New indie feature from Devin Rice premieres at Dances with Films and wins the audience award
Creating a conversation around race relations and self-identity, “Being Black Enough” follows the story of Cody (Devin Rice), a young black man who starts hanging out with his gangster cousin Kyle (Bruce A. Lemon, Jr.) and soon faces the harsh realities of gang violence, drugs and police confrontation. Written and directed by Devin Rice, “Being Black Enough” is semi-autobiographical and a labor of love, with Rice wearing many hats, including acting, cinematography and handling of all post production.
“I’ve been burning to tell this story in different iterations since I was 15 years old,” said Rice. “We knew going in that it was going to be a tight budget but we wanted it to have a big movie feel. After chasing this story – and living it, in parts – for years, I knew that we needed to do it right and really give it justice.”
Rice and his producing partner Jacqueline Corcos started by conducting a successful IndieGoGo campaign that left them with a budget of $23,000 to create the film. Due to careful planning and generous donation of time by the cast and minimal crew (friends), Rice and Corcos were able to make that budget work for a 45-day shoot, an impressive feat for their first feature film.
“For both production and post, I knew that there was going to be a steep learning curve as I was teaching myself on-the- go while juggling a lot of roles. I also knew that the story was a long one to tell – the script was 170 pages, which folks baulk at for an indie film,” exclaims Rice. “I wanted the story to be digestible for the masses but it’s also layered as it tackles a lot of complex issues that can’t be properly boiled down. In the end, we decided to not compromise and we made two versions of the film: a theatrical release with a running time of 91 minutes and a director’s cut that runs just over four hours. Cutting the footage twice for the two versions made the post production process longer, but in the end we’re happy to have the two versions. The director’s cut length is extreme but we were able to fit in so much more to the story that we felt was important to have to completely show Cody’s journey, including three action sequences, two music videos and a musical sequence.”
“$23,000 does not go a long way when shooting a film at the magnitude we were aiming for with ‘Being Black Enough.’ We knew from the onset that we couldn’t afford a large crew so we’d have to learn all of the different roles and tackle many ourselves. We read books, watched online tutorials and studied films – comparing big budget projects with small indie flicks and figuring out which aspects we liked from both,” Rice continues.
“We wanted to make our first feature in the vein of ‘Clerks,’ ‘El Mariachi’ and ‘Slackers’ as they had similar budgets to ours,” says Corcos.
Since the film’s shoot was so long, Rice and Corcos knew it made more sense to buy a camera than rent one. They chose the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. “When it came to gear selection, we did our homework and looked at a lot of cameras to see which would fit our budget and also the look that we were going for. Since it was my first time as a director and DP on a feature film, I needed a camera that delivered a good image but was also straightforward and easy to use. It had to allow for my learning curve,” explains Rice. “In the beginning I was focused on camera specs but then it clicked for me when I started thinking about the color science. I knew I wanted to color grade the film with DaVinci Resolve, so it made sense to also use a Blackmagic Design camera to shoot it. I figured if Blackmagic Design makes post production equipment and cameras, and they make them all affordable, then they truly know and understand what an independent filmmaker has to go through. That led me to using the Blackmagic Cinema Camera as my A camera.” Corcos adds, “When it came to shooting, size definitely mattered.
Having a small crew and small gear helped us be able to shoot in some locations that we wouldn’t have been able to get into with a large production set up. We were also able to save money by using a more affordable tripod and dolly system since the camera was so lightweight.
“The small footprint also really helped me as a first time director,” says Rice. “You don’t want to have a bunch of technical stuff getting in the way of the storytelling. For the visual storytelling, I needed a camera that looked great even if we had to move extremely fast and get in-and- out, and the Blackmagic Design camera did just that.”
Rice shot the film primarily in RAW. “I purposefully chose not to shoot in 4K because of the cost of hard drive space. We ended up shooting 61 hours of footage total over the 45 days. We treated it like an old school film shoot, rolling the camera as late as we could and cutting it as soon as we could, only keeping a few seconds before and after as buffers for the edit. We also made sure to delete any bad takes we didn’t need, as we didn’t want to have any wasted ‘film.’ RAW was amazing because we could really push the image where we wanted it in post with DaVinci Resolve.”
