Datari Turner, a producer behind the ensemble film Dysfunctional Friends (as well as an actor in), spoke exclusively with 24Wired.TV about gathering its meaty cast through personal relationships, making a black version of The Big Chill, and even his opinion on Stacey Dash’s endorsement of Mitt Romney. Dysfunctional Friends is only one of the near dozen movies he’s produced over the last few years (one of them being the buzzed-about indie film LUV, starring Common), but Turner opened up about what made this project a special one.
You can follow Turner via @DatariTurner on Twitter. Dysfunctional Friends premires today on BET.
24Wired.TV: Why did you want to make this movie in particular?
Datari Turner: I always wanted to do a film and make it an all-African-American cast; I always wanted to make a film that marked a generation of actors. And when you look back at those films like The Big Chill and Dazed and Confused, a lot of those people at the time weren’t A-list stars, but they went on to have very successful careers. So with Dysfunctional Friends, I set out to do one of those films that, maybe 10 years from now, we’re all hopefully on the A-list. A lot of people could look back at that film and say, “Man, they had all these people in one film.” That was the reason I set out to make that movie.
24Wired.TV: Despite what you said about the A-list, this movie still has a ton of recognizable faces. How did you get them all together?
Turner: A lot of the actors in the movie I had known for a very long time. Like Meagan Good, who I had just done Video Girl with, and people like Wesley Jonathan, Stacey Keibler. We’re pretty much all the same generation. A majority of the people in the film I had known since I was 19 years old. When I first read the material, I optioned it, and worked with the writer. I sent [the script] to everybody, and I was grateful that they could get involved.
24Wired.TV: Would you call this movie a more “positive” example of black representation on screen?
Turner: We’re all Howard alums in the movie. All of the characters in the film are educated. They all have a college degree. They all have successful careers, for the most part. All the characters are portrayed in a positive light.
24Wired.TV: What creative contribution of yours are you most proud of in this movie?
Turner: I did so much. I helped write the script. Pretty much every actor in the movie I called directly. I got the opportunity to bring together my friends, people that I admired.
Turner: I’m from the Bay area, and T.O. started off his career playing for the 49ers. A friend of mine I went to high school with was playing in the NFL at the time. He and T.O. were good friends. They worked out together. So I met T.O. for the first time when I was 19 years old. We’ve maintained a relationship throughout the years. When I was in the fashion world, and I was doing Sean John, and Diddy was doing all of the big fashion shows, T.O. would be there. We’ve definitely kept in touch. And I knew he wanted to make that jump into acting. I felt like this would be the right role for him to get his feet wet.
24Wired.TV: Did you always intend on casting yourself in the role?
Turner: It’s funny. That’s always the last thing I think about. I initially went after an actor to play that role. He showed some interest. At the last minute, we couldn’t get the deal done, and we were four days away from shooting. So Meagan, who I’ve done three movies with–I guess she’s kind of my muse eat this point–I was telling her I was worried about it. And she just said, “You should do it.” And I ran it by a couple of other people in the film, and they all seemed to be on board with it, so I jumped in the movie.
24Wired.TV: What was it like wearing multiple hats–including actor and producer–in the film?
Turner: It’s always difficult when you have to act in a film and be responsible for all aspects of production, and pay people. I gotta act in a scene with Meagan or Stacey Dash and Hosea Chanchez, and at the end of the day I gotta hand them their check, too. It has its challenges, but I love what I do so much. I’ve produced 11 movies in the last three years. And I just love making films, and I love the process. I feel like I’ve got the best job in the world, and I wouldn’t dare complain about it. I would do what I do for free; I really would. And I have done it for free a number of times. I come to work looking forward to the challenges and trying to make a great piece of art.
24Wired.TV: What did you think about the media hoopla surrounding Stacey Dash after her Romney endorsement?
I think that everyone is entitled to their opinion for who they want to vote for. I voted for Obama of course, and I think everybody in the cast voted for Obama, with the exception of Stacey. I just think that when you go on Twitter, and when you go on Facebook, everybody always tells you who they’re voting for, and no one really says anything. And she came out and went the other way. She still is an American, and she’s entitled to that opinion. I don’t know why that big of a deal was made out of it.
Photos courtesy of IMDB.