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Waist Deep   Full Production Notes     View All 2006 Movies
Starring: Tyrese Gibson, Meagan Good, The Game, Paul Terrell Clayton, Eric Lane, Larenz Tate, Arnold Vosloo
Directed by: Vondie Curtis-Hall
Screenplay by: Vondie Curtis-Hall, A. Michael Mahern, Darin Scott
Release Date: June 23th, 2006
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and pervasive language.
Box Office: $21,344,312 (US total)
Studio: Rogue Pictures (Focus Features)
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Tagline: His son. His life. His freedom. He's taking them all back.

An ex-convict (Tyrese) gets tangled up with a gang after his car is hijacked with his son inside.

An urban action thriller with a sexy 21st-century Bonnie and Clyde. Ex-con O2 (Tyrese Gibson) is suddenly plunged into a life-or-death situation; trying to go straight for the sake of his young son Junior, O2 is forced to go back outside the law when Junior is kidnapped in a carjacking. His son is now in the hands of a vicious criminal leader, Meat (hip-hop superstar The Game).

O2’s shady cousin Wanna Be (Larenz Tate) is caught between loyalties, and so the only person who can or will help O2 now is wily street-smart hustler Coco (Meagan Good). With the clock ticking down, the heat between them rises as they become a lawbreaking couple, on an action-packed tear through town to save Junior and outwit the underworld.

Waist Deep director and co-screenwriter Vondie Curtis Hall says, “To save your child, you would find the adrenaline that allows you to run much faster than you have ever run. That’s a universal story, and it’s the starting point for our movie.

 Waist Deep
Tyrese Gibson and Meagan Good in Waist Deep.
“You don’t get to see love between a father and son often enough in urban movies. Here’s a black man who’s trying to do good by his son, loves his son, and would do anything for him. That’s the way I feel about my son, and the way a lot of black men feel about their children.”

Lead actor Tyrese Gibson agrees, saying that when Hall “told me all about it, I was interested right away in the idea of a man’s son being taken, and his doing whatever it takes to get his son back. In this movie, audiences will see a ‘hood father, a good father who is not a deadbeat father. Family is really important to O2, because that’s all he really has; when that bond is put in jeopardy, there’s no length that he won’t go to for his son.

“O2 is a leader, but he has been burnt by people not keeping their word, not keeping their promises. He’s gone to prison, did six years, got out – and the people that he did the time for are still giving him a hard time when he gets out.”

During the film shoot, several of the Waist Deep cast and crew found themselves working in neighborhoods where they were raised. The Game, the rap superstar who makes his feature acting debut in the film, reports that, of his fellow actors, “Tyrese Gibson is from Watts, and Larenz Tate also grew up in the ‘hood.”

Gibson remarks, “I don’t think I’d be able to do most of these movies I’m doing if I weren’t from Watts. There’s a lot of value in what the streets teach you – about people, for example. I’d have been dead a long time ago if I wasn’t street-smart. I knew I’d be able to bring reality to this film, and my own instincts. Vondie was very open to my suggestions.

“When it comes to films that have to do with South Central L.A., it’s all about what the real cats in the ‘hood will say when you go to the mall, when you go to the barbershop, when you’re driving through the neighborhood. You want your people to give you love over what you did in the movie. That’s what’s important.”

Stunt coordinator and second unit director Julius LeFlore comments, “I went to the same high school as Tyrese did, and grew up in the same neighborhood. If we put something on the screen that doesn’t satisfy the people of our community, it’s not going to work. When it’s authentic, you feel it. When I was in the ‘hood, I had the best times of my life; Tyrese will tell you the same thing.”

“Waist Deep is a good ‘hood flick,” states Game. “It’s about everyday life, and has those situations that make you feel helpless when you’re growing up in these urban areas throughout America. I’ve been there, and been involved in those situations.”

Production designer Warren Alan Young notes, “Vondie was very committed to making sure that whatever we saw, whatever we felt, was the real thing. I was able to go check out some real chop shops. There was a lot of research to do for this movie, but some of it was easy because I’ve lived in that world and I grew up in that world. The fencing house in the film – I remember family members would go to one where they sold clothes.

“So, it’s a character-driven film that is just as much about the environments. You don’t get very far away from where you come from, no matter where you are.” Costume designer Marie France admits, “We wanted it to feel very real, although we did tweak reality a little bit. The film takes place during a heat wave, and so everything is in a bit of a haze. Our visual scheme is monochromatic, with bursts of color – like Coco’s outfits.

 Waist Deep
Meagan Good in Waist Deep.
Young confirms, “Marie and I didn’t over-design Waist Deep. The color scheme throughout is fairly neutral – and [director of photography] Shane Hurlbut researched which film stock we’d use given our color palette – but occasionally people or signage will pop out and be lively. In the nighttime scenes, colors pop out like jewels. My favorite directors to work with are the ones who are very visual, and Vondie certainly is.”

While it is a father’s mission to rescue his child that sets the plot in motion, much of Waist Deep focuses on evolving relationships. Holmes says, “In the midst of this wild ride, you watch a family unit developing. O2 and Coco are from the same urban street culture, and real feeling and heart develops between them.”

