How Tarantino helped shape the new indie rap hit
THERE’S ALWAYS TALK of ‘Sundance breakouts’, but a whole lot less about the films that break in to Utah’s high-altitude indie haven. Geremy Jasper, the debut writer-director of Patti Cake$, wants to set that straight. He credits his time at Sundance’s Lab Program in 2014 with carving his hazy early ideas into the rap underdog tale that eventually sold at the festival for $9.5 million. “It makes you dig into yourself and tell your story,” he notes of the finishing school that also helped birth Beasts Of The Southern Wild, Hard Eight and Reservoir Dogs. “I’m not a film school guy, so this was all new to me.”
Paying those benefits forward, Quentin Tarantino was one of the New Jersey filmmaker’s screenwriting tutors. “He was very enthusiastic about the first half of the script, but he asked me if the second half was just one giant dream sequence,” laughs Jasper. “He told me I had a lot of work to do on it, but that only I could make this movie. That meant the world to me.” His other advisor, Patty Jenkins, was no slouch either. “[She] is just an incredibly cool human being,” he enthuses. “I remember drinking a lot of Bloody Marys with her.”
Gradually, over 10 iterations and two years, his “shitty” early drafts gave way to something battle-ready. Authenticity was key. While Patti Cake$ sees aspiring rapper Patricia Dombrowski (Aussie break-out star Danielle Macdonald), trying to make it from her New Jersey bedroom to the big leagues, it’s from Jasper’s own Jersey bedroom that the character emerged. “It’s interesting — my mother brought me bags full of notebooks a few weeks ago, and they were full of lyrics or bad poetry from back when I was tending bars or working in catering,” he says. “They were all about, ‘How do I get out of here and how do I make music?’ That’s the core of what the film taps into.”
Finally screen-ready, Patti Cake$ shot over 28 adrenaline-fuelled days around the gritty neighbourhoods Jasper grew up in. The result is a freewheeling rap fairy tale, though Jasper is modest in the face of comparisons to a certain rap classic. “It’s the Citizen Kane of rap movies,” he says of 8 Mile. “For a while we were calling [our film] ‘8½ Mile’,” he jokes, “as it has more of a surreal, fantastical quality.” Well, his old Sundance tutor will surely forgive him the odd dream sequence.
PATTI CAKE$ IS IN CINEMAS FROM 14 SEPTEMBER
Determined rapper Patti (Danielle Macdonald). Middle: Patti with MC Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay). Below: Patti loses herself in the music.
Fionn Whitehead, photographed exclusively for Empire at the Savoy hotel, London, on 26 March 2017.