Sorry to Bother You

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In the season finale of Don’t @ Me, Justin sits down with Boots Riley, the man, and the legend behind Sorry to Bother You. Boots wrote and directed the film, as well as supervising its soundtrack. After a decades long career as a rapper and lyricist with The Coup and with Tom Morello in Street Sweeper Social Club, Boots was depressed and looking for a new creative outlet.

As a young man, he had pursued music, film, activism and community-building simultaneously and in 2012, he turned back to film. He wrote the screenplay that became Sorry to Bother You, but the film had a long journey to the screen. With a paperback version of the screenplay, a full-length album, and two Sundance labs all before shooting started, the production’s twists and turns mirror the surreal world of Cassius Green in Sorry to Bother You.

Boots Riley draws inspiration from many sources. He shares this mini-curriculum.

Film:

  • Emir Kusturica’s films: Black Cat, White Cat (1998), Underground (1995), Time of Gypsies (1988)
  • Sergei Parajanov’s Color of Pomegranates (1969)
  • Charles Burnett’s To Sleep with Anger (1990)
  • Paul Schrader’s Michima (1985)
  • The films of Milos Forman
  • The films of Michael Cimino
  • The Coen Brothers’ films

Arts and Literature:

  • The paintings of Jacob Lawrence
  • The novels of Toni Morrison, notably, Song of Solomon
  • The novels of Gabriel García Márquez
  • Ralph Ellison’s novel, Invisible Man


Boots Riley: Somebody ends up with it on a VHS forcing ten people to watch it at their house or something like that.

Justin Simien: Right, right.

Boots Riley: Or experimental film, you get it in an exhibit at a museum or something like that. So we also happened to be in Oakland at a time when because most corporations, especially entertainment corporations whether it's music or film, are as a whole stupid. They had to have a group from Oakland because other people had had hits from Oakland.

Justin Simien: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Boots Riley: If somebody has a green jacket on and they had a hit we'd better get more people with green jackets.

Justin Simien: [Laughs]

(3:58)

Boots Riley: Right? So we happened to be in Oakland at the right time and the right place. Somebody offered, you know, me being what, 20 years old, $50,000 to make music. I'm like okay, that's what I'm doing.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: And so did that and did that for 20-something years.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: And the . . . then . . . then I think . . . you know, I did this other band with Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine called Street Sweeper Social Club. And that was a . . . Tom is a really good friend of mine but that experience of him doing the music and me doing the lyrics kind of left me not feeling great creatively.

Justin Simien: Really?

Boots Riley: Just because one, you know, for all the things I talk about being able -- you know, like the world should be able to collaborate and all this kind of stuff. It's hard to work around certain . . . certain artistic compromises.

Justin Simien: Mm-hmm.

Boots Riley: And I don't mean compromise in a bad way.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: But just like hey, this is how I do what I do; this is how you do what you do.

Justin Simien: Right.

Boots Riley: And I think also I was probably dealing with the idea that there's a sound that Tom makes that is associated with Zack de la Rocha's voice coming out.

Justin Simien: Yep. Mm-hmm.

Boots Riley: So when you hear a different voice coming out people are like "Where is Zack?" You know, that sort of thing.

Justin Simien: Right, right.

Boots Riley: And so anyway, for better or worse I think we made some great music but I just also was used to the vision being mine.

Justin Simien: Yeah, yeah.

Boots Riley: You know, and collaborating with people but definitely in a different way.

Justin Simien: Right.

Boots Riley: Help me make my vision.

Justin Simien: But you're like a . . . I mean the word autor does come to mind, but it's like what you're talking about is authorship. It's like whose thing is this? Whose world are we playing in it's like . . .

(6:00)

Boots Riley: Yeah, yes. So -- and that was cool. That felt I was like a tourist in that world and so that was cool except I was like okay, I want to do something where it is my vision, and definitely this whole thing, everything you do is about collaboration. But again from a certain point like here's the vision. Here's what I want to do. Help me do that better, right?

Justin Simien: Yep.

Boots Riley: And so, yeah, I sat down. You know, I'd been talking about writing a film for years and just like life just never getting around to it. And I sat down in a hotel room one time and downloaded Final Draft and started typing.

Justin Simien: [Laughs]

Boots Riley: A few lines down, that's the thing, all of a sudden it looks like . . .

Justin Simien: A script, yeah.

Boots Riley: A script. Like wow, I'm writing a script, you know?

Justin Simien: Yeah. What was the breaking point? What was the -- because you know we all . . . we all have that experience of there's that thing you know you've got to do. God damn it, I've got to get this out. But then I mean I feel like there's always a breaking point where it's like okay, I've got to write this today. I've got to start today. Did you have one like that? Or was it cumulative?

Boots Riley: Yeah. I mean that -- I think that was it, like I was actually at the . . . what's that hotel across from the Chinese theater on . . .

Justin Simien: Oh. It's not the W is it? [Talking in Background] Roosevelt, yeah.

Boots Riley: Roosevelt. I think the Roosevelt Hotel, we were doing something for Street Sweeper Social Club.

Justin Simien: Uh-huh.

Boots Riley: But I was just there and it was very lonely, very, you know . . .

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: I don't know. You know, not to put -- just for me living . . . I live in Oakland still. That thing kind of felt really fake.

Justin Simien: Right.

Boots Riley: And I was feeling depressed like what am I doing? You know, is this what -- where I want to be? And so just . . . just feeling like okay, I have to do something to take hold of this feeling.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

(8:05)

Boots Riley: And feel like I'm putting something out there that I want to put out.

Justin Simien: Depression is pretty good for that I have to say. You know, as much as . . . because I have depression and I hate that but it definitely helped me figure out when my breaking point was. That I can't -- you know, I don't know that I would've gotten there as quickly as I did if it wasn't for the crippling sense of doom. [Laughs]

Boots Riley: Well I think that that's also just, you know, being in touch with what you want to do versus what you are doing.

Justin Simien: Yeah, that's it. That's it. Before you were here I was talking to Ilana and Cameron -- I'm not sure what order these things come out -- but we were talking. I was asking them this question about . . . that was posed to me about what part of your work is your zone of genius, meaning the thing that is just that's you. You're in the flow, you're in the zone, and it gives you energy. And what part of your work is your zone of expertise meaning you're really good at this thing and you might even like doing it, you might even love doing it, but at the end of the day it takes away your energy. And it feels like to me that's what you were kind of deciding between. It's like I'm good at this thing and it's working for me. Like when I left my job I was making a lot of money doing a very specific specialized task and so I'm looking around like why am I complaining so much? Well because that wasn't my zone of genius; that was my zone of expertise.

Boots Riley: Yeah.

Justin Simien: It was draining me. It feels like that's what you were talking about. Did you find that with this movie, Sorry to Bother You?

Boots Riley: I definitely feel like I've always known what I can do versus what gets me excited.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

(9:48)

Boots Riley: And, you know, I had that period with, you know, early on basically we got no . . . you know, I got known for my lyrics. Like oh, he's a lyricist. And after a while you can kind of get cynical and there's certain tricks to that.

Justin Simien: Yeah, yeah.

