interview by vinnie baggadonuts


Vinnie: So, what made you want to do The Battle for L.A.?

Darren: It sort of came about,.. gosh. You know, one day I was just sitting around, thinking about 8 Mile. I went to 8 Mile, wanting to see a bunch of battles, and there’s only, like, two in the movie! And then I started thinking how it was amazing that, after the success of 8 Mile, no one did a take-off of it. Hollywood usually does two or three knock-offs, you know what I mean?

Both: (laugh)

D: There’s usually a B-movie company that would target an urban lifestyle, and make their version of 8 Mile. (laughs) But I still wanted to see some battling. So I went home, searched online, and couldn’t find one DVD with battling on it.

V: Yeah?

D: Yeah. I thought, “Wow. This is weird.” I thought I’d be able to go to a hip-hop site or something like that and find something about battling. Other than some breakdance battles, and a few old school things, I saw nothing. So, I called a friend of mine, Dax, who ended up being my producer on the project. He’s pretty much tied into everything that comes with the entire hip-hop culture. I called him and said, “Why don’t we go out and do something?” And he said, “Okay. Let’s do it!” So, that’s sort of how it came about. Why I did it is, I’m really into things that are raw and real and off the street. Coming up doing music videos, and working with punk bands, there’s always been a really intense energy that was always under the mainstream. But that’s kind of gone away, in regard to punk and hardcore. Everyone knows the game now. Everyone knows how to put out a record, or get an EP together and get signed to a major label, or find the right management. So, I’ve been jonesing for something really, really raw. That’s really what drove me to it. Then I hooked up with Dax, and he clued me in as to what was going on, and I was like, “This is the absolute coolest thing in the world!” If you can be privy to it, it’s one of the most intense things you can watch. And I like taking projects that are something I would like to see, because I always bet there are a bunch of other people who would want to see it as well.

V: So, when you would go to these things, how would you discipline yourself to remember you were making a documentary, and not get too caught up in watching them?

D: Oh, man. It’s funny you ask that, because I don’t think I was able to. There were times where I was glad I had two or three or four cameras rolling, because my head would start bobbing, and the camera is moving. Next thing you know, the camera’s on the ground.

Both: (laugh)

D: I’d realize it and be like, “Oh my gosh!” And I’d have to bring the camera back up. I did get lost a lot. Fortunately, everyone with a camera would get lost at a different time. There’d always be enough to pull the cuts from. (laughs) But there would also be times when I’d be so plugged into the filmmaking aspect of it, that five minutes would go by and, until I actually watched the footage, I wouldn’t realize how intense something actually was, you know? Like, “Wow! They’re really pissed!” So, I kinda did phase in and out. There were definitely times where I would stop looking at the camera monitor, and start watching them. And then the opposite, where I’d be watching the camera. Usually, I could discipline myself. There was one day, I remember leaving with the crew, and they were all saying, “That was getting real intense. I was starting to get a little scared in there.” And I was like, “Why?” I was not only missing the entire beef that was right in front of me, but some of the guys with cameras in the back could hear everyone, sort of six people deep, talk about some really gnarly stuff, you know? Like, “Eff this,..” and “Man, when this is over,..” You know? Some serious stuff. And I was so lost in shooting that I was just like, "Really? I didn’t even get a sense of that." And I’m kind of a smart-ass, anyway, so there was a point where, after a battle had taken place, I just thought it was kinda funny that there’s always this sort of homosexual taunting going on. Like, “Oh, I’m gonna stick it in your ass,” and all this stuff. So we get done filming, and I was joking around, walked up to one of the guys and said, “Do you really want to make love to him?”

Both: (laugh)

D: I said it thinking everyone would laugh and stuff, but everyone thought I was slamming him! Everyone was like, “Oooooh!!!” It was just a real simple sarcastic thing to say, but nobody got it.

Both: (laugh)

D: So, maybe I need to figure out how to bring sarcasm into that battle culture now. That’ll be my next quest.

