(This interview was conducted with Donovin Freeman on September 30, 2012, prior to the release of “And Still…”)
Joey Pinkney: Hello, Donovin Freeman. Thank you for joining me and granting me this interview.
Donovin Freeman: No problem. I’m glad to be here.
Joey Pinkney: You are a man of many hats in the entertainment industry. Could you give a brief run down of your various projects and achievments?
Donovin Freeman: My first novel is entitled “Home”. It is based on a true story about my mother, her brother and her two sisters. After I did that, I started writing screenplays and finally directed and produced the movie “Stuck on Broke” which starred southern rapper OJ Da Juiceman and Nicki Minaj, but Nicki left. I followed that up with the release of my latest novel “Running in Place” which has been getting good buzz so far.
Joey Pinkney: The book industry has changed tremendously since the initial publication of “Home” in 2001. How has the change of the times caused you to revamp your approach to promoting and marketing your works?
Donovin Freeman: Of course, I use all the social media platforms twitter, facebook, etc. I also use traditional things like local newspaper and TV ads. I’m also planning on doing some stuff with bookclubs. I love that the internet has given everyone a level playing field.
Joey Pinkney: What sets “Home” away from other books that deal with the searing effect of drugs on the person, the family and the community-at-large?
Donovin Freeman: Well, like I said, it is based on a true story. My grandfather worked for Bumpy Johnson who the movie “Hoodlum” (starring Laurence Fishburne) was made about. He was also around Frank Lucas who the movie “American Gangster” (starring Denzel Washington) was made about.
“Home” is a story about the collateral damage that can be done by the drug trade. Fortunately, my mother and her siblings were rescued from that environment and have lived very good decent lives despite very rough beginnings.
Joey Pinkney: Your novel “Home” may indeed have a back story as rich as the story in the book. What has been your journey in getting “Home” from your imagination to actually being in the hands of your readers?
Donovin Freeman: Writing it was easy. It only took six months. The hard part was getting people to take notice. I got a book deal in 1996, but the publisher went bankrupt.
Luckily with the advancement of technology, print-on-demand has made it possible to share this amazing story. I can’t lie. I’ve had ups and downs, but I’ve hung in there. It has made me stronger.
Joey Pinkney: I read in your bio about the agent and the publisher that you initially tried to work with in getting your novel “Home” distributed. In hindsight, what were some of the warning signs that things might not be heading in the right direction?
Donovin Freeman: After I got the deal for “Home”, they approached me about publishing a screenplay. I had written titled “Three Time a Baby” and wanted to make it a book. They wanted me to pay them $3,000 dollars. I was like, “Hold up here. This doessn’t sound right.”
Joey Pinkney: True. At that rate, you could have self-published. Did you still decide to go with the publishing company before it went bankrupt?
Donovin Freeman: Of course, later down the line I found out they had scammed several writers and took the money and ran. I didn’t sleep well that night when I found out. Yes, I did. I even got fifty author copies and did a TV interview and a 2 radio interviews based on it coming out soon.
Joey Pinkney: What happened to “Three Times a Baby”?
Donovin Freeman: I’m still trying to push it. I almost had a deal with some guys in Miami but funding fell through. It’s a decent screenplay but not my best.
Joey Pinkney: You write books and screenplays. How did you start writing screenplays?
Donovin Freeman: Actually my mom’s best friend read the manuscript of Home and thought it was good and she asked me when I was going to write a movie. I started thinking about it then went to the library and got some screenwriting books and started writing them.
Joey Pinkney: Which leads me to one of your “claims to fame”: “Stuck On Broke”. What is this movie about?
Donovin Freeman: It’s a movie about a guy who, no matter how hard he works, is always coming up short. He works a dead end job and can’t get by. He ends up saving his drug dealing bosses life. His boss is impressed and puts him in the drug game.
Surprisingly, he takes to crime like a fish water. Once he gets to big for his britches, he pays the ultimate price by losing his life. I even get into a little political corruption in the script trying to show these street guys that a stroke of a pen is much more powerful than a gun.
Joey Pinkney: You casted Nicki Minaj in this film. It was her first movie role. How were you able to pull that off?
