The 5 Heartbeats: A Classic 25 Years Later
It’s hard to believe 2016 makes 25 years since the classic movie, The Five Heartbeats hit movie theaters. The movie is now a staple in the Black household and everyone will tell you their favorite part. There’s a number of favorite slogans that came out of the film as well, such as: “my office hours are from…” and “Nights like this I wish raindrops would fall”
Director and co-writer, Robert Townsend shares his journey to creating one of the best, most-loved films of all time.
“It was a big jump and I went in really prepared. I did storyboards. I did shot lists and I created my own language. I created what I call the Townsend Bible,” Townsend shared when speaking on his responsibility as director. “Having done my very first movie with no money, you gotta understand that you can never bump heads and make any mistakes once you get on the set.”
The first movie he’s talking about is of course, Hollywood Shuffle, where Townsend wrote, directed and starred in the film. Hollywood Shuffle was a budget capping off at $100,000 while The Five Heartbeats was almost $9 million.
“So I created this very unique Townsend Bible and everybody knew what everyday was gonna be, from the first minute you stepped on set until you left and went home. And then I had rehearsal. So everything I did, I was trying to not waste money but try to make a movie that people would want to see again and again.”
Townsend took an unpopular way to shoot the film, by shooting the entire movie in reverse order. The effort proved to be effective.
“The first scene we shot of the movie was the church scene. And so Eddie is playing all this pain in his face and singing the song with Baby Doll and we haven’t done anything yet,” said Townsend, who credited Wright for delivering exactly what was needed to convey Eddie’s surprise appearance at the church service Duck attends after being invited by Choir Boy. “All of that is Michael Wright as an actor delivering a brilliant performance because all the pain he’s playing we really haven’t played yet.”
Although the movie was shot in a different order, Townsend and “Five Heartbeats” co-writer Keenen Ivory Wayans made sure to never lose sight of family, a noticeable theme found throughout their joint collaboration.
“It was very important because when you see a lot of images of people of color, especially as it relates to men, it was a lot of angry stuff,” said Townsend. “There was never tender moments. We as a people are complicated. We are complicated. But even when people do us wrong, there is forgiveness. I think because of the Christian element of faith that surrounds African American people, there is a sense of forgiveness.”