Jim Dziura (Flash, Dec/Jan '09) isn’t a hip-hop head. (He grew up on punk.) But while filming the QD3 Entertainment-produced documentary Number One With a Bullet, he became versed on rap’s history of gun violence and looked to debunk the bravado associated with getting shot. Here the filmmaker discusses examining the margins of society, the art of picking locks and his high threshold for fear.
GIANT: Where are you from?
I was born in California, but I’m not really from anywhere. I’m a West Coast kid, for sure, but I moved so much when I was younger that it’s hard to say where I’m from.
How do you get around?
[I have a] 1993 Dodge Cummins Turbo Diesel truck. It’s got 280,000 miles on it, which means it’s driven the equivalent of to the moon and halfway back. It’ll probably go for half a million miles. It runs great, but it’s sort of janky. The mechanics of it are solid. Those turbo diesel engines are the same ones they use in semi-trucks. They’re arguably the best engine ever made. So it’ll go half a million miles no problem. But the rest of the truck also has 280,000 miles on it, so all of the little cabinets and the glove box are all rickety. My friend says that riding in it is like being in Pee Wee’s Playhouse.
How did you get into filmmaking?
I could never decide on one thing I wanted to do. I was interested in music and art and writing, all this stuff. And I always felt so anxious, like, “If I just go into music, I’ll miss out on all this other stuff.” I’m like, “I want to do it all.” It just sort of occurred to me one day that if you make films, you could make films about anything you want. You can sort of dive into these little worlds. I could make a movie about music. I could make a movie about whoever and live in that world for a little bit and then move on to something else.
How did you get to the point where you were doing stuff on your own and not just holding cameras or working on sets of other movies?
You can always do stuff on your own. I think it took me about a year and a half before I was getting my own jobs, and those jobs that I got, I really fought for. I convinced them that I was the guy, and they took a chance on me, and then I delivered. That goes a long way too. When somebody takes a chance on you and then you deliver, ten-fold beyond their expectations, then that catapults you. Then maybe like a year after that, I had people start to come to me, which is the next step–people seeking you out.
When you’re working on a project, it’s pretty much you doing the whole thing?
It depends. For the first few years, yeah, it was the one-man show. I was shooting, directing and editing.
Yeah, interviewing too. It was tough because you don’t sleep. One of the first movies I made was Whiskey on a Sunday about the rock band Flogging Molly. I made it over two years, but there was a three-week period where I toured with them in Europe. and I didn’t sleep, shower, eat or anything for that time.
Talk about Number One With a Bullet.
Quincy Jones III had this idea for a long time that he wanted to make a movie that de-sensationalized gun violence. The way guns are represented in hip-hop is like, “You shot me eight times. You can’t stop me.” That kind of bravado. But he just wanted to show what is the reality of gun violence. How does it affect people? My name was in the hat with a few other directors they had worked with in the past, and they took a chance with me.
Coming from a punk background, why was this appealing to you?
All of my subjects I like to tackle in my work, it’s all subcultures, and it’s all subcultures that tend to be marginalized on the extremes of society. One of the beautiful things about making a documentary is that you get access to these worlds. I was rolling around with this Crip from South Central, and I was in Philadelphia in some of the deepest hoods. Never would that have happened unless I had had this film.
Were you scared at all while making it?
No, not really. I have a pretty high threshold for fear. My comfort zone is pretty big. But I was never really fearful, maybe uncomfortable in certain situations, but I never felt like I was in danger.
Do you have some favorite subjects from this film?
The Last Mr. Bigg is this guy who’s like six-foot-six, huge. He got shot in the head, lost his eye, put in a fake eye with diamonds and now calls himself Diamond Eye. He was larger than life.
Tell me something I don’t know about you.
I’m really good at picking locks using lock-pick tools. I just taught myself. I like subversive stuff like that. I just feel like people have lost their self-sufficiency. People are so hamstrung by everything around them. So I like anything that frees me and allows me to do things. Lock-picking is like, “You can’t keep me out.”