Boots Riley: You know, it becomes about like being clever. Like oh, look, I can put this word with that. I can, you know, I can put this idea on top of that and there's these puns and these similes and all that kind of stuff and it's all these technical things that you're doing, and I know how to do them. For me it would be that sort of thing would make it hard when I wrote my albums because I knew what I could do to get a certain group of folks excited, right?

Justin Simien: Yeah. Yeah, it was for them.

Boots Riley: Yeah, but it wasn't something that was touching on something about humanity and life that I wanted to touch on. And this is separate from the fact that I wanted to put things out that had to do with building a movement and, you know, changing the system. But even within those parameters I wanted to talk -- lyrics that touched on life. So people that I would be excited about like for instance there's one route to go with lyrics that is like you hit these lines and it's all this stuff but it makes me feel subtracted from it. But some of the lyrics that I like are ones that wouldn't necessarily be . . . that aren't thought of as a lyricist sort of thing. You know, a Leonard Cohen line. You know, like a baby stillborn, like a bull with its horns, I have torn everyone who's reached out for me.

Justin Simien: Mm-hmm. Wow.

(11:55)

Boots Riley: Right? You know, you put that in a thing and it's not . . . that's not "raw" right?

Justin Simien: [Rolls lips] It's pretty raw to me, yeah. [Laughs]

Boots Riley: But I'm saying, you know, yeah. But like there's something that it's touching on that's something else. Yeah, yeah.

Justin Simien: It's -- yeah. I sort of like . . . because Michael Jackson's my house mother. And so in the conversation of Prince versus Michael I land on Michael but it's not because of any reason, like Prince is amazing as well. But to me lyrically I love, I love, I love Prince's lyrics because they're mysterious but they're specific enough to where you can kind of figure out what he's talking about.

Boots Riley: Yeah.

Justin Simien: But Michael's lyrics are like -- they're just like vocal expressions. It kind of doesn't even matter what he's saying really.

Boots Riley: Yeah.

Justin Simien: It's like it's the right vowel almost. It's the right consonant for the song.

Boots Riley: There's something else that he . . . there's something else that he's getting at that is not as easily or as definable intellectually.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: You're not going to . . . you know, without . . . you know, there's no, you know, there's no evidence that you're going to stack up.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: You know, like when people -- especially with lyrics, with hip-hop, you'll have these folks going back-and-forth.

Justin Simien: Yes, yeah.

Boots Riley: Like let's put this line-for-line and there's some sort of like . . .

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: Some sort of evidence that you can, um . . .

Justin Simien: This is smarter than that.

Boots Riley: Put up there. Yeah. And, you know, and that's not the part of my body I want to be feeling the music in.

Justin Simien: Well look, I mean, first of all I just spilled coffee all over myself. But listen, this is not what this is about but I've got to geek out just a little bit because if you take Speed Demon which is a song about a car and put it next to Lady Cab Driver which is also a song about a car . . .

Boots Riley: But I just want to say I am heavily way over on the Prince side.

Justin Simien: Oh, I got that. I know that.

Boots Riley: I'm not saying, it's just . . . okay.

Justin Simien: I know that. But I'm just saying like obviously the lyrics to Lady Cab Driver are much more sophisticated than the lyrics to Speed Demon.

(13:55)

Boots Riley: Yeah.

Justin Simien: But . . .

Boots Riley: Also there's a rape at the end of Lady Cab Driver.

Justin Simien: Oh yeah, where he's also praying at the same time.

Boots Riley: Yeah, yeah. So, you know, there's . . .

Justin Simien: There's a sophisticated metaphor going on whereas Speed Demon is just about the -- it's just about the song. It's just about how it moves you. Anyway, let's stop talking about music. I want to talk about film because the thing -- to me 2018 was really exciting for film. Oakland in particular really represented with your film and Blindspotting, for me those were like -- it was really exciting that there were two weird movies coming out of Oakland from black filmmakers that push the . . .

Boots Riley: That were filming at the exact same time.

Justin Simien: Is that so?

Boots Riley: Trying -- vying for equipment.

Justin Simien: [Laughs] Crabs in a barrel! Why do they have us competing? But it was like . . . it was like there's two of these coming out of here?

Boots Riley: Yeah.

Justin Simien: It was so exciting to me because this is the kind of movie . . . I felt like Sorry to Bother You is the kind of movie that you come across like once in a blue moon. It's like this is a really original something just brand fucking new but also being introduced to a space and a culture that . . . you know, I didn't grow up in Oakland. I have an idea of what Oakland is in my head but I felt Oakland in your movie in a way that I don't know if I can really put it into words. And what struck me as so great about your film is not only are you doing a lot of interesting things as a filmmaker, it felt like it came out of a process. And look, I'm just projecting onto you now.

Boots Riley: Okay.

Justin Simien: But it felt like it came out of a process that was unique as well. Like tell me about just the making of the thing and how you make things.

Boots Riley: Definitely. I mean, you know, when I . . . even with things that I have created many times before, sometimes I'll purposely mix up the process just so that I come out with something different.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: You know, I mean it's going to be different anyway. And then sometimes I mix up the process because I always forget how I did it last time until I'm like right in it, like oh, this is what I do.

Justin Simien: Yeah, right.

(16:00)

Boots Riley: But obviously with this this is my first film so what happened was I wrote the screenplay, finished it the beginning of 2012 or something like that, and had no connection to the industry at all. Had just an idea of how things got made in that way. And so I put out -- I decided to put out this album that I had been writing at the same time and making at the same time that was supposed to be the soundtrack. So we put out an album in 2012 called Sorry to Bother You that came -- that came out after I finished the screenplay thinking that that would help get some publicity around it and maybe attract some people with money.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: That didn't work. [Laughter]

Justin Simien: Okay. [Laughs]

Boots Riley: So I had to put it out and tour it to make money because, you know, when you're getting paid pennies you've got to go around collecting a lot of them. And so toured for a couple years and I was walking down Valencia in San Francisco and ran into Dave Eggers who runs McSweeney's which is a publishing house. And by this time I was throwing my hands in the air like okay, I guess I won't be able to get this made. But I put it out on the Internet, and because I've done music I'll at least -- I'll get some thousands of people to read it.

Justin Simien: Mm-hmm. Just put the screenplay out you mean? Yeah.

Boots Riley: Yeah, just put the screenplay out. And for me -- and I had written the screenplay. I had originally written even the scene descriptions in a way for it to be funny.

Justin Simien: For it to be -- yeah, yeah, yeah.

(17:50)

Boots Riley: Yeah, like for it to be its own thing.

Justin Simien: Right, right.

Boots Riley: And so I ran into Dave Eggers and I said "Look, I'm going to put this out on the Internet. Can you give me some notes on it so I can tighten it up before I do that?" Then he was like -- he read it and said "Wow, you need to let me put this out." And he put it out on McSweeney's as its own paperback book, in screenplay form, but as its own paperback book then packaged with the quarterly. So it went out to like ten or twenty thousand people in 2014.

Justin Simien: Okay. Wow.

