Stan Lathan Chapter 2


INT: So, New York. Earth, Wind & Fire [performing on SOUL!]. That's where we left off, right, in the club. 

SL: In the club and in the studio. They came in, and the same thing for Stevie [Stevie Wonder]. There were a couple, you know, these were big gets for us. Earth, Wind & Fire had a little bit of rep, but they were still playing small clubs, and they had a really hot song out, so… but we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into and how dynamic they were. We went to see them at the club, and they went on stage at 9 o'clock and they never came off the stage. They just played and played and played and just went from one song to another. They were improvising and playing jazz, and it was pretty exciting, and so we were really excited about capturing that. And they did pretty much the same thing when they did SOUL! There were stops because we had to program a stop so Ellis [Ellis Haizlip] could go on and interview Maurice [Maurice White], but otherwise, it was a pretty exciting experience. And that was one where all the prep in the world couldn't get us ready for that, because they, you know, they were improvising so much. You know, we shot it in a way that, you know, we would just kind of keep following the bouncing ball, so to speak.


INT: So, in any of this, you know, I mean, were there any major problems that came up when you were doing those things [on SOUL!]? I mean, as you said, you prepped it pretty well, so you were pretty much on top of all of that. 

SL: Yeah. Well, the good thing about prep is even if things change, at least you have some kind of perspective from which to vary, you know, to go away from. So we were able to, I thought, I think that, you know, that prep isn't so important. And, as I said, I kind of learned that at WGBH [WGBH-TV] because a couple of the Directors there were just, you know, maniacal about not only prepping but being rigid to what they prepped. And so one of the things, I think, that I was able to learn and to establish was, okay, prep, but be flexible so that you have an answer but that you're able to adjust to any change that might come along and not be flustered by it.


INT: 'Cause that must have also happened on SESAME STREET. 

SL: Well, SESAME STREET, you know, SESAME STREET was really kind of just a free-for-all. And there are certain, you know, there are certain elements that you know have to exist. You have to have, you always have to always have a camera on the bird [Big Bird], you know? [LAUGH] Or the, you know, or on Gordon or whatever it is, and then you kind of, and masters are important because those kinds of shots work well on television. [INT: Especially with an eight-foot bird.] Yeah, well, and with kids, you know? It's just you kind of, so close-ups is something that are very, you know, very precious, you know, in a situation like that. I think one of the things I learned from my friend David Atwood in Boston [at WGBH-TV], the one who was, you know, crazy about prepping, is that, in the act of shooting, if you're shooting something that's not totally structured shot-wise, that what's important is not what's on the air now but what is next. And then second-important is the shot that's after that. So the key is I had to train myself to think a shot, to be on the shot ahead of the shot that's on the air. Because, theoretically, once you take that camera, it's gonna do what it's supposed to do. It's the next one that's the important one, and when and how that's taken and how it matches what's going here. Or, you know, how it fits, you know, the, you know, the variety that you need in the shooting. [INT: Like a chess game sometimes. You have to think two or three ahead so you know...Yeah.] Yeah. You have to be ahead. I mean, I mean, generally, and so even when I got into the world of sitcoms, where I'm cutting to a script, I still felt like it was important to be ahead of, shot-wise, to be ahead and not to kind of follow the script up to the shot, but to be on that shot, waiting for the script to get to you, so to speak, so that [SNAPS] the shot is taken. [INT: How about your camera people? I mean, a lot of times they are, especially when you're in that, "What's coming up?" You depend on them to, like, anticipate themselves, don't you?] Well, in music and stuff like that, yeah. Yeah, but, you know, they develop that. The good camera people kind of have a, you know, a second sense of how things are gonna develop musically. You know, that's one area. The area of, you know, principal photography and, you know, camera-operating that really is, does benefit from people that have a gift or have a real strong control of the instrument and understanding of, you know, what works visually. So, we always, you know, I'm sure you, you know, always look for, you know, for superior people to operate those cameras. It certainly makes, not only makes our work easy, easier, but in many cases it makes it better.


