Not many dramatic films receive both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. In fact, that hasn't been done since Precious in 2009. So, it must take an incredible story, with a filmmaker to match, to bring a film of that caliber, which is already getting the attention of the Academy, to life. In the case of this year's highly anticipated independent film Fruitvale Station, the story was that of Oscar Grant, and the filmmaker 26-year-old writer/director Ryan Coogler, who offers some insight into what went into making the film, his inspiration, and the path that lead him into a film career.
Fruitvale Station, is a true story about Oscar Grant who was fatally shot by police on a subway platform in Oakland, CA in 2009. Controversy sprung up when cell phone footage surfaced of the incident, which showed Grant being shot in the back by a police officer. This lead to the arrest of said officer, riots, protests, as well as a film -- Coogler's first feature, which was produced in part by Forest Whitaker. Check out the trailer below to see what it's all about.
Being from the Bay Area himself, Coogler was inspired and deeply affected by the tragedy. He explains in a Q&A found on the film's website:
The footage, the trial, and the aftermath filled me with a great sense of helplessness. Many people in the Bay Area community participated in protests, others took parts in rallies and marches. There were also many riots stemming from desperation. I wanted to do something to make a difference, and I thought that if I could bring the story to life through art, and give audiences the chance to spend time with a character like Oscar, it could maybe lower the chances of an incident like this happening again.
After participating in the Sundance Screenwriting Lab, Coogler moved into production with a small budget to work with (mostly from grants,) which proved to be a challenge when they decided to shoot on-location in the Bay Area using 16mm film. However, the production team shot the entirety of Fruitvale Station in 20 grueling days, and 6 months later, the film was premiering at Sundance.
While filming, Coogler explains that the cell phone footage of Oscar's shooting may have been good for setting up the scene, but emotionally it took a toll:
The footage was very useful in terms of blocking the scene and working out the individual beats. But it also made for an added level of emotional difficulty in making the film. I cannot count how many times I have seen Oscar get shot, over and over again, from different angles, and each time you see something like that, it’s like it takes a piece of you.
Originally, Coogler went to school to study Chemistry at St. Mary's College with plans to become a doctor. After a professor told him that he had a knack for telling stories, he decided to try his hand at screenwriting, studying, first, a copy of the screenplay for Pulp Fiction. He started screenwriting in his free time and "fell in love with it," and applied for and got accepted into USC's School of Cinematic Arts after graduating from Sacramento State.
Coogler delves deeper into what drove him from a career in medicine as well as the details of Fruitvale Station in the interview below:
Fruitvale Station opens today in New York and Los Angeles, then select theaters nationwide on July 19th. To find out if the film is screening in a theater near you, you can check out the schedule here.
Have you seen Fruitvale Station yet? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Links: Fruitvale Station website