Film: 2009: January: "Not Easily Broken"

"Not Easily Broken" Film Production Notes 

ABOUT THE PRODUCTION

“The idea behind Not Easily Broken that led me to writing the source novel in the first place was to say that relationships are difficult,” said Bishop T.D. Jakes, who wrote the novel upon which Brian Bird’s screenplay is based. “It takes a lot of prayer, tenacity and commitment to work through the issues that happen in all of our lives when we pursue love and intimacy.”

The angle that most intrigued Bishop Jakes was writing a story about love from the male perspective, one that featured real men talking about real issues in there lives.

“Many women never hear a male’s point of view on relationships,” said Bishop Jakes. “I think women are interested not only because I am a minister, but because I am a man and write from a male perspective. In our story, you are looking through the eyes of Dave, not Clarice, and you get some understanding about how guys view love and relationships. I have women who are awed by the fact that men really care about their relationships, and have great angst when things go badly. Women think men are emotionless, but there is a huge amount of anxiety in men when things do not go well with their women.”

Bishop Jakes and his producing partner, Curtis Wallace, decided that there was sufficient interest from filmmaking entities to try and mount Not Easily Broken as a film.

“We had actually decided that this was a story we wanted to make into a film even before the book was released,” recalled Curtis Wallace, who is the chief operating officer of TDJ Enterprises as well as producer of Not Easily Broken. “We thought this was a great story and we sat down with our partners at Sony Pictures Entertainment and agreed this would adapt well into a film. We immediately went about shaping the screenplay and found a great writer, Brian Bird, to help us with the script.”

Bird, known for writing the film Bopha!, had written another script that had caught the eye of the producers. “About four different people had sent us a script by Brian Bird called Magnolia Passion, which was about the civil rights movement and the story of Emmett Till. I read it and thought it was wonderful. It turns out executives at Sony had read the same script. We decided Brian was the right guy to write the screenplay,” said Curtis Wallace.

Bird, who is Caucasian, welcomed the opportunity to write not only about relationships within the African American community, but about the unique way men in general talk among themselves about the deepest thoughts and feelings in a way most women never are privy to.

“This was sort of a male version of the film Waiting to Exhale, in a way,” said screenwriter Brian Bird. “These are men who are talking about things that you do not hear them talk about often. It only happens when you have good friendships. In this film, you have three friends who are incredibly tight and go through thick and thin. There are some incredible themes in Bishop Jakes’ book, one being the three-stranded cord that binds men and women together in marriage. This is the cord that is Not Easily Broken.”

“The title is taken from the scriptures,” said Bishop T.D. Jakes. “The passage reads that a threefold cord is not easily broken in marriage. One cord is the woman, one is the man, and the third is their faith that will make the knot between them tighter. It doesn’t mean it cannot be broken, but not easily so.”

For Brian Bird, this concept would form the backbone of his adapted screenplay. “I fell in love with the idea that a three-stranded relationship in very important in our incredibly fractured society. The three-stranded cord is a powerful metaphor about how relationships can survive. Two people are better than one, but without the third cord of faith, most people cannot get through life,” he said.

Finding the right actor to come on board as ‘Dave Johnson’ was the producers’ first item on their agenda. One performer they immediately thought of was Morris Chestnut, who had created memorable portrayals in films ranging from heavy drama (Boyz n the Hood) to light comedy (Breakin’ All the Rules) to gritty action adventure (The Cave).

“Once we were comfortable with the script, we thought about casting,” said producer Curtis Wallace. “Morris Chestnut was our first choice to play ‘Dave’. We all agreed he was a perfect fit. But what we were really excited about was that he wanted not only to appear in the film, but also come aboard as well as an executive producer to help us wrangle the rest of our cast and shape the screenplay even further. He proved to be invaluable.”

Morris Chestnut, who is a producer in his own right, met with Bishop Jakes in New York City, where Chestnut was appearing in a stage play. The two talked over dinner and decided that Chestnut would take an even larger role in making the film.

“I felt so strongly about the project that I really wanted to become involved as more than an actor,” said Morris Chestnut. “I felt I had a good grasp of the material and I knew I could go out and approach people I knew would be right for other roles. I requested to come on as an executive producer and they were kind enough to allow me to do so.”

