SXSW 2012: 'Gimme the Loot' a freewheeling, inner-city adventure
In "Gimme the Loot," the debut feature from writer-director Adam Leon, two Bronx teenagers hustle their way forward with a plan to "bomb the apple" -- graffiti the gigantic apple that is raised in celebration when a New York Mets player hits a home run at the team's stadium.
Premiering Saturday as part of the narrative competition at South by Southwest, the story of "Gimme the Loot" could just as easily be pitched toward harsh, gritty urban drama, but Leon goes for a tone of lighthearted, freewheeling innocence.
"They have fun, they're not bad people and not everything that happens to them is awful," explained Leon by phone recently from New York. "We liked to say they have a crush on juvenile delinquency. It was so essential that this movie not be about the perils of youth or some kind of message film that's very dark. Even the drug dealers, they don't have guns."
Leon, 30, grew up in New York City and has friends who were into graffiti, but his relationship to that world was mostly tangential. It was while casting for his 2009 short film "Killer" that he met a number of graffiti artists and found something special in their swaggering worldview.
"I became really inspired that these kids were like real-life action heroes," he said. "They climb buildings and jump over roofs and run from the cops and have rivalries.
"I tried to write this idea using graffiti as the jumping-off point," he added. "I didn't want to do something that was completely about graffiti, but I wanted the characters to be graffiti writers and to use that to propel an adventure, a road-trip kind of thing."
Ty Hickson was in "Killer" and Leon wrote a part with him in mind. For the female lead of Sofia, who has a platonic but deep bond with Hickson's character Malcolm, Leon cast actress and singer Tashiana Washington.
Set over two sun-soaked summer days, "Gimme the Loot" has a vibrant immediacy as schemes are hatched, sneakers are snatched and maybe a couple of lessons are learned. Leon said the film was completely scripted in advance, but a few scenes were improvised and he worked with the actors to put the dialogue in their own words.
"I wrote it, rewrote it and really wanted the film to capture a freshness, a quickness," Leon said. "So we felt if we could prepare as best we could and really know the material and the characters, then we would be able to try to do it as fast as possible, to be as quick and on the fly as we could, and the backbone of the script would allow us to do that while maintaining the storytelling and capturing a sense of the city, a sense of youth, a sense of adventure."
-- Mark Olsen
Photo: Tashiana Washington and Ty Hickson in "Gimme the Loot." Credit: SXSW