INT: So, you get a phone call. 1974. 

SL: '74 [1974], I get a call. I'm in my office at the BLACK JOURNAL, planning a trip to Trinidad to shoot Trinidad Carnival, something like that. And I get a call, and it said, "Stan, this is Aaron Ruben." I said... He said, "I'm the Executive Producer of the SANFORD AND SON." And he was very straightforward. He said, "Calling you because we're very interested in you. We've done a lot of research, and we think that… and Redd Foxx has been pushing us to hire an African American." He didn't… "A black Director, and we want to do it, but we couldn't find anybody, and we looked around--we couldn't find anybody that we thought would work for us, but we looked around and Ilunga Adell told us about you." Ilunga was on the writing staff. He had gotten on the writing staff some way. "And so, want to find out if you can fly out to L.A. next week to observe a show and then direct two shows." I said, "What do you mean? You mean you want to talk about it?" He said, "No, we're offering you that." This was on, within three minutes on a telephone call, I'm getting an offer to direct SANFORD AND SON, and I said, "Let me see if I can figure it out. I'll call you back." And I went into, it wasn't Bill Greaves [William Greaves] at the time. It was Tony Brown at the time. And I said, "Hey, I, you know, I got this offer and I want to do it, but I got to put off my project." And he said, "Oh, put off your project?" You know, "Hollywood?" I said, "Yeah." I said, "This is a big opportunity for me, and it's not just because I'm opportunistic, but I just think it's a thrilling adventure, and I want to take it." And he said, "Okay. You got it." And I was, a week later, I was at the Sunset Marquis. [INT: Well, we won't talk about that.] No, don't talk. Right.


INT: So, Sunset Marquis, you were, you observed... do you remember who you observed [on SANFORD AND SON]? 

SL: I think it was John Shea. Remember--[INT: Jack.] Jack Shea. [INT: Jack Shea.] Jack Shea, yeah. Jack Shea. And he was very helpful. He was very helpful. He was very accommodating and very welcoming. For me, the experience on that was probably the most intense and overwhelming of all, because here I am at NBC in Hollywood. And, you know, and the same, what they did in those days was, the show would shoot on Friday night. They would load, we would rehearse in a rehearsal hall Monday and Tuesday, and then on Wednesday the set would go into the stage. And they'd put up the set every week, and then it would come down after the show and HOLLYWOOD SQUARES would use it on Saturday and Sunday. So here I am in NBC. I'm seeing all these cars parked out there with famous people's names on the thing, and I was the, once again, the only black guy in the room. I look around at the Cast, I mean, the Crew. Period. No other black person on the Crew. And there were two black guys shining shoes right outside the stage, 'cause they had a shoeshine stand that was very famous. There were a couple black secretaries, and there were a lot of black people working in the cafeteria. And so, suddenly, you know… And as I kind of worked my way around, it quickly became known by everybody in the building that, "Hey, this is the young Director that's doing SANFORD AND SON." And I would go into the cafeteria, and there would be a buzz. The first time I walked into the cafeteria, there was applause from all the people behind the counter. Literally. I never paid for anything there. And there were, you know, like, some of the employees would come down and, you know, and come in the rehearsal hall, employees would come and kind of hang out, and Redd [Redd Foxx] didn't mind. And they would come out, 'cause they wanted to see this black guy. And this one woman actually brought her kids, her two kids, 'cause she wanted them to see a black man in charge. And that's the way she explained it to me, and I shook their hands. They were like, "Oh," you know. And so I was, like, you know, like, just beset with this sense of responsibility and purpose, and it was a pretty rewarding experience. And Redd Foxx was just, he loved it. You know, he felt responsible for me being hired, and he was proud of me, and he would, you know, he would make comments often if somebody came into the stage, you know, one of his boy Billy Eckstine [William Clarence Eckstine]. "Yeah, come here, this is my Director." "Who's this kid?" You know? "That's my Director." You know, that kind of thing.


