A dynamic duo has high hopes for 'Sweet Potato Ride' 2 secretaries move behind the camera

November 07, 1993|By Jeffrey Wells | Jeffrey Wells,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Camille Tucker and Kim Greene were two movie-industry secretaries when they hatched a plan at a lingerie party in late 1991. "We started talking about making a movie and figured out we had to be out on our own," Ms. Greene says.

Now that their debut effort, a 40-minute short called "Sweet Potato Ride," is nearly ready for screening, Ms. Greene and Ms. Tucker, both 24, could soon find themselves the latest African-American filmmaking duo, in the tradition of Warrington and Reginald Hudlin ("House Party," "Boomerang") and Allen and Albert Hughes ("Menace II Society").

With one or two distinctions. Ms. Green and Ms. Tucker's gender makes them an obvious standout in an industry that hasn't shown female African-American filmmakers many opportunities. Ditto their secretarial jobs (Ms. Greene assisted "Leap of Faith" producer Michael Manheim, while Ms. Tucker recently worked for Touchstone Pictures President David Hoberman).

They didn't even go to film school.

"Sweet Potato Ride" is just beginning to make the industry rounds. Still, those who have seen the film, a deftly composed day-in-the-life drama about a 10-year-old boy, are convinced that Ms. Greene and Ms. Tucker have the right stuff. Not just filmmaking skills but "ambition and drive," Mr. Manheim says. "I've seen the film and [they] did a tremendous job.

"Instead of talking about it, they went out and just made the movie. And I applaud them for that."

Ms. Greene, who directed "Potato" on top of the co-writing and co-producing chores, holds an MBA from University of California, Berkeley; her father is chief of surgery at L.A.'s Centinela Hospital. Ms. Tucker, the daughter of the late Walter Tucker Jr., a former mayor of Compton, Calif., and the sister of U.S. Rep. Walter R. Tucker III (D-Compton), won an undergraduate award for poetry while majoring in English literature at UCLA.

After writing a few drafts of "Potato" in early 1992 (18 were written altogether), Ms. Greene and Ms. Tucker found their most influential supporter in director Bill Duke ("Sister Act II," "Deep Cover"). A veteran of what he calls "guerrilla filmmaking," Mr. Duke was naturally sympathetic. He steered them toward producer Ashley Tyler, who managed to persuade various Hollywood hardware suppliers -- Panavision, Eastman Kodak, Deluxe Labs -- to donate equipment and services.

The companies' generosity was probably prompted, Ms. Greene says, by the L.A. riots. "I think it got to people," she says. "For us, it was an unfortunate fortunate event. We found a lot more financial support after the riots."

The $22,000 tab for "Sweet Potato Ride" -- all of which went to "barely" paying actors and crew -- was raised through several cash donations from companies such as Amblin Entertainment, Technicolor and Bank of America.

The duo hired cinematographer John Demps (who filmed Matty Rich's "The Inkwell") and "Boyz N the Hood" casting director Jaki Brown. The storyboards were drawn by artists behind the underground comic "Brother Man." Ron Stacker Thompson (who was executive producer along with Mr. Duke and Mr. Tyler) helped by sharpening the script throughout filming, which began with an eight-day shoot in September '92 and finished in March.

One of the more enterprising ways that Ms. Greene and Ms. Tucker obtained cheap film stock was to beg for "short ends" -- unexposed film left over from reels that have been used on major movies and TV shows -- and then trade them in for fresh stock. The idea came from Mr. Duke, who used the same tactic when he made his first film, "The Hero," while a student at the American Film Institute. "It's like exchanging Coke bottles for cash at the supermarket," he says.

"We had no experience but a lot of vision," Ms. Tucker says. "Our strategy was, we wanted to be the most naive, least experienced people on the set, and just pick up everything."

Ms. Greene and Ms. Tucker have three feature-length scripts in the works, all set in Los Angeles -- they described them as "an urban thriller," "an urban love story" and "a hot, urban, sophisticated relationship movie."

Like many Hollywood hopefuls, they plan to use "Sweet Potato Ride" as a calling card, and say, "We're definitely looking to meet as many people in the industry as we can, and hopefully go to some of the festivals."

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