“The word ‘meta’ has been used a lot,” director Craig Brewer says of he and Eddie Murphy’s comedic tour de force, Dolemite Is My Name. Inspired by the aggressive DIY style of late actor, comedian and musician Rudy Ray Moore, Dolemite Is My Name is a movie about making a movie against all odds, revealing layer upon layer of Hollywood sinew with each scene.
As a director, Brewer has helmed crowd pleasers like Black Snake Moanand Hustle & Flow, but Dolemite Is… was near and dear to his heart because of his early start in film.
“When you start off making movies, you’re using your friends as actors. You’re using that woman who works at the library who said she’s always wanted to be in movies, and now she’s half naked with a machine gun in her hand,” says Brewer. “I did a lot of those kind of movies when I was starting out in Memphis, Tennessee. Just crazy B-movie type of stuff.
For me, that’s what my connection was to Rudy Ray Moore. I’d film burlesque dancers and build sets in my living room and make the costumes and do everything myself.”
In Dolemite is My Name Wesley Snipes serves a double dose of attitude as the reluctant actor and director D'Urville Martin, who provides much of the conflict for Murphy’s Rudy Ray Moore and Dolemite’s fictional nemesis, Willy Green.
Inspired by the Thanksgiving Holiday, we reached out to Brewer, who took a break from filming Coming 2 America with Murphy, to share the special recipe for filming the fight scenes in Dolemite Is My Name.
THE MAIN INGREDIENTS
We found the exact same camera that they used on the original Dolemite, which was the exact same camera that they filmed Citizen Kaneon, these enormous cameras. And we found the original dolly. So, we had a fantastic props department and our costumes by Ruth E. Carter. It was very important that it looked exactly like what it was [back then]. And we had a good couple of weeks to get the all-girl Kung Fu army ready to go.
The big fight scene was really tricky because it was written as “and then the big fight scene happens.” The scene is really well known in the original Dolemitemovie. And so, when you look at something that’s showing the fight happening with the all-girl Kung Fu army and Eddie and Wesley fighting in the other room, the biggest hurdle that you face is; is it going to be in real time or are you going to show that you’ve been filming a fight scene? That was the biggest problem that the whole movie faced. How am I going to handle these scenes where we’re “filming” the movie? Do we step inside the movie? Do we always show the camera when we’re “filming” the movie? It got to be very complicated.
So, I was trying to think, how could I film a fight scene that looks energetic, has some momentum to it, and has a beginning, middle and end? I know as a director that it sometimes takes all day, or even a couple of days, to film a big fight scene.
I didn’t know quite what to do.
But then the writers, Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, they met with Nicholas Josef von Sternberg, who was the original cinematographer on the [Dolemite].He’s portrayed by Kodi [Smit-McPhfee] in the movie. So, they brought me the real slate from Dolemite, the big black and white thing that they crack. So, I’m holding it in my hand and I clap it. And it sounded like an old-fashioned punch in a Kung Fu movie and it suddenly gave me an idea. We’re going to do a fight scene, but really, we’re going to do a celebration of making a fight scene.
So, I started filming this guy cracking a slate over and over again and giving all of these takes and scene numbers for the fight scene. And we filmed it from all these kinds of sexy angles. And then when we started doing the fight scene, we used that slate to show that time is moving forward. Sometimes we’d have three takes of a guy getting hit over the head with a bottle and we’d use the slate: “Whoopish!” And do it again. “Crack!” And then another one. “Crack!” And it gave it this energy like you have to do this over and over again, but at the same time it had momentum to it.
TIME TO BRING THE HEAT
At the beginning of the scene, probably the most-crazy of all the meta moments, we start off with this woman dancing and shaking her ass to the camera, then we pull back and see Dolemite. And we’re in the movie. We see him do a nod over to Lady Reed but then he crosses over to D’urville Martin and you see that there’s an entire film crew behind him. So, we’re in a movie and then we were suddenly out of the movie, because we’re back into the movie about making the movie. Those are the kinds of things we were always having to deal with.
When it came time for Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes’ fight scene, I’ll never forget Eddie telling me “Don’t have me doing anything you wouldn’t have Morgan Freeman do. I can’t do any big, high kicks.” And I said I just need you to fight horribly. I think what we were both surprised with was Wesley Snipes, who is known for martial arts, was gleefully fighting horribly. He loved it. It was the one thing no one ever asked him to do. “Hey, Wesley, can you fight really horribly?”
My favorite thing, and I laugh every time I see it, because it’s very small, but [Wesley] pulls out a gun on Dolemite, he fires it and makes a gun sound at the same time. He goes “Pew!” And Eddie and I laugh at it every time we hear it. We hear Eddie go “No, Willy Green!” and Wesley goes “Pew!”
NO GUTS, NO GLORY
Dolemite is such a bad ass that he can be shot in the chest and still disembowel a motherf*cker. Luckily, we only did it one time because there was so much blood. There was a piece of green carpet attached to the guts and Eddie, right before we shot, was like ‘wait, wait, there’s something on the guts and the prop person came and removed it and Wesley says “Sorry, it was a bit of kale that I had earlier.”
So, the interesting thing about the fight with the guts, is that if you watch the original Dolemite, he does stick a hand into Willy Green’s stomach and rips out his guts, but the ratings board said ‘No, you can’t show the guts,’ so they cut it out. But we said we’ll put the guts [back in].
When I was making movies back in the day, and I started watching Dolemite as my inspiration, there was one line that Lady Reed said that me and my crew would say over and over again: “Oh, Dolemite, I’m so happy.” And then she does this nod after she says that one line that we would all do in unison. And I had Da’vine Joy Randolph say and do the line, but I just didn’t have a place for it. I was really bummed about that. I should find that footage and turn it into a GIF or something.
There were also scenes we stole from Human Tornado because they were so good that we just felt like we have one opportunity to tell a Rudy Ray Moore story. Surely, we have to put this chase scene in and the sex scene. Part of me was thinking should I have the Hamburger Pimp in here, another character from Dolemite. But it took too much effort to make it work and it would take screen time away from Rudy’s story.
But the thing that Eddie really came up with [in the smaller fight scene] that I thought was hilarious is when D’urville called “Cut” he was just supposed to say “How was that?” And the choice that Eddie made is he started panting like he was out of breath from his performance, his Kung Fu skills, and to me that’s the best little addition that he added. That horrible bit of Kung Fu was the only exertion that Rudy was capable of. And when he said “Was that as good as Shaft?” that was totally Eddie coming up with that on his own.
Every day on Coming 2 America me and Eddie get together and talk about different people who responded to Dolemite Is My Name, because it meant so much to us. We view it as a validation of the work, but we more so view it as a validation of Rudy Ray Moore. To know that there are teenaged kids now saying “Dolemite is my name and fuckin up motherfuckers is my game!” and they have this whole new knowledge of this guy is special to us.
The biggest thing that we’re mostly happy about is how inspired people are by it. I see people on Twitter saying “Before you lose hope, you should watch Dolemite is My Name” and I’ll see it’s somebody thinking about quitting something because they’ve had a couple of hard knocks. So many people have put it on and say it’s about me. People in music, art or trying to do their own business, they’re inspired by Rudy Ray Moore, and that is the biggest compliment of all.