The movie sees Terry Crews as an ex-gang member John Henry, who is forced to revisit his traumatic and tumultuous past while on a mission to save two immigrant kids on the run from his former gang leader played by Ludacris.
Taking place in the streets of Los Angeles, “John Henry” will take audiences through an emotional rollercoaster of loyalty, reconciliation, and growth.
For Forbes, he’s a filmmaker and composer originally from Upstate New York who has recently moved to Los Angeles — Inglewood to be exact.
His journey to the West Coast is marked by his dreams of a career in film music. Graduating from Berklee College of Music with a degree in film scoring certainly helped.
Getting his start in horror films, Will eventually dropped out of grad school halfway through and began learning by experience and trial and error.
With “John Henry,” Will Forbes describes his directorial debut as something that happened “out of necessity.” The film is currently on streaming platforms such as Amazon, Xbox, DirectTV, etc.
AllHipHop caught up Forbes to discuss his transition from scorer to director, working with Terry and Luda, getting DJ Quik on board and what he’s most excited for as the film releases.
AllHipHop: Talk about “John Henry” being your first movie.
Will Forbes: I came out here as a film composer and I wasn’t getting the kinds of gigs I wanted. I was getting a lot of reality TV, EPK, and background music when I was trying to do features. The way to get that is either knowing a director or having someone you know who’s already a composer, that you can get in with. I didn’t know many directors and I’m not very good at networking, so I started writing my own stuff. I started as a screenwriter, got a little traction with that.
Wrote some more scripts. I got into this thing called Shudder Labs a couple years ago, it’s a fellowship for DIY horror filmmakers. I got in on a horror script that I wrote. Through that, I got a meeting with an old producer friend I’d known previously, that started this development process. Getting through the script of working out the dark and turning into what it came to. With all those projects, you never know which one’s going to happen. All of a sudden, they’re like “yup, somebody wants to do it.”
AllHipHop: So that’s how you transitioned from film scorer to director?
Will Forbes: Yeah, by necessity really. [laughs]
The plot is based around two immigrant kids on the run. How were you able to bring that concept to life?
It was actually a couple years ago when I first wrote it before that crisis got really heavy. But there were signs that were already there. Originally, it started out as a different movie. It was a horror movie set in half the suburbs, half in South Central. But that was too expensive for us to make so I had to readjust in a different way. When I did that, it gave me an opportunity to bring different communities together.
I wanted to tell a story specifically about Honduran immigrants, what’s going on with that crisis. There’s a Honduran indigenous activist who at the time had just been murdered, so I wanted to write about that. It ended up becoming a different story of John being a protector and showing that strength. Something that would get him back to that point of getting into violence.
AllHipHop: How much was the budget?
Will Forbes: It was an independent movie. Most of the cast are friends of mine playing themselves. When the script got out, it got a lot of attention from people because there aren’t a lot of opportunities out there for black actors and these kinds of roles. Not that many movies for them. Once Terry got attached to it, he read the script and loved it. We met once and he was down.
Once he got attached to it, everybody else was like “I wanna hang out with Terry.” At the very least, I have to thank Terry even if the movie doesn’t work out. But when you get all those names, it made it more difficult to put together and eliminate what we were able to do. Still, with what we had, we tried to get out of it as much as we could.
AllHipHop: What was it like working with Ludacris?
Will Forbes: It was great. He’s super professional. He came in super last minute because we had another actor that dropped out five days before. He came in last minute, read the script real quick, flew in from Atlanta. He came in, it was great. Every take of his was different. He’d always get it to the point and gave me different options. It was super useful when I got to edit because all of them were great. Super chill.
AllHipHop: How is he as an actor?
Will Forbes: Really good. Really talented. He cares about what he’s doing. He’s not just there to be a rapper in a movie, he’s there to act. He’s trying to have an acting career, expand further dramatically than what he’s done in the action movies. When he signed on, he’s telling me “I always wanted to play an a######.” Because he’s always playing a nice guy. In the rom-com “No Strings Attached,” he played the friend on the side. He wanted a chance to do some badass things.