Setting the Tone
Rice used the Cinema Camera to mimic the look of 16mm film and Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve to elevate the camera’s look. “A lot of our inspiration came from older films – ‘Boyz N The Hood’ from the ‘90s, ‘Taxi Driver’ from the ‘70s. Most films today don’t look or feel that way – they’re too clean and have that unrealistic, fake digital look. I feel they lose something special and magical because of it. We wanted ‘Being Black Enough’ to bring back some of the raw film feel we missed, while still being shot with a modern digital film camera,” explains Rice.
“To me it was less about achieving a ‘look’ and more about achieving a ‘feel’ that communicated to the audience and brought them into the story. In my opinion, filmmakers focus on the story’s communication first – let everything else serve what your frame, scene or entire film is trying to say,” he continues.
“I didn’t want to saturate the footage too much, because the more I did that, the more digital things started to look. I wanted a raw, real gritty film look and feel because of the subject matter. I was showing Compton and I wanted to present it in a way that captured the emotions evoked by being there. I wanted the film to feel old school ‘70s through early ‘90s, and they didn’t have access to crazy coloring tools then, so I didn’t want the look to be overdeveloped,” said Rice.
Making the Cut
DaVinci Resolve was Rice’s NLE of choice for the film, along with using it for grading and finishing. “From the get-go I knew that I was going to use DaVinci Resolve for its color grading but what got me really excited was the possibility of using it for editing. The thought of not having to do roundtripping was really compelling, as it had cost me a lot of time on my previous projects. Being able to organize media, edit, color and deliver all using DaVinci Resolve was a lifesaver,” Rice continues.
“Moreover, DaVinci Resolve has a clean design and it allows me to keep things well organized, which was extremely important to me considering I spent almost 2,000 hours editing the multiple versions of the film. It’s speed also really helped when doing the multiple versions as I found it to be much faster than the other NLEs I’ve previously used, especially with RAW files,” explains Rice. “Using DaVinci Resolve’s Optimized Media functionality, I was actually able to view the footage while I was editing it on my MacBook Pro without notable latency.”
Grading The Film
“DaVinci Resolve’s node system really let me experiment as I was trying out different looks. The ability to add and modify color on separate nodes allowed me to see how things affected the image and to really be precise when crafting the look I was going for. This was incredibly helpful because I could figure things out without destroying any forward progress or having to redo past work,” Rice continues.
“I used DaVinci Resolve’s Group Clip and Timeline color grading capabilities extensively because I’d shoot select scenes similarly and then would want to apply the same grade across them so they’d have a similar look. I would make the clips into a group and color them all together with one grade. This saved more time than you would care to know – I was able to do a full color pass on the director’s cut version in less than two days.
“Since I was restricted to using my MacBook Pro, DaVinci Resolve’s scopes helped me make sure everything was consistent. Without having a color calibrated monitor, I couldn’t fully trust my eyes so I needed the scopes to make sure the contrast was where I wanted it and that the colors were balanced. I went to school for Computer Science, so it was a sort of mathematical approach meeting the arts, which I really enjoyed,” Rice said.
“Lastly, DaVinci Resolve’s powerful noise reduction really helped with some dark scenes we shot with our B camera. We had the ISO too high at times and so there was a lot of noise when we started doing the grading. The noise reduction capabilities made the footage usable again. The B camera also had a hard time with blue lights so we had to use DaVinci Resolve to pull some of the highlights from a scene shot in a strip club that had super bright blue lights going around,” Rice concludes.
“All in all Blackmagic Design’s products really helped us produce a high quality product that we wouldn’t have been able to do years ago. It was really a great experience,” Corcos adds.
About “Being Black Enough”
“Being Black Enough” tells the story of a young black man who is raised in a “white” neighborhood and is ridiculed for not being “black enough.” He decides to go to the hood to hang out with his gangster cousin and discover what it really means to be “black,” and eventually faces the harsh reality of gang violence, drugs and police confrontation. Directed and written by Devin Rice, “Being Black Enough” recently premiered at the Dances With Films festival going on to win the audience award.
For more information, visit beingblackenough.com.