INT: So, okay, coming from Boston, New York, doing SESAME STREET, doing BLACK JOURNAL, doing SOUL!, all of a sudden, you're in Hollywood. You're on the Redd Foxx show [SANFORD AND SON]. You're doing network television. Were there any things that you had to learn fast? I mean, 'cause, you know, everything's always new. There's always something different. 

SL: Let me say this. Well, this is interesting because, and that was one of the things that also became clear to the folks that I worked with there, Aaron Ruben being one of them. He was really, I learned a lot from him, for sure. But what was remarkable to everybody was that I knew what I was doing. That I was very comfortable in the control room, that I knew how to snap my finger at the right time, and that I understood camera blocking and so forth. Because, once again, SESAME STREET, we were doing it on the fly. You know, we were doing it every day, not just twice a week, you know, two days a week. The dramas that I had done at WGBH [WGBH-TV], ON BEING BLACK, you know, you know, it was learning. It was breaking down scripts and so forth. By the time I got to SANFORD AND SON, I was very experienced at stuff that was much more complex than that. You know, once you get, you know, aware of the fact that, "Okay, we got four cameras. Well, you got a wide shot, a close-up on him, on Redd, a close-up on Demond [Demond Wilson], and there was [inaudible]." [SNAPS] You know, it's very simple if you have that kind of background and that kind of experience. So, for me, it was a piece of cake, literally. The only thing that was, you know, there was just so many other stimuli that kind of, like, would distract you from the work. Redd was not the most disciplined, you know, worker, Actor. So, you know, sometimes our rehearsals would go awry and so forth and he was, you know, he was hard on jokes. In other words, he would, he didn't want to overdo the material in rehearsal, 'cause jokes would get stale to him. So he would mumble, go walk around mumbling, and the guest Actors would, you know, and...


INT: How'd you deal with the guest Actors [on SANFORD AND SON]? I mean, ‘cause when you have somebody like Redd Foxx and, you know, that, who you never know it's gonna happen on the day in terms of working and preparing them, did you…? 

SL: They were pretty, you know, they got Actors that had been around. You know, it's, like, it's not--[INT: You didn't have to work with them that much?] No. It's not that difficult, that complex. You know, “We're going out there. We're gonna stand in here. We're gonna walk over there. We're gonna pick up the glass and tell a joke. And Redd's gonna tell a joke, and we're gonna react, and we're gonna put the glass down and walk out”. I mean it was almost that simple on that show, because it was, you know, there was no question what it was. It was a showcase for Redd, and he was brilliant at filling his role. He, Redd used to live for the audience's laughter, you know. That was what inspired him. That's what gave him his thrills as a Performer. And I remember being in Vegas with him and watching him perform in Vegas and, you know, how he would come off. And the thing that he would be bragging about was, you know, how he had killed the audience. I saw him do it at the Westbury Fair [Westbury Music Fair] in Long Island, 'cause I would kind of hang out with him a little bit. I was like his, you know, in his entourage for a minute. And it was, you know, but doing the TV show was pretty simple, technically.


INT: So back in those days, we did two, you did two shows [SANFORD AND SON]? 

SL: No, I did four. [INT: No, no, you had taped two, and then…] Oh, yeah, we'd shoot a dress at around 3 or 4 o'clock and what they called an "air show," and then we'd go back that night! [INT: That night.] That night, me and Aaron Ruben would be in the editing room, picking the takes from the dress and the air. [INT: Were you recording all the cameras at that time, or was it just the line?] I think it was, like, one or two ISOs. [INT: Were being recorded. Yeah. Yeah, that's right. It was.] Yeah, no, it wasn't all. [INT: No, no. So you had to really know what you're doing. You can't just say, "Oh, let's find the camera to cut to."] Yeah, well, you know, you keep a deck camera on, that’s on Redd. [INT: Yeah, we always cut to.] You keep the master, but yeah. And, you know, often times we would use mostly the dress rehearsal rather than the air because it'd be fresher. Once again, Redd would sometimes change it up at night, and we'd find that, oh, well, the best one was the one that was scripted and not the one that he came up with. [INT: So you would pick selections that night.]


