Jan 9, 2011

Nick Broomfield Picks a "Biggie & Tupac" Moment

Kurt Broomfield shares the difficulty of getting Suge Knight to open up. 

Nick Broomfield didn't think he'd get the interview he needed most for his 2002 documentary Biggie & Tupac. Marion "Suge" Knight had been linked to both rappers' deaths, at least in theory -- a theory that involved gangs, corrupt cops, and the record business (see Randall Sullivan's book LAbyrinth). But the Death Row Records mogul was at Mule Creek State Prison in California for a probation violation, and his record label was not entirely accomodating about setting up a sit-down, warning (or perhaps even threatening) Broomfield instead that no one would talk to him.
"They were extremely intimidating," Broomfield told Current. "They weren't saying anything like they were going to beat us up, but they were asking which hotel were we staying in, what kind of car were we driving. And they intimidated us to the point where half of my crew refused to do the interview."


Death Row budged a little bit and offered to help if they could see the questions in advance and send a representative, which Broomfield said was "unacceptable" -- not just to him as a filmmaker, but also per the prison.
So Broomfield went to the prison anyway. "We got permission from the prison, but not from him," the director recalled, "and so we were walking around the yard with the warden, looking for Suge Knight. We had no agreement with Suge for him to be filmed at all, but the prison said we could have permission to film people if they agreed."
Broomfield said that when they finally found Suge, the roles were reversed.
"Here was someone who was used to controlling every apsect of his life, and when things didn't work out the way he wanted, he was able to beat them up or have them removed," Broomfield said, "and here was this film crew, with the warden, asking for an interview, so he had to say yes. His face completely dropped."
Broomfield didn't get everything he wanted -- Suge wasn't entirely forthcoming, and the cameraman kept shooting the sky instead of the interview subject -- but he got the interview.
"It was the end of an exhausting shoot, just meeting him, and seeing what his connection to the murders were," Broomfield said.
When the documentary was about to be released, Broomfield said he got threats from two separate gangs, the Crips and a subdivision of the Bloods, claiming they would inititate gang warfare at any cinema showing the film.
"I was asked to employ off-duty police officers for security," Broomfield said, "which was prohibitively expensive. You just can't do that for each showing. So distribution was an enormous problem. They imagined gunfights breaking out and all kind of stuff. In fact, none of that happened." 

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