Hi Kickstarters and backers of the We Be Kings project. Maybe you've heard but Magic Slim passed away last week after a long battle. Click on this link to see his obituary in the New York Times (you can google other obits which appeared in a wide array of US and international newspapers including USA Today).
As you know, or at least I hope you know by now, but you might be confused, we made the movie without Magic and with a bluesman from Atlanta named Sammy Blue.
The reason I cast Sammy Blue was that I realized, in early December, that Slim just wasn't up to a hard and physical independent film shoot like We Be Kings. Slim had come to Paris the last week in November and had to be taken off the plane direct to the hospital, his serious problems were starting then...He got out of the hospital and continued, the trooper and blues war horse he was, his European tour. But with difficulty. We saw him in Paris for his dates here...and he was magnificent, pounding out set after powerful set at the Hotel Meridien, Paris' premiere jazz revue. However it was clear Slim was fragile...We filmed those concerts and my idea was somehow to integrate them into the film.
That idea becomes a bit harder now that Slim is gone, and we may fashion those sessions into a stand alone documentary...
Your backing HELPED us get those sessions so yes, you will all receive any final product that comes out of it...
I felt very bad about shooting the movie without Magic Slim, he was so gung ho to do it and I tried for so long to arrange the funding...but we continually fell short and then...it was just too late and father time caught up with us, and Slim.
Once I cast Sammy Blue in December things oddly accelerated. The private investor money dropped from the sky, the other cast members including Bianca, Boogie Long, Pryce and our new lead Sammy Blue and the supporting star Rita Graham all said "make it now". They were all available, and with no idea when everyone would become available again, we plunged in. And did it.
We'll be gearing up posting video and updates with the footage we got. Principal photography was such a blur of work and rush with a skeleton crew we simply had not time and were one step ahead of catastrophe the whole shoot. Somehow we made it and luck, this time, was on our side. As well, we plan to go back in late March early April for additional shooting and pick up shots.
And we think we have a good movie, and just maybe...with a lot more work, a great one...That remains to be seen in the editing room...but the original music the cast recorded on the fly in central Illinois in a little studio in the middle of nowhere is just exceptional...A flash meeting of disparate talents that gelled and led to some great original music created for our film...a movie musical.
The shoot was miserably cold in central Illinois during those weeks in January. We had 10 degree temps for days on end, and a few below zero days which wreaked havoc on the car batteries...the camera batteries...and the sound batteries...we all bought a lot of long underwear and the cast trooped through it somehow.
I daresay this tough shoot would not have been advisable for Slim even if he had been able to do it. Just too much, too cold, almost too much for us...
At one point second week in January we devised a way to get Slim in the movie. He was playing a gig at the Kingston Mines, the legendary jazz club in Chicago he adored, and where he was adored. You can get in the Mines for $18 dollars and the place is packed and the dance floor literally levitated when Slim played there.
The Mines gave us permission to shoot Slim there, and I wrote a scene where our lead actor, Sammy Blue, playing I Be King, gets thrown out of a record exec's office that day and ends up at the Mines to borrow $50 from his old friend Magic Slim. We were going to catch a tail end of one of Slim's set, have Sammy come into the bar pretty much sloshed from his earlier defeat...and hit up Slim for the loan that would get him on the way back south...
We wrapped Friday night and had the alarm clocks set for 5am for the crew to get up and drive to Chicago, shoot the record company scene early Sat. morning and then do the Slim shot Sat. night.
But at midnight on Friday I got a call from Marty Salzman saying Slim was skipping the Mines gig and had gone into a Chicago hospital. I called the crew and said no go. We were canceling the Chicago shots...
Slim got OUT of the hospital shortly thereafter but left for ANOTHER tour towards the east coast and Canada...finally, after a concert in Pennsylvania...Slim went back into the hospital...and he never got OUT of that hospital...never got home again...died "on the road", literally.
Funny thing was, he told me in Paris that "he wanted to be carried off the stage doing his job" and go out exactly the way he went. He talked again and again dismissively about "doing his job" as if he were a truck driver or a short order cook...Not the magnificent towering singing and guitar talent he was. To here someone with such an extraordinary gift, and all the newspapers confirm that, speak so humbly about himself, is a life lesson for all of us.
He died without much money to his name, I know that to be true...And its true for many of the old time blues musicians like Slim. I saw him playing rooms of 20 people...or less. As well as the big fancy rooms...but for these musicians its a matter of a few hundred here, a few thousand there, and $300 to make it through the week or pay some bills. On the cutting edge of life in other words...
One wonders why our society rewards an investment banker with millions, maybe hundreds of millions...and a remarkable talent like Slim with only a few thousands, or a few hundreds...What a waste. Youth is wasted on the young and money is wasted on the rich. That's a generalization of course, and there are important exceptions. Still...It ain't fair...
I'll never forget when I first met Slim in Holland and traveled with him and the Teardrops in the van from gig to gig.
At some point I asked Slim is he wanted to be in the movie...
"This something you want to do Slim?" I asked.
He said..."Well Toby...I I I g-g-got (he stuttered) a problem..."
I thought. Ah heck...he doesn't want to do it...
"What's the problem Slim" I asked him.
"Well Toby," he said, "I I I I don't re re read so good..."
"That's OK Slim I'll feed you the lines..."
"Oh! You mean you're gonna tell me what to say?" he said.
"That's right" I said.
"Then lets make the mother-fucker" he said.
And that's was Slim's commitment to the film, and he was in.
Slim will live on in We Be Kings somehow, and its ancillary products. We'll try to get him into the film in some creative way. A dream? An apparition? After all...We Be Kings is a ghost story...and you'll all see how it really WORKS as a ghost story with the Lilly character being played in such a lovely fashion by Rita Graham.
Sammy Blue did a terrific job picking up the relay baton and bringing us over the finish line. He's a magnificent actor...a Morgan Freeman or a blues version of Sydney Poitier in the making, he's done a terrific job for us. And Sammy so much wanted Slim in the film...as did I. We sure tried...
Life is stranger then fiction isn't it? It was a privilege and honor working with Slim...and I learned a lot from such a nice, talented man.
A We Be Kings toast to Magic Slim!