INT: When would you edit [SANFORD AND SON]? 

SL: It wasn't the same kind of thing. You know, they'd put it together and, you know, they'd show it to me. It wasn't about, "Hey, give me your notes." No. [INT: So the Creative Rights were not as strong.] Not as necessary. [INT: Necessary back then.] At that time, in that medium. I don't know, maybe I could say, "Hey, cut a little sooner to that one close-up that we have over there." [INT: But it was in the Editor's hands. He brought it to you and…] Yeah, pretty much. And, like I said, Aaron [Aaron Ruben] would be with me. We would actually sit together and do it. You know, for me, that was fine. I didn't feel like I was at all having my Creative Rights infringed upon, because--[INT: 'Cause you also had the line cut to work off of.] I had the line cut, and it was a pretty good line cut, because, you know, I had O. Tamburri, who was a legendary Technical Director, and he made sure it was good, even if I didn't snap, he would, he would take the shot.


INT: And I remember, back in those days, feeling that I know I didn’t depend a lot on canned laughter [on SANFORD AND SON]. I mean sometimes to smooth it out, but… 

SL: No, we didn't worry about canned laughter. I mean we had a little sweetening thing going on. [INT: Yeah, but not much.] But we didn't need it. [INT: No, 'cause Redd [Redd Foxx] was just on it.] No, it was screaming. [INT: Yeah, yeah. And that's what, you know, I miss sometimes about those days, when you had those two shows.] When we did ROC, when we did the live season of ROC, we didn't use any sweetening. I mean, it was live, but there are live shows that have sweeteners in the control room, doing, you know, doing their thing. But we never had a sweetener on that.


INT: So, we're gonna keep moving to... So after SANFORD AND SON, you went on to do, you started doing some dramas, too. 

SL: Yeah, you mean, like... [INT: With EIGHT IS ENOUGH.] Oh, yeah, the episodic stuff. Yeah, I started, I got… I guess, see, I don't know if it was CAA [Creative Artists Agency] or whatever, but, anyway, somehow I got hired on the last episode of JAMES AT 15 [JAMES AT 16] and we... [INT: Was that your first hour?] It was my first hour. In fact, Debra Winger was a guest Actress on it. And I loved it, you know, and it was at Fox, and I remember, they told me on the day before the last day that this was the last day of the show, and I was doing the last episode of the last show, and that I really didn't have a full day the next day, because they wanted to use the second half of the day to wrap out. So they cut a half a day off of my... [INT: Did it run one or two seasons, or did it run three?] I think it ran, I think it was one season. [INT: One season.] I don't remember. Maybe might have been a second season. But anyway, but that was my entrée, and then, right after that, I met Gary Adelson and Greg Strangis, who were the two young Producers of EIGHT IS ENOUGH. And we hit it off, and I did, you know, handful of those, and that kind of pushed me into the Lorimar [Lorimar Television] system, and I did a show, FLAMINGO ROAD, and FALCON CREST. [INT: REMINGTON STEELE, was that part of it all?] No. THE WALTONS. REMINGTON STEELE was not that company [INT: Right, right.].


INT: So, I want to stop for a second and talk about the business side of the Agents, the Managers, so, 'cause you briefly mentioned CAA [Creative Artists Agency]. Did you have an Agent back in New York? 