Boots Riley: And, you know, and all of . . . you know, I have friends that were filmmakers but in the Bay Area people are making music videos and commercials as opposed to movies for the most part.

Justin Simien: Okay.

Boots Riley: And so everybody was like "No, you don't do that. You don't put your screenplay out there. Blah, blah, blah." I was like "I don't know but whatever I'm doing ain't working."

Justin Simien: Right, yeah.

Boots Riley: This is . . . and so doing that and the reaction it was getting got me hyped about like actually maybe I can get this made. So I joined SF Film as a filmmaker in residence and then in 2015 joined the Sundance Writers Lab, got into the Sundance Writers Lab. During that year they also put me through the Catalyst program which is where you go and pitch your stuff to investors. 2016, the Director's Lab got money together and then we shot in 2017.

Justin Simien: Wow. Wow.

Boots Riley: So it's been . . .

Justin Simien: So it was through the Director's Lab? The Director's . . .

Boots Riley: Yeah, it went the Director and the Writer's Lab. Yeah.

Justin Simien: Wow, that's amazing.

Boots Riley: Yeah, and Sundance, you know, really picking it out and putting it through that Catalyst program because, you know, we had gotten in touch already with Significant which is Nina Yang Bongiovi and Forest Whitaker's company and Significant put up the lion's share of the money but we met through the Catalyst program -- we met Macro who put up a significant amount and then also Cinereach who we met through the Catalyst program.

Justin Simien: Yeah. That's great.

(20:18)

Boots Riley: And the dude, Gus Deardoff, that put forward . . . he was like "Hey, I can give you $80,000 right now." I was like cool, you can put it in this pocket right here.

Justin Simien: Wow, wow.

Boots Riley: And, you know, that was getting the development going.

Justin Simien: Wow. Man, that is crazy. That's crazy to me because it's like it worked. [Laughs] Like the system worked, you know what I mean?

Boots Riley: I guess. Yeah, yeah. Well let's put it like this.

Justin Simien: In this instance anyway, you know?

Boots Riley: Yeah, it did. It did. I think some of it had to do with the hype that was built around it that had a lot to do with me not doing exactly what was -- because you're not supposed to put it out.

Justin Simien: Right, right, right.

Boots Riley: Put out your screenplay first. Then also honestly to get a hold of a lot of the talent that was there, even building up the . . . because we had other people onboard throughout the time that got people excited about it. You know, other . . . other actors onboard that got people excited about it. And doing that was by circumventing agents.

Justin Simien: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Boots Riley: You know, by going around them and doing stuff that some people are like "You don't do that. That's stepping on toes," or whatever.

Justin Simien: Right.

Boots Riley: But me getting to the . . . me doing stuff like driving two hours to find somebody while they're speaking somewhere and sneaking in there and getting . . .

Justin Simien: Right.

Boots Riley: You know, those sorts of things. I guess that's the system working, but like not doing the thing that I'm told is uncouth to do.

(21:58)

Justin Simien: Yeah. Well I think -- I think . . .

Boots Riley: I mean doing the thing that I'm told it's uncouth to do.

Justin Simien: I think when I say the system working, you know, I'm talking about the Sundance and all that stuff because a lot of times, you know . . .

Boots Riley: Yeah.

Justin Simien: Gems don't make it all the way to the top of the soil, you know what I mean? We know that. But I mean I think you're right. I think especially for us, filmmakers like us, black filmmakers that have things to say that maybe are a little bit different than what people are used to hearing, yeah, you've got to always have one foot outside the system. [Laughs]

Boots Riley: And had I not gotten into the Writer's Lab at Sundance, besides -- maybe it would've got made but it would've been . . . so what I learned from there were things that, you know, that . . . that I got from writers that I'm . . . the kind of writers that I might not've gotten in contact with otherwise. Writers that had been through the Hollywood thing, the whole industry, but also who had a large irreverence to it as well.

Justin Simien: Yeah, yeah.

Boots Riley: So, you know, the screenplay was very controversial at Sundance itself. I won't say, I don't know, very, but people . . . there was a camp of people that loved it and a camp of people that were like "Uh, this is pretty damn crazy."

Justin Simien: Okay. [Laughs]

Boots Riley: And -- and . . . and those folks, and I would hear . . . these were masters of their craft, right?

Justin Simien: Okay. These are people who are in charge. Is that what you're saying? Or like your peers or . . .

Boots Riley: They're not in charge. I'm talking about there are writers who had put things out.

Justin Simien: Okay, got it.

Boots Riley: And, you know, been very successful at what they are doing and they're donating their time to come and talk to folks. So, you know, you're . . . one, I was always hyped for anybody to read the screenplay because it was like they were watching my movie or whatever.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

(23:55)

Boots Riley: But -- to have them all read it. But also to have them disagree about it was one very important thing to me.

Justin Simien: Okay.

Boots Riley: Because, you know, a lot of times you'll go to people and they've got the answer, right?

Justin Simien: Yeah, yeah.

Boots Riley: And they're like "This is how it's done. This is what's more professional and that is less professional. And what you're doing is going towards more professional." You know?

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: And so you end up where everything gets smoothed out in the same way, right?

Justin Simien: Yep. Mm-hmm.

Boots Riley: And this was -- this let me know when I'm sitting there seeing them debate with each other about it that nobody knows what the fuck they're doing.

Justin Simien: Yeah. That is the -- dude, that is the revelation for me. Everyone I know that's trying to break in, I'm like here's the thing: nobody knows. Nobody knows. And once you realize that it gives you . . . it may be a little terrifying but it gives you permission to do it your way.

Boots Riley: Yeah.

Justin Simien: Is that how you took it?

Boots Riley: Yeah, exactly. I'm like look, we're all trying to figure this out right?

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: Nobody knows. Even people that are doing it by the numbers, and especially them because they're doing it by the numbers and they -- you know, by page ten it should be this; by page thirty it should be that.

Justin Simien: Sure.

Boots Riley: Still scared, you know?

Justin Simien: Yeah, we're all scared. [Laughs]

Boots Riley: Like yeah, you know? Like the . . . and so what I knew is the best thing I could do is be in touch with it on a visceral level.

Justin Simien: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.

Boots Riley: And also be honest with myself about what worked, what doesn't work. And then I think some of the same things that weren't working were the things that I had learned earlier from music but hadn't put . . . which was trying to just be so clever that it's not in touch with what's real, you know?

Justin Simien: Mm-hmm.

(25:52)

Boots Riley: Because, you know, we had long monologues from everybody, every character in there, that made me look really good as a writer -- like I knew a lot of words.

Justin Simien: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. [Laughs]

Boots Riley: And -- and, you know, but . . . but being able to be honest with yourself and taking notes but also just know that there's a wildcard.

Justin Simien: Yeah. Well let me ask you this because I know some -- some artists need everybody in moments like this to like it, to go "You know what? I get it. I get it. It works." And they hear like a chorus of "It works" before they can take a step forward. And I know some artists that are bothered if their work is universally liked, like they feel like they didn't do their job. Do you . . .

Boots Riley: Well I know some of my heroes like Kubrick or something like that, like definitely I have seen -- you know, one thing that made me feel good was seeing some of his great work was just panned when it came out.

