Starring hip hop icons and pioneers, Wonder Mike and Master Gee I WANT MY NAME BACK highlights the rise and fall, road to redemption of these former members of the legendary Sugar Hill Gang. After releasing arguably the greatest Rap single and changing the face of Hip Hop history, they were the victim of identity theft as well copyright and trademark violations as a result of what is still today the highest selling song in the genre that so many have grown to love and support today. Achieving platinum status on all of their first three albums as a collective, one would assume that their legacy would have been solidified, both in theory and in financial reward. 30 years removed from the creation of Rappers Delight the duo have fought long and hard for their intellectual property and acknowledgement. The reality of their story is disheartening, yet very necessary in the education of artists and fans alike. Their battle against former label Sugar Hill Records, as well as the background to their rise, as documented by critically acclaimed director Roger Paradiso in conjunction with One Village Entertainment, a division of Image Entertainment, and part of Robert Johnson’s RLJ Entertainment is available via Video on Demand, as well as many other leading digital outlets including iTunes, Sony, Amazon and features the likes of Grandmaster Caz (The Cold Crush Brothers), Melle Mel (Grandmaster Flash), and Vinnie and Treach (Naughty by Nature).
I had the opportunity to sit down with the eyes behind the feature film, and get acquainted with not only the production process, as well as his resume, and what ultimately drew him to the project as a whole; well accredited for his work with many a great actor and actress on blockbuster cinematography, this project admittedly was compelling in a different manner. Challenges abound, the fortitude to bring their story to the big screen is beyond admirable. Find out more, in our exclusive interview with Director Roger Paradiso.
VIMOOZ: What was the unique element of Wonder Mike and Master Gee’s story which in your mind made it screen-worthy?
Roger Paradiso: The issue of Identity theft was appealing to me, as well as the authenticity of their thirty-year friendship. Those things coupled with the courage to persevere and keep the fight going for ownership of their names was compelling, and I felt that it was a screen-worthy story.
VIMOOZ: In the production process what were some of the road blocks that you faced?
Roger: One of the biggest challenges was that we absolutely could not get the Robinson Family to participate in any way, which ultimately we accepted. In addition, there was also a lack of photographs and video on them. The thing you have to remember is that at their peak, they were pre-MTV and I dont think Sugar HIll Records was into promoting individual artists; Not to mention, of course we had no money.
VIMOOZ: Do you feel that any of their story was unfortunately compromised in the final cuts?
Roger: No. I am a DGA member and had final cut. We were lucky, no one from distribution tried to interfere.They were supportive of the story and thus far I guess you can say we got some pretty good reviews on our 20 city Festival Tour so we knew the film worked with audiences.
VIMOOZ: Were you a fan of Sugar Hill Gang?
Roger: Personally, I was more of a classic rock fan. However, I had heard of them, but I never dreamed of making a film with them. Also I never could have imagined what their story was and how important it is for artists of all disciplinesto see this film. It is certainly imperative that all fans of music and the arts see the film. It is a story that should appeal to everyone who isconcerned about the preservation and sanctity of Identity and the continuing fight for human rights.
VIMOOZ: Years from now when you look back on the experience as a whole, what will you relish most about working these two gentleman, who are Rap Icons?
Roger: I feel the bond between Mike and Guy will last forever. As artists we must trust and support each other through all the obstacles and distractions that life brings. It’s quite a journey and the making of this film was full of obstacles and distractions, but we stuck together and got through it. I also know that as a result of our work great friendships will continue with Josh Green and Milton Maldonado as well as Peter Waggoner and Sean Smith. We were a Band of Brothers. The crew and cast were great.
VIMOOZ: In the past you have worked with some tremendously talented individuals such as Robert DeNiro, Val Kilmer, Pierce Brosnan, and the late Tupac Shakur; tell us about that:
Roger: We all got along and had a good time and were honest with each other. I think that when making a movie years ago you tried to have fun to cut back on some of the tensions. I still try to work that way, but the business has become very corporate. But they were all great guys and artists. Hey what about the women? Ive worked with some very successful actresses whom were not mentioned; the likes of Kim Bassinger, Dolly Parton, Fran McDormand, Mira Sorvino, Renee Russo, Cher, many others including the day players and the crew. We had a good time and made some very good movies.
As for “I Want My Name Back” I want peope to know that the film is currently available on DVD at Amazon.com and Walmart.com. and all digital platforms like iTunes, Sony, Amazon plus VOD on all major systems around the country.
VIMOOZ: What are your feelings about the feedback that the film has received thus far?
Roger: Well Josh and I saw the evolving film business change drastically for Indies and we basically made the film festival circuit our theatrical release. The festival people are some of the nicest people in the business and we had a blast. Every stop was great, from the Toronto Film Festival to DOC NYC, on to Slamdance. Internationally, we were a big hit in Finland and Australia. Audiences really got the movie.
VIMOOZ: When you set out on a directing a project, what is your blueprint process; furthermore, what are your expectations; ultimately what do you want the audience to get out of the final product?
Roger: The film experience is all about an original story about people that enlightens and hopefully entertains. You do the best you can do to tell the truth about the human condition whether it is a comedy, tragedy or somewhere in between. We’ve been telling stories forever. And will continue! That’s why I’m never worried about the formats. Content over format is what I believe in. People should be empowered by technology to tell their stories and not intimidated by technology.
VIMOOZ: Are there any projects forthcoming in calendar years ’13 and ’14 that we should be looking out for ?
Roger: I’m doing a film based on a novel by Jack Engelhard called “Days of the Bitter End” Not sure that will be the title of the movie. But I hope it is a different journey for audiences and that they enjoy the trip. It’s about some artists and the early sixties in Greenwich Village.