Interview with Tim Story the Director of Ride Along

One-time rapper and music video artist Tim Story is the founder of The Story Company, an entertainment production company that he started with his wife in 1996. He got his break as a film director with the 2002 movie Barbershop, starring Ice Cube. He has since gone on to direct Taxi (2004), Fantastic Four (2005), Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), Hurricane Season (2010) and Think Like A Man (2012). His latest film, the hit action-comedy Ride Along, stars Ice Cube and Kevin Hart. Such was the film’s success a sequel is now in the works…

Which other buddy movies provided inspiration for you when making Ride Along?

I looked at everything from 48 Hours (1988), not exactly a comedy but a great pairing, and also Beverley Hills Cop (1984), which is not exactly a buddy movie but is close to it. One of my favourites is Midnight Run (1988) and then you have Rush Hour (1998) and Bad Boys (1995), and of course you have the Lethal Weapon (1987-1998) series. The first one is a drama but then the rest are pure comedy. Those are the films I looked at to check out the dynamics. The only one I went back and re-watched specifically was Lethal Weapon (1987). That was always an interesting one because the first film is such a hard drama. When you look at it, it’s pretty dark. The second one is when they turn it into comedy. That was the only movie I looked at again — the rest are just ingrained in me!

Is it hard to do comedy when you have to blend it with action?

It makes it even trickier. It is a hard tone — because you have to make sure that the characters stay in enough jeopardy that you actually think something might happen to them. But at the same time it is a comedy and we have to laugh. If it gets too silly then we never believe that they are in danger and you don’t really care. It comes down to the rest of the cast and the way you shoot it. You have to keep it from becoming too silly.

What are some of the secrets of making a good buddy action-comedy?

There’s the chemistry between the characters and also a great villain. One thing I loved about the Beverley Hills Cop (1984-1994) movies and even Bad Boys (1995-2003) was that the villain was always straight dramatic. You always believed that if these guys got too close to him, then they could actually get killed. It was almost like the villain was in another movie and that’s important — you need to make sure he remains a killer and is not fazed by the humour. You are only as good as your villain and then it’s the cast that you surround them with. With Ride Along his love interest is important. Be open to the comedy but also play the drama of it all. Even John Leguizamo (Santiago), his character is able to do the comedy but also do the drama. His partner, Bryan Callen (Miggs), is a stand-up comedian. We play them straightforward but, when appropriate, those guys can have a laugh. When it came to Laurence Fishburne (Omar), most of his stuff was with Kevin Hart (Ben Barber) and he makes everyone funny without them having to break their character. Then there’s the photography and how you shoot it. The brighter the colours the sillier you can get, and more cartoon-ish. So I made it a point to shoot it in more muted tones. I shot it as a drama, not as a comedy and that also has an influence on what is going on.

Do you just let Kevin Hart (Ben Barber) run with it and do his own thing?

I make it a point to first of all set the up real world. The good thing about having Ice Cube (James Payton) with Kevin Hart (Ben Barber) is that you do not have to worry about it being funny. I just have to worry about it making sense and making sure the stakes are definite. When you look at someone like Eddie Murphy with Beverly Hills Cop (1984), you never have to worry about Eddie Murphy making the scene funny because he is funny. I find that the same with Kevin Hart. I never worry about making the scene funny — I just make sure it makes sense!

You work with Ice Cube again on Ride Along. He was a hip-hop artist before he started acting, and you too worked in that field, right, performing with Ice-T?

When I was around 15, 16, 17, 18 years old I was into the music scene. Everyone in my neighbourhood was either a DJ, a rapper, a dancer, something. I rapped for a while and was part of the Ice-T Rhyme Syndicate. I never met Ice Cube during that period. We made a single that came out on a compilation album and we had even signed another deal to make an EP, but at some point at the end of high school, one of the guys in the group was killed and I kind of took myself outside the music scene — because of his importance in the group and what he meant to me. The chemistry of the group had been destroyed and without him we were not the same group. Film was always something that I was working on in the background and I just brought that forward.

As a kid you made films with your brother and friends; what kind of things did you do?

I had an old Super 8 that my brother used, because back then we did not have video. We had this film camera and my brother would make these small movies and I was normally in front of the camera. He was about five years older than me and when he got a bit older he gave the camera to me. At 12 I was handed this camera and I just started making movies. I did not know anything about editing so I would do everything in camera. I would make little horror films and when it was raining and I could not get my friends together, I would make little films with my Lego and Star Wars figures. It was my way of creating. I got into music but I came back to film and that was what got me started, that old Super 8 camera.

What are your overriding memories of your first, independent films, before shooting Barbershop (2002)?

With the indie films it was the freedom. The biggest lesson about the indie films was that while you had no money, you shot what you wanted to shoot. I knew my neighbourhood and where I could shoot and I knew some of the cops, so if they found you shooting and you had no permit, they would not bother you. All your friends were your actors and there was camaraderie. As I got into the studio pictures — not so much Barbershop, because that was an insulated production — and bigger-budgeted movies, the limitations to what you could do went away. What’s cool about movies like Ride Along is that that freedom in my filmmaking has come full circle.

Who were your film-making icons when you were growing up?

There was Steven Spielberg and George Lucas — I was watching those movies knowing they were not real, which was important; Star Wars (1977-2013) and even Jaws (1975-1987) and E.T (1982). Then there was Spike Lee and Robert Townsend, who made it accessible. Every film that Spike Lee did he would write these books that would spell out everything that he did to make that movie. They were like a Bible for a lot of us filmmakers of colour that were coming up. It gave you a blueprint of what he did and he made it extremely accessible. Then there were other movies where I didn’t necessarily know the directors per se, but things like the Disney movies and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). Even the Godzilla (1998) movies, where you knew it was not real and you began to get an education about how somebody put all this together.

Were there any parts of Ride Along that you had to cut which might pop up on the DVD or Blu-ray as extra material?

There was a scene where Kevin Hart (Ben Barber) goes to his girlfriend’s to tell her that he got the letter accepting him into the Police Academy. It is a really beautiful scene, a really cute scene with Kevin Hart and his girlfriend, but we had to cut that one out, because it just was not necessary. That will go on the DVD. We didn’t have a lot of scenes that went onto the cutting-room floor; it was more moments. We made certain scenes a lot shorter but we didn’t take too many scenes out altogether.

The Premise
For the past two years, high school security guard Ben (Kevin Hart) has been trying to show detective James (Ice Cube) that he’s more than just a video game junkie who’s not worthy of his sister. When Ben finally gets accepted into the police academy, James invites him on a ride-along designed to scare the hell out of him and ultimately demonstrate he hasn’t got what it takes. But when the wild night leads them to the most notorious criminal in the city, James will find that his new partner’s rapid-fire mouth is just as dangerous as the bullets speeding at it.