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Building The Team
With a screenplay bristling with all the intense situations and colorful personalities that surrounded Christopher Wallace on his journey, the filmmakers next set out to find a director who could bring it to life with both honesty and creativity. The bill was tough to fill. They were looking for someone who was already a fan of the Notorious B.I.G., who understood the rhythm and flow of his rhymes, and who would have insight into where he was coming from and how he accomplished so much in so short a time. They found that combination in an unexpected person: George Tillman, Jr., the director best known for the family-oriented comedy hits SOUL FOOD and BARBER SHOP.

Tillman might not be known as rough-hewn urban director but he had a vital, long-time personal relationship with the Notorious B.I.G.'s music, vividly remembering driving out to California for the first time with his friend Robert Teitel (who would go on the become his producing partner) with only a few hundred dollars and "Ready To Die” in the tape deck. Driven by his love for the man and the music, he jumped at the chance to prove that he could take on this story in the spirit that Biggie would have appreciated. "If you listen to his rhymes, Biggie told stories, and as a filmmaker, what I am is a storyteller so I related to that. I wanted to tell his story in the way he liked stories to be told,” Tillman says.

Tillman – and Teitel, who accompanied him on their first pitch meeting and soon joined the producing team -- won over the producers with their passion and their vision of the story as a larger-than- life tale of a profound coming of age. They wanted to make a hip-hop movie with a difference: one that would be as much about the human condition and emotions behind the music as the music itself. Explains Tillman: "For me the greatest story about Wallace is not just that he became one of the biggest rappers of all time -- what really excited me was the personal journey he took, as a young man who, after becoming a father himself, was able to use the love of his family to become a better person. I saw in him the story of an African American man who didn't finish high school or college, who had kids at a young age, yet who figured out how to grow beyond what was expected of him and move ahead on his own terms. That's the one journey he had fully completed before his death. And that's the story I wanted to tell: how Biggie, in the short course of his life, became a full man.”

Adds Teitel: "We saw NOTORIOUS as the American dream. It's about a kid who didn't come from much, who was raised by a single mother, who not only created this lasting music, but was a part of changing the culture and making hip-hop a part of the American fabric.”

"They gave an amazing pitch,” Wayne Barrow calls. "George gave us, beat by beat, exactly each character moment throughout the film that he wanted to capture. He had dug so much deeper than the norm, he made it clear this story really meant something to him.”

In turn, the producers assured Tillman and Teitel they would be given ample creative freedom in recounting Wallace's life without interference and second-guessing. "I have to give a lot of credit to the people around Christopher, because they let us tell the real story, flaws and all,” says Teitel. "We always knew if we didn't, the audience would not buy it.”

But before they could tell a story that humanized Wallace, the filmmakers had to find a human who could play a man whose charisma and talent were larger than life; someone who could embody the twin personalities of Biggie and Christopher; someone who, most of all, could bop like the massive cultural icon he was yet also mirror the man's inner sensitivity and humor.

The key to everything for Tillman, the key to telling a story deeper than the one the audience thought they knew about wh

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