Interviews

“This is Kissel” From Jerky Boy To Writer/Director, Kamal Ahmed Has People Such As Martin Scorsese Interested

By • Apr 8th, 2014 •

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Kamal Ahmed is the writer and director of the upcoming flick, LAUGH KILLER LAUGH. It stars William Forsythe, Bianca Hunter, and Tom Sizemore. Long before sitting in the director’s chair, you could find Kamal sitting with phone in hand causing the person on the other end of the line a lot of heartache and anger. Kamal was one half of the comedic team that made prank calls a gold and platinum achievement.

They were known as The Jerky Boys.

During their heyday, The Jerky Boys reigned the airwaves with phony phone calls that radio station DJ’s copied in pandemic fashion, fomenting a mass of imitators who thought that they were just as funny as the duo. Not so. (I bemoan the days when Staten Island and Brooklyn were flooded with wannabe Jerkys.) Eventually, Kamal placed the phone back in its cradle and picked up the movie camera.

“The first feature I did was GOD HAS A RAP SHEET.” After the Jerky Boys, Ahmed wrote the script and went to investors, all of whom were expecting a slapstick comedy. His response was, “This is really me, this kind of stuff. It was in my heart to make that film. It’s about eight guys in a jail cell with a homeless guy that claims to be God. They think he’s crazy but he…is God.”

Entombed within the walls of a New York City Police Precinct, agonizing cries and screams echo, “I’m innocent I tell you! For the final time, I did not kill my wife and child!” Trailed by chuffing and squealing weeps, a bearded scraggly hobo type peers beyond the bars to the looming fullness of the moon. Strong bass lines groove as title cards reminiscent of 70’s cinema proclaim, GOD HAS A RAP SHEET. With a stylized mix of music and images, we are introduced to the characters that spend the night incarcerated with God in a jail cell representative of purgatory. On the streets of the city, a Hasidic male is in an altercation with a trio of transvestites. A Muslim cab driver on the phone in his parked cab engages the off duty sign when two black and Puerto Rican youths approach. Asian, English, Italian and Irish males are also arrested and booked. This clever introduction of characters ends each incident with a police siren and flashing lights accenting the arrest, followed by a mug shot with the actor’s name.

Issues such as religion, race, stereotyping, and morality are mused. At first, all the detainees disregard the dirty bearded man as a homeless street crazy. Would you know God if you saw Him? Questions, ponderings, and debates occupy their time. Then the devil enters. It is filmmaking that is finely crafted with deep meaning, and was well received by luminaries such as Martin Scorsese who contacted Kamal to discuss the film.

Without anyone willing to fund such a project, Kamal bankrolled the project himself. As he recalls, “At the time, it was a big financial disaster.” Abel Ferrara (BAD LIEUTENANT) offered this to Kamal: ‘That was your initiation fee into the business. You exist now. There are so many people that talk about making a movie that never do.’

70’s CINEMA

As a native New Yorker from Queens, six-year-old Kamal would venture to Times Square with an older cousin of about thirteen to see kung-fu and blaxploitation movies. 70’s Times Square was a vagrant haven for those looking to debauch the day and night in bars and porn theaters while in the company of prostitutes. Here were two kids venturing through the bowels of the city to go to the movies.

“I never forget when we went to Times Square, then the Delancy Street area, because my father didn’t live too far from there. I don’t recall one time running into any problems. There were pimps around, gangs, there were fights in the movie theater. I remember all that and nothing ever happened. No weird people ever tried following us.

“We would go to these [theaters] and the lady would say, ‘He can’t come in! He’s just a little kid.’ And my cousin would say, ‘I’m babysitting him.’ Then they would let us right in. Whenever we would see a movie that had nudity in it, I would say, ‘Man, I don’t want to see this stuff, I want to see kung fu.’ I got to see the real grindhouse stuff.

“The first favorite movie I loved was THE WIZARD OF OZ, then for some reason, WEST SIDE STORY. I thought the knife scene was great. But then that horror movie, GARGOYLES, came on TV. When I saw GARGOYLES, all of a sudden that was the greatest thing I ever saw. I saw RETURN OF THE DRAGON in the theaters, then JAWS was a big thing. I’d say now that THE GODFATHER is my favorite film of all time. There were these old movies on TV all the time, and I loved comedy too. I loved tough guy gangsters, Abbott and Costello, the Marx Brothers. I grew up watching a lot of great stuff.”

Music and The Devil

After his art school days, Kamal ventured into music and applied himself to become a bass player. “The music started taking over but rock bands are made up of young people. I hit my 30’s and I knew the music thing was over. I only did the Jerky Boys because I would get into the record biz and I could pitch my music. They weren’t going for it. They started laughing when I told them I was a musician. Yeah right, the jerky boy guy could play the bass. They literally thought we were the persona we put out. We were like two morons. My father came here as a chemical engineer, my sister is a chemical engineer, I come from very educated people, I’m not some guy from bad stock.

