How Jay-Z, Regina King Helped Western Reach Big Screen

Given his will to be Western for the better part of the 2010s, Jeymes Samuel was in a lot of tough rooms. One of the most pressing issues is with customs and immigration at LAX.

At the time, Samuel was flying back and forth between Los Angeles and his native England that, he said, he was marked by immigrants. “I said, ‘Listen, I’m trying to work here but I’m not getting paid. I’m trying to make a movie. ‘ They said, ‘What movie?’ “So, as he has done on so many sets and with independent financiers many, many times before, Samuel has advertised The harder it is for them to fall, a Western that brings together an all-Black cast for a fictional epic about how real-life fairy tale Western legend Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) tries to avenge her parents’ deaths at the hands of her parents. the ruthless Rufus Buck (Idris Elba). Sitting in a windowless room at LAX’s international terminal in 2019, he overcame a gathering of immigration and customs officers but was told he had 90 days left before he needed it. visa. The next time he returned to Los Angeles, Samuel had a visa and was backed by Netflix.

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Regina King is finishing the final edit of her directorial debut, One night in Miamiwhile filming.
Courtesy of NETFLIX

As a musician and producer best known by the stage name The Bullitts (he also composed the film’s music), Samuel was able to convince one of the industry’s highest-grossing studios, an actress Oscar winner and Jay-Z, among many others, to buy into his vision for The harder it is for them to fall. The filmmaker’s sometimes euphoric but always contagious determination was enough to make the production not only work well, but also through the COVID-19 shutdown for a day. As producer James Lassiter put it, “Everybody had the feeling that we wanted this guy to win.”

Lassiter met the screenwriter and director through Jay-Z, who worked with musician and filmmaker Baz Luhrmann’s soundtrack. The great Gatsby. The two worked in the West for several years, with Samuel releasing his 2013 short/proof of concept film. They die by Dawn starring Michael K. Williams and Erykah Badu, among others, on Jay-Z’s music streaming service Tidal in 2015. “I said, ‘Ugh, a Westerner? It was none of my business,” recalls Lassiter, who agreed and read the script, finding himself “blown away, not only by the content but also by the audacity of the effort. “

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When it was introduced as a standalone feature, an early suggested budget for The harder it is for them to fall is 12 million dollars. Lassiter knows that won’t work: “Any seasoned producer would read this and say, ‘You can’t make this movie for that much money.’ The final budget for the film will be $90 million. But the producer also knew that he would have to fight against some of the stereotypes that were ingrained in the industry: that the international box office was too risky to be tied to an American genre like the West – and especially with a non-white cast.

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Cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr., with Samuel.
Courtesy of DAVID LEE / NETFLIX

So Lassiter narrows down to the ideal distributor. The producer said: “My experience working all those years with Will Smith [the duo founded Overbrook Entertainment in 1998]that is [always] as simple as we want to have as many eyeballs as possible. “ At the time, Netflix had more than 130 worth of eyeballs in the territory.

Samuel was in an Uber in London when he got a call from Jay-Z. “Jay’s voice is in this aspirational octave,” the director noted, sinking into a strange impression: “” Yo! Peace to God. Where are you?’ ‘I’m in London.’ ‘What are you doing there? We are good to go. ‘ “

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Front, from left: Delroy Lindo, King and Jonathan Majors on the set of Santa Fe.
Courtesy of DAVID LEE / NETFLIX

Elba – Samuel’s longtime friend who always asked to join his cast – was set as the film’s main character, Buck, but the group still needed to find the rest of the gunmen.

Regina King admits: “I don’t particularly like Western films, but her agent, Lorrie Bartlett, ICM Partners, insisted on a meeting with the director. “I’ve been with Lorrie for 25 years,” she explains. “For her to be impressed by someone, it doesn’t affect me lightly.”

King is filming HBO’s The guard, has earned an Oscar buzz for If Beale Street could talk (she eventually won best supporting actress) and is preparing for her directorial debut, One night in Miami. As she joined their scheduled FaceTime meeting, an enthusiastic Samuel appeared on screen and exclaimed: “Peace be to the Black Queen, Regina King! What’s cracking?!”

