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- Posted on Sep 16th 2011 2:30PM by Sarah Kurchak
Sire | Leave It on the Floor
"I think what's great about what Madonna did is she was this cultural chameleon and found all kinds of images, pieces of culture to wrap her brain around in terms of different personifications of women, but she was also a maven in terms of music and the style and dance," Larry tells Spinner. "'Vogue' came out of there, so I think in that way, she brought it out to the world, but I wanted to shift the focus to these people and give them their due, too."
Larry first discovered ball 20 years ago, when he saw the Jennie Livingston documentary about the New York scene, 'Paris Is Burning,' and immediately wanted to make a musical about these underground events where people in drag would "walk" for trophies. When he rediscovered underground ball in L.A. five years ago, he decided that it was finally time to act on his dream. Along with screenwriter and lyricist Glenn Gaylord, he began to attend balls, get to know members of the community and start to work with them to tell the story of Brad, a young man who discovers the ball world, and the ball family, when he's kicked out of the house by his intolerant mother.
Larry then approached Kimberly Burse, a composer, producer and music industry jack-of-all-trades who has worked with artists like Jay-Z, Queen Latifah and Beyonce, about writing the music for the film. Despite the fact that the low-budget project was an unpaid gig, she was immediately hooked.
"I have so much respect for the ball scene and the ball community and the influence that it has had on pop culture over the years and the fact that he was doing it from the perspective of celebrating these kids for all of the hard work that they've done. I definitely wanted to be involved in any way that I could," says Burse.
The composer was also thrilled that the notes in the script called for such a wide array of musical styles. "I think it's safe to say that, in the ball community as a whole, not black or white or race related, the entire ball culture loves all styles of music. I knew that if you were going to put all of these genres in any movie, it would have to be this movie, because it would be appreciated."
She was so excited about the project that she started writing the songs during that first meeting. As the director was explaining the story, and reading the lyrics for a song that was intended to have a waltz feel, her mind started to drift. "I guess I kind of started glistening to him," she laughs ['glistening,' which stands for gay listening, is a term often used in the film]. She started hearing the rhythm of the waltz, and then the melody in her head. A little later on in the story, it happened again. "When he finished the whole movie, he was like, 'Do you think this is something you want to do?' And I was like, 'I wrote two songs already!'"
Burse also recruited Beyonce's band as well as her choreographer, Frank Gatson Jr., for 'Leave It on the Floor.'
"Frank called me and said he wanted to do the film," Larry recalls about his first encounter with the man behind iconic moves like the 'Single Ladies' dance. "I said, 'You know there's no money?' And he said, 'I love this world. Beyonce knows this world. I've borrowed from this world and this is a chance to give back.'"
When asked about Beyonce's connection to ball, Burse quips, "You can't just say her name. You might as well say Cher, Bette Midler, Madonna, Lady Gaga. Just line them all up in a row and say whack, whack, bam, and they're all gonna follow along. But definitely, she has a respect for it and has definitely been influenced by it. She knows the ball scene."
Burse also convinced the superstar to contribute her song 'Sweet Dreams' to 'Leave It on the Floor''s soundtrack after playing a scene from the film for her.
The stars that the film's creative team were most excited about working with, though, were the people from ball culture itself, including star Phillip Evelyn, who is a member of New York's House of Garcon.
"We assembled the ball culture in Los Angeles and went through the story and each song and I said anyone who wants to be in this movie, just come on and do it, we'll find a place for you. We want you to be our technical advisers and help us. We want to get it right," says Larry. "And the greatest joy, for me in the early screenings, was these kids who actually saw themselves on screen."
Two decades after first discovering the scene, the director thinks the time is finally right for ball to grab some well-deserved attention from mainstream culture.
"This was an idea that's time was coming. Twenty years ago, a lot of these kids were sexual outlaws, they were much more marginalized. I think that a lot of the culture is more embracing of it, even though it's from the periphery, it's from the streets. Now is an opportunity for people to embrace these kids as opposed to just the emissaries like Madonna and people like that who have taken from the culture but not acknowledged it. I really wanted to make a film celebrating these guys."