Ruthless: A Hip Hopera is the story of an innocent boy who goes on a search for his brother’s killer. Tanesha Morris, first time writer-director of the Shreveport made short film, tasted success as a Top 20 contender in the Louisiana Film Prize 2016. It was also one of five shorts awarded a Founders’ Circle film grant.
Ruthless was made in Shreveport on a minimal budget, yet it broke ground at LAFP as the first musical make the festival’s competition level. Next on the agenda for Morris is the South by Southwest Film Festival. Will the film get its letter of acceptance? When that happens, will it be buried in the competition or find a champion?
Morris shot the film in just two days on Pierre Avenue using a Canon T2i camera and a small, volunteer crew. Her lyricist partners, Renada Soul and Morio DeMello, wrote and produced the songs that bring the script to life and propel the action. The sound was recorded in DeMello’s studio in Tipitina’s Co-Op at 700 Texas Street downtown.
“The story idea came from a Shreveport billboard that I saw on Stoner Ave. It
said, ‘Tell me who shot me in the back.’ Rosie Mahoney buys a billboard every year to try to find the killer of her son, Jamarsey Bolden. He was shot outside a barbershop on East Stoner Avenue back in 2005,” Morris explained.
“Something in my mind clicked when I saw the billboard,” added Morris. “Music and lyrics began to come forth from my mind. This movie is not his story. But it was inspired by the billboard.”
“It’s definitely about revenge and loss of innocence,” Morris told Film Prize
Associate Director Chris Lyon in an LAFP interview. “And I wanted to shine a light on a dark place. Especially in the black community we have this thing about snitches. People don’t want to talk about what happened. If you see something, don’t say anything because ‘it’s none of your business.’ But at the end of the day, people suffer.”
Responded Lyon, “As fun as the energy of the music is, the movie can be difficult to watch. Watching this kid making these decisions – sometimes it’s hard to watch him step close to the edge.”
The actors were mostly non-actors until Morris put them in front of the camera. “I had to like pull it out of them.”
“I think its biggest attribute is its rawness,” says fellow filmmaker Kyle
Kleinecke. “There are moments when you don’t feel like you’re watching a movie, but experiencing a glimpse into the lives of these characters. Using hip hop and rap was a great way to help connect the audience to the culture.”
At ruthlessfilm.wixsite.com/musical viewers can see the players and the trailer. It includes a taste of a key scene. “The part, in my opinion, that works the best was the rap conversation in the car with Malachi and Code Lane,” says Kleinecke. “I was hanging onto every word of the conversation.”
“Keep your lips closed,” spits Code Lane, “Ya mouth needs to stay on zip mode. You know the code. The morgue is where the snitch goes.”
Growing up in Haughton, Morris could not forget the excitement of her earliest two years of school in California. As a student at BPCC she looked for a way
to combine her love of writing, the visual arts and the music business. “I heard about a college in Florida called Full Sail and its extensive classes in production,” she remembers. “I never thought I could afford it. But I enrolled and worked hard. I studied from January, 2012, to June, 2014. What I took from it was priceless.”
I didn’t fool around. I took in everything.” Morris graduated with a BFA in Creative Writing for Entertainment. She is still paying for her eight semesters at Full Sail, but without regrets.
As she faced the editing of Ruthless, Morris had to download and learn to use
Adobe Premiere Pro. At that point, she’d only worked with Apple’s iMovie. “It was hard,” she admits. Friends helped her. “I went on YouTube and researched what I needed to know.” That’s also how she built a steadi-cam rig with PVC pipe.
One of her teachers from Full Sail told her “You don’t have to come up with a
story. You need to go out and search. Talk to people. That’ll spark your inspiration. The stories are already out there. You just have to tell it.”
What are her dreams for Ruthless? Maybe it will become a feature film.” There’s another possibility. “Maybe Broadway,” she says with a wary laugh. After all, it is a musical.