Justin Simien: Absolutely.

Boots Riley: Right? And so, you know, definitely as great reviews were coming out I was like oh, maybe this is just some bullshit.

Justin Simien: Wow.

Boots Riley: But believe me I got enough bad reviews that . . .

Justin Simien: [Laughs] I did it!

Boots Riley: I wasn't -- I wasn't missing them.

Justin Simien: That's brave, man. That is a brave place to be, I've got to tell you, because I have gone through bad Kubrick reviews just to make myself feel better. I have.

Boots Riley: Yeah.

Justin Simien: Because when you see that 2001: A Space Odyssey which is my favorite movie of all time or like Clockwork Orange or any number of his masterpieces, and they're all masterpieces -- master works -- none of them were universally understood or even revered. None of them.

(27:45)

Boots Riley: Now I want . . . you know, I'm making art that aims to say something so I'm hoping that people understand it. And so I'm not saying I want to just, you know, stare at this grapefruit for an hour.

Justin Simien: Sure.

Boots Riley: Then you should feel it, you know? Or something, you know?

Justin Simien: Right. [Laughs]

Boots Riley: But yeah, I do think that if you are pushing some limits, if you are doing something new, people are going to feel like it's not right. Some people are going to feel like . . .

Justin Simien: [Overlap 0:28:25]

Boots Riley: Wow, this is not -- I mean it's just because it's not what you're used to. I mean E-40 for instance is somebody who is now thought of as like the, what does he call himself, the ambassador of Bay Area rap.

Justin Simien: Uh-huh.

Boots Riley: But I was there when he came out and people were like what the fuck is this?

Justin Simien: Right, right, right.

Boots Riley: Because he was going all off the measure and doing all kinds of stuff. You know, he had a style that was new. And even without calling them out some of the producers that ended up working with him were at the time like hell no, right?

Justin Simien: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Boots Riley: And that is how it all works out. I look at there's an interview with George Clinton in 1976 where they had just had their first hit. I don't remember what it was. Must've been like One Nation Under Groove or something like that. And he's talking in there how up until that time people were saying that their music was white music.

Justin Simien: Which is nuts.

Boots Riley: And -- and right now they're thought of as the essence of blackness, right?

Justin Simien: Yeah. There's nothing blacker. [Laughs]

Boots Riley: And so what it does tell us is that all of that stuff is fluid, right?

Justin Simien: Yeah.

(29:50)

Boots Riley: But it also tells us that because what they were doing was a little different that it takes people . . .

Justin Simien: A second.

Boots Riley: A second to adjust to it and to feel it in that way.

Justin Simien: I think that's great because you know the thing that worries me -- I'm going to be honest -- is that in music there's a taste for that. I mean you see it over and over again. It's like I Want Her by Keith Sweat. You know, people did not understand that song when it first came out. Now it's like where would we be without new jack swing? Uh . . .

Boots Riley: Wait, people didn't understand that? Nah, I think that was when that came out we were all feeling . . .

Justin Simien: Well that's the story -- that's the story that, you know, Keith will tell, and Teddy Riley. That's the story they tell which is that, you know, the first stations that played it the people loved it.

Boots Riley: Oh, okay.

Justin Simien: But to convince the stations to even play it it was like it doesn't fit in any of these categories. What are we doing? And something like Hey Ya, okay? Or even One in a Million. Which I remember the first time I heard that Timbaland stutter as a kid I was like what the fuck is that?

Boots Riley: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.

Justin Simien: But then I -- you know, I feel like in music there is a . . . I don't know. I feel like I'm used to leaning into something that feels different in music. In film I do kind of feel like audiences through the years are less interested . . .

Boots Riley: Because it's how we have been captured during that time. It's a different thing.

Justin Simien: Yeah, it's true.

Boots Riley: Like you can listen to music and you have your world doing whatever it's doing, right?

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: But you have somebody in a film, you've kidnapped them into a world and way of looking at things. And so there can be, you know . . . there can be a different kind of reaction to that.

Justin Simien: If we get them there. Like Boot, how do we create a world where -- because I feel like I didn't grow up in this time period so I can read about it nostalgically but I feel like in the mid-70s adults would go to movies to be surprised and to be like "What the fuck was that?" and to talk about it. That was a fun thing to do.

Boots: Yeah.

Justin Simien: Now it's like if you've got to have your brain on in a movie people will just dismiss it. That's the thing too. And I . . . I love the fact that I can walk into your movie and be challenged by it and entertained. I mean that to me is the quintessential movie-going experience. I love that in a movie. I hate when I go into a movie and my brain didn't fire off once.

Boots Riley: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I mean . . .

Justin Simien: How do we get people more used to it? Obviously making -- you've been making movies that are successful . . .

(32:00)

Boots Riley: I think just making -- making more . . . and it's . . . it's a language, right? It's like people understanding that they might be able to be taken by surprise. I don't know. Or . . . or yeah, I think it's more of that, people knowing that. But then it's weird because then that new thing becomes the rule that everybody does.

Justin Simien: Yeah. Yeah.

Boots Riley: But I think that's part . . . so . . . and then I wouldn't . . . you know, I don't want to make 20 Sorry to Bother Yous.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: Where oh, okay, here comes this part. That sort of thing.

Justin Simien: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Here's the part where they turn into horses. Okay.

Boots Riley: But we're not putting that on here just in case people hadn't seen it, so hopefully . . .

Justin Simien: Oh. First of all I guarantee that 90% of the people who listen to this podcast have seen your movie.

Boots Riley: All right. [Laughs] All right.

Justin Simien: And if you haven't this would be a great time. We're going to take a break. [Laughs] Please let the soft sounds of someone from KCRW lull you into buying something. We'll be right back. All right, I'm back with Boots Riley. We are talking about Sorry to Bother You. So before we went to break, uh, we were talking about audiences' appetite for being challenged by a film.

Boots Riley: Yeah, I think -- I think that's the thing. That's, as an artist, I mean I don't think we can . . . you want it to be where people are just like "Okay, cool." You know, like you want them to be open to it. But when I see somebody tweet like "I saw Sorry to Bother You and I'm disturbed," I don't take that as bad.

Justin Simien: That's great. That's good news. [Laughs]

Boots Riley: You know what I'm saying? Like . . . like . . .

Justin Simien: If you walk out of that movie feeling verified or feeling like I feel great about reality, something didn't happen.

Boots Riley: Yeah. Well I want -- you know, I have a . . . I'm hoping, and a lot of people have taken it this way, I'm hoping that it's an optimistic thing. However it doesn't mean that it's just pleasant, you know what I'm saying?

Justin Simien: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

(34:00)

Boots Riley: You know, it's just like I'm not just here to give you a massage, right? You know?

Justin Simien: [Laughs] It's a deep tissue. It hurts a little bit.

Boots Riley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Justin Simien: What is the . . . I mean Sorry to Bother You also was a huge financial success. Like what do you -- how do you interpret that? Because for me that made me really excited because it made me feel like wow, audiences are ready to do this every year maybe you know?