AllHipHop: What’s the role music plays in the film? Reviews have been raving.
Will Forbes: The music is what ties together the tone. I’m playing a lot with a lot of different tones. I was thinking I might not have another chance to make a movie, so I’m trying to throw as many different things at the wall. There’s comedy, there’s action, there’s drama, there’s horror. There’s a lot of different elements there so the music ties it all together. Initially, my plan was to do a lot of classical music, I didn’t want a lot of hip-hop. I wasn’t able to get classical music, so I had to write my own stuff. Tried to do a more Western vibe to it. When we got DJ Quik on board, that filled out the rest of it. He gave it that SoCal sound we needed.
AllHipHop: How was working with DJ Quik?
Will Forbes: We initially had another rapper early on who’s scheduling didn’t work out. The producers kept giving me rappers that didn’t fit the location or the vibe I was going for. Trap rappers from Atlanta or young SoundCloud kids who weren’t going to make it sound like 90’s LA. It had to be DJ Quik or Kendrick, and it’s not going to be Kendrick. [chuckles] It just happened. I know his manager through some friends of mine. One of our financiers ran into him at a Sundance party, they’re like “let’s do this!” He came on board, he loved the script. Loved the movie, it was great. I got some original stuff from him, some unreleased stuff from him. I got access to some of his independent stuff like Rosecrans, the album he did with Problem. He’s great, I love him.
AllHipHop: Were there any obstacles in getting Terry Crews to look serious? What was it like working with him?
Will Forbes: The first 2 to 3 days maybe, but he really dived into the role. I showed him “Brawl in the Cell Block 99” with Vince Vaughn, another comedic actor who goes back and forth. It really got him to a place where he takes that energy down and makes the camera more still. Because he’s always high energy, so getting him to be still in the moment. As the shoot went on, he was finding really deep stuff. Especially with working the older actors, Ken Foree and Lyne Odums, who played his grandmother and father. He was able to play off them in scenes. By the end of the shoot, I’d leave the camera on and see some subtle face expressions that you’ve never seen out of him. That was cool.
AllHipHop: What was your experience at Berklee like?
Will Forbes: Berklee was cool. It was weird. I got in 2004, starting as a bass player. I didn’t even start playing until I was 15, so I got really good really fast. As I was getting there, I didn’t want to be a bass player in a band. I really love movies and always wanted to be a director but I assumed that directors were these super-geniuses, so I’m like “I’ll just do music for it.”
I got into the film scoring program there, which was really great. I still have friends and college roommates I worked on the movie with, so I have all those connections from there. When I started, it was more a jazz school. All these things they have or can do now, are what my stuff paid for. [chuckles] I didn’t have access to all those recording studios they have now.
AllHipHop: Did it make the transition into the industry easier or harder?
Will Forbes: I had really bad timing. I graduated early from Berklee. I did trimesters in my last couple years so I graduated a year early, thinking, “I need to rush out to LA and get a job.” 4 days after I got here, I got a job right away at Hans Zimmer studio. But then the writers strike happened in 2007, so all of their jobs at that place were gone and I got fired 3 days in.
Got another job for another composer who isn’t as connected, but eventually the same thing. Strike’s going on so I got laid off of that. If it wasn’t for that strike, it would’ve been super easy. At a certain point, the job market was composed of assistants and helping people who are fresh out of college. I graduated but I’m doing my own thing so they don’t want me for the job. I’m in this limbo phase where I had to figure my stuff out. It helps, but it didn’t help me as much as it did with everybody else.
AllHipHop: What are you most excited about as the film releases?
Will Forbes: Just getting it out there, letting people see the performances. I love my actors, they all did very great work. Maybe cats use it to get to the next level. Especially guys like Ken Foree, he’s been doing horror movies his whole life, he’s been waiting for someone to put him in a drama. He was so great, so professional. So much fun all the time.
AllHipHop: Anything else you want to let us know?
Will Forbes: We tried to make a fun movie. It’s meant to tackle these subjects in a different way and provide a fun time.