The team behind Barbershop 2 — director Kevin Rodney Sullivan and partners Robert Teitel and George Tillman. Jr. — may have produced a film to add to the industry's short "Best Sequels" list. That was the consensus of the packed house for the January 27 DGA African-American Steering Committee event "An Evening With Kevin Rodney Sullivan" that included a screening of Barbershop 2: Back in Business.
In a discussion moderated by writer/director Ron Shelton (Bull Durham, Hollywood Homicide), Sullivan, Teitel and Tillman discussed the collaborative craft of filmmaking and the process of building upon a successful movie to create an original sequel.
"I had concerns about how difficult it would be to follow up the first movie," Sullivan said. "I thought the characters were beautifully developed. It was funny. And I was excited to see something breaking the political correctness rule that all black filmmakers seem to have to live by," referring to the character Eddie's comments about Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King in Barbershop.
Ironically, the very thing that drew Sullivan to the first film nearly corrupted Barbershop 2 in the development stage.
Teitel and Tillman's State Street Pictures produced Barbershop with MGM in 2003. "They wanted us to go after Jesse Jackson and Sharpton this time. And we were like, 'No, we're not doing that, because we weren't that smart in the first movie. We just said the stuff and thought it was funny,' " Teitel explained. "So what we kept telling them was that we were going to keep it real."
"When Barbershop came out, the executives were talking about a sequel, but we didn't create it to be a sequel. Our job as producers was figuring out how to top the last movie," Tillman said, who was also a producer of the original, and whose credits include writer/director of Soul Food (1997) and director of Men of Honor (2000). "That's when we started thinking about directors and how we could take the film to another level. Very quickly, Kevin came to mind."
Sullivan, a former child actor, came from television with writing credits on Fame, Cagney and Lacey and Knots Landing. His writing success prompted ABC TV to hire him to create his own prime-time drama, Knightwatch, which debuted in the fall of 1988. In 1998, he made his feature-directing debut with How Stella Got Her Groove Back.
Bringing Sullivan on to direct the sequel, explained Tillman, was the most integral step to keeping Barbershop 2 real. As a director wearing a producer's hat, it was important to him that Sullivan was an independent point man who could produce creatively under pressure.
Barbershop 2 was shot in 40 days, making it imperative that Sullivan communicate succinctly to the actors and crew. Sullivan, who's very specific about where he wants the camera, prefers shot lists to storyboards and he looks at his actors instead of watching them on the monitor.
Keeping an eye on a core ensemble of seven actors in nearly every scene proved to be one of the greatest challenges of Sullivan's career. His solution? Two running cameras for every setup, which guaranteed he wouldn't miss a thing.
And because he and his writing partner, Norman Vance, Jr., had done a number of uncredited rewrites on the script, Sullivan felt he was ahead of the game when the studio cut their original 45-day production down to 40 days sans overtime. "Being able to make adjustments at the last minute is what saved me," he said. "And I'm proud to say, we didn't have to reshoot one thing in this film. We got everything we needed in those 40 days."
Sullivan lauds Teitel and Tillman for providing him with the best experience with producers of his career. "In Hollywood, you get producers who are really executives in disguise. But these guys are real filmmakers," Sullivan said. "Bob was with me on the set every day and George was my creative consciousness. They both had their specific points of view about what needed to change. And when I said to them — No, that's the way I want it, it was fine. It was never a situation where my ego or my position was being challenged. It was really the best producing relationship I ever had. It makes for a great film."
Written by Monice Mitchell