and I’m teaching over there, spiritually, socially, politically, whatever it is, then I’m at my best.

So I go to D.C. to the inaugural. And folks say, “Oh, you must be a Republican,” and I say no, no, no, no, no. You don’t just go see your friend when they’re well, sometimes, you go see your friend when they’re sick. They need you. I mean, America has some things that it needs….The two tragedies of 9/11, I call them. If [my daughter] came to me and said [her brother] hit her, I’d say that’s wrong for him to strike you, we’ve got to look into that, but that in itself was wrong. That’s what I’d say as a parent. And my second question as a parent would be, “Why do you think he hit you?” Our first thing with 9/11 was “We got hit! That’s wrong!” But did we ever stop and ask why did we get hit? Did we do anything around the world that might provoke that? Are the chickens maybe coming home to roost? Maybe there are things being done in our name, on behalf of Exxon and Coke and big business that are not necessarily in the people’s interest. And that’s where we come up short. And so that’s why I went to D.C.

But whether it’s reading or talking to you or this project you were just talking about that caught me [PeaceBuilders], I try to learn – whether it’s taking ju-jitsu or salsa, or whatever it is…on all these levels, to be learning and to be teaching--to be passing it on. Then that body of water that we are – we’re liquid – is at its best.

HGEN:    Can you talk a little bit about your creative process?

MVP:    I’m still learning and growing…I think that films, like kids, come through you and not from you. I can’t really tell you if my son’s going to be a doctor…or my daughter’s going to be filmmaker. I don’t know. I can’t dictate that. I can try to impose those things, but then that’s artificial. You’ve gotta go with what that soul is about…..Like, as a parent, you create the best environment for your kids to grow and be who they need to be. But as a filmmaker, you create the best environment for your cast and crew to [operate]. And that once I’ve done that, and guide the ship, I know the story and I know how to figure it better.

Baadassss! was the kind of movie that could lend itself to a rough, gritty, scrappy, filmmaking technique. And so I had to make sure that it was engineered as such, because I couldn’t tell [it as] a long, lyrical, sweet story. In eighteen days. It had to have an independent, ass-kicking, mother*#@*ing …look to it…[But] each story’s different. The way I might tell a bigger than life western like Posse, would be Sergio Leone meets Ford…on these two turntables…so it’s like a hip hop western.

The telling of [each film’s story] would be different each time…true to that story and not me imposing myself on it as a filmmaker. In [my documentary] Poetic License…I wanted to take myself out of it…There are ideas in it that I’m absolutely and diametrically opposed to…and they’re interesting and people speak on both sides of the aisle on these various subjects and often say things that I don’t agree with. But I was taking myself out of that.

So the creative process is different for me, depending on the film, and that’s why I say I’m still learning.

HGEN:    What’s next for you?

MVP:    I’m going to be directing a piece in France – a five minute love encounter. It’s called Paris, Je t’aime….They’re having different filmmakers do each one and they’re putting it together and making a feature. [Jean-Luc] Goddard is doing one and Coen brothers are doing one and I’m doing one [among others].

And the Poetic License piece will hopefully air again.

And then I don’t know. I’m finishing up a picture I just acted in called Carlito’s Way: The Prequel. I play this apolitical gangster… Nothing to do with politics or anything -- just acting. And the director was very cool on that because it’s an interesting script about these three cats involved in the underworld in their own separate communities. One is Puerto Rican, one is African-American, and one is Italian. And they cross the racial divide, because they’re all interested in the same color – green. The color of money. They form this brotherhood…..And when they met with me acting in this piece, I thought it was pretty good. And they said, “Well what can we do to get you in the movie?” And I said “Well, I don’t need more money. I don’t need a star on my dressing room. Make one of the cops a person of color. That would be great.” And they did.

HGEN:    What do you see in independent film – what trends?

MVP:    Well the independent film thing is concerning me because when my dad did Sweetback and it made that money, the studios immediately responded by taking a white detective movie, changing it to black and calling it Shaft. The Panthers loved Sweetback because Sweetback made being a revolutionary hip…. made them politically informed. But the subsequent films made by the studios made being a cop and enforcing the rules, the status quo, hip -- or even being a drug dealer hip. So the icing looked the same – the soundtrack, Isaac Hayes, black people. Terrific soundtrack. But the political content had shifted.

[Another example: Bob Dylan started singing about political things] but when the corporations got involved, the political content got drained out of [music], so eventually just you’re dancing to ‘I’ve got more gold than you’ – just capitalism on crack.

