Skateboard Film Pits Overtown Against Sistrunk

Go behind the scenes of this hood war.

"Welcome to guerrilla filmmaking," says script supervisor Melinda Taksen, who has worked on much more efficient productions such as The Waterboy (the Adam Sandler comedy) and The Notebook (a Rachel McAdams romance). With a wry smile, she notes she was brought on two days after filming had begun.

Not that there was much more formality to casting the leads.

Eighteen-year-old Ricky LaVoir is almost six feet tall and looks like he's pushing 100 pounds. With an infectious smile, spiky hair, tattered clothes, and mismatched socks, he comes off as a wise-cracking Sid Vicious. He plays Stringbean, one of three skaters at the heart of the film. "I was working in the Apple store," he recounts during a break between takes, "and Cess came up and said, 'I like your look. Can you skate?'" He could.

Red Rat (as Willie Red), LaVoir (as Stringbean), and Kerr (as Loon) forged a fast friendship on set.
Deirdra Funcheon
Red Rat (as Willie Red), LaVoir (as Stringbean), and Kerr (as Loon) forged a fast friendship on set.
Cess Silvera watches a take on video monitors.
Deirdra Funcheon
Cess Silvera watches a take on video monitors.

Fourteen-year-old Chadd Kerr rocks a pair of stylish black-framed eyeglasses and a baseball cap cocked sideways on top of his Afro. He says he was "skating, talking shit to my friend" when Silvera approached him. "That's what he was looking for." Chadd told his mom he'd been offered a film role, and she wondered what kind of pedophiles were trolling the parks these days. But once his dad learned who the director was, Chadd had a job playing a skater named Loon.

The third skate-kid role — a character called Dame — would be filled by someone Silvera knew through tight-knit Jamaican music circles: 20-year-old Gamal "Lunch Money" Lewis — a hefty guy with a sweet demeanor and an expressive face who flirts with every female who enters his orbit. Lunch Money's dad is Ian Lewis of the reggae band Inner Circle (remember "Bad Boys," the theme to Cops?). The family runs legendary Miami recording studio Circle House.

Although Stringbean had acted in a children's theater, Chadd's experience as a thespian consisted of having memorized a poem in the fifth grade. None of the three leads knew much about showbiz basics such as getting an agent. Costar Taye Hansberry — a pretty, button-nosed actress who also does photography — says she offered to take their headshots, "and they were like, 'What's that?'" She found their reaction a refreshing contrast to the polished, lawyered-up kids who wave their resumés all over L.A.

Stringbean says he hadn't necessarily planned on an acting career — but he'll take it. "Some big executive will watch [this movie] and say, 'I like that kid. Get his phone number!'" Ultimately he'd like to direct slasher films.

He and Chadd are stoked to have just met Stevie Williams, another pro skater whom Silvera has written into the film. The role calls for Williams (who at this moment is sitting with bloodshot eyes on a bus, learning the lines he's supposed to say in five minutes) to award the contest winners a sponsorship with his real-life skate company, DGK (Dirty Ghetto Kids). Although black skaters are no longer an oxymoron, Williams is one of the first to have inked a multimillion-dollar endorsement deal and have his likeness built into Tony Hawk's Pro Skater videogames.

For knowledgeable skateboarders such as LaVoir and Kerr, Williams approaches Superman status.

Chadd: "He's a freaking genius on four wheels."

Stringbean: "He makes love on the board."

As the teenaged actors ruminate about Williams (each now dismissing the other as "homo"), Lunch Money wilts in the heat, soaking through his T-shirt and wiping his forehead. "It's hotter than 10 hot bitches in a burning building," he says.

Maybe that's why Cess Silvera is in such a pissy mood. Like halves of the Red Sea, actors part to make way as the director marches through the crowd toward the video monitors. A dark-skinned guy in a wife beater and unlaced Nike high-tops, he has sculpted his hair into a fauxhawk. Boxer shorts stick out the back of his low-slung jeans as he slides into the director's chair and plops his Marc Jacobs sunglasses onto his nose. His round, solid belly protrudes like a shelf. A drink could rest comfortably on top of it.

Maybe a 38-year-old director should speak gingerly to a roomful of prepubescents in his charge. Or maybe not.

"You su-u-uck!" he howls at everybody and nobody in particular after a fruitless take. In his singsong Jamaican lilt, he barks at the actors to snap to attention and get this scene completed. It's an act that evokes respect from his young talent.

"He yells at us," Stringbean shrugs nonchalantly.

"I'm 14, but he treats me like a grown man on the set," Chadd offers with a confidence that betrays his years.

While newer actors might be intimidated by Silvera, the three stars know him too well to fall for his intimidation routine. They lived with the director for the summer before shooting began. He plied them with pizza and cereal while bringing in an acting coach and dragging Lunch Money to skateboard lessons. It was like a season of Making the Band.

"You had to see us onscreen and not second-guess our friendship," Lunch Money explains. "It's a comedy — but there's some heartfelt shit."

Just then, the young female assistant director yells, "Lock it up!" through a bullhorn. The cameras roll.

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