Benny Boom Hopes to Bring Tupac’s Humanity to the Masses by Directing ‘All Eyez on Me’ Biopic – Exclusive
It's been a long time coming, but 20 years after Tupac's death, a biopic about his life is finally in production. Being the high-profile film that it is, All Eyez on Me has had quite a cloud of controversy surrounding it, ranging from lawsuits to switching directors a total of three times. Benny Boom is the latest director to come on board, following John Singleton and Carl Franklin. The famed music video director is adamant about completing the biopic and is seemingly unbothered by the previous drama.
Although this is not the 44-year-old Philadelphia native's first time in the director's chair -- he was previously at the helm of 2009's Next Day Air -- it is certain that this is indeed the directorial peak in his career thus far. Before his link to Tupac's legacy, Boom became the go-to director in the hip-hop world back in the early 2000s. Over the course of his career, he's cultivated music videos for 50 Cent, Nicki Minaj, Nas, Diddy, Lil' Kim and a host of other artists. Now, however, he's aiming to replicate that status in the world of Hollywood.
The cast for 'Pac's upcoming biopic has been taking over headlines left and right, building even more anticipation. Benny Boom recently took a break from shooting on set to give XXL the scoop on All Eyez on Me. Not only did he hint that the film may arrive this year but he also spoke on Afeni Shakur's involvement, the controversy surrounding the project and why it's no coincidence lead actor Demetrius Shipp Jr. was chosen.
XXL: How did you come about getting the role of directing the Tupac biopic?
Benny Boom: I was working with L.T. Hutton and David C. Robinson on another film called The BMF Film. We've been putting it together over the last four years as they were in pre-production on [All Eyez on Me] and they were having some issues. I would consult with L.T. about the movie that should be made and the script. So once he decided to make some changes, directorial changes, he gave me a call and asked me if I wanted to direct the film because I had been in the background working with him to get the movie appraised.
Are you at all nervous to direct the film? It's such a huge movie for mainstream culture.
No, there's no nerves because this is what I do. It's the career that I set forth a long time ago at Temple. There's no nerves about it because I go into this carrying a lot of experience in the music business, in the movie business, in the music video business and in the television business. From being a P.A. to an A.D. to a director. So I take all the years and the wealth of knowledge that I have and just pour it into this opportunity. So there was no nervousness. I just looked at this as an amazing opportunity and this is how I'm treating it.
So with all of your experience and all your years in the business, did you ever see this moment happening? Would you say this is the highest point in your career?
This is the highest point. To be able to direct a film about the most iconic, I would say first off, the most iconic hip-hop figure. That's No. 1. [Tupac] is the Elvis Presley of our generation. He is Beethoven to the 15th, 16th century. He is the artist. So, to be able to direct to have the opportunity to direct the film about him, is big for anyone. Anyone who would have gotten this chance to direct the film, I think this is a high point for them. No matter where they came from or what other films they've done before.
Being that you are the third director to come on board, why would you say the film has been through so many directors?
I think that's a question best to be asked to the producers but what happened before me is not something I think about or dwell on because it has nothing to do with me. When I came on board, there was a focus of what needed to happen with the film. Just like with any movie, the producers have a vision and they hire a director who can help create that vision. Then the director brings his vision along with that and the visions are supposed to come together to make something great.
Unfortunately, I think a lot of attention has been paid to the fact that this film has had other directors. But, I mean if you look at Selma, I think Selma had five directors before Ava [DuVernay] became the director. Nobody even discussed that and that's not even the topic of discussion about how many directors it went through. I mean Lee Daniels was doing it, Paul Greengrass. I can name the five directors but it's of no importance because you get rolling with the director that you've chosen. That's all that matters. Nothing before it matters.
So that's something that happens normally in film and it's just being highlighted because of the film that's being made.
Sure, this happens. It's being highlighted because it's Tupac's story, but the movie business in general, is full of films that directors and actors have fell out of. No one pays attention to it because it is of no consequence. That film Gravity came out. Sandra Bullock was not the first choice for that film. She won an Academy Award. So, to be honest it's nonsense to talk about how many directors it went through. Once you start to shoot, who cares why somebody else either left the job or got fired or had creative differences and didn't want to do it. They're not making the movie so it doesn't matter.
See Photos From the Set of the Tupac Biopic 'All Eyez On Me'
What do you think this film will mean to the masses?
What I hope this film will mean to the masses, I hope it will shed some light on Tupac's story, the humanity of Tupac and bring clarity to the folklore that has become Tupac. I think that what he represents, his image and all of those things mean very different things to very different people. To the kids in the struggle, he means one thing. To women, he's like the ultimate sex symbol of hip-hop. To those activists who are [about] Black Lives Matter and those organizations, you can still pull things from Tupac lyrics that are messages of things that are happening today. He just means so much. This is why a film is being made about him. He wasn't just a rapper.