V: (laughing) That, or Darren Doane battle tapes.

Both: (laugh)

D: Well, it’s funny because I’ll be hanging out with a bunch of these guys, and I’ll just be cracking jokes and stuff. I’d get into this persona, this character where I’d just say I’d battle anybody! And I’d do these absurd battle lines, where all I do is just goof off the whole time. (laughs) It would crack them up, so we’re sort of thinking about making,.. you know, people always have great ideas, but they never actually do them. What was that film that came out that Jamie Kennedy was in,.. Malibu Heights? Where he was a white rapper?

V: Yeah.

D: It kinda came and went. Yeah, it wasn’t funny, but there’s something really good in the idea. So, after hanging out with these guys, I realized that there is a place for this right amount of humor, even in these really intense situations. Maybe I’ll do a comedy version at some point of these battles.

Both: (laugh)

V: Now, this isn’t the first documentary you’ve done. When you bounce back and forth between documentary and feature film and music video, is there a huge adjustment to be made, creatively?

D: You know, there has been in the past. But lately, I’ve been trying to take all these elements and blend them together. I just got back from filming. I decided after The Battle for L.A., I wanted to do a feature film in regards to battling. It’s kind of hard to explain, but I wrote this storyline that takes place all across the country. There are three MCs. They’re going to be traveling from L.A. to this one big final battle in New York, and battling the whole way. I kind of wrote the story and put the arc together, but then I had Dax coordinate battles throughout the country.

V: Cool.

D: So, there’s a storyline, and these guys are playing characters, but there are all these real battles. There are only a few more days of filming left. Most of it’s shot like a feature film, but there are some points where it’s complete documentary-style, like when they’re battling. And there are some scenes where they aren’t battling, and I’ll have one camera set at wide-angle, which is like real filmmaking, and another camera set up documentary-style. I want to bring all of these elements into the newest project, you know? Just go for it, and try every single thing. Maybe, in that, I’ll find just what my style is, or is evolving into. I mean, I’m a fan of all of it. I’m just gonna throw it all together and see if it works. It’s either gonna be really cool, or a really, really big mess. But, so far, looking at certain scenes I’ve already shot, it’s looking really cool. And you know, audiences are equipped for that now. They go from watching reality TV, to The Matrix, to playing a video game, then back to watching sports. So I can throw together all these styles, and there’s actually a culture now that gets it.

V: That was one of the things I noticed when I watched The Battle for L.A. It’s a documentary, so you kinda backed away, stylistically speaking, and let your subjects steal the show. But there were times where I could tell it was a project you had your hand in. Your music video style would sneak in.

D: Yeah! And that’s what I mean when I say I just can’t get away from all the different things I love. I mean, the opening for The Battle for L.A., is like the opening for a feature. You got images, and you got these titles, and you got this guy talking. And when I was cutting that, I was like, “Oh! I’m not making a movie here!”

Both: (laugh)

D: “I’m making a documentary,.. well, maybe it’s not!” I mean, I don’t even know what things are anymore. I mean, when I watch Behind The Music on VH1, is that a documentary?

V: Good point.

D: I don’t know what that is!

V: Well, I thought you mixing things up worked really well. It was kind of like signing a painting, almost. Your style was just your signature.

D: Yeah! That’s a really good way to put it. The subject matter is there, and I’m not creating it, but I can still say, “Okay. Here’s how I’m gonna shoot it.” Like you said, it allows me to do all these things at once. And the thing that I like most about it is, I just like shooting. As a director, I’m really bad at working with actors.

V: (laughs)

D: I’ve just never been good at it. Most of my films have musicians in them—musicians I’ve directed music videos for, and have that rapport with. Regular actors? I have a hard time dealing with most actors. So, to put myself in an area where I have people do what they do, and still be a director around it and get intensity, it’s been a really amazing process.

