‘White Men Can’t Jump’ Director Calmatic Tells Us About That Flamethrower

May 20, 2023

Director Calmatic’s take on White Men Can’t Jump follows Jeremy (Jack Harlow), a former basketball star whose injuries have kept him from playing at the level he dreamed of, and Kamal (Sinqua Walls), a promising player who knows what it’s like to have life turn out different than you expect. When the two meet and realize that they might very well be the answer to their financial struggles and life pressures, they decide to team up on the court, where they can also bond over their mutual love of the game.

During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Calmatic talked about how the flamethrower ended up in the film, how Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” ended up in the film over their initial song selection, the impact of the Lil Nas X song “Old Town Road” and the accompanying music video Calmatic directed, what he wanted to bring to the film with the Jeremy/Kamal friendship, how Harlow took to his first acting role in a movie, building cast chemistry, and why he owes it to himself to create something original for his next project.
Collider: I want to start with the most important question, which is, was the flamethrower always going to be in the movie?

CALMATIC: I forget how that came up. I think the original moment was supposed to be someone having a gun, similar to the original movie. And then, we said, “How can we make this crazier?,” and we had the idea of a flamethrower. It sounds farfetched, but there’s actually a story about a guy in New York, who came to the ‘hood, to the projects, with a flamethrower and had everybody on edge. I think there are people out there with mobile flamethrowers, so we had to bring that to life and make it as big and ridiculous as possible.

Image via Hulu

I love that moment because it’s just so fun. Having a gun in a scene like that probably would have been a harder sell, these days.

CALMATIC: Yeah, it’s something that we haven’t seen before.

Was the song in this always going to be Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You”? Were there other choices of songs that you were considering? Did you talk about songs a lot?

CALMATIC: It’s funny, we had a couple other options. I don’t think we even played that song on the day because we weren’t sure if we could afford it since it’s such a big song. I think the original song we had was “Gangsta Party” by Snoop Dogg and Tupac, which is about two dudes going to war together. And then, in the edit process, we tried that [Ed Sheeran] song, and it landed perfectly. It was a tie in to the joke that was earlier in the second act.

When you did the music video for “Old Town Road” with Lil Nas X, were you prepared for how that would change things? Did you know, or at least hope, that would be a game changer, not just for him but for you and your career, as well?

CALMATIC: No, it was one of those things where I didn’t really expect it. I had done a lot of videos before then and I had taken a break from doing videos, so when I got back into doing videos again, I was like, “You know what? I’ll write a treatment for whatever, just send me stuff.” And they sent me that song and I was like, “I don’t really know what’s going on with this song. But if I’m gonna do this video, it has to be my way or the highway.” I was able to tap into my own unique perspective, and I had the confidence to stick to it and say, “This is what it should be.” Once we started filming the video, the song started taking off and it was just like, “Oh, wait, hold on. This is actually not only gonna be a big video, but this is literally gonna be one of the biggest songs of all time.” I’m glad that I stuck to my guns and created something that was from the heart versus something that I thought would just appease the world that loved the song.

Image via Jesse Grant/Getty Images for 20th Century Studios

Obviously, you can’t recreate what Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson had, so you want your leads to find their own groove. What were you hoping for with those characters? Before even casting the roles, what did you want to see from that dynamic?

CALMATIC: I wanted to see the humanity in them and a little bit more depth to who they are and how they got to where they are. In the original film, there’s a little bit of backstory with Wesley’s character and his wife trying to get a house, and Rosie Perez and Woody trying to just make it out of the slums. But I feel like, in our film, we dove a lot deeper and we really leaned on those backstories. That way, the audience has a deeper idea of what makes them tick and how they get to needing to hustle, in the first place. Naturally, it being a deeper story, the characters mean a little bit more and the crowd can root for them, or not root for them, a little bit deeper. So, that was something that we want to accomplish, from day one.

When it came to Jack Harlow, you previously told me that you brought him into audition and put him through the wringer, but how was he through all of that? Did he come into this, from the beginning, with the vibe and the confidence of someone who knew that they had this in them, or was he someone who was open to learning and absorbing whatever you threw at him?

CALMATIC: Jack is the confidence man. I feel like he’s the king of confidence right now. No matter what he does, when he walks in the room, when he raps, or when he’s on camera, he just exudes confidence. We definitely put him through the wringer. He literally had the number one song in the world, and in between tour dates, he was working with the trainer and working with the acting coach. And then, he came to set more prepared than anybody. It was just a crazy moment in his life, and he had such laser focus. I remember there were times when I would be on set, in between takes, and I’d just be scrolling Instagram, and I would see him on the cover of a magazine that just got announced. I was like, “When did you do this? You’ve been here the last two weeks. When did you take this picture for Vogue magazine?” He was like, “Yeah, that one time, where I had to leave for two hours, that’s what I did.” But he’s young and he’s got the energy, so why not? This is what he asked for.

Image via Hulu

What are the biggest challenges in directing scenes that have dialogue, character growth, and friendship bonding, while also having intense basketball being played? What’s it like to juggle all of that at once?

CALMATIC: To be honest, I feel like it’s the ultimate icebreaker. During the filming of this movie, there were just so many basketballs around. Everybody had a ball in their hand. The costume designer would be casually tossing around a ball. It eased everyone’s physical side, in the acting world, and they were able to give these natural performances. At the same time, some of those basketball scenes were highly choreographed. They spent time, in between takes and on days off, nailing those moments and making the basketball feel real. Shout out to our choreographers that made it happen. They made these athletes look even better than what they were, in real life, with this.

Your leads not only need to be great actors, but they need to have chemistry and they need to have comedic timing. Was there a specific moment when you felt like you’d really found some magic, watching the two of them?

CALMATIC: Yeah. We shot the movie in order, so for the first couple days of being on set, I had the idea to keep them separate. Whenever they were sitting down in their chairs, Sinqua [Walls], who plays Kamal, was on one side of the gym, and Jack, who plays Jeremy, was on the other side of the gym, and they didn’t come together, until it was time to meet in the scene. I feel like we played that naturally and, as they became friendlier, we found a way to bring them closer together. They built their friendship while building their friendship on camera. By the end of the movie, the chemistry was all the way there. They ended the movie with a hug, which was a moment that was the culmination of their friendship in real life, as well. It was dope.

Image via Hulu

After doing House Party and now White Men Can’t Jump, what type of movie do you want to tackle next? I’m guessing you don’t have another movie from this era coming next. Are you looking to do something completely different?

CALMATIC: We’re doing Sandlot next. After that, we’re doing Sister Act 3. And then, I think the Forrest Gump remake is being written right now, just for me. No. I don’t wanna touch any more ‘90s films. As an artist, I owe it to myself to create something original, at this point. I wanna take all the lessons of filmmaking that I learned, in the last year, and apply them to something that is near and dear to my heart, that really is from my universe and my weird little head. Hopefully, the world will enjoy it, just as much as these two.

White Men Can’t Jump is available to stream at Hulu.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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