Waist Deep by Vondie Curtis Hall

In the urban action thriller “Waist Deep,” director Vondie Curtis Hall (“Redemption”) takes audiences on a ride through contemporary Los Angeles, where a 21st century Bonnie and Clyde hit the streets.

Ill always come back for you, single father O2 (Tyrese Gibson of Four Brothers) tells his young son Junior (newcomer H. Hunter Hall). This parental promise is put to the test, when O2 is suddenly plunged into a do-or-die situation; trying to go straight for Juniors sake, this recently paroled ex-con is forced to go back outside the law after his son is kidnapped in a carjacking. The resulting chase and shootout have left Junior in the hands of Meat (hip-hop superstar The Game, in his feature debut), the vicious leader of the Outlaw Syndicate. O2s shady cousin Lucky (Larenz Tate of Crash) tries to mediate, but is caught between criminal and family loyalties.

The only person who can help O2 get his son back is street-smart hustler Coco (Meagan Good of You Got Served), whose path fatefully crossed O2s just moments before the kidnapping. When Lucky gets word to O2 that Meat expects $100,000 for Juniors freedom, O2 and Coco seize the opportunity to pit rival elements of the South Los Angeles underworld against each other. Its either all or nothing, realizes O2. With the clock ticking down, the heat between O2 and Coco rises, as they become a lawbreaking couple, on an action-packed tear through a range of Los Angeles neighborhoods.

How far will a father go to rescue his son

To save your child, you would find the adrenaline that allows you to run much faster than you have ever run. Thats a universal story, and its the starting point for our movie.

New theme

You dont get to see love between a father and son often enough in urban movies. Heres a black man whos trying to do good by his son, loves his son, and would do anything for him. Thats the way I feel about my son, and the way a lot of black men feel about their children.

Authenticity

During the shoot, several of the cast and crew found themselves working in neighborhoods where they were raised. Tyrese Gibson is from Watts, and Larenz Tate also grew up in the hood.’ The decisions that the characters make are organic to where theyre from. Im from the hood in Detroit, and theres a universal urban DNA, a common denominator. When it comes to films that are set in South Central L.A., its all about what the real cats in the hood will say when you go to the mall or to the barbershop, or when youre driving through the neighborhood.

Respect for residents

In every neighborhood, we hired people who were from the neighborhood. That was very important. We respected the residents, and all our shoots went smoothly.

Film’s roots and Terrence Howard

Waist Deep also has its roots in a 1995 episode of New York Undercover which guest-starred a then-unknown Terrence Howard and Aunjanue Ellis. The episode Buster and Claudia was written by Michael Mahern. That show had a youthful and largely black and Latino audience. I had the idea to write a Bonnie and Clyde movie for them, in part because I was passionately opposed to Californias notorious three-strikes law.

Tupac Shakur

My movie Gridlockd starred Tupac. I remember Tupac saying that he wanted to do a Bonnie and Clyde story. Tupac was murdered while we working on the first draft of the script.

Finding the right star

The project ran aground because it lacked a young black male star of sufficient magnitude to play the lead. But now, Tyrese Gibson has the necessary intensity, and the writers have done a terrific job molding the script to Tyrese’s talents.

Noir tradition

Waist Deep brings the tradition of crime-romance moviesThey Live by Night, Gun Crazy, Bonnie and Clyde–to the hip-hop generation, with a fresh and exciting 21st-century flavor. In line with those classic films, our movie follows two people who have nothing to lose, and are trying to change their lives. The new title for the movie came to me when I realized that there are number of moments where these two are in situations where theyre moving and trying to maneuver, but its not the easiest for them.

Movies about underdogs

The movies that I make are about underdogs. These two, a two-strikes felon and a hustler, come together and theres an alchemy that changes things for them. They form a family thats not the picket-fence kind, but where there is love and support.

Fast pace

The characters interact while the clock is ticking, and they have to keep up a fast pace to achieve their goals. Its an action drama with heart, but sure, weve got cool caper stuff, plus car chases and things blowing up!

Chase scenes

Waist Deep is book-ended by two high-stakes chases through two different neighborhoods. The first, by foot and by car, finds O2 scrambling down Los Angeles Adams Boulevard in a desperate and ultimately futile effort to catch up with the carjackers before they make off with his son.

The Go Mobile

Everybody was in awe that we got the Go Mobile, which had previously gone to much bigger films, like The Bourne Supremacy and The Dukes of Hazzard. Those are huge movies, and ours is modestly budgeted. But Dan Bradley, Scott Rogers, and their team gave us a break because they wanted to show that they could do smaller films–and for less. This allowed our car chases to be off the hook!

The Go Mobile puts your actors into the action. It looks like something out of Mad Max; its a shell of a car on a chassis thats driven by someone else with a front wheel drive. Theres a camera crew placed between the driver and the cast. So the actors can be filmed weaving in and out of traffic and turning corners; usually, you cant shoot that kind of scene, because the camera would be in the way, and they couldnt see where they were going.

Technological virtuosity aside, the Go Mobile units real advantage is the way it allows the filmmakers to give audiences a closer intimacy with characters in life-or-death situations. When you do a chase sequence properly, its not just a series of stunts, its drawing moviegoers into the story, letting them feel the jeopardy and see the characters faces and emotions in close-up. Watching the chases we got for Waist Deep, people are going to be on the edge of their seats.

