From One Medium to Another: Translating Piñata to the Big Screen
IN THE FINAL weeks of March 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic began to kick up a notch, I discovered an album by the name of Piñata, MC’d by Freddie Gibbs and produced by Madlib (aka Otis Jackson). Very late to the game, yes, but my enthusiasm for the beautiful samples and imagery-filled bars could not be rivaled. Hip-hop music came to me in a different light than any other form of media being introduced to me, as I was raised on classic rock and the pop hits of the 70s and 80s- thus, hearing the old-school samples and rushes of drums beneath the gritty, relentless lyrics by Gibbs was a welcome medley of sounds to my previous, rather isolated ears. Before my sophomore year of high school, I couldn’t name five rap albums, but being exposed to the selection of rap and hip-hop music that I was, when I was, opened my taste to a rather specific region of the genre. Needless to say, since discovering Piñata, my obsession with Madlib and Freddie has skyrocketed to the top of my personal hip-hop catalog. While I was addicted to the music I was hearing, I am not a musician by program- I’m a writer, a writer who’s obsessed with movies.
MY ENTIRE LIFE I have been a film geek, and when I began digging deeper into the makings of Piñata, I found that its roots in the film culture were deeper than anyone would acknowledge before me. In a few brief comments, Freddie acknowledged the Blaxploitation-era influences on the aesthetic and production of the project- so I took to this trail and quickly found myself connecting films to the samples within the album. Samples galore from classics of the genre; Superfly (1972) most notably, which stood out in my screening as what best encapsulated the album’s energy. The overwhelming connections linking in my mind from these two mediums birthed the idea that I present today. My brain is wired through visuals, something there is no shortage of within the combined efforts of Gibbs and Madlib on this album- so I began writing down what I saw. With what intentions, I didn’t really know at the time, but what I did know for damn certain was the excitement and escapes this endeavor offered me.
CREATING A MISSION was ultimately what this came down to. I was beating myself up over a lot of shit at the time, and in a lot of ways, this effort on my end was more personal than anything. I’ve written fifteen screenplays to this date- and I’m only nineteen years old. The lack of credit or appreciation I was getting really started to get to me. I kept myself down for a while… but when those bars on Deeper hit my senses I couldn’t help but start writing the story of Piñata within my head. The idea became infectious, and the energy and drive that I had lost had finally come back. The negative crap I was throwing my own way was redirected into the love I have for movies; and, Piñata’s aura was driving that. Gibbs delivers seriously brutal wordplay and flows following the tales of his haunting past, a story asking to be told on the big screen. Going back into my writing mindset, I began outlining a series of intricately designed plots that revolved around the stories Freddie was telling. Gary, Indiana, the hometown of the hero at hand became our figurative battleground for the obstacles this protagonist would face- dancing on the lines of each bar Gibbs delivers, I worked to create the perfect lead role that
would be true to Freddie’s energy, but also original in the idea that it was to be an adaptation- not a replication of the source. That was the beauty of Piñata to me; it was never concrete in any narrative, rather, it hones in on a series of themes and motifs around the harrowing life of being a drug dealer, and further, fighting to escape that life. This is what was to become of the life within this story- and what pushed me to think “outside of the box” (so to say) with the implantation of a whole new spin on the problems before me. I wasn’t writing into existence each line Freddie put down, no, I was writing into place the story that would hold all of the anger and complexities of the subsequent emotions displayed by them. Quickly, as my outline grew more concrete in the structure, Harold was born- the lead character of the script that was written start to finish for Freddie. The story was to follow Harold as he fights through a seemingly “healthy” lifestyle ahead of his questionable past; however, this becomes threatened by the return of an old friend who brings temptation and misguided glory that leads him back into his old ways. The struggle of understanding one’s past in relation to their present life became the primary arc for Harold, but the progression of his story in the world I had created became the next obstacle I was to overcome.
IT WASN’T LONG before I was resonating with the energy in the story I was writing. The world that continues to fall apart around us resembles an interesting concept that flows throughout the chaotic life of Harold. While on the surface, everything would appear to be at the very least “alright”, it really isn’t, and the negative drive that comes as a consequence of ignoring these issues is what stirs the pot and pushes this adaptation along. With each scene, Harold is being tested by society, his internalized rage, and the past that he once identified with so heavily. Every track from the album finds a way into this script, being a true driving force in the obstacles Harold faces. From Scarface to Watts, every track has a shining moment in the story, so that by the time the final moments come, Harold has become Freddie, and Freddie has become Harold- their assimilation coming as the pinnacle of the adaptation. A reminder that the music has become one with the world, just as the story has integrated into the music. And that’s where you come in.
THE PITCH IN question is this- I want to bring Piñata to life, as in its current state the full potential is yet to be reached. The film medium allows for the addition of the visual sense, one untapped by the music, and one that Freddie is so close to it pains me that he hasn’t reached out yet. What I have is a 90-page screenplay and outline detailing a fleshed-out adaptation for the 2014 masterclass hip-hop album Piñata. The lead character, Harold, is written with the intent of being played by Freddie himself, allowing for a progression of his career that would pay homage to the legendary material before him, but also create a new path for his future in the film career- because let’s be real, Freddie Gibbs has star power, one that can only be fully manifested on the big screen. The music and score powering this film adaptation would be produced by none other than Madlib himself; giving the beats to the master to stretch and manipulate to the drama of the story. Piñata, the film, would then be the ultimate cultivation of the aesthetic and drive upon which it was originally created: independent, raw, and inspired by the artists and genres before it.
I NEED YOUR HELP in making this dream become a reality. I’ve written my heart out, and really put together something I’m proud of, and something I think Freddie, Otis, and all of the fans of their work can be proud of too. Bringing this story, and further, this album to life has become the mission I can be proud of myself- and I hope you’ll join me in keeping the drive and energy of this project alive.
Thank you to everybody showing their support- Let's take this to the end!
Here's the tweet: https://twitter.com/SammyCastellino/status/1354893108723527681?s=20
from /r/HipHopHeads on Reddit https://www.reddit.com/r/hiphopheads/comments/l9pgyw/from_one_medium_to_another_translating_piñata_to/