Heed Exclusive: Director Bille Woodruff Talks New Movie “Addicted” & More
Director Bille Woodruff has created so many iconic on-camera moments, that it is almost startling. From creating the visuals for Sounds of Blackness’ 90’s anthem, “Optimistic” and Celine Dion’s modern classic, “My Heart Will Go On,” to Ray J’s “Wait a Minute” ft. Lil’ Kim and Dru Hill’s “Sleeping in My Bed”, Bille (pronounced Billie) practically owned the 90’s and 2000’s music video scene. In 2003, he directed the hit film “Honey” starring Jessica Alba. Following this he had string of very successful films including “Beauty Shop” starring Queen Latifah, and he directed several episodes of BET’s The Game. A long way from his birthplace of Denver, CO, Bille has become one of the industry’s leading men behind the camera. The University of Maryland graduate, who double majored in Film and Cultural Anthropology, has had quite an interesting ride in this entertainment business. From interning with BET to working in artist development at LaFace records, Bille quite simply is ‘the man’. With his new major motion picture, “Addicted,” hitting theaters this Friday and the made for TV “Drumline” sequel airing on VH1 soon, Heed was excited to talk with Bille about these projects and more!
Mike Sanford: How are you doing Bille?
Bille Woodruff: Hey Mike, I’m good man, how are you?
MS: I’m doing very well, thank you for asking and thank you for giving us this time!
BW: No, thank you guys!
MS: Here’s a little funny story. So, I was watching Ray J’s video for “Wait a Minute” with Lil’ Kim today. One of my favorite records from back in the day, and to my surprise you directed that video. In fact, I had no idea you directed most of the 90’s and 2000’s classic videos that everybody loves!
MS: I just thought that was an interesting series of events today, while doing my research. [Laughs]
BW: We had fun doing that video!
MS: I had the chance to check out the preview for your new film “Addicted”! In reviewing your catalog, I noticed that this particular film is very contrasting from some of your projects. What intrigued you most about taking on such a different project?
BW: Well you know it’s interesting. “Addicted” is very different from the films that I’ve done definitely, but since you brought up a lot of my video work… I did a lot of sensual, provocative things in my music videos. So, for me this appealed to me because Alfred Hitchcock is one my favorite directors and one of the reasons I started making movies and this is an erotic thriller. So, it’s the chance to do something in a genre that I love that I haven’t really had the chance to do. It’s a chance for me to show a different side of myself as an artist.
MS: Do you feel like this film was a bit of a risk for you?
BW: It’s definitely a risk when you do something different that people aren’t used to you doing. But, I never really thought of it as a risk because I just looked at it like an amazing opportunity for me to do something different. In reality, it’s a risk but I just went for it! But even my first movie, “Honey,” was a bit of a risk. I didn’t think about it, because me being naïve and unaware of how Hollywood works and knowing myself as an artist and knowing the kinds of things I’m interested in. I never thought that because I was doing a movie about the dance world, that I would be pigeon holed as a dance person. Every studio I went in, they’d say “well you were a choreographer right?” So that was a risk. I wasn’t aware that I would be labeling myself as a dance/music guy because there’s a lot more to me than that.
MS: Now, this is a bit of a tangent, but you directed Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” video. That is incredibly diverse, but I guess that speaks to your talent. To go from directing a video like that to…
BW: From Lil’ Wayne to Celine Dion [laughs]
MS: Exactly! That’s pretty wild.
BW: That’s kind of the point I’m trying to make to you. It was actually more of a risk to do “Honey”, I just didn’t realize it because I was naïve. I’m happy, I love Honey and I had a great time doing it, I was just unaware that at that time it would pigeon hole me.
MS: So, with that let’s talk a little about the sequel to “Drumline”. Do you feel any pressure to make sure this really piggybacks off of the 1st installment as far as its ‘epicness‘?
BW: Man, it’s so much pressure! Let me tell you, it’s real out here with these bands! They’re serious! [Laughs] There’s definitely pressure and it’s a bit daunting, but Nick Cannon, who I’ve worked with in the past, is involved so that made me feel a little more comfortable. And the producers from the first film are involved also. But yeah, you don’t want to let people down and we’re doing it for TV, so we don’t have the big budget that they had on the first one so you’re already limited! [Laughs] But it still has to be modern and now and it still has to be exciting. It was just another challenge I was ready to take on. I was aware of it being daunting, but I felt like we’d be able to do it and I know I can stretch a dollar a really long way when it comes to production and shooting and so I did that. We found a great cast of newcomers that I know people will fall in love with. I feel good with what we did.