Boots Riley: Yeah, I think . . . I think it's . . . and look, you know, I think that it's something that will -- it's still gaining ground.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: People are seeing it every day on VOD and all that kind of stuff. People that I . . .  we did most of our promotion, most of it through social media. And that's -- that's limited to a certain thing.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: Like we did one. I remember we did one showing that Erykah Badu hosted -- name drop.

Justin Simien: [Laughs]

Boots Riley: And she -- she invited all of her friends and that's what the theater was filled up with. And I'm watching and people are just rolling out of their seats and laughing at stuff that's in the trailer and I'm like this is weird, you know?

Justin Simien: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.

Boots Riley: And afterwards I asked by show of hands "How many of you have never even heard about this movie?"

Justin Simien: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.

Boots Riley: I mean this is like right before the movie came out too. And 70% of them had never even heard of it.

Justin Simien: Wow, wow, wow.

Boots Riley: So there's a myth about promoting on social where we see all the stuff that's related to what we like.

Justin Simien: Oh.

Boots Riley: And we think we're in this whole other world. So I think right now it's still reaching people that never even heard about it.

Justin Simien: Yeah. Yeah.

(35:50)

Boots Riley: But so what I'll say is this: that it does excite me and it also means a lot of people want to, you know, with funding to do the things I want to do, want to work with me. So that's kind of just how I look at it for myself, but I also think it is inspiring. You know, look, I go speak at schools now, like all this fall and summer, and in the spring as well, and a lot of young filmmakers are coming up to me saying "I didn't know we could do this."

Justin Simien: That's it. That's it. That is it, mean. I was -- that's what's so powerful about your movie is there are little Boots Rileys sitting around [Laughs] that are going to encounter this thing at some point in their life and go "Oh, we can do this?"

Boots: Yeah.

Justin Simien: Because you kind of did all the things in that film. [Laughter] You were like -- I mean you went for it and there was like no apologies. Tell me this: what is the -- is there a note that you are so glad you didn't take? [Laughs]

Boots Riley: Oh yeah, there's some notes that I mean I don't even -- I wasn't even considering, you know?

Justin Simien: Uh-huh. But just something that's like, you know, in retrospect is definitely cray.

Boots Riley: I mean there's so many of them I've got to figure out which one is the funniest. You know, like I had somebody tell me like just that, you know, really it's just . . . boil it down to just it's Detroit and Cassius and there's a union struggle. That's what it really is about.

Justin Simien: So just take the DNA . . .

Boots Riley: And we also need to meet -- we need to see Detroit and Cassius meet at the telemarketing place.

Justin Simien: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.

Boots Riley: And, you know, just all these -- those . . . I mean that was the most blatant like let's make it this, you know?

Justin Simien: Yeah, yeah.

Boots Riley: And let's make it this other thing.

Justin Simien: Just gut it of its DNA basically.

(37:48)

Boots Riley: Yeah. But so there's a thing in indie film making, like indie film making likes to look at itself as being very cutting-edge. But because of the economic restraints there's a certain way of cutting down to do that.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: To where everything gets cut down to where it's two people talking on a couch or something like that.

Justin Simien: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Boots Riley: And so I have all of these little things that people are like "Why is that in there? That's not 'serving the narrative.'" Right? But for me it's telling me something more about these folks and their world. And, you know -- and things that . . . in ways that don't necessarily go linear in the story but they make you feel that world.

Justin Simien: What's an example of that from Sorry to Bother You -- I mean I feel like there's quite a few.

Boots Riley: I mean this is a little one. There's like the bottle that opens that Danny Glover is drinking something from. And for me that went along with the theme of there are so many things that are behind things that we think are real.

Justin Simien: And just describe that, just for the kids at home who haven't seen . . .

Boots Riley: Okay. So Danny -- I mean this is just a little thing but to me it's an important detail. It's like Danny Glover is -- plays Langston who has been the person that somehow knew about this white voice, this magical white voice, and taught Cassius how to do it. And they're at a bar and before him and Cassius start talking again he orders a drink and the bartender goes to pick up a bottle of whiskey and he says "Nah, uh-uh. Not that one. I want the good stuff." And then the bartender goes towards an identical bottle of whiskey that has basically like a secret door on the front of it.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

(39:50)

Boots Riley: That opens up.

Justin Simien: [Laughs]

Boots Riley: And then there's a tiny bottle of whiskey in there with lights on it and everything.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: And . . . and, you know, so those are the details when you're like we -- you know, we are shooting 61 locations in 28 days.

Justin Simien: Uh-huh. Are you sure you want the bottle inside the other bottle shot? [Laughs]

Boots Riley: Yeah. Like, you know, things like that, those sorts of details. Like can we just have the Steve Lift thing happen at a restaurant, you know? Can we . . .

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: You know, those are things that are -- people try to come at it from a practical perspective but it's just the first cut.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: Instead of looking for other creative ways to cut things.

Justin Simien: Right, right.

Boots Riley: And so one way I was able to cut things is that I live in Oakland, I grew up in Oakland, and I've had all these lives in Oakland. And, you know, I'm the kind of person that meets people when I'm just standing there at the bus stop and blah, blah, so I know everybody.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: And so we could get locations for free. You know, I knew all the artists. I knew all the -- you know, everything like that, so we could get people to do things. And . . . and yeah, and so that was . . . and, you know, other production value that's added like where normally if you want your scene to look a certain way it's hard to do that with extras because once you talk to them as a director and give them their own thing then they're not an extra anymore.

Justin Simien: Right, yes. For the kids who don't know, yeah, as a director you're technically not supposed to talk to them and give them direction.

Boots Riley: Unless they're friends and -- well, you don't have to give them direction, but if they're friends and family...

Justin Simien: Yeah.

(41:55)

Boots Riley: You can talk.

Justin Simien: You can do that, yeah.

Boots Riley: You can talk to them.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: And so . . .

Justin Simien: And that's a money thing just for the people who -- you know, if a director starts to work with an extra it technically puts them in a different money category and you've got to pay them more and it's a whole different thing.

Boots Riley: Then you can't -- so you have things like movies that I love, you know, like Milos Forman's Firemen's Ball, Loves of a Blonde, and what's his name, Deer Hunter dude who did also -- Michael Cimino that also did Heaven's Gate. You have these crowd scenes that add so much, that the ways people are moving and walking really, you know, make a . . .

Justin Simien: It's like it puts you in the world.

Boots Riley: Yeah, makes you feel like that thing is bigger right?

Justin Simien: Yeah. Yeah.

Boots Riley: We did duplicate a lot of people and were able to make them look different, but still those people were down to come back over and over again.

Justin Simien: Right, right. Yes.

Boots Riley: And -- and, you know, so we were able to make it feel like a world. And those things might seem like it doesn't matter that much but it does.

Justin Simien: It matters so much.

Boots Riley: You know, yeah.

Justin Simien: My first feature Dear White People any scene where you see Tessa in the film school classroom that classroom looks full to the brim. When I say everybody in that classroom is in those frames, there's like a forehead really close to the lens blocking off half of the classroom and there's someone right behind her head and there's maybe like a neck behind that.