I think that we get a chance to look into the life and mind of a man that was taken far too soon at 25 years old. He was assassinated and I don't say that by accident. He was killed, murdered, taken away from us and not given the opportunity to mature in the way that he would have become a leader, a guiding force. You think about the beef that him and Big had. Look at the beef that Jay and Nas had. It's because of the tragedy of Biggie and Tupac that we were able to resolve that Jay Z and Nas beef. We were able to look at that and say, "We're not ready for something like that to happen again." And look at what these two men were able to go on and accomplish. Jay, what he's accomplished and Nas, what he's accomplished. Think about what we could have gotten from Tupac and Biggie if they still were around.
So, that's why this film is being made. It's a cautionary tale and a message to the youth. We're in a bad situation right now in our inner cities. Some of these kids, Tupac was gone before they were even born. He's a myth and a god-like figure to them because he doesn't exist anymore. We want to make this film to show that this was a real man who was a complex individual. He wasn't just a rapper, he was a special human being.
Were you heavily involved in the casting? Or was it in place before you came on board?
The only cast member that was locked into place was Demetrius Shipp, Jr. and I'm so glad he was because the thing about a biopic, you gotta believe the person who is playing them. Demetrius 1,000 percent embodies everything that Tupac did. Sometimes I have to go back and just look to remember like "Oh, this is Tupac," and not get lost in Demetrius' portrayal of Tupac because he's doing it so well. But as far the other cast members, I've been involved with all the other cast members.
This is Demetrius Shipp's first major role. Do you think this will be the start of a big career?
Yeah, I think this is the start of his career. He is an actor, first of all. This is just the first film that he's got going on. Just like other actors, he took acting classes and did auditions. This is the role that I think he was born for. His father was a producer at Death Row. He produced tons of songs and Demetrius was in the studio at times with Tupac as a little boy. There's some real things happening with this film. It's not by coincidence that Demetrius is playing Tupac Shakur and not anyone else.
With the N.W.A biopic, a bunch of rappers came out of the woodwork to reveal that they auditioned for the film. Was there any rappers that auditioned for this biopic?
No rappers tried out for Tupac's role. We have Eastwood, who's a member of Death Row. He has a role in the film. A partner of his, Compton Menace actually has a role in the Straight Outta Compton movie. Eastwood has a pretty significant role in this film. He's doing really good. He's actually doing great in this movie. There's an abundance of rappers saying "Oh, I want to act." Just to be in the Tupac movie.
There's been a lot of question as to whether Afeni Shakur was involved in the film. Is she involved at all?
She's involved 1,000 percent. She's the executive producer of the film. In terms of the decision-making, she has left that part to the creative forces that are making the film. I know that there is chatter about things on the internet and the unfortunate thing is on the internet you just say something and somebody can retweet it or repost it, and it becomes truth. Just because it's said doesn't mean it's true. Some of the people that said those things were also involved in the film and it was no issue when they were involved but then all of a sudden when they're not involved, it's "This ain't right and that ain't right." It's like sour grapes. At the end of the day, she is involved. She is the executive producer.
You had to go back to get input from major players in the game. Who are some of the people you spoke with?
Suge [Knight] and [Dr.] Dre have been consulting when they can on the film. E.D.I. Mean, who's a member of the Outlawz and a personal friend of Tupac's, is here every day on the grounds. Money-B from Digital Underground who actually has a role in the film is on the grounds with us, giving us insight. Daz [Dillinger] who produced a lot of songs on the Death Row albums for Tupac. And L.T. Hutton, who was a producer for Death Row and actually the person who has been trying to get this film made for the last 10 years. He got the money together and made this happen. He actually lived with Tupac for a short time. He lived with Snoop Dogg, those guys all stayed together. Any blank that needed to be filled in, has been filled in by him. We've covered all the bases on this movie. Mutulu Shakur has called and given his input on a young Tupac and the movement. We've had some great conversations with people.
Being that we are approaching the 20th anniversary of Pac's death, this would be the perfect time to drop the film. Is there any chance the film will come this year?
We will see.
Do you have a release date for the film?
We have a release date. We haven't released it yet. There's some legal things when you say that there's a movie coming out but that information will hit very shortly and everyone will know. Just know we are very much aware of the anniversary and the history of things and we have that in mind.
It feels like this was timed perfectly. On another note, what else are you working on? This is a huge film but are you working on anything else at the time?
Not while I'm doing this. I dedicated everything to this film. I said [to myself], while we're in pre-production, production and post production, this was going to be my focus.
Will you ever return to doing music videos?
I went to film school and music videos came about because of opportunities given to me in the early days of me wanting to be a filmmaker. I was taking what I learned and my ideas, putting them into music videos. That's how that fell with me being in the right time at the right place with the right people. This situation is similar. This isn't my first film but it's the first huge movie that will really get notoriety. It's hard to say what you never will do again. But to answer the question, if I'm inspired and I hear a song, and the budget is right then the artist says, "Hey, I want you to do the video," then of course.