James Jones is a single father raising his daughter Ruth in the forgotten city of Detroit. Ruth, a fourteen year old aspiring ballerina, faces growing up in the darkest city in America better than most. She is a survivor. Her mother, Paula, was killed in front of her when she was younger, forcing James to become her primary caregiver. As most parents do, he tries, fails, and he tries again. But unlike most parents, at some point he gives up. This is the story of a father who does the unthinkable as an effort to right his wrongs and provide a better life for his daughter. This single choice will change the path of his life forever.
We had the opportunity to speak with actor Hosea Chanchez about his directorial debut.
What inspired the idea behind the film RUTH?
The inspiration [for RUTH] stems from a love affair I have with the ideas of what it takes to be a man raising a daughter. That is the basis of this story, the father/daughter relationship. A single father who has no resources to help him be the best that he can be for his kid. I had the opportunity to witness a friend of mine being a single father to his daughter at a very young age and I really adore their relationship. We usually see narratives of a single fathers raising boys. There is something special about a father raising their daughter but we don't generally see those images.
RUTH takes place in Detroit, why did you decide to set the film in the Motor City?
I fell in love with that city about 10 years ago. There is a mix of decay, poverty and lack of resources in the area, but there are still families that are thriving, still doing their day to day business. Mothers and children playing, not necessarily knowing they have a lack of support . They are still there grinding away doing things that every American family does. So I knew I wanted to set this story there. Detroit was once the Mecca of our country... the heartbeat of America. I educated myself on the city’s historical value to our country. Then I got to know the people, the hustle that exist in the city. There is something that happens to a person when your resources have been diminished. A lot of people of other races had the opportunity to move farther east, a lot of minorities had no way to get out so they struggle with no safety net. There are people who want to raise their families the right way but have limited options. That's why I wanted to engulf my story in Detroit and pay homage to a city that has done so much for this country.
This is your directorial debut, what made you decide to "get behind the camera" after years of acting?
Being a director was not in my plan or my dream. The dream was just to be an actor. I never considered the other facets of the industry. As I learned more about my craft, I begin to have a desire to do something different, a desire to be a part of the structure. I've had scripts written, I've written a few scripts (they weren't very good lol). RUTH is a script I had written 9 years ago. As my producer (Cru Ennis) and I began shopping the script around for a director, I realized this was something I was passionate about. I knew I wanted to be a part of the architecture of bringing the film to life. That's when I knew if I wanted to direct something this would be the project.
I read you went to UCLA Film School to hone your filmmaking skills. How was that experience?
Before THE GAME ended a year ago, while on hiatus, I decided that I wanted to take some courses. I took some courses, then went we back to work, after the show ended, I took some more courses. I realized this was something I could do and not have to worry about "what's next". I wasn't concerned about my next move as an actor. I told my agent and my manager I was going to take some time off. THE GAME went for 10 seasons, so I wanted to find my bearings in the industry and discovered what I wanted to do and how I was going to do it. I also wanted to be in a space where I didn't have to think about auditioning and "actor stuff" right away. It felt like film school was a safe haven. I tucked away in these classes. I went to class four days a week. My class was full of 19 year foreigners who barely knew me. Learning with a bunch of people who have the same desire as me. Starting for ground zero, being inspired and energized by these young kids who see the world as their oyster. Being around that hunger and desire to be creative was perfect for me.
The young lady in the role of Ruth is captivating in the trailer, how did you select her for the role and what was your experience like working with her?
I'm so proud of this casting. Her name is Zada Luby, she is the daughter of a really good friend of mine, Zeus. I remembered she expressed a desire to be an actress one day. Six years later, my producers and I are trying to cast the girl to play the Ruth character. We needed someone who could be authentic. Detroit is a place you just can't fake. Living in those conditions isn't that is easy for a child to portray. I wanted someone new, so we put out a casting call. We auditioned about 40 young actresses. I was speaking to Zeus one day and he reminded me that Zeta is acting now. I said put her on tape and let's see how she does. He put her on tape and she was phenomenal. We did a Skype session, then an in-person audition and she was brilliant. She has a natural raw ability and there is so many ways she relates to the character. Her father is a single father who is caring for his daughter. That element made her perfect for the role.
The film also stars Naturi Naughton, who is always amazing, what was it like working with her? Can you give a little insight into her character?
Naturi has been a friend of mine for a very long time. We previously worked together in Regina King’s directorial debut “Let the Church Say Amen”. When I finally finished this script; I sent it out to some of my closest friends whose opinions I value. Naturi was one of the people who responded the material and told me she loved the work and the character. She actually helped me with the framing of the character. It can be difficult for a man to tell a woman's story so it's always good to get feedback from your female counterparts on how to ground the characters. Her character’s name is Faith, she is one of James' ride or die chick. Faith is "the heart of the hood", the nurturing aspect in what we call the ghetto. There is a pulse to the ghetto and this character resembles that pulse. She is the “around a way” girl that everyone gravitates to. She's a free spirit but she is a product of the environment. She is love but also has some dark elements.
From the trailer, there are a lot of gritty and sometimes dark images, explain your visual concept for the film?
Visually, I wanted Detroit to be a character in the film. I shot with anamorphic lens to capture the wide landscape so you can see some many facets of Detroit pass the characters. This is a very intimate film and it was important to me not to have a lot happening in the exteriors. My cinematographer and I wanted to set up each shot as a portrait with characters in them.
We are currently in development. We are currently raising funds to finish the film, as well as getting the support we need from the city. We begin shooting the full feature in November. After production, we will hopefully hit the some of the festivals circuits. I'm not really concerned how we get the film in the theaters, I just want to get the movie to as many people as possible. I believe it’s an important story to tell.
Watch the trailer for RUTH here:
For more on this project, please visit RUTH FILM