“I dwelled on my first movie too long. I was obsessed with it, talked about it all the time, what I could have done, who I would call next time. Make it and move on to the next!” GOD HAS A RAP SHEET was a “…character study on race, rage, on sociology, on religion, but those type of movies don’t really sell. It’s an artsy movie…It’s called the movie biz, so the next movie I made was a horror film. I’m a fan of horror – the monsters – the werewolf was my big monster when I was a kid.” Kamal’s next movie was RAPTURIOUS that centers around a soul that escapes from hell and is reborn into a white rapper. This film merged Kamal’s love of cinema and music.

RAPTURIOUS begins in the wild west and ends in present day New York City. An evil man denouncing repentance is hanged, plunging his soul into hell and damnation, from which escape reincarnates him into a musician. His creative lyrical endeavors, laden with childhood traumatic abuse, align a path to fame, and at its threshold the devil has returned to reclaim the rapper’s fugitive soul.

As with his previous effort, the writing stands out, proving that Kamal has the talent to write various types of dialogue: All of the Sherriff’s men talk that cowboy talk, the preacher’s sermon is smattered with scorn, and the New York urban youth “tawk” slang. The main character’s rapping and rhyming were also penned by Kamal.

RAPTURIOUS is a triptych: Old West/Hell/New York. The old west segment is beautifully lensed and framed. Hell is a surreal, nasty dimension. New York is stark and Spartan. The director attempted to appease the people with the cash, and their purse strings were attached to specific ideas, so he meshed genres into a marriage that could benefit from a re-cutting of the original released version. There is a good story there that could be told much better agrees Kamal.

SCHOOL DAZE

“The first high school I went to was Art and Design because I was an artist as a kid. But when I got in, there were so many people better than me that I got depressed and cut out of school. Everyone was saying, why don’t you change your major. So, I changed it to motion pictures. We absolutely learned nothing, all we did was just hang out. People would bring over movies and we would watch them.”

There was some film production. What does a future film director do for a school project? A product commercial of a serial killer stalking a girl, and when he breaks open the door, she screams, he pulls a knife, and the camera lurches forward into her mouth, her bad breath repelling the killer. The final shot is of the girl questioning why he didn’t go in for the kill, followed by a bottle of Ahmed Mouthwash.

“In my class, we had Spike Lee’s brother Cinque and Damien Lichtenstein, the guy who made the movie, 3000 MILES TO GRACELAND. So, my little class had a couple of people that ended up being filmmakers. I don’t know what happened to the other bums.”

“The best thing that ever happened was that the Jerky Boys things ended for me. Because, if it had stayed around, we would have made Jerky Boys 2,3, and 4 like those Ernest movies, Kid n Play 2,3,4. I would have been so unhappy. That’s not where I really wanted to be, I wanted to be making my movies and playing music.

“When we started the Jerky Boys movie, I just saw what the director did. This guy has to do a lot of stuff. I was falling asleep on the set. I can do better than that, I could write better than this guy, this is dialogue that nobody would speak.”

Thoughts of sitting in the director’s chair sat with Kamal for years prior to calling action on the set. “I thought about it in the early 90s. They had a lot of these independent films coming out. This reminds me – back in the day when I used to go and see these grindhouse films, a lot of those films weren’t normal movies you’d see in theaters. I wish I could do that stuff, but I didn’t learn anything in that film class. I thought you had to know everything to be a director. You had to go to school for camera work and how to measure light. I didn’t know a director didn’t know how to do that. I got lucky and starting hanging out with friends who worked in the business. I wrote first and slowly got into filmmaking.

The third time is 1,000 TIMES MORE BRUTAL

“I learned a lot from the horror movie. Don’t make a film where you don’t follow the genre. I guess my favorite movie is the gangster film. Every movie that I love the most has some element of crime, just about, with the exception of JAWS. Even RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK has an element of crime.”

This film is raw and, as the title warns – Brutal. 1,000 TIMES MORE BRUTAL follows a group of friends after a street corner horn-honking incident where the occupants in the front car deploy, and in Scorsese fashion, romp and stomp mercilessly pulverizing flesh into pulps of blood and shattered bone. After recouping, a stroke of luck helps one of the guys identify the lead assailant as a mob associate. The group heists his joint with a score of lotto jackpot proportion. Ultimately, vengeance reigns down.

“I wrote it to be very quick, not that deep, just gets to the point. I wrote it where I could get a quasi-name in it for a couple of days. That name happened to be Peter Greene, who I think is a brilliant actor.

