American Cinematographer - July 2015 - 20

Production Slate

I

Hip-Hop Heist
By Patricia Thomson

Rachel Morrison's résumé brims with intense dramas like
Fruitvale Station, Little Accidents, Sound of My Voice and Cake, but
the cinematographer's latest endeavor - the high-energy, comedic
romp Dope - finally let her lighten up. "I'm a dark-drama girl," she
acknowledges, "so this is a bit of a departure."
Dope is a coming-of-age story that tracks Malcolm (Shameik
Moore) and his best friends, Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey
Clemons), three geeks growing up in a drug-riddled, gangbanging
part of Inglewood. The high-school seniors are into manga comics
and BMX bikes, worship '90s hip-hop artists, play in a punk band,
and want to go to college. Things take a turn after a seemingly
friendly drug dealer (Rakim Mayers, a.k.a. rapper A$AP Rocky) wrangles Malcolm to invite the local beauty (Zoë Kravitz) to a nightclub
party. After a rival gang disrupts the proceedings, Malcolm finds that
someone has hidden a gun and a bag of the drug MDMA - colloquially known as "Molly" - inside his backpack. From there, chaos
and comedy ensue as the trio uses the "Dark Web," Bitcoin, and a
hacker friend (Blake Anderson) to dispose of their cache - all as
Malcolm attempts to get the girl and score a Harvard acceptance.
"Part of the attraction was that I found myself flipping
through the pages almost like it was a graphic novel," Morrison says
of the script. "When I met with [writer-director] Rick Famuyiwa, he
20

July 2015

was able to articulate that it was indeed going to have a kinetic
energy to it and just be fun."
That spirit - buoyed by snappy editing and playful devices
like split screen, backward motion, freeze-frames and social media
- inspired a bidding war at Sundance. "It was not one of the buzziest movies going in, but it was one of the buzziest movies going out.
It's electrifying when that happens," says the cinematographer on
the very day she learned that Dope had been invited to Cannes.
Though assisted by such recognizable talents as producer
Forest Whitaker (who also served as the film's narrator) and executive producers Pharrell Williams and Sean Combs, Dope was a decidedly low-budget production, with only 24 days of principal photography and a half-day of pickups. Preproduction was a mere 12 days.
What was crucial, Morrison notes, was Famuyiwa's look book,
which featured touchstones like Pulp Fiction, Bottle Rocket and
Boogie Nights; African-American geeks, Afro-punks, and teen metal
bands like Unlocking the Truth; '90s fashion as redefined by millennials; and films that captured an authentic Los Angeles, as in Jackie
Brown, Collateral and Drive.
Dope was shot mostly on location in Inglewood (where
Famuyiwa grew up), with North Hollywood standing in for exteriors
with the corner drug gang. About five days of footage were shot on
purpose-built sets - serving as the nightclub, Malcolm's bedroom,
the Bitcoin-exchange warehouse, the music camp, and other odds
and ends - which were assembled at Lacy Street Production

American Cinematographer

Dope photos by Rachel Morrison, courtesy of Open Road Films.

Malcolm
(Shameik Moore,
far right), Jib
(Tony Revolori,
left) and Diggy
(Kiersey Clemons,
middle) are three
geeks trying to
get off the mean
streets and into
college in the
coming-of-age
comedy Dope.



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Cinematographer - July 2015

Contents
American Cinematographer - July 2015 - Cover1
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American Cinematographer - July 2015 - 1
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American Cinematographer - July 2015 - Contents
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