Boots Riley: Yeah.

Justin Simien: That's all we had.

Boots Riley: Yeah.

Justin Simien: If you wind out any further that classroom would be completely empty.

Boots Riley: Yeah.

Justin Simien: But you've got to . . . those are the kinds of corners. I hear what you're saying because what you're telling me is you want to protect -- you want to protect the details that matter.

Boots Riley: Yeah.

Justin Simien: I feel like . . . I feel like that is what filmmaking is in a lot of ways is like there's a billion choices you can make every day. Maybe not a billion but there's hundreds of thousands of choices you can make in a film, and choosing which things that you value and which things you don't.

(43:50)

Boots Riley: Another thing that was always on the chopping block that I had to . . . was the phone call crashing scenes.

Justin Simien: Oh. Oh really? Wow.

Boots Riley: Yeah, it was always on the chopping block like up until we did it.

Justin Simien: Oh wow.

Boots Riley: You know . . .

Justin Simien: Those are like -- that's like the trailer moments, you know? That's crazy.

Boots Riley: Yeah, yeah. But it was also because the things I was proposing were things that -- the ways that we did it practically were ways that hadn't normally been done.

Justin Simien: Yeah, sure.

Boots Riley: And so me saying "Here's how we do it," because you know, like I'm looking up how people do things practically, that was like -- people are like "I don't . . . This is something that that's going to take us a whole day to do that.”

Justin Simien: Sure, yeah, yeah.

Boots Riley: I was like no, what we do, we strap the back of a chair to Lakeith's back.

Justin Simien: Yep.

Boots: He squats. That's one shot.

Justin Simien: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Boots Riley: And then we have the desk almost going, and they were like no, no, blah, blah, blah, that's not going to work. But then getting, you know -- once I got my production designer onboard and he was -- Jason Kisvarday who's an amazing production designer -- but then that's somebody who could lie and say they'd done it before.

Justin Simien: Sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Boots Riley: You know, and so . . .

Justin Simien: I mean that's so common where like -- I mean first of all I want to know who your heroes are because you mentioned Kubrick who's like . . . I mean that's like the top of the pantheon for me. But the anecdote that people often said about him is like, you know, every -- every movie comes complete with a million stories where someone tells them "You can't do that. That's insane."

Boots Riley: Yeah.

Justin Simien: And then he just did it and it wasn't insane and in fact it's one of the things you remember most about some of his films. Who else is in that category for you? Like people who kind of inspire you.

Boots Riley: There's Emir Kusturica, Black Cat, White Cat, Underground, Time of Gypsies, all the chaos that's going on in there and like the stuff that he . . . you know, he does some . . . and those films are racist, you know? Some of them. And . . . but they're . . . they're . . . they're great things to look at and learn from. And let's see, who else? Sergei Parajanov.

Justin Simien: Wow.

Boots Riley: The things he does with wides like Color of Pomegranates, things he does with wides that also Jodorowsky does some of. So we actually did some stuff that didn't make it just because of -- because of pacing and stuff like that, that were some shots that were more directly inspired by that stuff. And then like I said Michael Cimino, Milos Forman. Paul Schrader, Mishima.

Justin Simien: Yep.

(46:44)

Boots Riley: We have a scene in there that's basically just directly stolen from Mishima.

Justin Simien: Okay. [Laughs] Quoted.

Boots Riley: When . . .

Justin Simien: It's a visual quote. Let's call it that. [Laughs]

Boots Riley: Yeah, whatever. It's, you know, when . . . there's a scene in Mishima in this section called Temple of the Golden Pavilion where the main character of that section just gets enraptured with the golden pavilion and the camera zooms towards them. We do a zoom dolly sort of thing.

Justin Simien: A Zolly as some might call it.

Boots Riley: And it's where Cassius is being enthralled with the elevator. So a lot of stuff like that. Coen Brothers.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: Everything is -- is played straight but it's going to be hilarious because life is hilarious right?

Justin Simien: Yeah. Darkly, darkly comedic.

(47:45)

Boots Riley: You know, other . . . there are people who inspire me but I stay away from them because they inspire me.

Justin Simien: Sure.

Boots Riley: And I could slip down there, like you know, for instance you could . . . there are people that love Prince but when they go too far over you're like I'd rather just listen to Prince. So . . .

Justin Simien: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.

Boots Riley: So, you know, so like Spike Lee like I said inspired me to go to film school. But, you know, like that's not the . . . that's not the aesthetic I'm going for.

Justin Simien: That's not the aesthetic, yeah.

Boots Riley: And, let's see, obviously Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry, Spike Jones, Charles Burnett. Not so much Killer of Sheep but . . . but the Danny Glover one, uh, uh . . .

Justin Simien: Producers Google.

Boots Riley: Huh?

Justin Simien: I was telling them to Google.

Boots Riley: Yeah.

Justin Simien: Killer Sheep is the one I was thinking of.

Boots Riley: Yeah, To Sleep with Anger.

Justin Simien: Sleep with Anger. Oof. Wow. That's a good list, man. I think that's what -- I think that's what's so exciting about you is you're sort of like it's a lot of connections that I think honestly as a black filmmaker kind of makes sense to me but I think to the world at large just like I don't know that . . . I never saw those things could go together before with black people in them also and these -- you know, your visual language and stuff that you do with sound in the movie too.

Boots Riley: Well for me knowing that same thing of like you could love Prince but you could go over the line.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: Like a lot of people do, and just . . . anyway . . .

Justin Simien: You're just doing a form of it.

Boots Riley: I wanted to . . . I'm making sure that I'm in touch with all the things that I like and not editing them -- editing them out because they don't fit a certain genre. But I tried so . . . so I know that from music, like to reach other places. So I also tried to do what I thought was literary references.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

(49:58)

Boots Riley: So definitely this film is very much informed by Invisible Man.

Justin Simien: Mm-hmm. I felt that.

Boots Riley: Not just like the general idea of the protagonist but the details. Invisible Man, Toni Morrison, many different of Toni Morrison’s books, like Song of Solomon, specifically, I think is in my head. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. What they do with detail. So I wanted to have something that was messy like funk and like Jacob Lawrence painting.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: You know, which is collage and stuff like that. And a lot of times, especially in black film when we get some money or some budget or like oh, we've got the Sony Red or whatever -- I don't even know if it's . . . whatever.

Justin Simien: [Laughs]

Boots Riley: Sony red is a record label, but we've got the RED camera you know?

Justin Simien: Right, right, right. Yeah.

Boots Riley: And . . . and like this whole extra clean.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: Like that's even a word, clean, like that it's complimentary.

Justin Simien: Yeah. Smooth the edges.

Boots Riley: Because it's not poor, right?

Justin Simien: Mm-hmm.

Boots Riley: And even George Clinton talks about it at the beginning of Mommy, What's a Funkadelic, like there was this thing that was coming out of these bars we used to see down south and we tried to run away from it. We moved to Detroit and slicked our hair back.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: And then we realized it was calling to us. And I wanted to make something that connected to that that had this messiness to it.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: That I knew people . . . because even our music, coming from Oakland which is a very small town, it's like 400,000 people right?