Two of the actors Morris Chestnut thought would fit in the film were his friends Eddie Cibrian (with whom he had starred in the action thriller The Cave) and comic actor Kevin Hart, whom he had known for years. With tongue in cheek, Kevin Hart had another reason for getting involved with Morris Chestnut. “Morris owed me a lot of money for losing a video game we play called ‘John Madden Football”, “ said Kevin Hart. “So I thought he could pay me back with this role. But once I saw the caliber of actors he was bringing to it, I was hooked. And the fact that Bill Duke was directing was the clincher for me.”

Bill Duke, the celebrated actor/director, also met with Bishop Jakes on another trip to New York City where Duke was in post-production on another film project. The two men sat down for a meal and immediately had sparks fly creatively.

“Bill and I met at a hotel restaurant and began to talk,” said Bishop T.D. Jakes. “We talked for hours, because I wanted to make sure he knew what messages we wanted to convey within the film. He was so passionate about it. By the time we finished, we were finishing each other’s sentences. Between Brian Bird and

Morris Chestnut and, now, Bill Duke, we had some very talented men touching this story and bringing their own flavor to it. We could create this film and present it to women and say ‘this is what men call love, and it cannot be easily broken.”

Bill Duke, who has directed such acclaimed and popular films as Hoodlum, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, The Cemetery Club and A Rage in Harlem among others, was impressed with the many themes found in Bishop Jakes’ story of men and their ability to love and fight for its survival.

“Value systems transcend race, gender and everything else,” said Bill Duke. “The ethics of human behavior are thought to be corny in contemporary society, an old school way of thinking about life. Things like including God in the equation of a marriage, of not thinking that we need certain resources like money and cars and a big house to be happy. But we face human dramas every day that have nothing to do with materialism. We have to survive every day and we need to support one another. I found this interplay fascinating, as was the concept that men and women need each other to be just that: men and women. Both roles are hardwired.”

Duke found that the value systems of the lead characters, African Americans ‘Dave’ and ‘Clarice’, were not only at odds, but also lacking in the very fundamentals that determine the roles both play in modern marriages. “’Clarice’ believes in status, that things you have determine who you are,” said Bill Duke. “’Dave’ has an old truck and sees his old friends. He’s a blue-collar guy who wants a family, not a new house. And thirdly, ‘Clarice’s mother, ‘Mrs. Clark’, distrusts men and brings a message to her daughter that she needs to take care of herself, pay the bills, be in a position of one-ups-man-ship with her husband. This takes the sword out of ‘Dave’s hands.

I believe men are hardwired to protect and provide for their wives and family. And when his sword is taken from him by his wife, a man gets lost and stops dreaming for himself and his marriage. And he starts to find acceptance for who he really is from another source: a new woman.”

The ‘other woman’ of the story is physical therapist ‘Julie Sawyer’, a single mother who happens to be white. When her young son, ‘Bryson’, strikes up a friendship with ‘Dave’ while ‘Julie’ treats ‘Clarice’ for therapy after a serious car crash, ‘Julie’ and ‘Dave’ start an attraction neither want, but both cannot deny.

“She asks him, ‘Dave, you spend so much time caring for your wife, your friends, your job. Who takes care of you’?” said Bill Duke. ”The fact is she says to him, ‘you are enough just as yourself’. He doesn’t have to slay the dragon any longer, he can just be himself with her. And in her, he sees a down to earth, caring mother to a young boy, a substitute family if you will.”

To cast the characters of ‘Julie Sawyer’, ‘Mary Clark,’ and ‘Clarice’, the filmmakers looked to three talented veteran actresses: Maeve Quinlan, Jenifer Lewis and Taraji P. Henson.

Maeve Quinlan, who most recently starred in the controversial television series “South of Nowhere”, was thrilled to have won a role that had very subtle but rich interplay between herself and a man she at first befriends but comes to love. “’Julie is a single mother, probably since high school, and has raised her son by herself,” said Maeve Quinlan.” “She has an opportunity to not only befriend a client, ‘Clarice’, but her husband as well as she helps her rehabilitate from a terrible leg injury. She sees her husband as being kind to her son.  But life can throw us curves, and they become very involved with some deep feelings

They break the moral code, even though neither is looking to do so.”

‘Dave’s involvement with Julie enrages his mother-in-law, ‘Mary Clark’, while putting his relationship with wife ‘Clarice’ in a tailspin from which it may never recover. To cast the role of ‘Mary Clark,’ Bill Duke reached out to celebrated Broadway, film and television actress Jenifer Lewis.

