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Dope Exclusive: Rick Famuwiya on Bitcoin and Fake Starbucks

I spoke to Dope director Rick Famuyiwa before Open Road announced they would accept Bitcoin for tickets to Dope. That would have added a level to my Bitcoin question. Bitcoin is an integral part of Malcolm (Shameik Moore)’s plan to move a stash of drugs he’s stuck with, and clear his name so he can apply to Harvard.

Writer/director Rick Famuyiwa got distribution for Dope after rousing Sundance screenings. Now the film is opening in theaters and I got to speak with Famuyiwa in L.A. about the film.

Nuke the Fridge: Was it important to open the film with the definitions of “dope?”

Rick Famiyiwa: Yeah, yeah. I think that was what the film ultimately is about is meaning and perception and how there can be different definitions of a single thing. I think Malcolm was very aware, as I was that there are different perceptions and meanings of who he was. So I felt like that opening definition was just setting the table for what the film was ultimately going to be about.

Nuke: In the ‘90s there were a lot of movies about growing up in the hood, that were rightfully very serious. Dope might be the first one I’ve seen that’s also a lot of fun. How long had you been thinking of a way to deal with it in a less straightforward way?

dope-DOPE_029_rgbRick Famiyiwa: I don’t know. I wouldn’t consider those or this a hood movie. I think those sort of got labeled as hood movies. I think they were just expressions of where they come from. For me it was really just about kids from this environment. When they live in those environments, they don’t necessarily look at is as bleak as I think those films and many depictions of their world is. They’re just sort of matter of fact. They were born into it. That’s the only world they know and so they’re existing and making friendships and trying to survive and wanting to date hot girls like everyone else. And so my approach was just to treat it as a matter of fact and let the natural progression of what young people do when they’re trying to interact with each other tell the story. And not necessarily point out how they live and how their environment is, but just have it be.

Nuke: Have you made any changes to the film since Sundance?

Rick Famiyiwa: The biggest change is that there’s more music than we were able to get by Sundance, both because of time and budget. There was just a lot of music that was originally in the script that just couldn’t get in the movie there, but with Open Road coming on board and distributing, we were able to really open up the movie musically in a way that I wasn’t able to at Sundance. In terms of the cut, not much. There’s some trims here and there and some small pacing things that I wanted to do, so it’s probably about 45 seconds to a minute shorter than it was at Sundance. Pretty much I think structurally it’s pretty much the same as that cut.

dope-DOPE_036_rgbNuke: Is the whole sound mix different to add those songs?

Rick Famiyiwa: Yeah, we had a temporary mix that we had to go into Sundance with so there’s a lot of stuff technically that I wanted to get better and clean up. That was probably the biggest part of what we were doing post Sundance was just getting the music, giving it a proper mix and finishing it the way we just didn’t have the time or money to by the time we got to Sundance.

Nuke: I remember it being much more bombastic at Sundance. Maybe it was the altitude, but was that something you wanted to tone down?

Rick Famiyiwa: I don’t know if that different, but you can never control the environment your movie gets played in.

Nuke: When you show cell phones or iPads, that’s all green screen work, right?

Rick Famiyiwa: Yeah, that’s pretty much we add that stuff in where we can now. It’s easier to do that. It’s getting to a point where anything you see on screen in a movie is going to be put in by green screen. It’s shocking the degree to which visual effects become a part of every budget of a movie now and not just the big ones and the obvious ones. You’re using visual effects in a lot of different places now in movies than seem as obvious.

Nuke: Is Seven Bucks Coffee a real place or something you invented for the movie?

Rick Famiyiwa: No, no, there’s no Seven Bucks. Obviously with what happened in front of that coffee shop, Starbucks wasn’t jumping to say, “Here, we’ll let you use our logo.”

Nuke: It looked like an actual neighborhood coffee shop so I thought you might have included a shoutout to a real one.

Rick Famiyiwa: There are real places like that where they kind of flip the names. It’s not Victoria’s Secret. It’s Veronica’s Secret. This one was just my production designer had fun coming up with Seven Bucks. We should open one.

Nuke: When did you decide that Donald Glover is “white sh*t?”

Rick Famiyiwa: [Laughs] Look, I don’t know if I decided that. It just was sort of funny in this idea of perception and what’s real and what’s not, what’s black and what’s not, that so many people who were fans of Donald Glover weren’t actually black people, you know. Not that it’s because of anything or he’s trying to put himself out there in a particular way, but it’s just that, you know, he’s been on shows and part of what he does just connected in a different way. I just always thought that was kind of funny.

Nuke: Listen, he could be nerd sh*t too.

Rick Famiyiwa: Yeah, yeah, he could be nerd sh*t too.

Nuke: Is Bitcoin the future?

dope-DOPE_049_rgbRick Famiyiwa: I don’t know. I don’t tend to think so but I was fascinated by that and the dark web and elements of Silk Road. He was just convicted to life in prison, the guy behind Silk Road, [Ross William Ulbricht]. Where technology lives and the intersection of technology and human interaction is where I like to be. I felt like with these kids, they would naturally gravitate to that world, especially as they got deeper and deeper into this problem they had to solve.

Nuke: Their ultimate plan might be an indictment of how Bitcoin can’t really be transferred to real money.

Rick Famiyiwa: Yeah, yeah. I mean, again, we’ll see. I can’t imagine that, our money is all becoming digital, I don’t know if another currency in this system would be allowed to be created.

Nuke: Does Harvard actually ask each of their applicants the essay question “Why do you want to go to Harvard?”

Rick Famiyiwa: I don’t know specifically. I didn’t apply to Harvard. I went to USC although I did apply to ColUmbia but every college to some extent asks that question, so it was more of a generic every college would ask “Why do you want to be here? What is it particularly about this place that you feel…?” So I just wanted to use that to answer a larger question in Malcolm’s mind. I don’t know if that’s very specific to Harvard or not.

Nuke: You’re right, they do. I wonder if anyone writes them back, “Because you’re Harvard.” 

Rick Famiyiwa: Exactly. That’s what I’m saying. Everyone does that. Of course.

Nuke: What do you want to do next, and will it be something you write and direct again?

Rick Famiyiwa: I’m working on a project for HBO now called Confirmation which starts next week production. But after that, when thinking about what I want to do in the feature world, yeah. I’m looking to just find the platform, whether big or small, that continues my voice and telling these character driven event movies. Whether those are injected in actual big event movies or the smaller kind, that’s what I’m looking to do.