SL: No. I got my first Agent in New York, Joan Hyler with William Morris [William Morris Agency]. She came and found me and said, "Listen, you know, we're gonna..." She, I think she made my SANFORD AND SON deal, actually. But she didn't get the call. I got the call, and then I turned them onto her. [INT: And so then you came out to L.A. Did you stay with, was Joan still working with you at that time?] Joan was working with me for a while. I don't remember the shift from... I also got involved with, was sought out and got involved with Bernie Brillstein. [INT: Who you were with for years.] Yeah, for years. Yeah. In fact, Sandy Wernick, who was an Agent who had been at William Morris who had just joined Brillstein, and he was the one that said, "Hey, you got to get this kid, because we think he's got some kind of a future or something." [INT: And did they help?] I think so, initially, yeah. Because I think that they put me out there, you know, and got me these gigs. Yeah. [INT: So you were with CAA at the time?] Well, I'm trying to remember when CAA came along. It was kind of muddy there for a while. I was with William Morris. I was with ICM [International Creative Management] for a second. I was with Broder Kurland [The Broder Kurland Agency] for a minute. I like Tom Broder and them, but it was kind of, it was few years. It was muddy. [INT: Yeah, jumping around, yeah.] I don't remember who was my Agent was at the time, but I ended up with Jeff Wyches at CAA. And how I got to CAA, I don't remember. I think Paula, was Paula Weinstein there? I think she was. [INT: Probably.] And I remember having a meeting with her and Lee Gabler… I don't remember, but anyway. [INT: But so you got to the...] Yeah, it was, like, just--[INT: The Agents sort of came once you were there.]--Agent thing going on. But then I ended up with CAA forever.


INT: So, so I want to go, so you did REMINGTON STEELE, FALCON CREST. Let's talk about HILL STREET BLUES. 

SL: HILL STREET BLUES, yeah. That was a great one for me. [INT: Yeah, 'cause you talk about that being real important.] Yeah, that, for episodic TV, that was probably the most exciting. And I didn't get there till late in the game for them. It was, like, the third, I don't know, their last season or next-to-the-last season. And David Milch was their Showrunner. I didn't work with Bochco [Steven Bochco], but Milch was wonderful to work with. We used to meet for breakfast at the Beverly Hills Hotel. He had a booth that he sat in every morning. And so he would just schedule guys to come in and meet with him, and we talked a lot about the show and about, you know, the scripts that we were doing. He was the only Producer, Showrunner that ever did that with me. And I enjoyed doing it, you know? It's a pretty strong Crew. I got to work with, you know, with all of those Actors and learned--[INT: 'Cause HILL STREET was that breaking point where we went from the seven-day, which was, you know, stand 'em up there and shoot 'em to what HILL STREET was like.] Yeah. Yeah, and you know what? I think that part of my experience there with the moving camera and so forth, the dollies, we would, like, do these long tracking shots through the police station, shot like this, two guys, like, right next to each other, you know? And it kind of gives you stuff that you wouldn't even, that you would think would be kind of taboo to even try, but the Actors were so good at walking like this next to each other. And that it kind of, like, it kind of made me realize that we could take more chances with shots like that. [INT: 'Cause it was a little bit more cinema verité.] Very much so. [INT: Yeah.] Very much so. And you know, the rules that are so ironclad kind of become a little bit less specific, you know, and even screen direction and things like that can be played with a little bit. And I've been with old-time Cinematographers who won't let you cross the line--[INT: Oh, god.]--in any way. [INT: Yeah.] There would be long discussions, you know? And then there are those that, "Yeah, you know geography rules," or that kind of thing, you know? [INT: Yeah, yeah.]


INT: And so, then you started forging that… let's talk about cable, cable television, you know? You started getting into doing cable TV. 