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“I would be damned if he let a small pandemic happen and take 20 years of [his] life,” said Majors (centre, with Elba and Samuel) about persuading Samuel to stay in Sante Fe during the COVID-19 shutdown.
Courtesy of DAVID LEE / NETFLIX

“He was explosive—he could convince you to buy a shoe that came in two sizes too big,” recalls King, who immediately signed on to play Buck’s right-hand woman, the quick-draw expert. Trudy Smith. She and Elba will eventually be joined on-screen by one of the top black talents in Hollywood, including Majors, LaKeith Stanfield, Delroy Lindo, and Zazie Beetz.

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When it was time to shoot the 62-day shoot in New Mexico, the crew was tasked with building the world of The harder it is for them to fall. Samuel is a Western-obsessed person who grew up on replays Bonanza and Rawhide before graduating with John Ford and Sergio Leone, but he didn’t want his department heads to notice the genre.

Costume designer Antoinette Messam’s references range from Edwardian and Victorian black and white to the gem-set haute fashion of the 70s and 80s. “Let me show you what it should look like, then let me add a few things to make it a bit more complete,” says Messam of her modus operandi. Handmade riding jackets and classic Stetsons are teamed with modern Ralph Lauren blouses and Golden Goose cowboy boots. Production designer Martin Whist changed the traditional dusty browns and greens of Western sets into deep purples and metallic golds, taking more inspiration from contemporary New Orleans and Caribbean architecture. is it from Montana or Texas. The film has no behind-the-scenes footage, with everything built on the ground in and around Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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Samuel said Elba would come to his Santa Fe home every night during filming to “make sure I was fed, to make sure I was filming.” [the soundtrack] and to make sure that my headspace is correct. “
Courtesy of DAVID LEE / NETFLIX

However, some Western carvings are still in the frame. Cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr used Panavision’s anamorphic lenses to capture the quintessential Western widescreen look. “No matter how new and different your project may be, you still have to celebrate the genre,” says Malaimare.

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In March 2020, the cast, who had been through “cowboy camps” where they learned to ride horses and hold guns, gathered for a reading. The NBA had just suspended the game and Tom Hanks announced he had contracted COVID-19 at the time Netflix executive producers Lassiter and Samuel arrived at the production office to announce that filming would be temporary. stop one day before it starts.

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Majors with Zazie Beetz, who plays Old West Stagecoach legend Mary.
Courtesy of DAVID LEE / NETFLIX

Samuel was poised to fly back to London as Majors made a bold move: Despite being something unknown at the time (he’s since led the HBO hit Lovecraft Country and has joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe), the actor showed up at Samuel Fe’s home in Santa Fe and convinced him to stay on the ground even after the rest of the cast and crew had left. . “I was the one leading the movie, and he was the director of the movie,” Majors explained, explaining that he was first considered for the role of Nat Love after Mahershala Ali offered him the role. producer Lawrence Bender. “The second we moved money out of pocket, we let everyone out of the relationship.” And so they stayed in the desert, together.

They spent the day working on the script, and Samuels taught the Majors how to play the guitar. The expert incorporated aspects of Love’s life into his own daily life. He takes off his cowboy boots just to exercise. Remember Samuels: “He changed the cutlery.”

The rest of the cast and crew joined Majors and Samuels in New Mexico in September. Through a mask, a visor, goggles, and 6-foot distance, Samuels was still able to communicate your vision. This was demonstrated during the filming of possibly the most complex scenes of the film. This scene is intended to let the audience go through the length of the main location of the film, Redwood City, before the final gunfight takes place.

“You’re talking about three working days on a shoot,” says Malaimare. Two cranes are located at opposite ends of Redwood, with 100 yards of cable running between. The camera is placed on a remote stand that will move along the cable. Radio and Wi-Fi frequencies will interfere with the remote, causing footage to pause midway and have them reset. In total, it took six attempts to complete, eventually the photo was taken just before they lost the light of day. Samuels says the sequence came out exactly how he envisioned it.

Like the film itself, Lassiter said of the shot, “At first, only Jeymes could see it.”

A version of this story first appeared in the January 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter. Click here to sign up.

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