A Conversation with The Untold Story of Mild Sauce
Writer/Director Anton Deshawn
Writer/Director Anton Deshawn joins COTC for a deep dive into his short film
After completing his first feature film Call Center, writer/director Anton Deshawn switched gears and created The Untold Story of Mild Sauce, a short film shot and edited during the pandemic. The short serves as a parody of 90s R&B groups, managers who swindle artists out of their earnings, and frequent in-fighting that leads to their breakups, told in the style of a VH1 exposé.
Cup of Tea Critiques sat down with Anton to learn about his filmmaking process, Mild Sauce, the challenges he faced while shooting during the pandemic, and his personal tastes in music and movies.
Mild Sauce is shot mockumentary style and tells the story of a 90’s R&B group through a VH1 bio-pic style. Anton shared his inspiration for the short film and the group itself.
I am a big 90s R&B music fan, so I'm a big fan of Jodeci, Boyz II Men, H-Town, Dru Hill. Also too, I am a huge fan of shows like Behind the Music… So I'm a nerd when it comes to stuff like those biography-type shows. I just thought you know what, what if I made a film about a fictional R&B group that had the sound of the 90s, that I made sure I touch on the new jack swing, the freaky R&B type sound, and the traditional love songs and then throw in like, the more pop-sound R&B. So that was mainly the inspiration. If I had to give a couple movie examples, This Is Spinal Tap, The Five Heartbeats, The Wedding Singer. The reason why I say The Wedding Singer is because it has that 80s nostalgia to it that I really love. I wanted to get that spirit and just move into more of just the 90s instead of more 80s that The Wedding Singer did. One other inspiration was a film called Fear of a Black Hat.
[Mild Sauce] is like a combination of Jodeci, Dru Hill, and probably like H-Town; H-Town was one of my favorites too. But more so Jodeci if I had to get one more group. But Jodeci didn't really dance like that. Dru Hill did. But I wanted to kind of highlight that cheesiness in it. And not to go too far ahead. One of my cheesiest favorite videos from the 90s was the Az Yet song “Last Night.” So that was the whole inspiration for that video [in the film], “Could You Be the One,” the last music video, that was just entirely blue screen. The Az Yet song was where that video came from. “Last Night,” which was like, their only hit. That kind of inspired me. But if you go back and look at that song where they were dancing in the tank tops and stuff. I kind of did bits and pieces not just with male R&B groups, but some of the lighting I kind of stole from TLC's "Red Light Special." So if you go back and look at that video, where part of is in black and white and part of is in color, I kind of use that same color scheme with my cinematographer and my set designer to where I wanted to highlight that "Red Light Special" video where they had that red dim light to it. So I didn't just limit it to male R&B. I also wanted to kind of highlight some female groups from the 90s too, because I was a fan of those as well.
Anton shared his plans for the concept moving forward.
…I always had it in mind to make it a feature film… and I originally wrote the first draft as a feature film. …I finished that draft in probably 2017. Then I went back in 2019, 2020 and minimized it to make it more like a short film.
Mild Sauce contains several original songs and music videos. Anton shouted out the artists who wrote and produced the music in his short and discussed how their collaboration came about.
I actually went to school for music business. That was actually my first love before I even got into filmmaking. I wanted to own my own record company. And I have my degree in Arts and Entertainment Media Management. I still keep ties with folks that are artists, songwriters and things like that. So [for this film] I had a total of three songwriters and two producers. So basically, I knew in my head the sound I wanted for this film… I had great producers, who actually gave me what I wanted it to sound like. A friend I went to college with…her name is Sherry Amour. She wrote two of the songs. She wrote the female group song, “Makes Me Want to Dance” and she wrote “Could You Be the One.” [My wife’s cousin in Atlanta] wrote the Stony Mack song “Funk”. And my cousin who was the co-writer [of the film], one of his roommates from Gary, Indiana wrote “Big Willie” and “Be a Super Freak.” So it was just a collaborative effort where either I reached out to folks, or my cousin reached out to the one songwriter. I told him what I was looking for and boom, it didn't take too many takes for them to send me back what they came up with. I was like, “Hey, I like this. We're gonna go with this.”
Many filmmakers draw inspiration from another hobby or discipline that they have. Given this, Anton revealed whether he plans to make his background outside of film into his signature.