Justin Simien: Yeah, yeah.

Boots Riley: And, you know, people decide that you represent them. And they mean that in an almost elected official way.

Justin Simien: Sure.

(51:45)

Boots Riley: Like in the sense that I'm going to come up to you . . .

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: And tell you how you need to make your songs to represent me.

Justin Simien: Yeah, right.

Boots Riley: Right?

Justin Simien: That's your job. [Laughs] Represent me.

Boots Riley: Yeah. Yeah. And so I'm not mad at that; I just might not do it.

Justin Simien: Okay. [Laughs]

(52:00)

Boots Riley: But . . . but the thing is that it will, you know, people will be like "Oh, y'all need to make some of them clean beats." Right?

Justin Simien: Uh-huh.

Boots Riley: And so I wanted . . . so all of that . . . but to me I wouldn't describe Toni Morrison as clean, or Ralph Ellison. Like there's all of this stuff jumbled in there but there's something shining through.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: Something in the front of it that is shining through.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: And if you look close you get this sort of messiness that's, you know, all of those things. Yeah.

Justin Simien: Well I think it's -- again I think it's exciting. I mean it feels like, you know, me and Lena [Waithe] used to call it like ESSENCE cover black. It's like, you know, so many of us are sort of . . . we all want to be on the cover of ESSENCE black, you know what I mean?

Boots Riley: Mm-hmm.

Justin Simien: Like all of the edges are smoothed and all of the jagged parts of our experience are sort of like neatly ordered.

Boots Riley: And that's . . .

Justin Simien: There's nothing wrong with it but there is . . .

Boots Riley: That's something -- that's like a Cadillac. I can appreciate that.

Justin Simien: Absolutely.

Boots Riley: But then, you know, but then there's also like lots of African art that is like adorned with all of these things and the colors don't . . . like you can wear a whole bunch of colors and, you know, you'll hear people being like "Oh, what you doing wearing that orange with that green?" You know?

Justin Simien: Yep. Yeah.

Boots Riley: You know? [Laughs] But it's beautiful when you are doing it.

Justin Simien: How do you -- how do you withstand that pressure? That's something I'm still learning is like, you know, when you get it. You get what you're trying to do, but whatever, the people in the room are asking you to smooth the edges. How do you hold your line? When do you know . . . how do you, Boots, know when to listen and when to -- and when to defend?

Boots: I mean it's something that over 20-something years of doing music that I've had to figure out, like what is the . . . and I'm not saying I'm always successful at it, at figuring out what the right thing is to do, but there is a certain language that we're speaking. You know, artist communication. And sometimes what people are saying, you know, it's like that note within the note thing.

Justin Simien: Yes.

(54:10)

Boots Riley: Where they may be saying one thing in a certain way and they're using just the examples they have around them to say it, but maybe what they're just saying is they don't connect to it right?

Justin Simien: Right. Right.

Boots Riley: Right? That they're not connecting to it. And it might not be because of the smoothing.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: And so for me I'm like well how about if I turn this up?

Justin Simien: Yeah, yeah.

Boots Riley: You know, like somebody might come and say look, you know, you need the drums louder on this song.

Justin Simien: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Boots Riley: I'm like really? They're already . . . it's crazy.

Justin Simien: [Laughs]

Boots Riley: But what they really mean is I need to turn the guitar down.

Justin Simien: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Boots Riley: So my -- I want to connect with people.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: I also though, I want them to feel something with it.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: You know, I want them to engage with it in a way that makes them . . . you know, I don't want them to be in like okay, this is the thing that I expect. You know, this is that -- you know, even with music, this is that beat number 23 that everybody's using this year.

Justin Simien: Yep. Yep, yep.

Boots Riley: You're putting your thing over it so I can accept it. I can do the exact dance that I always do.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: Now, but there's something to that. You know, I want to get in there in that conversation.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: But I also don't -- don't want to just be one of the 50 songs that use that beat number 23 that then you forget next week right?

Justin Simien: It's like you want to be . . . you know, it's like you throw in speed bumps just to make sure you're still listening. It's like, you know, you can't just cruise along a Boots Riley street.

Boots Riley: Mm-hmm.

(55:55)

Justin Simien: I feel like there's the bottle within the bottles. The speed bump is like oh, oh. I feel like it turn -- it just sort of reminds you to be awake and to interact with the movie. That's what I appreciated so much about your film is it demanded that I pay attention to it and it demanded that I scrutinized it and have an active -- not a passive, an active experience with the film. And a lot of films don't do that and I find it so boring. [Laughs] I find it so boring.

Boots Riley: I mean I wasn't trying to get a job.

Justin Simien: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That's really profound, because the subtext of a lot of movies is I just want to work again.

Boots Riley: Yeah.

Justin Simien: Damn, that is not a lie Boots Riley. I've never known you to be a liar, but that's good.

Boots: [Laughs] So it's, you know, I want to make this film and that's what I'm making. And the next film I'm going to want to make that film or whatever.

Justin Simien: Yeah. Well what are you doing now? I hate this question but I have to ask it because everybody listening wants to know: what are you working on now? What's next?

Boots Riley: I'm creating a TV show.

Justin Simien: Yes.

Boots Riley: For Michael Ellenberg's new studio Media Res. Michael Ellenberg is one of the people that brought Game of Thrones to HBO, and I'm not going to talk about what that is.

Justin Simien: sure, sure.

Boots Riley: So I'm writing the . . . writing the pilot and going to direct that and I'll put together a writer's room which I have no idea how to do. I don't know nothing -- anything about TV actually.

Justin Simien: [Laughs] Nobody does.

Boots Riley: And then . . . then I'm doing . . . I'm writing and directing an episode of Guillermo del Toro's horror anthology for Netflix called 10 After Midnight.

Justin Simien: Oh, that's amazing. That's amazing.

Boots Riley: It's actually adapting a short story that he picked out, so that's . . . that's what I'm doing exactly like right now, when I leave from here.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

(58:05)

Boots Riley: And then I have two films that I am writing. I have to write more than one thing at a time.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: Because when I -- if I get to a bump if I just stop writing then I have to re-start again and that's harder than just moving to something else, you know?

Justin Simien: Switching a lane. Yeah, I get that.

Boots Riley: So yeah, I have two films. And, you know, that's the good thing about having a film that made money is there's people that are like how do we do this with you?

Justin Simien: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Boots Riley: So yeah. So I . . . and also starting this late. I'm 47 and I have a lot of stuff to get done and so yeah. And I also have like dozens of ideas from all these years.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: And I think like nine of them are really, really good.

Justin Simien: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Boots Riley: So I'm . . . I'm getting those prepared.

Justin Simien: Yeah, well I'm ready for it man. I'm so ready for it. Anything that's pissing you off right now about the movie industry that you want to get off your chest? I always invite my guests to rant if they would like to towards the end of our episodes. This is Don't @ Me and as we enter the holiday movie season . . . [Laughs]

Boots Riley: Yeah.

Justin Simien: And you look at your choices, are you excited about it?

Boots Riley: Of the choices of films?

Justin Simien: Yeah. In the multiplexes these days.

