Kicks is a film about a mission to get some shoes back – but at its heart, it’s about so much more
Kicks is about what happens when your shoes get stolen. In this case, Air Jordan 1s. Desperate to get them back from the thugs that took them, Brandon (Jahking Guillory) recruits his two friends and his hard uncle for a dangerous crusade into enemy territory. It’s an adrenaline-junkie hood film laced with the beats of hip hop legends – Wu Tang, Biggie and Mac Dre all soundtrack Brandon’s do-or-die attempt to retrieve his shoes. As the film goes on, Brandon begins to identify more and more with the gangsta life.
This film is a riot, a simplistic narrative hook layered with comedy and music. (Side note: If you enjoyed FX’s new Donald Glover series Atlanta, this will be your bag.) Understandably, a hood film like this also kicks up a timely message about violence. While the film was being made, three independent shootings took place in the neighbourhood, the cast tells me. There is certainly a message to be gleaned from this very easy-to-watch film, yet it still points to the brutal reality of what’s going on in places like Oakland (where the movie was made) and Chicago every single day.
What was it like filming in Oakland?
Christopher Meyer: There were a couple moments being out there where I was a little scared. One day when we were shooting there was a shooting right around the corner, early in the morning somebody got shot. Then literally four hours later somebody else got shot, like, three blocks down. So they didn’t let us walk off set, we had to get transported. Our base was only round the block, so we couldn’t even walk a block. We had to do a whole route just to get there. It was crazy, but there was a lot of real stuff going on there. Somebody got their computer stolen on set.
CJ Wallace Jr: Didn’t somebody get shot at the gas station?
Jahking Guillory: Somebody got a MacBook stolen out of their car in broad daylight, dude busted the window and everything.
One of the crew members?
Jahking Guillory: Yeah.
So there were at least three shootings during the filming of Kicks.
CJ Wallace Jr: At least.
Christopher Meyer: Mind you, we were really filming in the hood. That wasn’t a joke, we were really in there.
Jahking Guillory: Like, in the houses, everything. No disrespect, though.
I know director Justin Tipping spoke about the film being a sort of deterrent for violence, but obviously through the vehicle of a compelling story. Did you have any sense that the film would have any political motivation at all?
CJ Wallace Jr: The view on women was one of the main things that people would look at. Other than that it was just kind of the whole violence and masculinity thing. Other than those two main messages, people can take it however they want to take it. You can replace the shoes with anything else, and I think anyone could relate to it.
Did he discuss any of that with you?
Christopher Meyer: If he did tell us, it would be a different movie. I feel like it went so natural, so fluent. If we were to have that in our minds while filming it, it probably would have came out a lot different. Who was ever to predict that the two years after we filmed the movie there would be, like, 30 black kids getting killed by the cops? I feel like now is the perfect time for this kind of movie to come out. We didn’t have that in mind while filming, but we do know now that we’ve seen the movie, just how strong and how powerful it could be.
CJ Wallace Jr: I’ve just realised there are no cops in the movie, that’s not even one of the things.
Christopher Meyer: You know what, just for me personally I was at the LA Film School and they were screening the movie and the lady who was introducing it (made it sound) really serious and down. Like, ‘The violence in this and that, and this is a message you guys should take it.’ There were a couple of kids in front of me and I was like, ‘Hey guys, just so you know I’m in the movie and you guys don’t have to act this serious. It’s a dope-ass movie, just sit back and enjoy.’ I don’t want it to ever become, like Justin (Tipping, the film’s director) said, a PSA (public service announcement) for kids. It’s just a fresh-ass movie that’s got some good messages in it.
Jahking Guillory: You can take it how you want. The thing about this movie that’s so great is that it gives you eyes on the inside. Not just on the outside, like somebody on the outside making up stereotypes. With every single scene, everybody in the movie had an inside job, everybody knew what was going on, everybody knew how things were supposed to be done. Everything just fell into place.
“Who was ever to predict that the two years after we filmed the movie there would be like thirty black kids that get killed by the cops?” – Christopher Meyer
I read that there were only ten real actors in the film, the rest was just people off the street.
Christopher Meyer: Literally everybody was pulled off the street, even the producer told us a story about how he went up to one of the dudes in Flocka’s gang, and he almost got beat up because the dude didn’t know what he was trying to ask him.
How was it working with these people?
CJ Wallace Jr: They definitely helped us develop our characters, for sure.
Jahking Guillory: The slang.
Christopher Meyer: You can’t be slacking in the bank.
What kind of slang lessons did you get?
CJ Wallace Jr: Instead of bruh with a ‘u’ it’s bruh with an ‘e’, so it’s like ‘breh’.
Jahking Guillory: Then the cities like, Valley Joe for Valejo; Old Town for Oakland; then the City is San Francisco.
CJ Wallace Jr: They called cars ‘scrapers’, and they called rims ‘shoes’. So like, ‘Look at the shoes on that scraper.’ Sometimes you just hear these dudes talking and it’s like, ‘What did you just say?’
The music is insanely good in the movie. I’ve been looking for it on Apple Music but it’s not there yet.
Christopher Meyer: Even just looking at some of this I can’t believe we actually got ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ by Wu Tang on there, which is ridiculous for me. Obviously ‘Party and Bullshit’ by Biggie, but you have got to have ‘Get Stupid’ by Mac Dre – that’s literally the big anthem, if we didn’t have that in there... My favourite song in there is the slo-mo when we start doing the sideshow, it’s (a song) called ‘Sideshow’, by Blue Magic. I’ve been listening to them every day now.
Did you have any idea that Kicks would be so tied up with music when you were filming it?
CJ Wallace Jr: Yeah, on the script they had all the title sequences and the songs that would be playing, introducing each scene – so you got the idea that each song would be introducing a new chapter. While we were reading we would play the songs so you could get into the zone and picture what was going on.
Kicks is out in US cinemas today