Robert Hayles overcomes obstacles for his MN-made first feature
Sitting somewhere in the dark was Robert Hayles, watching a comedy motion picture at St. Anthony Main Theatre.
The 118-minute feature, Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game, is about longtime best friends and total opposites Richard (James Griffen, Jr.) and Marcus (DeAndre Sanders): Richard fancies himself a player with the ladies, and Marcus plays video games like a cloistered monk in prayer. “It’s a crazy comedy about video games and relationships,” says the movie promos.
“This is the first time I’ve seen it on the big screen. It was cool hearing people laughing,” admitted Hayles, the film’s writer-producer-director, after its screening at the 10th annual Twin Cities Black Film Festival (TCBFF) in September. “This is my first film.”
Hayles, a 1997 Minneapolis North graduate, said, “I’ve always been a writer at heart,” adding that he has written books, novels and plays. But in his mid-20s, he acted on his dream of writing for the silver screen. “It was a crazy idea,” he recalled.
After completing it, Hayles handed the script to a friend to read — his friend first started laughing, then after he “started crying on the third page,” Hayles knew that he had written a solid script. “I wanted to do something that was absolutely silly and see if I could pull it off. I think it worked,” believes Hayles on his inaugural screenplay that took nearly six years to finish.
Then came the “hurdles” and the “obstacles” as Hayles sought to put the screenplay to film — some industry types warned him that it would cost at least $50,000 to make (Hayles disclosed he spent around $30,000, using personal savings and help from his girlfriend and others).
He also avoided the “jumping hoops” an independent filmmaker sometimes must do to get funding: “I personally don’t have time to jump through hoops. I need to get the film done,” reiterated Hayles. “When you are doing a film, there’s so much going on between casting, rehearsing, scheduling, music [and] editing.
“Scheduling is the hardest part,” Hayles continued. “Trying to get people to show up when they’re suppose to. A lot of times, we were picking people up to have them come to the set and rehearse and to be on the set to film. It’s a challenge.”
Finding Black actors was challenging as well: “There are not a lot of African Americans that I know doing films in Minnesota.” As a result, he held a casting call at a downtown Minneapolis hotel. “We had about 200 people show up. We picked the best actors [from that event],” remembered Hayles.
All the actors were locally based: “We paid the lead actors, but everyone else got food and gas reimbursements,” said Hayles, noting that he used gas cards to pay the other actors. “We didn’t get any funding — we just paid for it out of pocket. We bought our own cameras and lights, and I have a Costco card and I used it to make sure there were good sandwiches on the set.
“It took about 21 days to actually shoot [the film],” he added.
The TCBFF was the first time his film was publicly shown — Don’t Hate… is available on DVD. “It was a lot of hard work. I definitely learned a lot — it was a process,” he said proudly.
“The experience was great,” added Elijah Jackson, who was the film’s assistant director and editor. “It was great seeing it on the big screen. Working on it, I didn’t know what to expect. This was my first big film I ever worked on.”
Hayles called his first feature film “an experiment to see if I could make a film. Now that I believe I know how to and what it takes to make a film, now I’m ready to do some more.”
When asked during a post-screening Q&A if he had any formal filmmaking training, Hayles responded, “I don’t know if Tyler Perry had any experience or training. I learned a lot along the way. I learned what not to do, and there is a lot that has to happen on the back end. So making a movie is just one side — the other side is advertising and marketing, getting people to actually show up at the theater and letting people know your film is out.”
Nonetheless, Hayles strongly advised all aspiring filmmakers to not let a lack of formal training or anything else keep them from pursing their dream. “I will say to anybody who wants to make a film — just do it,” he pointed out. “Don’t let anybody stop you because you are going to get a lot of people [who] tell you that you don’t know how to make it…you don’t know enough to make a film.
“When you go into a project with not too many resources and not much support but just a dream, you just move forward, hold it and don’t let go. Work hard and it will come true. That’s my message.”
Hayles’ next film project is “an action-packed drama” titled Blasdell.
“I’m still young and still learning,” concluded the 33-year-old Minneapolis filmmaker. “Give me 10 years from now, and you will see my name in Hollywood. Not 10 years — maybe five.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected]