Playwright. Author. Producer. David E. Talbert has spent the last two decades making a name for himself as one of the world’s most prolific forces in a variety of creative disciplines. From the NBC special he was hand-picked to write and produce for Jamie Foxx to his best-selling literary collaboration with Snoop Dogg, Talbert is one of the highest-grossing and most recognizable brands in urban inspirational comedies and musicals. His 12 plays have been performed all over the world and earned him an amazing 24 NAACP Award nominations (with five wins). Now, Talbert’s taking his talents to the silver screen for his feature directorial debut, First Sunday. The church-set caper comedy, starring Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan and Katt Williams, may seem a bit of a departure for Talbert, but this preacher’s son feels right at home in the director’s chair.
Jennifer Wood (MM): You’ve been successful in a variety of other creative mediums—including theater and literature—but First Sunday marks your debut as a feature film director. What was it that attracted you to the crazy world of moviemaking?
David Talbert (DT): Unlike plays, film is forever. On stage, it can be a different performance every night. You’re always negotiating with the actors to do the same thing over and over again. With film, once you get a great performance, you’ve got it forever. Plus, with film it’s more immediate. Where it would take me five years to tour to all the cities that the film played, with film… you get to everybody at the same time.
MM: How did your background in the theater help prepare you for Hollywood? What lessons have you been able to take from the stage to the big screen?
DT: Performance is the main thing I brought from the stage when it came time to direct. I’m trained to find the truth in the performance. Fortunately I was blessed with so many talented actors to work with, it wasn’t hard getting to the truth of the performance. As far as screenwriting, plays really teach you to develop characters.
MM: What has been the biggest challenge in transitioning from a playwright to a screenwriter? What about from a theater director to a film director?
DT: The hardest thing was that plays tell the story and film shows the story. On stage I direct from the proscenium, which is a master shot in film. Imagine a whole film as a master shot! I had to learn that it only matters what the eye of the camera sees. I had to learn to trust that eye and not so much my own. Tim Story helped me tremendously in opening up the film to show the story. Now I know what motion pictures really mean. Learning to tell the story with images and moving pictures was the most fascinating part of my first films learning curve.
MM: The film currently holds the number two spot at the box office. Are you at all surprised by the enormous—and immediate—success of the film? This also means that the offers to direct more films must be pouring in. Do you have any immediate plans to sit in the director’s chair again?
DT: The success of the film is amazing. When Clint Culpepper and I first met and decided to do this, our vision was to make a good movie. A movie that would appeal to the masses. The numbers, and given that we had the highest per screen average, is a testament that First Sunday crossed over. Black culture is American culture. Going to the theaters and seeing the make up of the audience was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. Hearing the laughter. The applause. I’ve been bit by the film bug and I’m looking forward to get in the chair right away!
First Sunday is currently in theaters.