V: Well, you say you have trouble working with actors, but you seem to work well with Michael Madsen. I mean, you guys have worked on a few things now.

D: Yeah, I do. That’s another weird thing. I know some people may have found him difficult, but,.. I think having a background working with musicians,.. I mean, musicians are the most dysfunctional people in the world.

V: (laughs)

D: I mean, really! (laughing) You’re lucky if you get a punk-pop three piece, so you only get three dysfunctional people to work with.

Both: (laugh)

D: It’s just that musicians are dysfunctional according to how the rest of the world operates. And I think directing music videos for as long as I’ve done, difficult people don’t really seem that difficult to me. Especially if they’re passionate about what they do. Michael saw a movie I did called 42K, and he just thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen. I was shopping around 42K, and no one seemed to want it, but Michael was like, “This is ridiculous! This is the funniest thing ever!” So, I called him one day and said, “How about I re-cut this film, and have you be a narrator?” And he was like, “Oh, great!” And he just sorta helped me out. He’s a really funny guy, and I get along well with people who are sarcastic. Everyone’s got their thing they can bond over, and we just had a really good time. I’ve been very fortunate that he’s been a big supporter of my work. I’ve always loved his work, you know, and he’s gone through so many different stages. I was talking to him when he was at a low point in his career, saying, “You know, you’re one of my favorite actors in the whole world. I think you’re one of the best!” And now he’s on the upswing again, with Kill Bill and all these other projects. It’s sort of cool to come into this sort of relationship with someone-- not when they’re on top-- when they’re on the bottom again, you know? To be telling someone, “You’re one of the best actors in the world! You’ve given some of the best performances ever!” I mean, come on! He’s Mr. Blonde!

Both: (laugh)

D: And, this is terrible: One day, I was hanging out with him, and I had become a little bold and crossed that line of also being a fanboy, and thought I’d quote a piece of dialogue from Reservoir Dogs. You know, that back-and-forth with Harvey Keitel, where he’s like, “You gonna bark all day, little doggie, or are you gonna bite?” And when we’re done doing this, I’m still jumping up and down, because this is a fun little trip, you know? I didn’t care. I was like, “Oh, man, this is cool! I’m doing Reservoir Dogs with you! This is awesome!”

Both: (laugh)

D: And he was cool about it. You know, the first time I had a scene I was directing him in, I was so nervous because I didn’t know how to walk in there and actually give him direction. And I kinda walked in there and was like--frantically-- “Hey, Michael! Great first take! I love what you did! Blah blah blah blah blah. This take, you know, maybe try this, and blah blah blah,...” (laughs) And he looks at me and puts his hand on my shoulder and kinda goes, “Okay.” Like, “Okay, little boy.” Then he starts cracking up, and tells me the story about the first time he did a scene with Dennis Hopper. He was freaking out because Hopper had worked with James Dean and all these people. So, after the scene was over, he walked up to Dennis and was like, “Hey, Dennis. Blah blah blah,...” And, just like Michael did to me, Dennis put his hand on Michael’s shoulder and went, “Okay.”

Both: (laugh)

D: He wasn’t just doing it to bust my balls, but also to sort of artistically recognize, “I know where you’re at.” So, that’s my movie star story. That’s sort of where it starts and ends.

V: (laughing) Yeah,.. you know what? I just read about your film Broken.

D: Right.

V: And I really wanna see that because I want to know how you pulled it off in 24 hours.

D: You know, it wasn’t that difficult. I’m kind of moving in that direction. Even with The Battle for L.A., and this now-- and with The Battle for N.Y.-- I’ve really been very frustrated with what it takes to be a filmmaker. You know, when you go to do a film, you’re raising all this money and keeping people excited, and there’s such an energy that you have to keep up. It’s really crazy. And the stress level,... So, with Broken, I started thinking, “You know, enough happens in the course of a day that you could capture it to be a movie.”

V: Yeah.

