IFH 305: From Rapper to Indie Film Director with Xzibit



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I had the pleasure of speaking to the legendary Xzibit at the Mammoth Film Festival last month. Why is a rapper on the podcast you may ask? Well not only is Xzibit a rapper, actor, and producer but he’s also a director as well. His new indie film/series is called BROKEN GROUND.

BROKEN GROUND is the directorial debut of multi-platinum recording artist and actor Alvin ‘Xzibit’ Joiner. Also written and produced by Xzibit, the series follows once-prominent west coast rapper James Savage (Jayo Felony) upon his release from prison as he seeks answers from the man who put him behind bars, ultimately sabotaging his career. The cast features Anthony Michael Hall, Anna Hutchison, Sticky Fingaz and Slink Johnson. 

Xzibit, Broken ground, Xzibit directing

We discuss his work with some of the greatest directors working today, his approach to directing and what fear he broke through to make the jump in his career. It’s an eye-opening discussion. Enjoy my conversation with Xzibit.

Alex Ferrari 0:04
But today's guest is the legendary rapper exhibit. Now why is a rapper on a filmmaking podcast well is because exhibits not only worked with some of the biggest and best directors in the world, but he's also a director in his own right. And we're going to talk to him about his process, how he got his movie up and running and how he likes to work with other directors. And I always like anytime I have an actor on the show, I always like to pick their brain about what they're looking for when they're working with a director, how they work on set what their processes because it educates me how actors these kind of high performing actors like to deal with directors and it kind of helps me along with my process. So hopefully it will help you with your so it was a really amazing interview that I had with Xzibit. So without any further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Xzibit. Welcome, guys. I have the incomparable Xzibit here man,

Xzibit 3:06
Thank you so much for having me.

Alex Ferrari 3:07
Thank you, man. Appreciate it.

Xzibit 3:08

Alex Ferrari 3:09
So first, we're gonna hear talk about your movie Broken Ground.

Xzibit 3:12

Alex Ferrari 3:13
But I want to talk a little bit about we're gonna start off with your acting experience because you've been in front of that camera for a while.

Xzibit 3:18

Alex Ferrari 3:19
Not to mention your rap game which I have been a huge fan of for a long time as

Xzibit 3:22
Many transitions

Alex Ferrari 3:23
Many transitions you're multifaceted sir.

Xzibit 3:26
Put the slash is behind your name.

Alex Ferrari 3:27
You gotta diversify. diversify, diversify. So as an actor, when what do you look for in a director, Mike, to help you with your process? Because filmmakers listening would love to know, right? Well, you know, I always ask this question of actors, because I want to know, as a director, like, what do you look for?

Xzibit 3:43
Right? Well, well, when I've worked with directors that I really like, they they don't accept the the note that I give them. What I'm not what you know, they know when you're telling the truth. They know when you're bringing authenticity in what you're saying and what you're believing in. So and in the performance, so I've been pushed by certain directors. And that's what I feel like I'm bringing the best out of out of my performance.

Alex Ferrari 4:09
Nice. And so because some directors I mean, you've worked with many directors, some of them a little bit.

Xzibit 4:14
Yeah, right one two takes aye moving on.

Alex Ferrari 4:20
So when you were a child,

Xzibit 4:23
I want to get to that. What I mean again, man, I've been in all kinds of different productions and the ones that I've been really pushed in, such as when I was working on derailed Jennifer Aniston and Clive on one. That was really a dope experience. And also working with the rock on gridiron gay. Yeah, that was really good. Those were productions.

Alex Ferrari 4:49
And you worked with Curtis Hanson. Yes. on 8 mile

Xzibit 4:52
Yes, yes, Curtis Hanson 8 mile. I mean, these guys really know what they want to see at the end of the day, and they know they can see the film in their head and When you see it and you know the pieces when you have the pieces, that that's when it's time to move on. That's what I appreciate.

Alex Ferrari 5:07
So then as an actor now turned director that she was on the other foot, yes. How was that transition for you, man? Like, how did you? Well, first of all, why did you Why did you say I want to? I want to do this?

Xzibit 5:17
Okay. Well, I Okay. Well, I mean, well, it is a couple different reasons because I love to tell stories. And I love to be able to tell stories from from my, from my genre for my community, not not being put in cast in different roles with people's idea of what my community is. Sure. And so I'm with the experience that I've had the time that I've had on the on the cameras being on a crew sitting, you know, in the village and looking at what they what what makes them say good take or bad take in this very minute, some of the differences but if you pay attention, you can see the differences. So it was time for me to come into this. This storytelling on a revision, yeah, position, the way you know, the way I felt like it, you know, and this I was opportunity to work with someone that I knew very well. And I knew the story, and I knew that he couldn't not tell me the truth. I know when he was bullshitting. And when he and so so it was time for me to take that experience and bet on myself. So that's kind of how I got into this whole thing.

