Atlanta-based Director Bobby Huntley inspires to create bio-pic on R&B legends New Edition. The powerhouse group were pioneers of the boy band movement from Boston, Massachusetts which, produced superstar entertainer Bobby Brown. New Edition hit the charts in the 1980’s with songs like “Candy Girl,” “Mr. Telephone Man” and “If Isn’t Love”.
You recently self-produced a feature-length trailer on 1980’s R&B super group New Edition. Can you tell us what inspired you to tell the story of New Edition on film?
I definitely felt it was time. I wanted to tell this story since high school. I met the members of Bell Biv DeVoe a few years ago while I was in film school, and I told them I wanted to do it since then I’ve felt sometimes you have to show people instead of just telling them. I completed school and built more experience within the film community and industry and it wasn’t until I was interning at Davenstar 1 Entertainment under Chet Brewster having access to his facility and equipment I felt comfortable moving forward. I saw New Edition live for the first time last year in Atlanta and it felt that all the stars were lining up. And timing of course is everything. I approached the whole situation as a fan who is also a filmmaker and didn’t want anyone to catch wind of what I wanted to do until I had a completed project in hand to present. I didn’t want anyone to tell me NO. So everything from casting rehearsals and actual production was done in secret.
A big part of making any biopic is casting the right actors. How did you cast each individual member?
Producer Nikki Wade was instrumental. It all started with her because her son, Khiry Wade, was a dead ringer for Ronnie Devoe. I kind of tricked her into being apart of the project because I knew how important it was to have a woman’s touch in all the decisions. Especially one who was there as a fan with their posters on her wall. So everyone that came to the auditions had to give her that feeling she felt then. In addition to not only sing and dance but resemble the members as well. It was a bit difficult. We couldn’t be as open as we wanted to be with casting call notices so we saw a bit of everybody in the Atlanta independent film community. It wasn’t until we got all the key members together where we told them what we actually were embarking on. Luckily they were all down for the ride. A lot of these guys were new so I’m so proud of them and honored they worked so hard for months. Going through rigorous rehearsals, filming, and hair (it took hours to apply and take out the hair).
New Edition is originally from Boston, Massachusetts. How much research did you do before filming begun?
As much as google and YouTube can carry me lol I was already a fan since middle school. So I was fairly familiar with them and their story. But I read and watched a lot of interviews. I knew I didn’t really have the luxury of getting in contact with members of New Edition and their team at that point. So I made sure everything I wrote came from their mouths in interviews and such. Due to that a lot of the trailer is more pointed to Bobby Brown because he is the most vocal and public member of the group. I’m sure when it comes to us getting in the room with the members of new edition and getting down to the actual work, the story will be more evenly spread. Being that they are from Boston and it’s a huge part of them I wanted to make sure it was authentic as possible . At the later stage before the video was released I was able to show it to some family members of the group and they said It was pretty spot on, especially mentioning Orchard Park where they grew up. That was really important to me that they gave their blessing. I would love to film on location in Boston!
You also released a very detailed behind the scenes video about the making of the trailer. What was the filming schedule like?
Rehearsals took the longest. We had to learn dance steps, do individual character work and group acting scenes. We started shooting on my birthday (11/03) If It Isn’t Love was the first shoot. We wrapped early January with the concert scenes (which were my favorite) Being that the actors were unpaid and they had jobs, school, and other responsibilities I only had 1 day a week with them. Maybe two if I got lucky. So everything. Rehearsals, hair screen tests, and shoots were done in that one day. That documentary was important because it allowed people to see all the hard work we put into the project. It breathed a second wind into our campaign and I’m glad Nikki Wade talked me into releasing it because I almost didn’t. It let the team introduce themselves. If I can’t help sell my case, then Calisha A. Prince can (Cinematographer) she was amazing.
The portrayal of Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky, Mike, Ralph, and Johnny in the trailer was spot-on. How much musical training did the actors have to take before filming started?
Khiry Wade (Ronnie) Jordan Sims (Ralph Tresvant) and Mike Rozier (Mike Bivins) all come from a theater background. I also believe that Trenton Lumpkin (Ricky Bell) come from that as well, even though he didn’t have as much experience as the others. I believe this was Bryan Earl (Bobby Brown) and Kevin boles (Johnny Gill)‘s first film project. We would sit down and study videos, interviews, live concerts and try to pick up the essence of each character. I’d give them a little background and info of what they would have been going through at this particular point in their lives and careers. And we tried to come up with ways to being that into the performances so everything had meaning. I wanted the actors to be a part of the process and I made sure they knew the reason behind everything they did and said.
One of the biggest obstacles is getting permission from the New Edition camp. Have you heard from any of the members or their management?
I’m a little limited to what I can say at this point but its been pretty much about me proving myself and learning the business as I go along. I realized very early on that they’ve been pursuing this film for over 20 years so its going to take time. So for a new guy like me to just pop up with a trailer can be interesting to say the least, but there are definitely interest in what my team and I did and the hard work definitely did not go unnoticed. We took a huge leap of faith especially during the time of “interesting” biopics ( authorized and otherwise) So for us to get the love and appreciation we received from the fans and public for our hard work definitely got us some cool points across the board. It’s now about Who is he? What has he done? Could he possibly carry something like this? Etc. So I’m praying on it, being patient, building my resume and building relationships. Because when you’re stepping into the industry you need all the support and backing you can get.
The fans of New Edition have always shown their strong support for the group. Can you tell us what the response from fans has been thus far?
It’s been very positive, encouraging, and up lifting. They are very protective of them and rightly so. A lot of them even thought the project was real which I take as a huge compliment because we shot with no budget. We still get emails asking when its coming to theaters. Being New Edition fans, we understand their story of how the music business hasn’t necessarily been kind to them, in terms of bad contracts and the like. So its important to see them win and get any shine. So when this trailer came out it reminded many people of that and created a firestorm of people wanting to see their story told. It created a discussion and a fire. A part of the discussion was also allowing a young up and coming director to be the one to help tell the story. I’m grateful for that as well. It was important to introduce myself at the beginning of the trailer and state my case because you have to let the people know who you are and why they should fight for you.
Do you have any final words to the all-NE fans that supported you on this journey to help bring the story to the big screen?
I feel blessed and fortunate that they see my heart and willing to fight for the little guy. A lot of people have talked but for me to provide a visual with no budget hopefully will help me be a part of the discussion and eventually apart of the process. They reach out to me everyday and want updates so I’m thankful for that. I’m also thankful for my team who blindly followed me on this journey. Trusting my vision and dedicating themselves to this project for months. Hopefully I’m a walking testimony of faith and hard work. I hope this starts the beginning of an inspiring career to other filmmakers. Who may not have the budget or the resources but they have the heart.
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Watch the NE Heartbreak trailer.