Sitting in a packed theater in Maryland, director Chris Robinson can’t enjoy the advanced screening of the movie ATL. The popular music video director is too busy noting the final changes of his directing debut on the big screen and wondering why the sound of the movie is off.
Many Howard students plan to hit theaters this weekend to make their own decisions on the film and Robinson hopes they walk away not having watched Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris in is his first movie, but remembering Rashad, the hard working character the Atlanta rapper plays, who wants the best for his brother and himself in the coming-of-age film.
“The more you watch the movie, the more you realize it has nothing to do with skating,” Robinson said on the film that’s backdrop is a skating rink in Atlanta and was originally named Jellybeans, for a rink of the same name.
Though he attended Hartford Community College and Foothill College in California, Robinson is no stranger to the Howard University community, having grown up in Maryland. He, like the many students who traveled far to attend school, see great value in the experience of going to a new place.
“It expanded my mind to go out of state and across the country to school,” he said. “Much of my education was the great education of being away from home.”
Robinson’s video directing start came when his friend received a record deal that took him to Sweden and let Robinson come and direct the video. Now over a decade later, Robinson laughs thinking how bad that video looks to him, having now worked with Nas, Snoop Dog, Alicia Keys and Jay-Z.
For Robinson, the transition from videos to movies was ‘100 percent harder’ to him because it was different. Where in videos he could pan to someone singing or dancing if something went wrong, in motion picture there is no back up or safety net.
The director spent so much time seeking to learn the city of Atlanta in his six-month stay that he had the entire filming crew wear gold teeth that are renown in the southern city and plans on moving to the southern capital.
“Here’s two years of my life I’m giving to this project,” he said. “You have to respect that.”
Robinson shared how serious and sensitive he is about his craft. He admitted with a smirk that one of his first videos was Mandy Moore’s ‘Candy.’ But even then, he was still just happy to be doing what he enjoys – making film and calling the shots.
In ATL, there is a scene where a character says “That’s why you need a timing belt, b**tch.” Seeking the perfect inflection of southern dialect, Robinson shares the one line took 42 takes in 107 degree weather. Five crew members passed out, three vomited and Robinson finally got the scene just how he wanted it.
ATL is executive produced by Will Smith. Dallas Austin and Tionne ‘T-Boz’ Watkins are not only the Atlanta natives the story is loosely based on, but are writers and producers of the project.
With the mainstream attention Atlanta as well as the entire South has received over the last few years, Robinson wondered if the southern buzz would still be present when the movie came out.
“We were truly concerned whether the Atlanta craze would be over,” he said. “But what I know is at the end of the day I’m proud of [this movie].”
Robinson plans to ‘have some fun this summer’ by making a few videos and already has other scripts he is considering. Even though he was not completely happy at how his movie is depicted in the preview, he is proud of his first movie and looks forward to increased control and making quality films.
ATL is in theaters today.