Alex Ferrari 6:24
So as a director, what was the biggest lesson you learned going through this process? as a director the first time that nothing goes the way you think is gonna go? You mean, it's not all like lined up? On a clock that first shot Don't go.

Xzibit 6:41
Nothing goes the way you think it's gonna go. And you have to be able to improvise into compromise. Yeah, compromise. A lot of compromise. Exactly. And but but at the end of the day, I had a great team, I had a great production team with me. And they saw the vision and everybody worked really hard to do it as my first production. I financed, produced, wrote director's office, the whole thing. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 7:03
So tell me about the movie called broken ground?

Xzibit 7:05
Well, we, well, there's a process to it, you gotta follow me. So, um, uh, the artists, James savage came to me and asked if I could help him with his music. So I could do that in my sleep. I think we created this amazing album. And then when we were done with it, I was like, Wow, this is amazing. Nobody's going to give a fuck, you know? Nobody gives a shit. Yeah. You know, in today's world, right, right. Right, the way that we digest our entertainment, the way that is dispersed the ways distributed is totally different. So I wanted to kind of come up with an idea that kind of fit in, brought it up to date. And so I was like, Okay, so we have to do visuals to this. And then that turned into a whole nother thing. And then it just turned into this hour long film that we had, right. And so then I was like, Okay, well, I need to take part of his real life, which is kind of a documentary element to the film. And then we had scripted parts. And then the music serves as narrative for the film as well. So it was like this, this mashup of things that kind of came together and created this new thing, right. And so when we started taking meetings, and people were looking at it, and we got to get that feedback, we decided to step back a couple times. And then we created this platform called broken ground. And it now is an episodic series, right? So we broke the film down into four episodes. And it's really easy to digest. It's really really, it captures it captures your attention, and it doesn't let go you you're anxious to get to the next one. And that's a feeling that we didn't have when we had it in the full length. Yeah, right. So um, man, it's about redemption. It's about you know, people changing their lives. It's about you know, people being accountable. And I'm really Manny tells his story to tell James story. He was a prominent rapper signed to Def Jam, and he disappeared. And then and so and so this kind of picks up that story and kind of erases that question mark and then what they've got and then it not only tells that story, but it also reintroduces him as James Savage.

Alex Ferrari 9:14
That's awesome. That's awesome. So in the world that we live today with the whole digital media I mean, you felt it with music. Oh, yeah. I mean, you know, CDs are selling like they used to you know, records are coming back though.

Xzibit 9:26
Yeah. I was I was really I was there not to cut you off but I was really there in the office when the digital guys came through and said this is going to be the future you know, we're gonna you know, downloads and streaming it was like yo two CDs are selling for 16 $18 A pop Get the fuck out. Yeah, no, but but to see where it is now. It's definitely changed.

Alex Ferrari 9:52
So with that world because you came from the music world. And now it looks like you decided to create a platform and there's a lot more opportunity out there for creatives to do things like that, like 20 years ago, you couldn't have created a platform.

Xzibit 10:03
No, no platforms were created, and they were there and you kind of font you had to find where you fit on and which platform. Or you didn't get out at all.

Alex Ferrari 10:13
Exactly. So do you think there's a, in today's world so much more opportunity for independent filmmakers and people to come out there?

Xzibit 10:21
It is what it depends on your definition of filmmaker? Yes. Right. Over here, oh, you know, you look at, okay, let's just take it back to something I really understand, which is music. And in order to be a musician back in the day, you had to not only create the music, but you had to have someone that was so in it, you know, embedded in what you were creating, that they were willing to put financial risk behind it. Right, you know, all you had to you when you got a record deal. There was it was the business of selling music, not just making music. Now, anybody with a laptop in Fruity Loops can be a rapper, you know? It doesn't have to be good. It could be it could come out on the same platform as Beyonce, you know,

Alex Ferrari 11:15
It started with the rap. Please

Xzibit 11:19
But I mean, but that goat, but now you were seeing that in filmmaking as well, yeah, we're seeing people, you know, if something's on somebody's streaming platforms, that was like, how did that get on there? Who approved this? You know? Exactly. And so now people are just taking their chances. And I think that, you know, the freedom that we have now is filmmaker, and it filmmakers and his artists allows us to get out there to the masses, without the middleman, but at the same time, we are kind of bombarded with a lot of fluff around it, you know, so if you have to really be specific in what you're looking for, and then once you find some some gems out there, but it's a lot of hobos, you gotta you gotta you gotta dig, you got to swim through the sewage.