SL: Well, yeah. You know, I did a movie in '84 [1984]. And we skipped a lot of years there, but it was good. I did a couple, in the early '80s [1980s], I did a couple of really important projects for me. One was the AMERICAN PLAYHOUSE production of GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN [AMERICAN PLAYHOUSE: GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN], which we shot in Atlanta, which was, of course, James Baldwin's book. The project was sanctioned by him, so I got to meet him and interact with him to a certain extent as we developed it. [INT: And when did you come into the process? Did you come in early?] Early. Early. [INT: So you were helping?] When Bob Geller [Robert Geller] and those guys from Learning in Focus [Learning in Focus, Inc.] sold it, I was involved, because I had done two films with them for THE AMERICAN SHORT STORY series that had done really well on the festival circuit. And so I was their black Director. They had a lot of projects, but I did the black ones. [INT: So, okay, let's talk about this period 'cause there was, it was that and then, you know, you started dabbling in feature films.] Yeah. So, I did GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN, and just as I reached the, you know, had, like, a rough cut together, you know, that was working in New York, a rough cut, I get a call from David Picker [David V. Picker], who's partnered with Harry Belafonte on a movie called BEAT STREET. And they had a Director who they had worked with in all the development and the prep and everything, and they decided that he was the wrong Director. And so they called me in one night. I mean, called me to meet them one night. And I didn't get the, got the script, like, that day, and I was gonna read it that night, and then, I got a call. Like, they said, "You got to come right now." I mean, "You got to come this evening because Harry's leaving town." So I was, like, reading the script. Literally. Literally. I was downstairs in front of his office, no from Dave's apartment, finishing the script, because, you know, it was that up to the wire. And I went in and, you know, and we had a good meeting, but...


INT: Now that's getting into '84 [1984], right? [SL: It was '84.] '84. I want to go back to Moms Mabley. [SL: Oh, Moms Mabley was '73 [1973].] I know, I want to go back there. [SL: Okay.] We jumped over that. 

SL: So Matt Robinson--[INT: I want to come back to BEAT STREET.] The famous Matt Robinson. [INT: Famous Matt Robinson.] Who was my buddy, you know, a Philly guy. You know, he was a friend of my big brother's, so I was like the little kid who ran around in this neighborhood, but now we're colleagues. He was--[INT: So let me do a time frame. Okay, AMAZING GRACE is '73.] Yeah, '72 [1972], '73. [INT: So this was before Bud Yorkin and SANFORD AND SON.] Oh, yeah. Yeah. [INT: Okay, no, let's talk about that.] Yeah, this was before SANFORD. In fact, so I got to work with, you know… AMAZING GRACE was this film that he made, that he produced, I mean, he wrote. And he sold it to David Picker [David V. Picker], who was the head of United Artists? Or was it Orion? No, Orion was BEAT STREET. Yeah, United Artists. And it's a $750,000 budget, which was ample in '73. It was big budget for, you know… we certainly knew we could do what we wanted. And the one caveat was that it was starring Moms Mabley, who was very old, who had a bad heart, and who was desperate to make this movie before she, you know, gave it up. And Matt was a big fan of hers. You know, he was a big, you know, kind of authority on comedy and black comedy and the history of black comedy and the Chitlin' Circuit and all of that. So, for him it was a big deal, and it became a big deal for both of us. And we put together a pretty good Cast: Slappy White was in it, Butterfly McQueen of GONE WITH THE WIND fame. [INT: Academy Award.] Yeah. No, she didn't get the Academy Award. It was the other one. [INT: No, it was Hattie McDaniel who got the Academy Award.] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Stepin Fetchit, otherwise known as Lincoln Perry. [INT: Yes.] Or I should say it the other way around. Moses Gunn, Rosalind Cash. It was a pretty hot Cast, you know, 'cause Moses and Rosalind were, like, you know, real Actors from the theater. And all the other guys were like vaudeville/Chitlin' Circuit comedians and so forth. So it was a lively set. And Moms was in the middle of it, and she was, like I said, not very healthy.