From Script to Screen

Usually, Kamal’s normal process of sculpting an idea into a finished script spans four to six months. “An idea will hit me, then for a couple of days I’ll be laying in bed, looking at the ceiling and imagining it as a movie. Then comes writing the actual scenes…then the dialogue. “

At thirteen, going through Central Park, there was a regularly seen homeless man with a school bell who would offer a wish for a dollar. One friend made the offering for Kamal. “He looked at me, he studied me. ‘For the rest of your natural life, you will never have a sexually transmitted disease.’ He rang the bell in front of my groin area. Then he turned me around and rang it near my ass and said, “In case you become gay.” Everyone laughed, but he was very serious. When I walked away, I actually, for a split second, felt that it was real.” It proved to Kamal the power of conviction. Years later this served as the inspiration for the God character in GOD HAS A RAP SHEET.

“When I was writing the script I went into this local bar to get some inspiration. A bunch of English sailors were there for fleet week. They got me pissed off. There were eighteen of them and I wanted to crack a lot of them in the head. They were talking a lot of shit about America but look at all the tyranny England caused. Let me get even with them in the movie by making one of the characters British.

“I’m lucky with a few things: cast, crew, special effects. Getting money has been one of the hardest things for me. I crack inappropriate jokes, I’ll have a drink before a meeting. They’ll be like, ‘He’s unstable, I don’t trust him.’ I know guys that get a couple of million to get films made and I don’t know how they do it because I don’t think they are great filmmakers.”

Producer James Sferrazza

For many, the quest to find money to fund a film is illusive and just as difficult as looking for the leprechaun at the end of the rainbow. And then there is the theory of six degrees of separation.

Brothers Pizza in Flushing, Queens, NY had been frequented by Kamal, and also by a guy named James Sferrazza, numerous times per week over a period of ten years. It’s an old style place where people sit around the counter and eat real New York pizza, with Kamal cracking jokes as the comedian in residence.

As fate intervened one day, James asked Joe behind the counter the name of the funny guy. He answered, ‘You know him, Kamal from the Jerky Boys.’ For ten years, both men, as in polar opposition, systematically frequented the joint, but never at the same time. There must have been a rainbow after a storm over Queens that day, because it was James that went on to finance Kamal’s next feature.

LAUGH KILLER LAUGH

A stone-faced jewel thief/killer falls in love and embarks upon a creative endeavor which places him and the girl in danger. A head injury changes his stoic personality to that of a jester, and his path to comedic Zen-enlightenment is riddled with bullets and hitmen. Master Thespian William Forsythe stars as Frank Stone in the Neo Noir, LAUGH KILLER LAUGH.

William Forsythe

This is Kamal Ahmed’s latest film, the first one shot digitally, with a bigger budget and bigger names such as Forsythe and Tom Sizemore. A few cast and crew who have been in Kamal’s last few projects are on this film, including Director of Photography Tom Agnello, Chunky Li, Angelo Bonsignore, Mark Love, and Bianca Hunter.

Jim Fletcher who was the villain condemned to Hell in RAPTURIOUS is cast as the sadistic hitman Lucifer. Fletcher brings intensity and a physicality to the character. In a brutal scene, his gaze alone is creepy, yet the movement of his hand on his victim’s face somehow speaks louder than words and conveys a strength and viciousness to the viewer. Fletcher is not an actor of limited means. To see him go from Lucifer to a tap dancer in the off Broadway experimental production, “House of Dance”, by Tina Satter is quite shocking, exemplary of his dramatic range.

Although the film paints a dark and serious tone, it incorporates comedy as a main element. This approach is purposeful and steers clear of the typical comedic relief deployed in films as a life preserver due to poor writing that can’t keep the film’s genre afloat.

Comedian Artie Lange makes a cameo as his friendship with Kamal extends back several years. Lange was also a producer on RAPTURIOUS. Angel Salazar, the comedian known for his line “Sheck it out” and his role in SCARFACE, appears in a bar scene with William Forsythe and Robert Arensen. And in a scene that literally kills, magician/ventriloquist John Pizzi with his boy Smokey takes to the stage.

Speaking of ventriloquists, the comedic roots of Kamal extend back deeply. “I Kill you!” may be the line audiences today know from Achmed the Dead Terrorist, ventriloquist Jeff Dunham’s character. The line is delivered in the same manner in which the original is as it’s heard on a series of record albums entitled in numeric succession, “The Jerky Boys.” Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery or the basis for a lawsuit. (As a disclaimer, nobody is making accusations, just pointing out similarities.)

Currently in post, LAUGH KILLER LAUGH is promising. The next hurdle is publicity and distribution. Kamal states, “If you made a movie back then it went farther. Now you can make a movie with big names in it and if you don’t have big money behind the movie it’s not going anywhere. Thirty years ago you could make a movie with no names and there was a market for it.”

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One Response »

  1. I loved this article very informative about how the movie and the people behind it came to be. BRAVO

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