Alex Ferrari 12:00
Back in the 80s. And 90s. You just made something and it was you've done right, right. If you if you can make a feature in 1989 Yeah, it was sold. Yeah. It doesn't matter how it was done for movies. Nowadays. Everybody's got the power in the front in the pocket.

Xzibit 12:15
Right, exactly. You could do it on a phone you I see people making films, you know, and doing, you know, the YouTube channels, and you're creating platforms, a whole nother thing. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 12:24
I mean, in the money that these kids are making on YouTube man it like insane.

Xzibit 12:28
Right! I have a eight year old son, and you know, I sit there and I try to, you know, I'm very, you know, close on what and monitoring what he. And so, you know, I'm sitting here looking at these guys just playing video games with a picture of themselves and screaming and, you know, I mean, the jokes aren't even funny. I'm like, Come on, guys. Like get better, Dario, but he's staring at it. And then you know, he's, he's entertained by it. And so you know, he doesn't even have a favorite television show that comes on like a broadcast network. He's like, all the YouTube on the YouTube, this is the generation that I'm seeing is thoroughly entertained by the internet. And it's pretty wild.

Alex Ferrari 13:04
It's pretty, it's pretty insane. Well, now, last question. I asked you, what is an asset of all my guests? What is this lesson that took you the longest to learn, whether in the film, business music business or in life?

Xzibit 13:17
The longest, it's the lesson that took me the longest to learn. Believing yourself.

Alex Ferrari 13:24
Amen. Believe in yourself, because it's the it's all here.

Xzibit 13:27
Yeah, yeah. Cuz you let people get in your head and tell you that you can't do something or that you can't, you know, be what you are, you know, aspiring to be. And if you let, if you listen long enough, then you'll start believing moving accordingly. But you know, once you say that, I don't care what anybody says, I'm going to do it. And if I fail, that's okay. At least I tried. You know, you eventually get there. I got more W's. And I got L's that way.

Alex Ferrari 13:52
Now, how did when you were coming up, though, like, what was that moment for you? Because you had this you had to struggle you had to come up just to get, you know, you're trying to be a rapper. You know, there's a couple of them out there. And you were coming up. So like, at what moment? Did you say I can do this? And I'm not going to let anyone stop me? What was that thing? Because there was a block that had to be a block that you're crushed through,

Xzibit 14:12
Right! No, but let's see, I've had a really tough childhood, you know, and so I was on my own at a very young age, I was on my own I like 1415 years old. And so um, I didn't have anything to go back to. So I never had a plan B, Plan A has to work.

Alex Ferrari 14:29
So that was you had your back against, back against the wall?

Xzibit 14:33
And it's never failed me, you know, so, you know, yeah, there's everything does everything pan out the way you expect it to know. But that doesn't mean you have to stop the first time. Keep trying.

Alex Ferrari 14:43
Amen. Preach brother. Man it is a pleasure having you on the show man.

Xzibit 14:48
Thank you guys. Peace!

Alex Ferrari 14:50
I want to thank Xzibit for coming by and talking to the tribe and sharing his experiences in the business. Thank you so so much Xzibit, if you want to check out his film or anything else We talked about in this episode, please go to our show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/305. And on a side note, guys, I again I interviewed him at the mammoth Film Festival and I cannot tell you how much I love and recommend the Mammoth Film Festival. It is such a great, great festival it is in its second year, but man, are they making some noise? It is I meant to like God, a lot of film festivals in my day. And this is probably one of my favorite top five film festivals I've ever been to. It's kind of like a mini Sundance up there in the Mammoth Lakes, and it's great. So if you're thinking of submitting to film festivals, this is a good festival to submit to. It's well well worth it. And if you get to go up there and get it selected, my God it is going to be one hell of a ride for you that I can promise you. And guys, if you haven't already, please head over to Amazon to pick up my new book shooting for the mob based on the inspirationally incredible True story. Just go to indiefilmhustle.com/mob and I'll take you directly to Amazon. It is one hell of an adventure and a must read for any filmmaker. Trust me on that. And that is the end of another episode of the indie film hustle podcast. As always keep that also going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.




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