D: I mean, we’ve all had days where in the course of two hours, our lives change. That could be a phone call, a breakup, a death, you know? There are stories to be told in the course of a day. At first, I was thinking I could do a sort of convenience store robbery. And I still might do it, as a thing told from the perspective of the security cameras. You know, you have a guy coming in, and cops pulling up, but you go through the next 90 minutes in real time. But I kept thinking that, if I followed someone throughout the course of a day, and I sort of knew what they were supposed to be doing or going through, I could do a film. So, I just wrote an outline, and a couple scenes where there was scripted dialogue, called Michael, and told him what I wanted to do. He said I was crazy, but that he’d go for it. You know, it’s one day out of his life. Again, for artists, if we only have to commit a day, we’re pretty much up for anything. So, he was up for it, and the character has a son, so he says, “Can my son play his son?” I said, “Sure.” It was great, because that way, it will add even more because I’m trying to get this real thing, but it’s still filmmaking. His son’s going to play his son. They’re going to have conversations that only they will be able to have. So, we just started filming in the morning, and went all the way until night, and it actually wasn’t that difficult. I had a three or four person crew. It wasn’t hard on a production level, but it did get hard toward the end of the night for Michael and I; we were sort of at each other’s throats, just not seeing eye-to-eye on a lot of things. The subject matter was very intense, even for Michael. He kept saying, “Look, I just don’t know if people are ready for this stuff to be talked about.” But the next morning, he called me and said, “I think we got some great stuff yesterday.” And then he asks, “Do you enjoy it when you’re out there?” I said, “No. Not one bit.” He says, “Yeah. Me neither.”

Both: (laugh)

D: He says, “You know? I really enjoy it when I’m done.” And I said, “Yeah. I’m the exact same way.” And that gave way to us having this great conversation about how when you’re out there doing it, there’s really nothing fun about it. It really is labor, and it’s a job. But when you wake up that next day-- or maybe it takes three or four weeks later-- then you’re able to kind of go, “That was cool.” The thing with Broken was it was so intense, because it’s about morality and moral crime, and what is a loving thing to do to people who commit moral crimes. It was a really enjoyable project. It’ll see the light of day most likely in Spring of next year.

V: That’s really cool.

D: Yeah. It touches on that whole confidence thing, where it proved for me that I could document things, with a cinematic approach. I did it, and it kept sticking in my head. So I decided I wanted to do it with battle rap.

V: You know, you’re taking very non-commercial things like documentaries and music videos, and applying that to making a film. There’s the Hollywood formula, and then there’s this, and you’re making it work. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think your ability to do this has a lot to do with the fact that you didn’t go to film school. You weren’t taught all these different techniques and formulas. You just have a passion for doing it, and the drive to do it.

D: And, to be honest, I never really had that opportunity, too. I mean, if I could make Bad Boys 3, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

Both: (laugh)

D: Just because the style aspect and the filming aspect of these films that I watch at the theaters with my big tub of popcorn, I really love. I just don’t have the means or the resources. It’s sort of like, I’ve always had to figure out, you know, “I can’t afford the big canvas. But I can afford the small canvas. I can only paint so much on this canvas. What am I able to do?” So, I actually do enjoy that stuff when it’s done really well. I sort of stop enjoying stuff when it’s right in the middle. I love what Michael Bay does. That’s his thing. He’s insane. Just insane. If you’re going to make Hollywood schlock, I want it to look like Bad Boys. If you’re gonna make a really big, bad Hollywood movie, please, make Pearl Harbor. Please, shoot it at $100 million. Be crazy, you know? Give these guys money, let ‘em spend it how they want. It’s when you see, like, $60 million dollars spent on whatever that last Ben Stiller/Drew Barrymore movie was, which came and went, you’re just like, “Ewww,...” But then I look at a film like 28 Days Later.

V: Yeah!

