By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, [email protected]
For one night only, fans of the 1991 Robert Townsend film, ‘The Five Heartbeats’ will be able to get an up, close and personal look at the behind-the-scenes action that made the movie heralded as an “instant classic,” and gave the world such songs as “A Heart is a House for Love” sung by The Dells and “We Haven’t Finished Yet” with Patti LaBelle. On August 27, Townsend’s new documentary, “Making The Five Heartbeats,” will premier in select theaters all over the country.
Before the film comes out, Townsend, in an AFRO exclusive, shared some of the highs, lows and true blows that happened throughout the over three-years it took him to make the film.
The 61-year-old filmmaker and director, who is responsible for several Black cinema hits over 30 years such as “Hollywood Shuffle,” “Meteor Man,” “B*A*P*S’” and “Holiday Heart” said fans constantly stop him and ask questions about the making of “The Five Heartbeats” or creating a sequel. Townsend said the documentary had been on his “mind for 10 years.”
”I’ve never revisited anything I’ve ever created before, but I just feel with ‘The Five Heartbeats’ so many people have asked for a sequel or something and this was the closest thing I can come up with- and I think it’s really good,” Townsend said.
Despite having already had success in the industry, “The Five Heartbeats,” which he co-wrote with another renowned Black filmmaker and creative talent, Keenan Ivory Wayans, was not instantly well received.
“I thought I had a hit film right away and what happened was it was delayed for about three years, and so it’s kind of my personal journey, because when people talk about how much they loved the music, I had to listen to hundreds of songs to find those songs. And I had auditions and looked at close to 10,000 people,” Townsend said.
“So when you look at this documentary it’s one part a master class because I take you behind the scenes of how I create. And then we get into what happened on the set.”
The documentary even gives details about some of the darker times the cast experienced.
“You know there were fights. We really became a singing group,” Townsend chuckled. “So what you hear about what singing groups go through, we really went through it.”
One of Townsend’s most personal difficulties in creating the film was that he had to be responsible for so many aspects of the film.
“I think “The Five Heartbeats” really stretched me because I co-wrote with Keenan Ivory Wayans, I’m directing it, I’m producing it, I’m starring in it and I’ve got to learn choreography. Just me wearing all those caps, not blinking an eye like, I can do it all! You’ll see certain days where I couldn’t do it all,” he said. “You’ll see when it went really well and you’ll see when it went really bad.”
The director said he believes the film was ultimately so successful because of his consummate passion and care for his work.
“There’s a term I use, I kiss every frame of the film. And that means the extras, the wardrobe, the food that’s on the table, the hairstyles, the colors, the background, the camera movements, the music, the first chord and the second,” he said.
“If you’re talking about creating a classic, you’ve got to really push everybody and everybody’s got to want to go to the next level as artists, and that’s the kind of the key.”
Since creating ‘The Five Heartbeats’, Townsend has gone on to make more films and contribute to television as well. Earlier this year, Townsend received the 2018 Icon Award from the Motion Picture Association of America and ICON Talks in Beverly Hills.
He said he’s never done any work for the accolades. “You just do what you do and you show up,” he said.
Now the veteran filmmaker is excited about the new work happening in Black television and film.
“It makes me happy. I got to tell you the truth. It does. It’s like when I saw “Get Out” for example. That film was so well done- so well crafted. It just made me scream with joy. This is the future.”
Townsend has a recurring role on the CW show “Black Lightning” and will direct an episode this fall. He also directed on Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil’s new hit series on OWN, “Love Is__”.
Even with more creators Townsend wants his fans to know he’s still always working.
“I’m always busy, so what people don’t understand a lot of times is that when they don’t see me, I’m developing like 3 different television series, looking at another movie, other things I want to direct and create, so I’m staying busy.”
For more information on “Making the Five Heartbeats” go to fathomevents.com.