SL: And somewhere around, into the end of the third week of shooting [AMAZING GRACE], we shut down because Moms [Moms Mabley] was having problems, and she went and had a pacemaker inserted, and about four weeks later, we went back. So now we have Moms with a pacemaker, looking, she's probably lost 10, 15, 20 pounds from what she was before we stopped. And we had a stand-in who was really a double. So even in shots when we were shooting over her shoulder, she would be off somewhere. You know, we would bring her in on a wheelchair and stand her up, and roll the camera and stand her up, and she would do her lines. And it was crazy. [INT: So, how long after that did she pass?] Not long. Not long. But we got the film done. [INT: So that was your first feature.] That was my first feature. [INT: And so you were still doing BLACK JOURNAL and all those other things.] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, there was time off in between that, yeah. [INT: Right, right, but you know, you were still in that New York zone.] Yeah, right in the middle of that, yeah. [INT: Before you went to Hollywood.] Right. [INT: So you came to Hollywood with all, you know, so came with a lot of, you had the comedy.] Right. Yeah, and I had been, you know, and it's funny, because SANFORD AND SON, once Redd [Redd Foxx] realized, you know, that I'd worked with them and everything, then it was like another tie with him, because those were all his people too. [INT: Slappy [Slappy White] and all them, yeah.] Yeah.


INT: So you ended up… then you did GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN was sort of… 

SL: That was a wonderful experience for me, because--I use that word too many times, also. But that was… [INT: Use it again.] Yeah. First of all, it was a great script, and I, once again, I had this stellar Cast. [INT: Who wrote the script? Who did it?] Leslie Lee did the rewrite on it. [INT: Oh Leslie, yeah. The adaption.] The adaption. [INT: And you and Leslie worked a lot together on that adaptation, ‘cause you came in early.] Absolutely. Absolutely. And the Cast included Paul Winfield as Gabriel Grimes, the older Gabriel Grimes; Ving Rhames was the younger Gabriel Grimes. Alfre Woodard, CCH Pounder, Rosalind Cash once again, Ruby Dee, Olivia Cole. All these women were in there with amazing roles, and they were extraordinary. And then I had Paul, and Kadeem Hardison had a small part in there, along with James Bond III was the lead who played the young character who represented the author, James Baldwin. And probably some more that I'm forgetting. [INT: Did you get time to rehearse with them?] We did rehearse. We rehearsed, you know, a few days before we started shooting. [INT: And was Baldwin around at all?] Baldwin was around, you know, at the beginning when we were talking about it, and then he was around, right around, you know, the first or second cut, he was, you know, in that. [INT: And what did he say?] He loved it. He had no notes about anything. He was thrilled, and he felt really good about it because it was a good film. It's still a good film. That film took me to Telluride [Telluride Film Festival]. It was very big at Telluride. As a result, it got invited to the London Film Festival, where it was also very well received, and the Berlin Film Festival [Berlin International Film Festival]. So I kind of made the the festival circuit and did some international traveling with it and got to meet, you know, got to come in contact with some European Directors and Producers, and it was a good experience for me.


INT: So I want to go back again to SAVE THE CHILDREN. That was, again, '70 [1970]. 

SL: That was '73 [1973]. That was Quincy Jones and Clarence Avant, along with Ewart Abner. I don't know if you know who he was. He was the head of Motown [Motown Records]. He was, like, second in command to Berry Gordy at the time. And Jesse Jackson, put together this project called Operation--well, Operation PUSH was their kind of mandate; their kind of campaign, but this was a weekend…. Operation PUSH weekend in Chicago, for three days at the amphitheater, the Chicago Amphitheatre [International Amphitheatre], which was really an old cow palace or something, 'cause, you know. Anyway, and it was three days of concerts, 28 acts, with the likes of, you know, Quincy with a big audience, I mean a big orchestra, with all the all-star orchestra. And it was Gladys Knight and the Pips, Nancy Wilson, Temptations, O'Jays, Ohio Players, Main Ingredient, Marvin Gaye. I could just keep naming 'em. The Jackson 5 blew it up. And we shot everybody on stage, 12 cameras. It was all, you know, it was shot in film, and came up with the film SAVE THE CHILDREN, which is probably one of the best, probably the best music documentary that nobody's ever seen.