D: He trumped everybody, in my opinion. A couple million dollars budget; he used all video cameras; used everything from hand-held to dolly shots to crane shots; I really don’t think we’re seeing the impact that 28 Days Later is going to have on modern cinema just yet. It’s really hard to put into words, but that movie, we’re going to look back on it and say, “This changed everything.” In the theater, it didn’t project well, because it was blown up so big and everything was kinda pixelated. That gave it a cool vibe, though. But when you watch it on DVD, it’s beautiful!

V: Yeah.

D: It is a beautiful looking film. He shot that with Canon XL1-- a $3,000 camera! It just goes to show you that it can be done on such a level. And that’s been really inspiring to me lately.

V: Cool, man.

D: But, yeah, we’re talking about the non-Hollywood formula and all these things,.. we’re going to see more stuff like this, because the technology is so accessible. People are going to start making films, and we’re going to see something-- not like the indie explosion we had a few years ago. That just resulted in everyone signing big deals with huge companies and making bad movies. This new indie explosion will be more like independent music. What’s happening with indie music in the music industry is going to happen with film. The difference is, film doesn’t have any pioneers forming companies the way independent musicians have formed record companies. You see?

V: True.

D: When you’re a filmmaker, you make one good film and you can go cash in a deal with Miramax. So why be concerned with starting this independent distribution company when Miramax will give you a three picture deal, and you’re getting $5 million per film?

V: Yeah.

D: And I totally understand that. But what you’re going to see now is someone starting something small like that up. And that’s what I’m slowly trying to do. It’ll probably be another year or two away, but starting pretty much with The Battle for L.A., I’m trying to build up a country that can be viewed just like a record label, in that I get my own distribution. Hopefully, I can continue my relationship with Best Buy, but also have relationships with independent record stores. Then I can start finding more films and releasing them like a dealer-supported seven-inch. You know, maybe have them do a split short film-- like, a 20 minute film with another 20 minute film. Just take everything that the music industry has laid the foundation for, and do it with film. Do the DVD package thing like they do with CDs,.. all that stuff.

V: Yeah!

D: The technology is there. We just need to build into the distribution. There’s so much going on that, when we talk a year from now, we’re going to see some things that are so groundbreaking, and it’s going to start forcing film companies to do what major record labels are doing, which is fold every other day.

V: I never really thought about that, but it is a really good thing to do; to take what the music industry has done and what independent music labels have done, and apply it to film.

D: It’s the exact same formula. I mean, once people could record in their homes, once people had a fax machine, the Internet, they were able to make the music, record it, press CDs. With their fax machines they could fax different stores and get the word out. The Internet allows people to access where all these stores are at. It’s now what film is going through. You can actually edit a film in your house. You can shoot a film with a relatively inexpensive camera. Being around both of those industries, I’m always looking at how people are succeeding. Punk rock succeeded from a manufacturing standpoint, because they were making records for a couple hundred or a couple thousand dollars.

V: Yeah.

D: But they sounded just as good as anything else.

V: Right. Well, I wanna thank you again for doing this.

D: Oh, no problem. I really appreciate it. I’m glad you sat down in front of it, and I got to hear your feedback on it. I’m real nervous about what people are going to think of it, because it’s just getting out there. But you hit on those things that it wasn’t just a series of images, it was a collection of things I’m passionate about. And you got that there was a hand behind it, and you thought it was entertaining and enjoyable. That was probably the best compliment I could have for the whole project.

V: Thank you.

D: Hopefully this will go up there with some of the other great interviews you’ve done.

V: I think it will. And when you become the next Michael Bay,...

D: (laughing) Yeah. When I’m doing Bad Boys 3,...

V: (laughing) You better send me some free tickets.

D: And then when tastes like chicken gets the exclusive, everyone will be like, “What the hell happened here?!?” Where are you guys based out of?

V: Milwaukee.

D: Very cool.

V: Maybe we’ll be out in L.A. by the time you’re doing Bad Boys 3, and I can get a cameo.

Both: (laugh)