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Interview with 'The Book of Eli' director Allen Hughes

By FinalCall.com News | Last updated: Feb 21, 2010 - 10:24:13 AM

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'We only do projects that speak to us'

Twin brothers Allen and Albert Hughes, the dynamic directing duo known as The Hughes Brothers, made a major leap into the entertainment industry with their emotionally gripping debut as the 20-year-old creators/directors of “Menace II Society.”

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The Hughes Brothers. Allen (l) and Albert.
Photo Courtesy, Polaris PR
The film generated national and international critical acclaim. With a budget of roughly $3 million, they took a story that they came up with at age 14 and turned it into a motion picture that grossed nearly $30 million at the box-office.

They followed up with “Dead Presidents,” a fascinating story of a young man's life which turns to shambles after he is sent to war in Vietnam. Expecting to return home as a hero, the young man instead finds himself reduced to pulling off an armored car robbery in order to support his family.

After a break from the business for several years, they returned with the riveting motion picture “The Book of Eli” starring award winning actor Denzel Washington.

With the assistance and coordination of Brother Don Enoch Muhammad, Allen Hughes, who is scheduled to be a part of this year's Saviours' Day 2010 convention, took time from his busy schedule to speak with The Final Call's Assistant Editor Ashahed M. Muhammad.

Ashahed M. Muhammad (The Final Call:) How do you determine which scripts you will direct and which projects you turn down?

Allen Hughes (AH:) I think one area that makes me and my brother different from most filmmakers is we only do the projects that speak to us; that speak to our soul and that we feel like can make a difference or can speak to others. That is first. Second, we start looking at the key players involved. If we feel that somebody is morally or spiritually bankrupt, then we won't get involved in the project either. It's a combination of things. And, who is attached to the project, the studio, producer, the stars, and whether all those people are good people.

(FC:) How do you and your brother go about the division of duties or the division of labor when it comes to a movie or a project you are working on?

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(AH:) It's according to our personalities. My brother would be more (like) George Lucas and I would be more Steven Spielberg. George Lucas is more into technical aspects of film making, the graphic design of filmmaking, and Steven Spielberg is more into story telling and working with the actors. We're both on the set, he's in charge of the camera and I'm in charge of the actors and script. We both have our strengths and weaknesses in editing but I take a performance pass, a story pass. Albert comes in after a month of me doing that and he'll go over and do a technical pass of the film and the third month we'll do a pass together. I usually take over sound design and music and Albert takes over when it comes to sequences of dynamic editing and highly technical action sequences.

(FC:) Your recent film, “The Book of Eli”, generated a lot of buzz and good reviews. I've found it to be a daily conversation starter usually ending up in a spiritual discussion which then turns into an artistic discussion which then turns into a “meaning of life discussion.” In the movie, you showed the Bible, the Holy Qur'an, the Torah and many other books of scripture. Sometimes religion can be a real volatile issue. Were you all concerned that it might alienate some of the people? Or did you feel like some others, maybe Christians, would kind of embrace it and take it and kind of make it like it was a Christian movie to the exclusion of others who might not be Christians?

(AH:) I think we were very concerned about that. The most important thing was that (we wanted) it speak to everybody—Muslims, Christians, Native Americans, Buddhist, Hindu's. I call it a oneness. That was the approach we took in filming it, editing it, creating a sound, a score, creating a oneness that if you came in as a Christian or a Muslim you could relate and could see what you wanted to see in it. That was a concern, we both believed it would be great if Christians would embrace it but it's not a Christian film. It's a journey. It's about one man's personal faith and his journey to fulfill his mission in life.

(FC:) Now that is another important aspect of the movie. There was a level of humanity in the main character played by Denzel Washington. Sometimes in these types of movies you have a guy who is a super hero doing these unbelievable acrobatics and fighting maneuvers and everything. Even though it was clear that, he was nice with his hands, there was centeredness, down to earth. Realistic. By design, correct?

(AH:) Yes it was. We were trying to very much make Eli that everyday man, the average Joe blessed in extraordinary ways.

(FC:) It seemed like a role that only he could play. Were there others considered for the part?

(AH:) Yes, I mean it was other names discussed amongst Denzel's at the same time because you know it's back-up plans or the studio may find or someone the studio producer may like. But the moment Denzel came up, for me—I brought the name up because I knew the dialogue wouldn't work without Denzel. Even at Warner Brothers when he was brought up the CEO immediately said this makes the movie legitimate. It carries so much nobility and weight presence that he is the only one that could probably pull this role off.

(FC:) Was there any hesitancy on Denzel Washington's part or did he ever share any concerns about the role?

(AH:) He had some concerns early on and he was on the fence at first. It was his son who is a professional football player—John David Washington—who had convinced him to do “Training Day” and he actually convinced his father to do “American Gangster.” So he had a great batting record and his son at the time was about 22 years old and he's a very spiritual young man. He said, “pops you need to look at this and read it again.” I think he also was telling his father what he felt about us as filmmakers from his generation. We had known Denzel but I'm sure hearing that from his son both about the part and about us, that was a deciding factor for him to really look at it in a different way.

(Come ask more questions of director Allen Hughes at the Saviours' Day 2010 celebrity workshop on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010 at the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois.)

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