Tyrese Gibson

Tyrese was able to drive at incredible speeds in the Go Mobile, something he never could have done the conventional way; as a result, you really feel the impact of his chase scenes. As one of the stars of the hit 2 Fast 2 Furious, Tyrese was no stranger to filming a car chase. But the new system impressed him. He felt like he was working on a roller coaster; it was a lot of fun and real fast, a rush.

Tyrese is a force of nature, and O2 needed to be played by somebody who the female audience will like but who will also have stature with the male audience. Tyrese was my first choice, and I waited for him to finish a couple of other movies he was doing.

Meagan Good

Meagan and Tyrese have wonderful chemistry together theyve just got it and theyre beautiful to look at. If the Coco character didnt work, the movie wouldnt work. Meagan has a lot of levels to play and carry and she brings you in right away. Weve watched her grow up on screen; most of us first saw her in Kasi Lemmons Eves Bayou with Sam Jackson and Vondie, where she was incredible. But shes not a little girl anymore. She is a beautiful, gifted young woman; I think everybody in the cast and crew was in love with Meagan, as she is the kind of person you want good things to happen for.

Larenz Tate

The name Lucky came from Larenz. In the script, the character was called Wannabe. In rehearsal, Larenz felt that it wasnt the right tag; the character is a wannabe, but he didnt necessarily want to be called that. Being an actor myself, I realized this would give Larenz a window into the character that is both lucky and unlucky. This part wouldnt have worked as well with another actor in it. Larenzs portrayal of Lucky complements his memorable performance as O-Dog in Menace II Society, over a decade earlier; the two L.A.-set stories are also linked by the participation of Darin Scott, who produced the earlier film.

Newcomers in cast

To round out the cast, for the roles of Meat and Junior, the filmmakers turned to two screen newcomers: child actor H. Hunter Hall and music superstar The Game.

Directing my son

Junior is played by my son, Hunter. When Hunter was on the set, I called him the mini-director. Hunter expressed an interest in acting about a year ago. I want to support him in whatever he wants to do, so I said Okay. I got him a coach. Id actually had him in mind for the character I put in things for Junior to say that Hunter has said to me though not as the actor per se.

I wanted him to have the opportunity to play Junior, but I wanted to make sure he could actually do it. We put him on tape, and everyone agreed that he was the best kid for the role. Working with him was great; we found a new way to communicate. The other actors on Waist Deep embraced him as one of their own.

The Game

The Game brings street credibility to the part. It doesnt matter how large you are as a recording artist; if you cant act, the movies going to suffer. I always felt Game could pull off this role. He came with great ideas, including for the [stabbed-out] eye, so we had that prosthetic made. I love working with actors and taking them deeper than they would normally go. Actors need to feel protected, that if they fall on their face theyll get the opportunity to get up and make it right. Directing is a creative process that I love, maybe not more than acting, but probably as much as acting.

Vondie Curtis Hall’s Career

Actor/director/screenwriter Vondie Curtis Hall has had success in both film and television, and on both sides of the camera. His most recent feature as director was Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story, which played at the Sundance Film Festival and then aired on the FX cable network. Hall won a Black Reel Award for his direction; among the biopics other honors, lead actor Jamie Foxx received NAACP Image and Black Reel Awards as well as Golden Globe, Independent Spirit, and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations for his performance as the late activist Stan Tookie Williams.

Halls other feature directing credits include Gridlockd, from his screenplay and starring Tim Roth and the late Tupac Shakur, for which he was honored by the National Board of Review with the Excellence in Filmmaking Award; and Glitter, starring Mariah Carey. For television, he has helmed episodes of such series as The Shield, Firefly, and ER.

The latter program has featured Hall in a guest-starring arc, as well as in an earlier (separate) characterization that earned him an Emmy Award nomination. He was a series regular on Chicago Hope (for which the ensemble twice received Screen Actors Guild Award nominations) and Cop Rock. He also had guest-starring arcs on the acclaimed television series Soul Food and Ill Fly Away.

He began his career in music, training at Juilliard and then starring in several NYC stage shows. Among them were such Broadway musicals as Its So Nice To Be Civilized; Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music; Stardust; and the original production of Dreamgirls.

Hall next segued into films, with roles in such movies as John Landis Coming to America; Jim Jarmuschs Mystery Train; Ridley Scotts Black Rain; Renny Harlins Die Hard 2; John Sayles Passion Fish (opposite Alfre Woodard); Joel Schumachers Falling Down; Spike Lees Crooklyn; Phillip Noyces Clear and Present Danger; John Woos Broken Arrow; Baz Luhrmanns William Shakespeares Romeo + Juliet; John Herzfelds telefilm Don King: Only in America (for which, as Lloyd Price, he won a Satellite Award); Leon Ichasos telefilm Ali: An American Hero (as Bundini Brown); and Kasi Lemmons Eves Bayou (for which he received an NAACP Image Award nomination).

Hall is board president of Film Independent, which is the organization that encompasses the Los Angeles Film Festival and the Independent Spirit Awards.