How Dale Stelly Made 3 Feature Films While Working An Overnight Job

Film Courage: Has there ever been a production that’s been easy, where it looked easy and it was easy?

Dale Stelly, Filmmaker (COMPTON’S FINEST, SINGLE BLACK FEMALE and more):  Hhmmm? I’d like to think about that one for a second because to be honest none of my movie productions were easy. But if I had to pick one I’d probably pick one of my first movies which is called THA’ CRIB. It was an urban comedy that went to Blockbuster Video. I produced that actually with my friend Daniel Zirilli who I mentioned earlier.

He transitioned from music videos to the movie business and being close and working together I was able to get one of my first movies produced with him. I remember it being a pleasurable experience. I remember working with a lot of supportive actors and friends (we all came together). That first one is unusually special. I remember getting a lot of help with location. I remember my friend Neal Fredericks who shot THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, he shot my movie for me. It was just a dope experience when I think back on it. A lot of celebrities visited the set while we were shooting at my parent’s house.

Now that I think back on it, yes THA’ CRIB was probably a fun shoot that didn’t turn into a headache. Sometimes these are supposed to be fun shoots. Sometimes when you’re dealing with money and time and certain people not respecting the creative process you have to deal with certain things that take the fun out of it. But that one was fun, everything worked out and on top of it I had no idea that was going to go to Blockbuster and be everywhere that it was. So for me to be working full-time in a post house I think I was working at The Vault at the time and my movie came out in Blockbuster was pretty cool. I was like the all-star at the company for a couple of years or whatever and I was putting my movies out. People were trying to figure out how are you doing this? Like how did you shoot a movie and you are working here full-time? I just didn’t sleep a lot. And I found ways to shoot three movies without losing my job at the post house.

I used a lot of my vacation, I was strategic with my vacation days. And I remember working night shift as a film scan and recording operator and I remember staying up for a period of almost eight days straight. I think I stayed up three days straight and then went to sleep and then stayed up another three days straight and went to sleep because my company wouldn’t let me take time off and I worked a night shift so I got my mind mentally stabilized and I wanted to stay up because they told me if I was unable to direct my movie, they were going to get another director. But the movie wasn’t paying me enough to quit my job. So I had to make sure I kept my post job which was obviously paying all my bills and everything and this one movie. It was my third or fourth movie called SWEET POTATO PIE. But I remember working a night shift. And I remember the way I worked it out, I got out at 6:00 in the morning and I had call-time at 8:00 in the morning so I literally stayed up…I made sure to start shooting on a Wednesday because I was off on the weekends. So I stayed up Wednesday, Thursday, Friday  straight (I don’t know how I did it) but my whole system was get off of work at 6:00 a.m., get home, shower, and I was ready for 8:00 a.m. call-time. Then I worked on set from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and then I was able to take a nap for an hour or so to get to work for a 10:00 p.m. because I worked from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. And I did that literally for three days straight. I remember the only way I stayed up was I had something to do every second every minute for the last 36 hours. The job that I had required me to be attentive, be with the computer with the film scan outs and I was on coffee and I remember having my friend videotape me as proof that I was pulling off this miraculous situation with directing a movie that ended up going to Lionsgate. My first movie goes to Lionsgate and I’m working in scanning and recording at the time (it was 2002 or 2003).

But yes, it was a crazy feel when you are passionate and dedicated and you have a chance and opportunity and I chose to keep both. I was like man I can’t quit my job because I was making under $10,000 or something for doing a movie. It should have been way more than that but yes, that was a pretty interesting situation when I pulled off the movie SWEET POTATO PIE. I did the urban version to the successful film which was called AMERICAN PIE. So I was known for coming up with these spin-offs of these successful films.

Like SINGLE WHITE FEMALE, I did SINGLE BLACK FEMALE. PASSION OF THE CHRIST, I did JC IN THE HOOD. AMERICAN PIE, I did SWEET POTATO PIE and these were titles that I picked and knew were going to be sure shots with at least getting my name and stuff out there. Because when you’re shooting you want to make sure that you’re shooting things that are going to sell. You don’t want to shoot things that aren’t going to sell. So I always picked things that were super successful and then I flipped it to be like what would it be like if it was made in the inner of Los Angeles, you know what I mean? That template for me worked a lot…it still works actually.

Film Courage: Would you actually walk into Blockbuster? How would you approach Blockbuster video?

Dale:  Oh, no I would get a distribution deal that would just put me everywhere.

Film Courage: Oh I see…so you actually never tried to go in?

Dale: I never had to deal with the Blockbuster executives or accounts or whatever. My distribution deal which was by a major distributor had the relationships with the major studios. So once you sell your film to major studio like Lionsgate, they make sure that it comes out on TV and DVD and everywhere that a movie like that would be seen.

Film Courage: How was that to go into Blockbuster and see your film?

Dale: It was phenomenal because I remember like one year I had three or four movies on Blockbuster at one time and it was a crazy feeling where it actually transitioned to everything becoming digital and everything being streamed online. At the time I had like three or four movies at Blockbuster at one time and it was a very good feeling to walk into Blockbuster and see my movies next to like The Rock, Samuel Jackson or Will Smith. It was a pretty good feeling to see that my hard work ended up on a major shelf and that’s what gave me the energy to keep going more and to shoot for bigger and better films and I’m still here.

I’ve just got my first movie in a theater (COMPTON’S FINEST) which we released through Cinemark and it did pretty well and I’m expecting to release more movies this year independently through the theater. I figured that out now. I figured it all the way out now from script to the big screen as an independent production company it’s very hard to…I don’t want to say master…but to kind of figure all that out.

Question For The Viewers: What do you think about Dale getting one hour of sleep so he could make his movie?



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