So we’ve seen what happens historically when corporations get involved – the big money, the corporations’ bottom line is to serve its profit margin. So freedom becomes a Coke ad, love becomes diapers and women can get cancer now because “You’ve come a long way, baby.” And we all get suckered in. So you have to know that that can happen when big money gets involved. Like when big money got involved in the arms business. So now, we have this huge military industrial complex –- it’s a machine unto itself. So now we get independent films. And we’ve got huge independent films made for more money than I made my studio flicks for….Some made for $15 million, $20 million. And at the [Independent Spirit Awards], for which Baadassss! is nominated for three [awards – Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay], we’re up against $15 million movies. So where does a guy who makes Primer for $7,000 or a guy like me who makes Baadasssss! for a million…what happens to true independent films, now that big money has got in the game?

We had Blaxploitation. Are we going to start Indie-expolitation? And what will that mean? Especially at an age where the corporate world is very linked to what’s happening now, politically. When you have corporate television, like Fox News, pushing the Republican agenda as news – and it’s all [Rupert] Murdoch owned. We know what happens when big money gets in and before you know it, here come the guys [who dictate content]. And if you’re not doing it, you’re fired and they’ll hire someone who does. Now what happens?

You’ve got $12 - $15 million dollar independent films. If they’re funding those, then they’re not funding something else. They’re funding the less edgy [films]. Often the independent voice is often the only voice of dissension…the only voice saying ‘the emperor ain’t wearing no clothes’, right? Well now you get big money in indie films disguising itself, ‘Well, we’re an independent film.” Wait a minute, man – how do you get ads on every bus shelter if you’re independent? How does that happen? I gotta tell you, if you want to be on the cover of the Hollywood Reporter, congratulating yourself, that’s $50,000 a pop. So when Baadassss! got three [ISA] nominations, there’s no cover on the Hollywood Reporter or Variety because we don’t have that kind of money. If Primer gets nominated, there’s no cover….

Like any presidential campaign. Barry Levinson said it, wonderfully: “If you can’t take finance out of campaign, then be honest about it.” Just like the NASCAR guys – have the president wear patches. They should have patches -- ‘EXXON’ and ‘HALLIBURTON’ -- [sewn on their suits]. You should know exactly where they’re going to vote because you can see the patches….

So what’s happening is that the campaign for these different awards has taken on a big money thing. There are people in the business who get lots more money if they win awards….If you get an Oscar, if you get an Emmy…people get salary bumps. So they go after this thing in a very serious way and they take out very strategic ads and if there’s no economic benefit, it doesn’t happen.

That’s unfortunate. Because if I, as the director of Baadasssss!, with my little five seconds worth of celebrityhood, having directed for the studios, can’t get press on [my film], what about the guy or gal who’s an independent filmmaker and that’s all they do? They’re not an actor who’s got a famous dad who’s making movies? What about them?

It’s no longer an issue of getting a film made. The issue is getting the film seen. Distribution is the hurdle for the independent filmmaker.

So I think that independent film has got to redefine itself and the Spirit Awards will hopefully address that. Because what they do, which is so terrific about this thing, is they give a voice and a platform to independent film. And the more that the big media is controlled by just five corporations, controlling all of what you see and read and hear, the more that that becomes Orwellian and Big Brother in nature…the more that the thinking man and woman has to know where to turn – independent films and documentaries. Other than that, forget it. So if we let independent films and documentaries be corrupted, then that’s it. It becomes ‘Big Brother-speak’.

So I think it’s fine if the studios are doing these big indie flicks. If corporations want to put out these big budget indie films, that’s terrific.…I want to do some of that. But I don’t thing they should be passed off as scrappy, true independent voices of the independent filmmaker.

HGEN:    What are your thoughts on HBO and Showtime?

MVP:    I don’t really know that world…In some cases, they’re doing terrific work. Like [HBO’s] Lackawanna Blues piece I thought was great. Some of the pieces I got to do for Showtime -- terrific. It’s independent television – and that’s great.

HGEN:    Well I ask because, it is independent television, but it’s part of ‘those’ five companies.

MVP:    Right. It may change. I mean, at the beginning of Fox News…it was like, “Well, we’re just going to own it but we’re not going to tell you what to say.”

Like the Sundance Channel, for example. When I did Poetic License for Sundance Channel, I was amazed…At a certain point, there was a call. “We’re owned by Viacom and blah blah blah blah blah.”

But, I have to say that, thus far, I have been like Shirley Chisholm – unbought and uncensored. And that goes from New Jack City to Posse…to Baadasssss! to Poetic License. So far.

HGEN:    And for that, we’re most grateful. Thank you so much for sharing your time today.