Donovin Freeman: At the time, Nicki was being managed by Gucci Mane’s aunt and Waka Flocka mother Deb. OJ was on the label. When Nicki read the script, she loved it. They asked me if it was possible that she could get a role. After I did a little investigating, I was like of course there is a role for her.
Joey Pinkney: What’s the story on OJ Da Juice man’s lack of professionalism causing Nicki Minaj to be so frustrated that she walked out after shooting only one scene?
Donovin Freeman: Well, OJ showed up late everyday. We were shooting, and he didn’t show up two days at all. The day Nicki was on set we had a 11 a.m. call time. OJ didn’t show up until 5 p.m. Nicki was on time and waited till about 4 p.m. then left. I didn’t like the way she left, but I understood.
Funny thing is she tried to comeback the next day. We had already shot all of her scenes, and we were sick of dealing with OJ. It took a lot of strength not to punch him that day Nicki left because we had invested a lot of time and money in trying to get this project done.
Joey Pinkney: Wow. I’m sure it’s even more frustrating knowing the fame the Nick Minaj has achieved in the recent years.
Donovin Freeman: Yes it is. She is an incredible performer. If given the chance, I would love to work with her again. I have two scripts that would be great for her.
Joey Pinkney: You have seen your fair share of ups and downs with book publishing and movie production. What advice would you distill from your many years of grinding?
Donovin Freeman: You can’t ever give up. But also make sure you get everything in writing because there are some very slimy people in the entertainment industry. When I started out, I was very trusting. Now I’m hardened and always make sure that the paper work is in place before I do anything.
Joey Pinkney: Your most recently published book is “Running in Place”. It’s set in the metropolis of Atlanta, featuring young men navigating life, love and liberty.
Donovin Freeman: Yes it is. I have done a fair share of living. With this book, I took tales I’ve heard about from other people and some things I have done and wove it into a novel that has been getting some good buzz by the people who have read it so far. I even had a girl ask me if I was going to write a sequel.
Joey Pinkney: Everything you do is grassroots and hands on. What are some tricks to the trade to build a fan base or readership for a project like “Running in Place”?
Donovin Freeman: I am planning on doing some stuff with a couple of book clubs this week. This is a book that females have loved so far. Women seem to read more fiction than men, so I’m really pushing this book toward women. I’m hoping it will catch on like Terry Macmillin’s “Waiting to Exhale”.
Joey Pinkney: What’s your writing regimen? What would the fly on the wall see during your normal writing session?
Donovin Freeman: I’m a night owl. I love to write when everyone is sleeping. Some nights, I will be up till four or five in the morning writing. To me, that is the best time to write. It’s quiet.The creative juices just start flowing, especially when it’s cold outside and I can get a nice cup of hot chocolate.
Joey Pinkney: Is there anything you want to make the readers aware of that hasn’t been covered?
Donovin Freeman: My latest project is titled “And Still…” I helped my friend Yahya McClain write his life story. He was a 2 time World Champion boxer. His biggest claim to fame was that he was married to Muhammad Ali’s daughter Laila.
He is the person responsible for molding her into the highest paid female boxer of all time. (Of course, the last name Ali had something to do with it.) He was the one who carefully crafted her career before they divorced. His story is great because it’s more than just about Laila.
Joey Pinkney: When will this be released?
Donovin Freeman: It’s in the final stages of editing, hopefully 2013. We just had an inquiry about possibly doing a documentary about it based on a small trailer he shot. We have our fingers crossed that that happens.
Joey Pinkney: What is “And Still…” about?
Donovin Freeman: Yahya has lived quite a life. As I said, he was a 2 time champ. In between his boxing career, we delve into some of the things he did in life whether it was acting, hustling, joining the marines, converting to Islam, becoming a boxing promoter and many other things.
He is truly blessed to still be living with the many street fights and shoot outs he has been in. He hopes that his story will help kids in born into his situation take a different path.
Joey Pinkney: If someone wanted to do a book or movie project with you, what would be the best way to contact you?
Donovin Freeman: I am always on my computer and constantly check my email, email@example.com.
Joey Pinkney: Donovin, I thank you for your time. Keep up the great, inspirational work.
Donovin Freeman: I will and thank you for granting me this interview.