Just after serving a three-year sentence for illegal possession of firearms, Hu$tle’s back on the streets of Washington, D.C. He’s got his swag back and has to let the whole ‘hood know he’s home—this time, for good.
And things are different this time around. Hu$tle’s no longer involved with a gunrunning operation. This time, he’s determined to make his community proud of him with his gift of rhymes and a plan to take the music industry by force—that same industry that once lifted his soul-singer father, Heartache, to stardom and then dropped him into oblivion when he past his prime.
Knowing the perils that lay ahead for his son, Heartache’s advice is added weight to a relationship already strained from his days as an absent father, a cycle Hu$tle continues with his own son.
“I’m proud that my professors and peers…find the story compelling,” said Tyler, 30, of the DC metropolitan area who wrote the script. He’s also executive producer and director on a project he’ll start shooting in May.
Amongst Tyler’s peers impressed by his story was Jack Alexander, the film’s cinematographer.
“The script itself read very visually to me,” said Alexander, who completed his MFA in 2010. “As I read through it, I had a strong image of how the film should look. Jason’s film has elements, which are a throwback to a golden age of cinema.”
An age the cinematographer noted for its use of “bold warm colors, lens flares, and smooth camera movements.”
The completion of the film, scheduled for September, will help Tyler honor the memory of his father who passed away last year from cancer.
But making a feature film requires money that neither Tyler nor his crew have. It’s possible to produce a successful short film for $5,000. But Tyler’s film is a 90-minute feature film. Add to that the overall material costs, and the task could seem daunting to students who have to raise the money themselves.
But Michael Johnson, the film’s lead producer, is not discouraged by the challenge. It’s the experience, he said, which makes it all worthwhile. “First and foremost, I want knowledge, and I always believe the best way to receive knowledge is by doing,” said Johnson, whose studio credits include his work on Bill Bellamy’s Who Got Jokes? (TV ONE), Snoop Dogg’s Fatherhood (E!) and The Jeff Dunham Show (Comedy Central).
Johnson’s goals for the film go beyond the project’s completion. “I want this film to get into a major European film festival,” he said. “My hope is to watch it in the Cannes Film Festival. After that, I would like to strike a distribution deal either straight to DVD or limited theater release.”
And it’s on its way.
With a goal of raising $100,000, Tyler and his crew have raised $30,000 so far as a result of sending out pitch letters for funds and from donations from supportive family members. According to the pitch letter, a donation of $100 would feed a nine-member film crew for one of the 12 days of filming. A $300 dollar donation provides lighting for one day on set, and a $500 dollar donation covers the daily camera rental fee.
In exchange, funders can expect special credit in the film, a DVD copy and access to all its screenings.
The script came about from a dream Tyler had two years ago. “I fell asleep on MTV and dreamed of a rap star sitting across the table of a smoky bar from an old soul singer, and I just knew it was his dad he hadn’t met before,” he said. Before waking, he saw the words “Hustle vs. Heartache” in his dreams and took it as a sign. “I wrote it down,” he said. “I knew it was important.”
A year later, when Tyler lost his own father to cancer, he stopped writing and dropped out of school to do some soul-searching. Like Hu$tle and Heartache, Tyler’s relationship with his father was strained after his parents’ divorce in 1996. “I was in high school at the time and would see him once in a blue moon, especially during the divorce proceedings,” Tyler recalled. “He never spoke to me then.”
It took Tyler almost getting kicked out of school for him to see how much his father cared about him. Tyler’s father took his son back to school to resolve the matter.
Over time, father and son worked at repairing their relationship. When Tyler turned 18, he and his father would meet up for lunch downtown and became friends. It was during those times when Tyler’s father schooled him on life and love.
His father also pushed him to follow his dreams. “When I decided to go to film school, he made a call to a distant cousin who had made a film.” That distant cousin also helped Tyler with his film school submission. When Tyler was accepted to USC, his father flew out and stayed with him in his dorm.
“When you lose a parent, that confidant is no longer there. When I get married, there is no father for my wife to meet,” Tyler said. “When I have children, they won’t know their granddaddy.” He paused to consider this, and then said, “The day will come when his voice and face will become a faint memory.”
Hu$tle vs. Heartache gives Tyler a chance to honor those memories while he still has them. “Many young black men don’t have a father-son relationship,” he said. “I thought it would be a good chance to honor my father by weaving us into the characters and telling this important story.”
After his release from prison and his ensuing success as a rap star, Hu$tle meets Heartache at The Oren, a fictional juke joint set in DC that’s inspired by the “Sugar Shack” scene in the Ernie Barnes painting of the same name. Under Heartache’s ownership, The Oren becomes a bar and lounge popular for its soul, jazz and blues music.
Alexander’s task will be to create a visual effect that complements the music. “Each scene within the film has a special look and palette that makes each one visually distinct,” the cinematographer said. “Parts of the film are musically driven and will resemble a music video.”
Others, Alexander noted, will move into what he called “stark reality,” which will resemble the shaky, hand-held camera style that’s been used in documentary dramas.
Amidst the drama that will arise between Hu$tle and his girlfriend, Sadie, the rap star goes to The Oren to seek advice from and work toward a better relationship with Heartache, who’s terminally ill.
Tyler’s overall observation of Hu$tle’s relationship with Heartache might sum up the way his own life played out. But if you ask him, there’s no regrets. “It’s never perfect,” Tyler said, “but it’s enough for you to go on and remember that your success is not personal, but part of a chain of black men.”
The film crew also includes Emanuel Negrila (producer), Gerard McMurray (producer), Ervin “EP” Pope (composer/keyboardist), Savannah Wood (stylist), Kim Coleman (casting), Natasha Ward (direct casting associate) and Sundance award-winning director Arthur Jafa (mentor).
For information on Hustle vs. Heartache, click here. Or click here, if you’re interested in donating to the film project. For all other queries, contact Jason Tyler via email at email@example.com.