INT: It's interesting, because you go from the '73s [1973] to '84 [1984] and doing a lot of television, and you kind of, I don't want to say missed the Blaxploitation. You know, it's like, "Where's the Stan Lathan Blaxploitation?" 

SL: Well, Moms Mabley's film [AMAZING GRACE] was pretty… [INT: Okay, was in that, would be kind of…] Yeah, pretty much a Blaxploitation film. Yes. Absolutely. It was about an old woman in Baltimore who single-handedly gets a, you know, a crooked politician, turns him un-crooked, and gets him elected mayor. And it was pretty much almost slapstick. That was the closest thing to an exploitation that you could have.


INT: So then BEAT STREET comes along. You're downstairs. You're with, you know, Harry Belafonte, and we're going into a whole new... 

SL: A whole new thing. [INT: New thing.] And, you know, it was '84 [1984]. You know, my kids were, you know, very young. My kids were still… Sanaa [Sanaa Lathan] was, like, 12 or something like that, you know. And it was some hip-hop stuff going on. And so this film, you know, I come to New York, and it's all about the world of hip-hop, and I was, like, thrust into it. Of course, yeah, I was, you know, listening to a little bit of rap and stuff, but it wasn't really that prevalent at that point. And coming out of that film, I mean, I got to work with, you know, all of the top guys: DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, the Soulsonic Force, you name it. So that… It was a good experience also. A lot of music, and I got into that world in New York and got to, you know, kind of work in there. And out of that sort of, the residual effect of that was, you know, getting together with Russell Simmons, who was looking to try to do something in film and television, because he was a, you know, budding music mogul and is always looking ahead, and then we ended up partnering on the next phase.


INT: What was the first thing that you and Russell [Russell Simmons] worked on together? 

SL: First thing we did was, you know, after deciding that we were gonna, you know, try to do something together, was go to the Comedy Act Theater in L.A., which would be Thursday nights, The Comedy Act Theater, where Robin Harris would have a show, would host a show with all of the top L.A. black comedians on Thursday nights. And then we went to New York and we went to the Uptown Comedy Club, which was in Harlem. It was the same thing, only there was a, you know, different, you know, it was a whole, but it was pretty much the same environment. And we realized that, "Hey, this is something that's pretty special." This was our first, really, kind of, first thing that we tried to do together. We had some films and stuff like that that we wanted to try to develop, but… So it was so obvious that this was, you know, a hugely exciting event, these comedy shows. The audiences were partying. It was, like, the place, the whole thing was like a big festive, funny experience. And I said, "Wow. Who would do this?" You know, because, you know, all the comedy was raw comedy, very raw. And I had just, this was in '88 [1988], '89 [1989], and '87 [1987], I had just directed a number of episodes of a show called 1ST & TEN for HBO, which starred O.J. Simpson, as a matter of fact. But it was about a football team, and there was a lot of nudity, and the thing that was made clear was that HBO wanted the nudity. You know, we had to have, you know, bare chests and, you know, cursing and all that kind of stuff. So I realized and we realized that HBO was one place that might be interested in this kind of comedy. And so we talked to Chris, you know, Albrecht [Chris Albrecht]. He was kind of interested. But then we took Carolyn Strauss, who was just a, you know, development exec there, to the Comedy Act Theater in New York, and she was probably one of the three white people in the room, but her mind was blown by the experience, 'cause, you know, the audience, the excitement of the audience and the excitement in the room is unforgettable. So she said, she took us then into Chris, and then Chris said, "Yeah, I'll buy it." He said, "I'll buy four shows, and then you can own 'em, because we don't really want to own 'em. You can own 'em. Four shows." So Sandy Wernick, who had been involved with us, with the Brillstein Company, kind of got, set up, you know, got the meeting there. And then Brad Grey was, like, you know, involved in, you know, trying to get the deal set. We went back, we shot four shows. And when we got back to L.A. and they looked at the four shows, he came back and he said…