NYT: How Boots Riley Infiltrated Hollywood

Labor News

Boots Riley at Little Bistro in Oakland, California, in April. Credit Ilona Szwarc for The New York Times

Reprinted from The New York Times by Jonah Weiner on May 22, 2018.

When Boots Riley was done writing the screenplay for his comedy, he figured he needed several name actors and a budget of a few million dollars to actually get it made. He spent decades working as a community organizer, activist and as the frontman of a leftist hip-hop group called the Coup. Riley knew a killer pitch would be necessary: “Trying to get somebody to read your script and you’re a musician?” he asked. “That’s the last person whose script you’re gonna read!”

So he honed a spiel consisting of “various levels.” Level 1 was 23 words long, and on a recent afternoon, in a coffee shop in Riley’s hometown, Oakland, California, he recited it to me more or less exactly as he recited it over the years to potential actors, producers, investors and advice-givers:

“It’s an absurdist dark comedy with magical realism and science fiction, inspired by the world of telemarketing. It’s called ‘Sorry to Bother You.’ ”

Riley interrupted himself: “So it’s all those things, then — telemarketing. People usually laugh right there. ‘O.K., tell me more. …’ ” …

NY Times 5/22

About Jeffrey Burman 3190 Articles
Jeff Burman represents assistant editors on the Guild’s Board of Directors. He can be reached at jeffrey.s.burman.57@gmail.com.

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