MS: Well, I’m looking forward to it and based on the preview it looks pretty exciting.
BW: Yeah, you know Nick Cannon was the lead in the first one but this one has a female as the lead! So she’s coming down to Atlanta to the school and she wants to be the first female section leader and that’s played by Alexandra Shipp who is amazing! She’s also playing Aaliyah in the new movie they just did. I had her first! [Laughs] And there’s another guy who she has a romantic relationship with who’s on the drumline with, played by Jordan Calloway. But then I have a whole bunch of other people who are in it. I have Leonard Brooks from the original, he was the nemesis of Nick Cannon’s character, and so he comes back as a bandleader. So, he has some things going on and he has a romantic relationship with the dean of students played by Letoya Luckett and she’s dope! She came in a read for me and I was like, “Damn, you can act!” I’m excited about the drum sequences, we have some really great drum sequences and I hope people will be happy! Hopefully we can turn it into a series for VH1, if enough people tune in.
MS: Circling back to “Addicted”, I have to say how impressed I was with the overall visual quality of the film.
BW: Thank you! I tried really hard to make sure that my work has that quality regardless of the budget level, so I’m really happy that you noticed that. It’s something that I fight for in everything that I do.
MS: What are your thoughts on black film currently?
BW: I think that it’s a great time for black film because we have so many films being made than we used to have. There are so many films coming out and they’re making it to number one at the box office! I’m happy that these movies are doing well, because of the business of it all it means that more movies can get made, and we can get more diverse movies and more stories can be told. Hopefully it gets to the point where it’s not just about “black cinema”, but that it blends in with every thing else meaning it doesn’t have to be this big delineation between whatever is mainstream versus what a black movie is. I mean there was a time when not too many black films came out so whenever one came out, it was like it had to carry the weight of the entire black race! [Laughs] There were always diverse black movies being made, it’s just that we didn’t get to see a lot of them, but now there are much more opportunities for these films to get out so that people can see them.
MS: What do you enjoy most about direct film versus directing music videos?
BW: Wow, I just love being creative man! Directing a movie is different from doing a music video. I enjoy them both, but I would compare doing a movie to making classical music in a lot of ways, whereas directing a music video is like doing improvisational jazz or being in a cypher and free-styling. When you do a video it’s a certain immediateness to it. It’s not like you don’t prep and you don’t plan but you usually shoot in 1-day or 2-days and there are all kinds of factors that happen when you have to change things on the fly. You have to understand certain things that you might not be able to put on paper. It’s kind of a visceral thing when you’re doing a video because you have to be in the flow and know what’s going on. But with movies, it’s the ultimate for me. Because as a director I have more time to focus on my vision. We can spend time and really get into what we’re doing and get on the same page. I love doing music videos but it’s just a different kind of a thing.
MS: What do you want the viewers to take away from “Addicted”?
BW: I hope that people are really entertained and that they go on a ride because it’s quite a ride! I hope they actually learn and come away with a dialogue about some of the things that are brought up in the movie. The movie is very sexy and it’s erotic, but there’s a real story that’s being dealt with. Also, if you are dealing with some sort of addiction in your life, seek help. In the African American community there’s a stigma about seeking help or seeing a therapist, so hopefully it can open up the dialogue for that as well. A lot of people need help and they don’t get it.
Is there’s anything else you would like to share?
BW: Yes! It was very difficult for me to find a lead actress for Addicted because it was so demanding. You know there was a lot of nudity and a lot of graphic scenes and it’s a hard role. But, Sharon Leal was so amazing and so brave! She understood the material and I just had such an amazing experience working with her man. Like, she’s such a great actress. She was fearless. I hope this blows her up because she deserves it man. She kills it! I think that’s what I want to share. [Laughs]
MS: Well, thank you Bille for this interview! It was a pleasure chatting with you.
BW: Thank you, man!
Check out the intense trailer for Bille Woodruff’s new erotic thriller “Addicted” and catch it in theaters this Friday! Starring Sharon Leal, Boris Kodjoe, Tyson Beckford, and William Levy