“Jenifer is someone I have admired for years and years,” said director Bill Duke. “You just watch her onscreen and you know she really inhabits her characters. She was perfect to bring out the fear and bitterness towards men Mary has infected her own daughter with.”

For Jenifer Lewis, playing ‘Mama Clark’ was a chance to portray what is hidden beneath the long held hatred and loathing some women experience after their own husbands leave them for other relationships. “This is a very dysfunctional woman who has felt victimized all her life by men,” said Jenifer Lewis. “She is mean, but I think many mean people are actually that way because they are scared by life. Compassion is needed to heal them, not scorn. She has infected her own daughter with these ideals, and started to sway her against her own husband for her own good.”

To find the right voice for ‘Clarice Johnson’, the filmmakers looked to the versatile performer Taraji P.Henson, who recently joined the cast of the hit television series “Boston Legal” as well as starred in such films as Hustle & Flow and Animal.

“She starred in a film that not many people got to see called Animal,” said Morris Chestnut. “I was amazed by her performance and told others about her. She was just coming off a film with Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) as well as Talk to Me with Don Cheadle, so I was very happy to get to work with her.”

For Taraji P.Henson, playing a role like ‘Clarice’ gave her an opportunity to flesh out the elusive tribulations between man and wife that rarely get aired in motion pictures. “Relationships have ups and downs, they aren’t easy. They are work,” said Henson. “At a certain point people get complacent, and that’s what happens to ‘Clarice’ and ‘Dave’. Many people will see themselves in this part of the film. But she takes her husband for granted and belittles him because he does not share her view of success. All that does is send him into the arms of a woman – a white woman at that – and ‘Clarice’ gets very upset because she sees that this other woman has taken her husband’s heart, and that is so much harder to deal with than if they just had a sexual affair. Once the emotional side of someone bonds with another, it is a much stronger infidelity.”

One thing the cast had in common was the enjoyment and professional satisfaction of working with director Bill Duke, a trailblazing director who had established himself as an actor as well. “Bill Duke creates an incredible experience for an actor,” said Taraji P. Henson. “I actually took an acting class from him over ten years ago, so I felt like this was destiny. Because he has been both in front and behind the camera, he has a unique perspective of what an actor needs.”

Jenifer Lewis agreed. “Bill Duke has a warmth that will pull you into him,” she said. “You’ll listen to what he has to say. And when you listen, you gain his wisdom about humanity and about who these characters really are. He has a clear vision about what he wants and is very kind – a rare word, kind – in letting you find what he wants you to do with your character. He would come up to me after playing a scene and congratulate me, and I felt like I had just moved a mountain!”

Duke also enjoyed his varied and talented cast, especially working with leading man Morris Chestnut. “Morris is a very truthful, in depth actor,” explained Bill Duke. “He’s coming from a real place and you believe everything he does. He’s a very organic actor. He has tremendous range and he’s also quite a physical specimen and great athlete. He has quite a mix and perfect for his role.”

As the production continued through its schedule, executive producer Steven Brown found the answers to many physical challenges to augment the complexity of the actors’ finding their characters. There were, for example, several scenes involving sports that needed to be planned and carried out during some very hot days on Southern California locations.

“We had a fair number of sports to shoot – baseball, basketball, swimming – and a very few days in which to shoot them,” said executive producer Steven Brown. “Luckily we found a versatile location (Valencia, CA’s College of the Canyons) that had everything we needed, not to mention there were houses we could use just a few miles away. It was also just such a plus to have a director who understood how to work efficiently and smoothly.”

For Bishop T.D. Jakes and his partner Curtis Wallace, the key to making Not Easily Broken was the ultimate abilities of the filmmakers and cast to flesh out the underlying theme of the film: that if you fight hard enough for love, then love (and marriage) will find a way to survive anything.

“Love is the victor here,” said Bishop T. D. Jakes. “Not ‘Dave’, not ‘Julie’, not ‘Clarice’. Because love actually becomes the glue that holds them together when life is trying to pull them apart. Love is really the star of Not Easily Broken. I wanted to write a story that becomes the catalyst for bigger conversations between people after they have seen the film. In today’s world, we are gaining technology but losing ourselves, we are losing intimacy. I am hoping that people can stop and appreciate each other for who they really are, and remember to leave room for a little hope, a little faith, and the realization that with God’s help, they can get through a bad moment in their own lives by watching the story of ‘Dave’ and ‘Clarice’.”

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