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LE Newsletter - September 18, 2003

Interview with Rudy Langlais, Feature Film Producer - Chapter I

While there is just so much more to know about Rudy Langlais' successful journey to Hollywood than this article could hope to reflect, the impression that stands out the most about this man is his gracious and unassuming spirit.  Rudy is a statuesque and compelling figure who is a quiet observer of the activities around him.  At the same time, his laugh can fill a room!  His ease with himself is apparent as he radiates that assurance around him.  Admittedly, I felt a little out of my league interviewing Rudy and I only hope that I do this partial account of his journey justice.  

Rudy Langlais has a love affair with language.  It’s not long into a conversation with him that you sense that this man has an intense passion for literature and knowledge about literature.  

I initially met Rudy on the set of his most recent project, Redemption - 
the Stanley 'Tookie' Williams Story", directed by our mutual friend, Vondie Curtis Hall.  Rudy’s filmography reflects a consistent inclination towards biographical accounts, namely Who Killed Atlanta's Children? (based on Rudy's true story in whichGregory Hines played him in the film), The Hurricane, and Sugar Hill  

Redemption is the story of Stanley Williams, founder of the Crips gang. Of this project, Rudy says that the theme of Redemption is not dissimilar to the theme of Sugar Hill and it's based on the idea that “I must believe in a man's ability to redeem himself from the villainy of his past”.  Deep.

Rudy states that biographical accounts are the most difficult to work on, as they can take years to complete and no one initially believes in them.  He mentioned that the hardest thing about any movie that you care about is that it is emotionally draining.  “The ideas of the story matters so much that the journey to realizing the ideas is about laying it all out there – feeling every moment of it, living every moment of it, caring about every moment of it,” explains Rudy in his resonating bass voice.

Rudy’s journey began in his birthplace of 
Basseterre, St. Kitts.  His middle class family ultimately moved to Florida to pursue the American dream.  Initially, the American dream meant becoming become part of the vast plantation system in northern Florida as plantation workers - picking cotton, peas and beans.  Rudy also worked in a bottling plant and thus was his introduction into America.

Rudy had been a sports writer but made his transition into news in 1978 by becoming the City Editor of the Village Voice in New York.  Rudy was the first Black editor (or minority editor for that matter) at the Voice, almost in contrast to the paper's liberal reputation.  Rudy’s objective for the Voice was to allow minority writers to write about themselves, instead of having White writers simply write about minorities.  Rudy is a pioneer that changed the face of the Village Voice which had previously been a closed club to minorities.    

He eventually chose to switch gears and moved out of publishing and into movie production.  Rudy was introduced to the 
film world by none other than Norman Mailer, an American author and innovator of the non-fiction novel.  Mailer agreed to write a screenplay for Rudy which led to his first Hollywood "development" deal.  The transition was made easier as there are many similarities between being a producer and an editor.  Rudy's criteria for working on a film is "What is the idea?".  He is always seeking a big idea and if it is a radical or controversial idea, then all the better.  

I asked Rudy to describe the duties of an Executive Producer.  Rudy answered
that the best description of producer that he has ever heard is "a film is like a body that is always trying to die and it's the producer's job to keep blowing life into it every day."  He further explains that this may mean everything from financing to keeping the various competing interests moving in the same direction, putting out fires, keeping focus on what you're doing.  If focus is lost with many other visions coming into view, it may result in a different movie than what the initial idea was.  Everyone has to see the same movie, understand the same vision and then keep drawing it back to what that is.  

Rudy wanted his first movie project to be based on The Rosy Crucifixion, a trilogy of novels including Sexus, Plexus and Nexus by Henry Miller – a “sexy tale”, says Rudy.  It is autobiographical and tells the story of Miller's first tempestuous marriage and his relentless sexual exploits in New York.  Rudy said that he chose this movie because Miller wrote the best line about falling in love - "To fall in love with a woman means to break every bond except the most terrible bond of all which is the fear of losing her."  

So, he asked 
Norman Mailer if he would write the screenplay who enlisted Milos Forman as the director.  Rudy then went to LA to raise money to finance his screenplay, although he never intended on moving there.  The ideal scenario for him was that he wanted to make movies from New York yet continue to tap his literary relationships in New York.  The biggest issue with LA for him was that he felt that LA (Hollywood) would not be open to making films based on serious literature.  

Ultimately however, Rudy did relocate to LA.  Thank goodness, because the films he has worked on are incredible true stories that have heightened our awareness of human nature and frailty.  They have taken us along on someone's journey and opened our hearts.  If you haven't checked out his films (some of which are listed above), please do so.  You won't be disappointed!

I thoroughly enjoy Rudy's presence and if so blessed, I will be updating you on his next project currently on the horizon.  It is the 
Bob Marley story, which I believe will be filmed in Toronto.