We get a lot of emails, and when one from last week directed us toward something called Glazed: A Columbia University thesis film we were all about to click away when we saw the tag line: "A '90s-era coming-of-age film about two Detroit teens doing stupid things for stupid reasons, with Talib Kweli, Ro Spit, and Nick Speed." When people are smart enough to advertise what they're doing as "stupid," that's a far better sign than the reverse. And while we've all donated to Kickstarter campaigns that never took off, that's already a stellar group to start with, right there: Speed is great, and Kweli? Damn.
Michael Castelaz, the writer-director of Glazed, said in his email pitch that "in the '90s, the city of Detroit nurtured a handful of legendary hip-hop artists from Eminem to J Dilla; we're making a movie about a pair of kids standing in their shadows," he says. "The story is inspired by an episode from my youth when my best friend, Nick Speed, and I had to get a bag of weed for DJ House Shoes in exchange for a couple of records."
Speed will contribute original music and serve as an executive producer. Emcee and DJ Ro Spit will play the DJ character, inspired by House Shoes. And legendary hip-hop artist Talib Kweli will contribute a voice-over to the movie. We reached out to Castelaz via email. To find out more and donate to the fundraiser, which ends on Thursday, Dec. 8, visit facebook.com/glazedthemovie.
Metro Times: How did you first come up with the idea to take this story and turn it into a film?
Michael Castelaz: The events that inspired the film took place in 1999, while Nick Speed and I were students at Henry Ford Community College. I knew back then that it was a funny story, and had even written a version of it in a creative writing class. Over the years it just became one of those things you tell people about when you want to embarrass Nick, or just make someone laugh. I've been a film student at Columbia University for almost five years now, and at a certain point, I realized that my taste, my perspective, and my sense of humor were being crushed by the weight of my education. Going back to this story was like rediscovering where I come from. It's also just fun to be nostalgic about being 18 again.
MT: For those who don't know, tell us about DJ House Shoes.
Castelaz: DJ House Shoes has always been a champion for Detroit hip-hop, and Detroit artists in general. I met him when I was still in high school and first discovering the rich hip-hop scene in Detroit. At the time, I was trying to write a biopic about the iconic rap group Gang Starr. When I told House Shoes about it, he invited me over to his place to just hang out, listen to records, and bounce ideas off of him. He was the DJ at Saint Andrews Hall on Fridays, and had a reputation for being a little raw with people, but at the same time, he was taking Nick Speed under his wing and showing him how to make beats, and doing anything he could to help out other artists.
MT: What was your experience in the hip-hop scene at that time like?
Castelaz: I entered the hip-hop scene knowing almost no one, so for a while, I was an awkward kid in the corner trying to make friends. Elzhi and Baatin from Slum Village were some of the first people who I got to know, and they opened a lot of doors for me to become fully immersed in the scene. It was an exciting time because J Dilla was attracting attention from artists like Common and the Roots, while Eminem was the most popular rapper in the world. Because of them, it felt like everyone had a chance to make it, and everyone around me was making amazing music. And since I wasn't a rapper or beatmaker, I was really just a fan — I just stood there enjoying everything that was happening. After a few years, some of the conflicts that were simmering beneath the surface started to manifest themselves, and things started to fall apart.
MT: How did you get Talib Kweli into this?
Castelaz: After writing a couple drafts of the script, I decided that I would shoot it in a more exaggerated, stylized way, and that I would add details and flourishes that were allusions to hip-hip iconography. Adding a voice-over became a tonal and thematic device more than a narrative one, and I knew that it had to be a recognizable rapper for it to work. Talib was my first choice. His discography speaks for itself, he became popular in the era that our movie is set, and he's got a distinct voice. Nick Speed had worked with him in the past. He put us in touch and we worked out the details. But Talib is on record saying that Detroit has the best rappers, and I think he has a lot of love for the city. He's also out there supporting Jessica Care Moore and Stephanie Christian by putting out their music through his company, Javotti Media, while also continuing to support the J Dilla Foundation. So I think that this story's connection to this city, this music, and that era contributed to his decision.
MT: What are your Kickstarter goals, and what's the coolest thing you are offering?
Castelaz: Our primary goal with Kickstarter is to make the bare minimum budget to shoot the film, which is $17,000. Promoting the campaign is ultimately promoting the film, so our hope is that there will be enough interest in what we're doing that we'll have some opportunities to exhibit the movie for audiences. When we were planning the Kickstarter, the thing I was most excited about was the unreleased music from Nick Speed. I've been friends with this guy for half my life, the whole time playing these amazing songs that not many people have heard. So we're giving away one of those songs, "Big City," to anyone who pledges $5 or more. If we make our goal, we're offering a collection of unreleased songs featuring other emcees like Elzhi and T Calmese. Speed is one of these artists who likes to tinker with his work for years and just keeps making stuff without any particular project in mind. Having an excuse to finally get some of this stuff out to the world is just an added bonus for me.
MT: Are there any existing films you can explicitly think of as inspiration for yours?
Castelaz: My intrepid producer, Jorge Alfaro, likes to describe Glazed as being Superbad but with hip-hop kids and weed instead of Jonah Hill and booze. I think that's accurate to a degree, except I hope that our movie comes off as a little more earnest than that one. Amelie and Scott Pilgrim have been points of reference as I build my shot list. And even though it wasn't really an influence, I think Dope is a comparison that's going to be inescapable.
MT: How do people see other work you've done?
Castelaz: At Columbia, I'm a screenwriting concentrate, so most of my experience has been limited to writing. I've directed a few music videos, including one for Elzhi from his Elmatic project. Although, the work I've done prior to film school will be vastly different from what I'll be doing with Glazed.
MT: What really excites you about this project?
Castelaz: The thing I'm most excited about this movie is the chance to shoot in Detroit. Having worked on projects in New York, a city with a pretty cynical population, for the past few years, the enthusiasm we've received from folks in Detroit has been unbelievable. I've reconnected with old friends from college and people I knew in high school, and it's as if we never lost touch. Even the new friends I've made feel like I've known them for years, so it feels really good to be home.