I don't really limit myself on that. I didn't think of it like that. It's funny because the most recent script that I'm writing is a story based off one of my favorite freestyles that I heard, so [music] is a lot of times inspiration for a lot of my work, but I have other stories that I just haven't put pen to pad on yet that really don't have anything to do with music. As artists you get inspired from any and everything. So it doesn't take much to inspire me. But I will say music probably plays a pivotal influence on a lot of things that I do.
Anton listed some of his favorite filmmakers and what he enjoys about their work.
I like Martin Scorsese. I like the Coen Brothers. I actually like their versatility. No Country for Old Men is one of my favorite movies, and so is The Big Lebowski. As far as Black filmmakers, I like Ryan Coogler. Spike Lee for the most part, I mean more so his older stuff… Did I say Quentin Tarantino yet? Yeah, I like Quentin’s work as a director. He's [influenced] some of the stuff I've done as far as storytelling. The Hughes brothers. I like mostly all their work they've done. Yeah, so those are some of the ones that [come] to mind.
Directing encompasses a lot of different responsibilities, from composing shots to coaching up the on-screen talent. Anton divulged his favorite aspect of the job and why.
Conversing with the actors, just giving them direction on what I envision. It's a collaborative effort, because even though I write the material, I'm not so tied to it that it has to be my way or the highway. A lot of times, actors will have questions or come up with suggestions, like, ‘Hey, how about, [or do] you think [I can] do it like that?’ So, and then also, too, I've done quite a few comedies as well. I also give my actors freedom to ad lib. So a lot of times, if they feel like, hey, this line doesn't really flow, [they’ll ask] can I say it like this? I give them that room. So I think that's one thing I kind of take pride in is that I give my actors freedom. But I know when to reel it back in if I need to. … Basically, I let people do their jobs. I'm hiring you, if I cast you, I'm gonna let you do your job. You know, if I hire you, as cinematographer, as set designer, to do sound, I'm gonna let you do your job.
Productions can be very fragile and take a lot of planning and good fortune to reach completion. Anton shared his biggest challenges to shooting The Untold Story of Mild Sauce and how he navigated through them.
Well, the biggest challenge was that we actually shot this in the middle of the pandemic, in the fall of 2020. And it was a SAG project (Screen Actors Guild). So they had new guidelines in place. Safety was number one. … It's always the top thing, but it was even more so… We had to walk a fine line, because everyone had to get tested. So that was challenging. And the vaccine wasn't even out yet. So you had to get tested, and then actors wearing their masks on set, and also we couldn't have normal craft services. So everything had to be in prepackaged bags for individuals. That was the biggest challenge. Just trying to make sure we were in COVID protocol. And this was a big production with crew and with actors too. So this was literally a two-day shoot, believe it or not. I was crazy enough to think I could do this in one day. I don't know what I was thinking. The other crazy thing is one of my actors dropped out, literally two days before we shot. So thankfully, I went back to a person that auditioned for a different role. And I was like, oh, this person can do that. They were available, and it worked out.
After finishing a short, filmmakers spend a lot of time submitting to festivals, scheduling screenings, and marketing the finished product. Anton reveals his perspective on whether or not he was exhausted by the process and the value of feedback.
Oh, no, man, I was looking forward to it. I couldn't wait, that was an exciting thing. I was just thankful to make the film festival, any film festival that we submitted to and we were able to get in. So even to this day, somebody accepts the film, and they're gonna screen it in person, I'm gonna be there. Because you never know who you're going to meet. Just a prime example, when we were in Black Harvest for my first feature film, Call Center, I had actors come up to me. And one of the actors that came up to me during that screening was one of the actors I ended up casting in Mild Sauce. So you never know who you're going to meet. I'm all about networking. So that's actually the fun part is actually seeing that, and seeing that audience reaction like okay, did this joke work? Okay, this joke worked in the Chicago crowd, but it didn't work here. So it's almost like a focus group; you kind of know what works and doesn’t work.
Like other directors Cup of Tea Critiques has talked to, Anton enjoys the social aspects of directing the most: working with actors, networking and getting feedback from audience members. Anton’s experience coming up with the music for The Untold Story of Mild Sauce serves as a reminder that some of the best helping hands already exist in our social circle.
Follow Anton on the following social media for updates:
FB: Anton Deshawn