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Filmmaker Bryan Hooks talks "Laughing to the Bank" and indy filmmaking

Laughing to the Bank
Courtesy: Make it Rain Films

While some actors wait by the phone or get into trouble waiting on their next role, Brian Hooks is actually out making films. His films. Dubbed the "King of DVD," Hooks wears multiple hats in "Laughing to the Bank," the semi-autobiographical account of his struggles and good times as an independent filmmaker. Along for the ride are his brother, cousin, best friends and a cast that will keep the viewer in stitches in the vein of Robert Townsend's hit "Hollywood Shuffle." Recently, the multi-talented filmmaker sat down to discuss his latest DVD conquest and the joys in being an independent filmmaker.

BILLY TATUM: How did you come up with the idea for "Laughing to the Bank?"

BRIAN HOOKS: It was me. I have a very long history with making independent films and people started walking up to me going "Hi, man. What have you been up to? Are you still acting?" I was like "What the hell are you talking about? I'm busting my butt behind the scenes every day." I realized that doesn’t mean anything to them. I’ve sort of been behind the camera. I’ve sort of been called the “King of DVD” but they haven’t seen me on any DVDs lately. So, I said let me do my independent thing, put together something funny. I wanted to make a great comedy. I didn’t want o make the same thing and it organically came together to where it was sort of biographical. It became a modern day “Hollywood Shuffle” that Robert Townsend had done back in the day. It had pieces of my story and piled on comedy on top of that. It was very organic.

BILLY TATUM: Roy Hooks is listed as the writer. Did you have a hand in the writing as well and is he your brother?

BRIAN HOOKS: Roy is my brother in real-life. This is the project I’m closest to of all the independent films I’ve done, because I’ve just had to put in so much work. I feel like for what I had to work with, it was incredibly funny and smart. Roy and I, Hicks and that’s my cousin Vashon. That’s my real best friend. That’s my real cousin that I grew up with. We all just put the story together with all these funny moments. Then, it became a puzzle where I moved all of these pieces around and make them fit and flow. It took a lot of work.

BILLY TATUM: Your character deals with a lot of roadblocks. How do you deal with the frustration that comes from being an up and coming filmmaker?

BRIAN HOOKS: My history has been in independent filmmaking, so I’m at a point where I can make an independent film whenever I want and how I want. That’s how I dealt with it. Most actors are at the mercy of Hollywood and are asking “Will you greenlight my project?” I still bang on those doors. I still do studio films, but when I’m not doing that, I’m producing my next project. There’s never downtime for me. I’m never waiting. If there’s a slow month or a slow year, it’s ok because I’m off making a film. I started early on putting my own money behind myself with a film called “Q.” We shot it for $14,000, sold it to Xenon and the movie ended up doing $800,000 on DVD. The movie was horrible, but we had 90 minutes and there was some funny stuff within those 90 minutes. We learned so much from it and found a niche where we could make these independent films that go straight to DVD on a modest budget and make a living. I’ve learned so much and it’s been what’s sustained me and created this incredible foundation for independent filmmaking, so I don’t have to wait on Hollywood. I’m always making the movie I want, when I want, how I want. That’s how I deal with the challenges. Not working is ok, because I’ve really wanted to get to this project or that project. It all works out. That’s why I say you have to always be creative and do something for yourself, because you’ll be waiting forever. Nobody’s looking for you.

BILLY TATUM: What was the hardest part in getting the film made?

BRIAN HOOKS: When you’re working with a modest budget, one of the things that’s always a challenge is the scheduling. It’s always extremely aggressive and having to concede in places you know that you left on the table, whether it’s a location that you couldn’t afford or being able to have more time for a scene, because you know it could be better. That’s a pill that never gets easy to swallow. It’s one thing to shoot something and feel like you got the best and have it not quite be. It’s another thing to know that you left something on the table, but it’s just something you have to do. There are going to be points where you have to concede, so you’re forced to be creative as you can within the confines of the budget. That’s difficult for a creative person.

BILLY TATUM: In addition to teaching yourself editing, what was the biggest lesson you got from making this movie?

BRIAN HOOKS: I learned to let the process happen organically. Coming up with the money, and then a little more to make it a little better. It’s hard to coordinate a cast when you don’t have a pot of money to pay people. Everyone is sort of around on favors, so scheduling is incredibly difficult. Once I got the film finished, I’m looking at this and I’m not an editor. I really fought trying to edit it and come up with this and that. Ultimately, I said I’m going to start pushing forward with what I can. There was a point where I realized that no one else was supposed to edit this movie. I was supposed to do it, because I don’t think it would have been as good or anyone would’ve really gotten the tone, unless I would’ve gotten a huge A-list editor, which wasn’t going to happen. It was meant for me to do it. As much as I fought it, everything that could go wrong as far as me getting someone else went wrong, because it was supposed to be me. It reflected on how well the film came out, so I just learned to let the process happen. It taught me patience and took another level for me to get through this.

BILLY TATUM: What’s next for Bryan Hooks?

BRIAN HOOKS: Well, myself and E-40 are finishing up a film called “What Are the Chances?” It’s in the tone of “Friday” and “Three Strikes” and that’ll be out this year as a feature. I’m also on a new show on BET called “According to Him and Her”. It’s like an urban version of “guy code/girl code” dealing with relationships. Annette Mitchell and Claudia Jordan are the hosts. We have all these rules. We have comedians from the south and the east, all kinds of different backgrounds. We sound off on these rules and the rules are like “Rule 302: it’s ok to use a Groupon on the first date” and then we chime in with our opinion or “Rule 506: Business drinks after work is a date.” You really get a great insight of men and women and different types of men and women and how they think. They’re loving the show. They’ve already ordered a second season. It starts in March and it’ll be on Saturdays on Centric from 10 to 11 and it’ll also run on BET. They’re excited and I’m excited. I always have the next film that I’m prepping and the TV show as well. I just try to keep moving forward.

BILLY TATUM: What advice do you have for young filmmakers?

BRIAN HOOKS: I always say create your own projects. You can’t wait on Hollywood to call you. Nobody’s looking for you. You have to look for yourself. With the equipment and software today, this is as level as the playing field has ever been or will ever be. Hollywood is in a very independent time right now. Do it yourself and they’re open to it. Before, it was just the studios and there wasn’t anything else. Now, I think it’s wide open for you to create your own project. There’s really nothing stopping you from doing it, because there are thousands of people who want to produce, thousands of people who want to write, thousands who want to DP, thousands who want to light and do wardrobe. Find that group, put them together and go make a film that you guys all own. Nobody’s getting paid. Scrape together the money for lunch. Actors want to work. Make a great film that you all co-own and put it out there. Put it on DVD.

"Laughing to the Bank" is available on DVD, Itunes and Amazon. Check out my review of the film on Friday. To see the unedited version of the interview where Brian goes in-depth into the making of the film and his conflict with the MPAA, check out the weekend showcase available on Saturday at Filmherald.com.