Director/screenwriter Larry Clark, who broke into the movie business with his controversial 1995 film “Kids,” is back with another film about the youth of America. “Wassup Rockers” is set in South Central and Beverly Hills, focusing on a group of Latino kids who wear tight pants, skateboard, listen to punk rock and who inevitably don’t fit into the hip hop culture that surrounds them. The story is based on real life experiences, and none of the kids in the film has acting experience.
Before Clark started making movies, he was a photographer, capturing teen subculture with his photo books Tulsa and Teenage Lust. He never strayed far from controversy, teenagers or trying to make authentic films.
Clark sat down with Bayer early one morning at the Peninsula Hotel to talk about the film, his past and getting his actors in trouble with the law.
Bayer: Are you a morning person? Clark: Actually I am, but I had to get up real early this morning to do radio and the coffee wasn’t here yet and I’m on the phone, it’s crazy … crazy.
Bayer: Who do you make your films for? Clark: Probably first for myself, to be totally honest. I met these kids and I really felt that you should see these kids because nobody (does). And if you did ever see them in a film they’re not going to be real; they’re going to be gang-bangers or drug addicts … and I met these kids and they were just so alive and having so much fun and then I found out about their everyday lives to conform to the street style, which is gansta. When I first met them, I thought their clothes were too little, but they have their own style.
Bayer: Describe “Wassup Rockers.” Clark: The first half of the film reflects their lives exactly. It is all their stories. Everything that happened in the first half of the film happened. And the second half I take them on an adventure and interact with Beverly Hills folks.
Bayer: With “Kids” and now this film, do you feel like you are a crusader to show who young people are? Clark: (chuckles) I wouldn’t use the word “crusader,” but certainly with “Kids” it was a reaction to growing up my whole life and seeing all these films where all these actors were way up in their 20s playing teenagers. And they didn’t look like us, and I wanted to make something that rang true to kids. Kids would see it and say this isn’t bull----. Maybe it’s not my life but it feels real.
Bayer: How long did you hang out with these kids before the idea of a film started to happen. Clark: It was fairly early, I was photographing an actress from my last film “Ken Park,” and we met Porky and Kico (their real names also were used in the film). So we photographed them and they took us to the ghetto, to South Central L.A., and we met Jonathon, Eddie and the rest. I would say I started seriously on it about five months after I met them. And it took another year before we starting making the film. It took awhile to raise the money, because I was pitching this idea with a 40-page script with these kids who had never acted before.
Bayer: What was the budget for the film? Clark: The budget was a million but now it is getting close to two. With (post production) it grows.
Bayer: Did I see correctly Sharon Stone is an executive-producer? Clark: Yeah. She was a friend of the producer Henry Winterstern, and she came to the set one day and was very nice and she was a fan of my work. It was funny because she walks to the set and the kids didn’t know who she was. And I told Kico she’s a movie star, so Kico went up and asked her for a date. And she says, well I think you should grow a little bit. But, she didn’t really do anything. The producer felt maybe her name would help get it into festivals and stuff. But she’s a very nice lady.
Bayer: In a good way, I feel like you force your audience in the (kids’) world. That first morning it’s like 15 to 20 minutes of kids waking up and getting ready for their day. What is your purpose with that? Clark: Well … I don’t think it’s that long, but I wanted to show you the kids’ day from the beginning. I don’t know why. They get up and go to school and they interact with people and have a full day. Introducing the characters like that was interesting I thought.
Bayer: Originally (“Wassup Rockers”) didn’t start with the shooting, correct? Clark: The shooting wasn’t in the screenplay; it just started with them waking up. And then that happened. This kid named Creeper was always hanging around Kico’s place (and) got shot in a drive-by. So I decided to include that in the film to show you right away what it is like to grow up there.
Also the Beverly Hills cop scene wasn’t in the film either. I took them to Beverly Hills High to check out the skate park ’cause they had never been there before and we got busted. That actually happened. I showed the cop my DGA (Director’s Guild of America) card and he kept saying, “I’ve been warning you skaters.” As soon as he heard South Central and these kids were brown, he set us on the sidewalk, gave everyone a ticket, and I had to take them to court 26 miles away from where they lived.
Bayer: I’m assuming it wasn’t your request to have all them have wispy moustaches? Clark: They are all kids and that’s exactly what they looked like. I think Jonathon has had the moustache probably from the time he was 12. He looks like a man-child. The girls love him.
Bayer: Janice Dickinson (“America’s Next Top Model”) was one of the few recognizable faces. How did she get involved? Clark: She came to the casting call for the character and immediately I knew she had to be the one. She’s hilarious. I mean, she’s a piece of work.
Bayer: What were your addictions growing up? What are they now? Clark: My addictions growing up, man, I was a drug addict. Now, I don’t know, making films I guess. I’m kind of OK, because you have to be in order to make films.
Bayer: There was no hobnobbing with Madonna was there? (Madonna was staying at the Peninsula Hotel at the same time.) Clark: She’s in the hotel? I didn’t know that, I haven’t seen her. If I see her I’ll say hello. She liked “Kids.” She was a big supporter.
Bayer: With Teenage Lust, “Kids” and now this movie, it seems you’re more comfortable capturing teenage … lust. It seems like you’re the one that is willing to attempt to show it. Clark: It’s just kind of my turf now. If someone else could do it, then I wouldn’t have to do it. But no one else can really do it.
Bayer: What’s next? Clark: I’ve got three films ready to go; it’s just the producers have to get the money. Having said that, I’m actually working with a writing partner from New York named Evan Weiner and we’re doing a screenplay for Kico and Jonathan. They’re not going to play themselves, they’re going to play characters. They were just so good in the film. So maybe I’ll make that next if we can get the screenplay done.