Alumnus directs film on life of Tupac

Benny Douglas will speak about his film in the Temple Performing Arts Center this month.

Benny Douglas, a 1992 radio, television and film alumnus, directed “All Eyez On Me,” a biopic about the life of Tupac Shakur. | VIA HBO NOW

After graduating from Temple in 1992, Benny Douglas headed north to Brooklyn to intern with famous film director Spike Lee.

Douglas worked in the locations department on Lee’s 1995 film “Clockers,” which focuses on a drug dealer in New York City who is under investigation for the murder of another drug dealer.

It was Douglas’ first big break, but it involved being “the lowest person on the totem pole,” in a city with which he wasn’t familiar, he said.

More than 20 years later, Douglas has now followed in Lee’s footsteps, becoming a director and leading his own film projects.

Douglas, a 1992 radio, television and film alumnus, released “All Eyez On Me,” a biopic about the life of rapper Tupac Shakur, in June 2017. The film is named after Shakur’s 1996 album.

On Feb. 21, as part of the Diamond Screen Film Series: Alumni Spotlight programming, the biopic will be screened in the Temple Performing Arts Center. Douglas, who is professionally known as “Benny Boom,” will also participate in a Q&A hosted by Jeff Rush, the chair of the film and media arts department.

The film follows Shakur’s life from when he learned about Black pride and racial injustice to when he became successful in the music industry in the 1990s.

Douglas said he and the film’s producers wanted to convey Shakur’s talent and the abrupt end of his career. Shakur was shot and killed in 1996 when he was 25 years old. They wanted to give a chronological recreation of the events that led to his death.

“We are only left with his library of music,” Douglas said. “His music goes past racial lines and economic lines. People were so impacted by this man’s short life.”

“It’s a cautionary tale of, ‘How do you live your life in the best way, and how do you use your talent and gifts in a positive way?’ and at the same time, trying to understand the trials and tribulations of life on the streets,” Douglas added.

The making of the film was heavily influenced by Douglas’ career making music videos, he said.

Douglas spent the last 15 years working with hip-hop artists like 50 Cent, Akon, T-Pain and North Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill. He’s helped direct more than 100 music videos.

He made his first foray into directing films in 2009 with “Next Day Air,” a comedy-action film about two criminals who accidentally accept a package of cocaine, which they then have to sell before the owner finds out it’s missing.

The Shakur biopic is Douglas’s biggest film so far, he said.

“I used all of the tools from college, and being a production assistant on music videos and movies, it all came together for this moment,” Douglas said. “If you prepare properly, you can just jump right into a shoot and not worry about any issues or second-guessing yourself. All of those years from what I had learned and worked for came together.”

Douglas grew up in the Overbrook neighborhood in West Philadelphia.

He said growing up in West Philadelphia in the 1980s was difficult due to the impact that drugs and violence had on his neighborhood.

“You just didn’t have a lot of choices,” Douglas said. “There wasn’t a lot of ambition. People were just trying to make it day to day…so to get out of Overbrook and go to college, it was a big deal.”

While making “All Eyez On Me,” Douglas faced some challenges. The majority of the film was shot in Atlanta, but he and his crew had to recreate scenes that took place in cities like Baltimore, New York City, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

“In terms of creative difficulties, it was just important we get stuff right,” Douglas said. “Because these things really happened, so part of it is the dramatic license you have to take.”

LT Hutton, one of the film’s producers, met Douglas several years ago while they worked on a music video. He said Douglas has been “creating the visual” for hip-hop culture for years.

He brought Douglas onto the biopic project as director because he wanted to work with someone who shared his vision, Hutton said. Together, the team fleshed out the mixed messages around Shakur’s life in the film.

“He died at a young age, so what he wanted to be, he never got to be,” Hutton said. “He had the idea of things that could have been. I got to create who Tupac was, who Tupac had to be to survive the world he was in and who he wanted to be.”

Douglas said it “feels amazing” to come back to Main Campus and speak to film students.

“To go back to the days I was in school, I feel blessed to be able to look back and say I started my career path in 1990, and I am still on the path and I have never deviated or waivered from it,” he said.

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