Interview: Paul Sapiano -‘Driving While Black’

Paul Sapiano, director of ‘Driving While Black’, tells us about his beginnings, bringing a ‘true story’ to the big screen, and being “an all round badass”!

Co-inciding with Black History Month, Paul Sapiano’s acclaimed dark rooted comedy Driving While Black premieres on Demand and Digital HD this February from Artist Rights Distribution, Inc.

Based on the real-life experiences of writer and lead actor Dominique Purdy, Driving While Black is an arresting film that explores Purdy’s real life experiences growing up as a person of color in LA and his run ins with police.

Dmitri is a pizza guy who would rather smoke weed and suffer for his art, but his mom and his girl won’t stop nagging him to get a real job. When he’s offered a gig mouthing off to tourists behind the wheel of a Hollywood “star tour” bus, it looks like everyone might get what they want. Trouble is, our man can’t seem to step out the door to get to the interview without endless complications: busted radiators, simple weed scores gone sideways and LAPD cruisers seemingly everywhere. Dmitri’s skill at going unnoticed by cops is honed by painful experiences growing up Black in L.A., but even his keen survival instincts won’t save him from the week from hell.

With a jovial swagger to its walking pace, Driving While Black is half comedy of errors and half hard-bitten realism, tucked into a sly treatise on 21st-century over-policing.

Paul Sapiano, director of ‘Driving While Black’, tells us about his beginnings, bringing a ‘true story’ to the big screen, and being “an all round badass”!

When did your directing career kick off, Paul? And was it in LA?

I didn’t fancy doing a lot of hard work at college so I opted for a drama degree.  There was a TV dept and that’s where I got my first taste of the joys of being behind the camera.

My first job was as a runner on TV commercials.  I knew I wanted to make movies so I saved up $400 and a got a flight to LA. Armed with a couple of phone numbers I get some production assistant work on music videos and then began to build my own reel.

And why comedies? What draws you to funny flicks?

I was always told I was a funny boy.  Didn’t realize it as meant in a negative way until much later.

What came first – the writing or the filmmaking?

The directing since I had made a lot of TV commericals.  I thought my rep as a commercial director would get me in the running to direct a movie but nobody cared. It became glaringly apparent that if I wanted to direct, I would have to write my own scripts and then attach myself to direct

Do you consider yourself better at one than the other?

I’m an all around badass!

Julian Bane, Paul Sapiano, Sheila Tejada, and Rigo Obezo in Driving While Black

How do you think you’ve improved as a filmmaker since ‘The Boys & Girls Guide to Getting Down’?

I know what’s possible for how much money and how much longer things take than what you expect.   Ive Learned to be more organized as very few of us have unlimited budgets

Are all your old films available on DVD or VOD to check out?

Yes, on iTunes and Amazon and other platforms.

‘Driving While Black’ is a little different than the others, I imagine, because it’s based on a true story. How close to Mr Purdy’s real life is it?

It’s as close to his real life as you can get.  He worked as a pizza delivery driver at the time of the shoot. We shot those scenes at the place he works.  Every single story in the film is a moment based on police interactions from Dominique’s past

What did you consider the ‘must’ elements of the story, when writing the screenplay?

It just can’t ever be boring. It has to move at a fair clip. There is so much content, so much choice – so there is no place for self indulgence

How much did playing the film in festivals help it?

The festivals were great. It was fun and we did really well.    In the long run did it help…..we did get a  few distribution offers while doing our run.  But the dirty secret about distribution is that it is not set up to get the filmmakers paid. Quite the opposite.  They expense a lot and tack on fees.  As the creator you end up with points in nothing.  Our producer, Patrick DiCesare is very good with numbers and after wading through a few offers, reading the fine print and concluding that it was not a good deal for us, he set up his own distribution company. Its called Artists Rights Distribution and   I am delighted with the job he is doing

What do you hope audiences get from the movie?

A fun 90 minutes.

Some laughs.

And if we are lucky a broader perspective on what it’s like to be a black guy driving around the USA.


‘Driving While Black’ premieres on Demand and Digital HD February 1st from Artist Rights Distribution, Inc.

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