Michael Rapaport's quest lands at Sundance Film Festival
Despite hitting bumps, Michael Rapaport’s ‘Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest’ fulfills the actor-turned-director’s artistic desire.
By Chris Lee, Los Angeles Times January 28, 2011
Long established as an independent movie star and television actor with a body of work stretching back nearly two decades, Michael Rapaport (“Deep Blue Sea,” “True Romance,” Fox TV’s “Prison Break”) decided to make the leap into directing a feature documentary for two reasons.
One was love for his subject matter: A Tribe Called Quest, the seminal late ’80s/early ’90s New York rap quartet that helped shape the sound and define the parameters of modern hip-hop. The other was a question: Will Tribe — which broke up in 1998 but has reunited several times to tour and perform international shows — ever record new music again?
The fruit of Rapaport’s labor, “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest” premiered to a standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival last Saturday. And from its opening sequence, it seemed the director had an answer for his other motivation.
"Is this your last show?" Rapaport asks Q-Tip, Tribe’s lead rapper and driving musical force, backstage after a performance featured in the documentary. "That’s it man," Q-Tip replies. "I’ve been doing this 20 years, man. It’s a wrap, brother."
Sony Pictures Classics Acquires Michael Rapaport's Directorial Debut
"As a first time filmmaker to have the support of SPC is like being signed by the NY Yankees," he says of his film, Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest, which debuted at Sundance.
Sony Pictures Classics has acquired Michael Rapaport’s directorial debut, Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest.
Rival Pictures and State Street Pictures produced the film, which was in documentary competition at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
"I couldn’t be more excited and proud that Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest. is being distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. As a first time filmmaker to have the support of SPC is like being signed by the NY Yankees. Telling this story was not only a labor of love, but also the most fulfilling accomplishment of my career,” Rapaport — who has starred in Mighty Aphrodite and True Romance, among others — and says in a statement.
Sony Pictures Classics brokered the deal with The Paradigm Motion Picture Finance Group and Steven C. Beer at Greenberg Traurig.
He’s also currently in development with producer John Davis and Fox 21 on a 2011 version of The White Shadow as a cable television series.
SUNDANCE Q&A: Michael Rapaport Did Not Want to 'F--- Up' Tribe Called Quest Doc
Nearly two decades after making his film debut at Sundance in the indie drama Zebrahead — and returning subsequently in countless indie films — actor Michael Rapaport is back in Park City with his first effort as a documentary film director.
In Beats, Rhymes & Life (premiering January 22 at the Temple Theater as part of the U.S. documentary competition), the Bronx-born helmer chronicles the public and private dramas of the hip-group group A Tribe Called Quest. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Rapaport comes clean about the pain of realizing his passion project, what he remembers about his first Sundance and the “bloodbath” that is independent filmmaking.
The Hollywood Reporter: How did Beats, Rhymes & Life come about?
Michael Rapaport: I’ve been a huge fan of A Tribe Called Quest since they started. In 2006 they performed at the Wiltern Theater in L.A. and I went backstage and said to somebody ‘I want to do a documentary about these guys.’ Two years later, they were the headliners of the Rock the Bells tour, so I approached them about doing it and they gave me the green light.
THR: Why is Tribe a good documentary subject?
Rapaport: Well, first, there’s never been a formal, proper independently-made documentary about a hip-hop group. They were one of the first acts to seamlessly use elements of jazz—taking the records that were in their parents’ record collection and putting them in hip-hop. There was a consciousness without being overbearing and fun and innocence, at the same time Public Enemy was out. Tribe’s music had inclusiveness. It was definitely soulful, black music, but it was for everybody.
THR: You’ve said this process caused you a lot of anxiety. What was the scariest part?
Rapaport: [Laughs] When I had the green light and all the elements were laid out I thought, ‘Oh s—-, I have to really make this happen.’ I have such respect for Tribe and so do the fans. I really didn’t want to f—- this up.
THR: Were there specific music documentaries you turned to for inspiration?
Rapaport: Absolutely. Gimme Shelter. The documentary, Jimi Hendrix. The concert footage in Dave Chapelle's Block Party was amazing. Anvil was one I liked and Wilco's I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.
THR: To whom did you have to pitch the project initially?
Rapaport: I personally financed this movie out of my own pocket, so the only people I had to pitch was the group. I approached Q-Tip first because I knew him.
THR: Last December Q-Tip went public with his concerns about the film. What was he most worried about?
Rapaport: It’s hard for me to say. He cares a lot about the film and I know he cares a lot about the legacy of Tribe. I think it kind of became a reality like, ‘Oh shit this is coming out.’ But we’ve gotten passed that. They do have a lot of opinions though, trust me. My big question to answer as a director was: Will a Tribe Called Quest make more music? That was sort of my mission statement throughout the film.
THR: Are you able to answer that question in the movie?
Rapaport: Yeah, we are able to answer it. You got to see it though. I got to leave some cliffhangers.
THR: You’ve had a long relationship with Sundance. How does it feel to be back here in your film-directing debut?
Rapaport: The first time I ever saw myself in a movie was at the premiere screening of Zebrahead in 1992 at Sundance. It changed the course of my life. So to be here as a director 19 years later is truly an honor. My personal goal for Beats was we had to premiere at Sundance. I have a very sentimental connection to the festival.
THR: What do you remember about your first Sundance?
Rapaport: I met Quentin Tarantino at the Reservoir Dogs premiere. I was also at a midnight screening of Kids, sitting right in front of Harvey Weinstein. It was a big year for independent film. Sitting in the movie theater and listening to all these filmmakers talk about how they were paying for things with their credit card, “I made this movie for $7,000” and “I quit my job for this movie” or “I mortgaged my house to make this movie.” That was the way to me that you had to get a movie made. You had to sacrifice personal things. You had to fight. You had to believe. It had to be a f—-ing war to get a movie made, and to me that is what Sundance is all about.
THR: And almost two decades later, it’s just as bloody a war.
Rapaport: I think it’s even gotten harder now. Who the f—- is going to buy one of these rinky-dink little movies? If you are going to make a passion project, it’s going to be a bloodbath. There is no way around it.
THR: Do you have any advice for young talent debuting at the festival this year?
Rapaport: I would say enjoy it, write in your diary about it, be proud of it and soak up all the hoopla. I will never forget the first time that someone recognized me on the street was at Sundance. Now when people are like, “Isn’t that annoying?” I’m like, “Hell no!” After doing this as long as I have, if no one recognized me, I’d be f—-ed.