Gibson says that O2 is “attracted to how smart and intelligent Coco is, and to the fact that she goes along with his plan and is able to keep up with him. It takes a while for him to trust her, because he knows what he’s asking her to do actually violates all street codes; you can’t snitch about anybody and what they’re doing in the streets, because you put your life in jeopardy. But Coco deals with it and makes things happen, and so O2 grows to respect her.”

Holmes remarks, “One of my favorite movies is Bonnie and Clyde, and there have been a number of films since then that starred a couple in a ‘them against the world’ scenario. But it had never been done in an urban movie and setting.”

Larenz Tate, cast opposite Gibson as the conflicted Lucky, cites a quote, “’They rob banks.’ So that’s one Bonnie and Clyde element – and another is, they need one another to make progressive steps in their lives.”

Waist Deep also has its roots in a 1995 episode of New York Undercover which (guest-)starred a then-unknown Terrence Howard and Aunjanue Ellis. The episode, entitled “Buster and Claudia,” was written by Michael Mahern. “That show had a youthful, and largely black and Latino, audience,” Mahern remembers. “I had the idea to write a ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ movie for them, in part because I was passionately opposed to California’s notorious ‘three-strikes’ law.

“I also wanted the movie, ‘Strikeback,’ to star Tupac Shakur; Preston Holmes, who produced Vondie Curtis Hall’s Gridlock’d – which starred Tupac – told me that Tupac had wanted to do a ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ story. Tupac was murdered while I was writing the first draft.”

Mahern, who has since retired from screenwriting and now teaches emotionally disturbed middle-school kids in Los Angeles’ Crenshaw District, reflects, “Ultimately, the project ran aground because it lacked a young black male star of sufficient magnitude to play the lead. But now, Tyrese has the necessary intensity – and the filmmakers have done a terrific job molding the script to his talents.”

“Vondie is a very talented director, one who I’d been wanting to work with for several years now,” adds co-screenwriter Darin Scott. “Also, as a film noir fanatic, it was a great thrill to work on updating the genre to make it relevant to a modern urban audience. I think the creative team has achieved just that.

“Waist Deep brings the tradition of crime-romance movies – They Live by Night, Gun Crazy, Bonnie and Clyde – to the hip-hop generation, with a fresh and exciting 21st-century flavor.”

In line with those classic films, Hall points out that the new movie follows “two people who have nothing to lose, and are trying to change their lives. The new title for the movie came to me when I realized that there are number of moments where these two are in situations where they’re moving and trying to maneuver – but it’s not the easiest for them.

“The movies that I make are about underdogs. These two – a two-strikes felon and a hustler – come together and there’s an alchemy that changes things for them. They form a family that’s not the picket-fence kind, but where there is love and support.”

Meagan Good, who plays Coco to Gibson’s O2, comments, “It’s the ’06 Bonnie and Clyde because – the worst way and the best way of saying it is, ultimately, they’d ride or die for each other. They both want a better life for themselves. The cast and setting are urban, but it could be anybody’s story – anybody who’s gone through something hurtful and wants something better.”

As France points out, Waist Deep “is not just bang-bang. It’s about people finding themselves and finding love.”

Good elaborates, “When I tell people about this movie, I tell them, ‘It’s a love story about two different people trying to get their lives on track, working through a situation together.’ It’s also a love story between a father and his son.”

Tate says, “This movie isn’t just a cool action film – although we need more action movies with African-American stars. Waist Deep has energy and an authentic street vibe, and also a lot of heart and character and emotion. I liked the idea of these two young people on the go, and around each corner is something different for them.”

Young agrees, adding, “The script provided a lot that we seized on to make this more than just an action film. We tried to convey that the film is all about the characters’ motion, even between the action sequences.

“One of the visual elements that we designed into the film is the idea of prison – cages, bars; on almost every set you see, we have vertical lines. Locations that we shot in were picked for those reasons. The idea is to suggest that O2 is still imprisoned – and will be until he resolves the situation he’s in. Both he and Coco are attempting to escape, and are striving for better.”

Hall comments, “The characters interact while the clock is ticking, and they have to keep up a fast pace to achieve their goals. It’s an action drama with heart – but, sure, we’ve got cool caper stuff, plus car chases and things blowing up!” Holmes notes, “Waist Deep is in part a road movie – within city limits, uniquely. The story takes the characters and the audience to a number of diverse neighborhoods.”

As Gibson notes, that journey was also one the cast and crew took: “Every other day, the shoot was in a different location – Beverly Hills, Long Beach...I don’t know how Vondie and the crew managed to pull it off on our budget – but it makes our story look right.”
Hall reveals, “In every neighborhood, we hired people who were from the neighborhood. That was very important. We respected the residents, and all our shoots went smoothly.”

Holmes confirms, “Our approach was always to be respectful of each neighborhood and the people in it, and enlist them to help. It worked well.” Gibson muses, “Being exposed to new things broadens your horizons. There are a lot of moments in the film where O2 and Coco talk about going places and seeing and doing things. That’s their shared mindset; thinking bigger and broader than the box that they’re captured in.”

 These production notes provided by Focus Features.


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