Boots Riley: I mean I said something recently about Bohemian Rhapsody, like how're you going to have a Freddie Mercury with no sex in it?

Justin Simien: Or yeah, no gay sex for sure.

Boots Riley: Yeah. And . . . and like who decided that his time of having balls to the wall fun was terrible?

Justin Simien: Yeah, right. Yeah.

Boots Riley: And he even in it says "Don't make me the cautionary tale."

Justin Simien: Right.

(1:00:00)

Boots Riley: At the same exact time while he's the cautionary tale. I bet you he had a lot of fun. But, you know, anyway, so that's my whole thing with that. I didn't want to know about who wrote this song at that time.

Justin Simien: Right.

Boots Riley: And who wrote the guitar solo. So I could see something happening right there but . . .

Justin Simien: I could see that because that movie is like -- that movie is almost all gloss, you know what I mean? It's all the comfortable things about a movie, a biopic especially. I mean I think . . . you know, I enjoyed the movie.

Boots Riley: But I think Rami Malek did an amazing job.

Justin Simien: Oh my god, I mean that's why you go see that movie.

Boots Riley: Yeah.

Justin Simien: Is to see him perform. And also like the Live Aid scene I thought was amazing. It was exhilarating. But yeah, I wanted to see the stuff that was off-screen. Like I wanted to see . . . I wanted to see what happened when they would look at each other across the bar. Like I wanted to see like how did the -- how did we go from looking at each other across the bar to just full-blown AIDS. Like how did we . . .

Boots Riley: Yeah.

Justin Simien: Something happened in-between. [Laughs]

Boots Riley: Yeah, exactly.

Justin Simien: You know what I mean? And . . .

Boots Riley: And that's just even just talking about life. Like fuck it, everybody dies right?

Justin Simien: Yeah, yeah.

Boots Riley: The . . . they have plenty of biopics where somebody dies at the end from cancer and they're not like every time they pick up a cigarette, do do . . .

Justin Simien: Of course. Yeah, we zoom into the -- yeah, uh-huh, uh-huh. [Laughter]

Boots Riley: Like they're not doing that, you know?

Justin Simien: Also he did not . . . for the record he did not get diagnosed with HIV until three years after the events of the film, but that's another story.

Boots Riley: [Laughs]

Justin Simien: That's my Don't @ Me rant. That's some bullshit. Um, sorry, what were you going to say?

Boots Riley: Yeah, I just want to say, um, a warning: there will be a whole bunch of anti-Sorry to Bother You movies, and I'm not talking about story structure or anything. I'm talking about there are probably people who, you know, whatever, they disagree with it and all that kind of stuff. And there will be anti-movement movies coming out. Some of them may already be out. But that -- that will be behind sold to us.

Justin Simien: Mm-hmm.

(1:02:10)

Boots Riley: Like things that . . . and that happens in every generation of movie-going that I can see. Like in the '60s you had all this stuff going on. Because things were slow it took like ten years later, then they had like the stereotypical black radical who just . . .

Justin Simien: The blacksploitation, yeah.

Boots Riley: Well not even in blacksploitation. In other movies like . . .

Justin Simien: Oh, I see.

Boots Riley: Like where, you know, like where they have these representations of movements. I think it'll be more slick this time but I would say, you know, like writers, you know, don't do it even if they're asking you to do it.

Justin Simien: Yeah.

Boots Riley: Just nod your head and write something else, you know what I'm saying? Like, you know, if you're doing it to try to get that pay. But understand that some of these -- some of the stories . . . because believe me I've been getting all sorts of stuff passed to me.

Justin Simien: Sure.

Boots Riley: Name the black movie from 30 or 40 years ago and they're asking if I want to do that thing or whatever, right?

Justin Simien: Right, right, right.

Boots Riley: And look at what you're doing. You can make a great movie and one that actually represents your experiences in life, your experiences in the world, and putting what really goes on it. A lot of just rebellion is edited out. So even if your characters aren't that person throw some real stuff that happens in the world in there.

Justin Simien: Yeah.a

Boots Riley: Because so many times we have stuff in there that's just a trope that we see in other movies that really doesn't happen, like I have never been to a noon-time café date, right?

Justin Simien: Okay. All right.

Boots Riley: It's in every movie every time . . . you know what I'm saying?

Justin Simien: [Laughs] Yeah.

Boots Riley: Because it's in other movies.

Justin Simien: Right, sure.

Boots Riley: Because that's how really films work, which is why I want to be in it -- doing it -- is we don't remember what our real life is sometimes versus what we experienced in a movie.

Justin Simien: Yes, and what we expect in a movie too. Yeah.

Boots Riley: You know -- yeah. And so, you know, that's just my thing. I'm just witnessing how like there's so many movies that come because somebody who didn't want to do it themselves had the idea, told it to a producer who also didn't want to do it, they hire a director who has no -- or they hire a writer who doesn't have passion for it but they get to get a check.

Justin Simien: Yep.

Boots Riley: Then they hire a director who also doesn't have passion for it and everybody's expecting somebody else to like it.

Justin Simien: Care . . . yeah.

Boots Riley: you know, and all that kind of stuff.

Justin Simien: And I don't know about you but I can definitely feel that when I'm in a movie theater.

Boots Riley: Yeah.

Justin Simien: Like nobody cared about this. [Laughs] Or maybe the marketing team cared about it the most.

Boots Riley: It's nobody's baby.

Justin Simien: Yeah, it's nobody's baby. Dude, this was amazing.

Boots Riley: Thank you.

Justin Simien: I really appreciate you coming on the show.

Boots Riley: Thanks for having me, man.

Justin Simien: And like I was telling you before, the show's . . .

Boots Riley: And I'm a big fan. I didn't say that.

Justin Simien: Thank you. But this is like a -- it's like an excuse to get to talk to people that I admire, and it was really great to . . . we met maybe like, I don't know, was that a week ago?

Boots Riley: Yeah. Yep.

Justin Simien: But it was good to sit down and really meet you so . . .

Boots Riley: Yeah, this gives us an excuse. I think maybe if people walked around with microphones . . .

Justin Simien: [Laughs]

Boots Riley: Then they'd get in deeper conversations.

Justin Simien: Yeah. Come on KCRW, just give microphones to random black people so we connect. Thank you so much man. I'm going to read these credits in front of you. I hope you don't mind.

Boots Riley: All right.

Justin Simien: But I would like to thank Boots Riley for sitting down with me today. I would like to thank our producers Gina Delvac and Carl Hart, our production engineer Steven Cologne, and Chuck Privatera. Special thanks to Vishnu Valabaneni (?), head of programming Quinn O'Toole. Chris Bowers created our theme song. This is Don't @ Me with Justin Simien. If you like the show subscribe at Apple Podcast. You know the deal. We'll be back next week with another episode of Don't @ Me from the one and only KCRW. Thank you, man. I really appreciate you.

Boots: Thank you man.

Justin Simien: That was great. That was great.



Credits

Guest:
Boots Riley - Rapper, producer, screenwriter, director - @BootsRiley

Host:
Justin Simien

Producer:
Gina Delvac