Creative autonomy is invaluable, especially if achieved by one’s own volition. Damon Dash’s co-creation of Roc-A-Fella Records is tangible evidence that he’s very familiar with building his own entities. Decades later, he sees no recourse but to continue forming his empire.
Most recently, the serial entrepreneur afforded himself the luxury to create when most couldn’t—during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dame trekked to Kanye West’s ranch in Wyoming and brought along talented collaborators who were as invested as he was. With the help of new actors Lucien Watson and Valor Gosch, they shot a 4/20-themed feature film, Stoned, in six days.
“There’s no price for my freedom and my independence,” the 51-year-old said. “I had to learn what the meaning of independence was. So when you look at verbiage, it makes no sense to be proud to have somebody else own you, right?”
Directed by Dash, Stoned tells the story of two friends Marquis and Joel, who are navigating their own personal journeys. Along the way, they need some tough love and good weed to make a breakthrough. Throughout the film, visual effects illustrate the results of consuming cannabis for a more immersive viewing experience.
VIBE caught up with Dame, Lucien, and Valor to talk about the conception of Stoned, the film’s reception, future plans, and funny stories from on-set.
VIBE: I know that Stoned was inspired by you wanting Black people to explore opportunities with cannabis because it’s been demonized in our community and there are people who have been locked up for it. Talk about the process, how you came up with the story of it, and ultimately what you want people to feel from it.
Damon Dash: I just wanted to make a cool weed flick, a stoner movie. It really wasn’t that deep. My purpose in using the stoner movie is to bring awareness to the cannabis industry and culturally make sure we don’t get left out. During COVID, because I have my own studio and my own cameras, I was still trying to write movies that could be shot during COVID. I ended up on Kanye [West]’s ranch. There was a lot going on, and with the variables that existed, meeting Lucien and his crew, I personally needed to be creative. We decided just to create because there was a lot of heavy sh*t going on. We decided this script would probably work if we adjusted it and adapted it to this environment.
I noticed certain aspects of it catered towards someone who would be high watching it, like the camera getting blurry, for example.
Dash: My thing was, while you smoking, while they’re smoking, you feel them getting high. It was almost like a 3D kind of thing. My plan is to show it in the Metaverse and make it where people are in there getting high as they’re watching it. Their vision gets ‘high’ as they smoke.
Lucien, you play Marquis. The relationship you had with Joel and his relationship with his baby’s mother came off very naturally. Was there anything you had to do to fit into that role or was it easy for you?
Lucien Watson: Everybody there made it super easy for me. It was nothing hard about it. They told me ‘Be yourself’ and at first I’m like, ‘Are you sure?’ cause I’m a little weird, but everything was genuine. The spark of the relationships, how well we all got along on camera and off camera too. We still hold the same reverence for each other that we did on day one. So no, it wasn’t ‘work’ as much as it was fun.
Shooting it over eight days. We know movies typically take a really long–
Dash: Six days. It took six days ‘cause I know how to make movies. If I wasn’t a real director—
Watson: This is my first time. I don’t know how long a movie takes to shoot, but I didn’t feel rushed. The chemistry just allowed us to blend and work. No one’s ego got in the way of progress. It was a well-oiled machine.
Dash: I’m the type of person, if I come on somebody’s block and I see that they pushing a lot of work and they’re creating, it’s hard for me to be on that block and not do things as well. So it was just being independent, being creative.
How do you feel about critics calling Stoned the 2022 version of Half-Baked?
Dash: I love that. It’s an honor and that also means we have a franchise. The fact that Lucien can act and he’s a good dude, he’s gonna be proactive about pushing his sh*t. We’re making a Stoned part two and we’re already talking about taking this sh*t to London. Tubi is a great platform because it’s almost like syndication. You could make it and you could benefit from all the traffic they got. What’s gonna be interesting is the things that we do in Web3 with this movie and this franchise. If we had six days, what’s it gonna look like when we have a real amount of time without the stress of COVID?
VIBE: I thought the chemistry between Marquise and Joel could play off well as a TV series. Have you guys explored that idea?
Watson: Hell yeah, we’ve been exploring that.
Dash: If you noticed in the beginning, it was also in a cartoon, so that’s going to come into play. The documentary of making it is just as interesting as the movie.
VIBE: Dame, you push independence a lot and you’re obviously doing well with that. Who would you say has been the most impactful person in advising you on how to go about this journey?
Dame: Let me explain something about words: they mean a lot. When you say the word independence, if you look it up in the dictionary, I’m sure freedom is in there somewhere. Freedom is independence. Independence is freedom. Your copyright and all those things you own are called your master. When you give away your master, then whoever you gave it to is now the master of that product. I equate it like this. If somebody said, ‘Yo, I’ll give you $10 million or do a two-year bid, you give up your freedom for two years,’ I’d say, ‘Take that million dollars. Ten, whatever.’ There’s no price for my freedom and my independence. I had to learn what the meaning of independence was. So when you look at verbiage, it makes no sense to be proud to have somebody else own you, right?
So again, once you understand the meaning of life, living, wealth, health, freedom, and being able to move when you want, the monetary value becomes irrelevant. Because I know when you’re behind cages, you’ll give everything you got in the bank to get from behind cages and start all over again. You don’t care. You’ll give up every dollar for your freedom. So why give it away? Just get good at what you do. Don’t expect nobody to do it for you. Don’t blame nobody for your problems. We’re grown a** motherf**king men. I wanna make a movie, I ain’t gonna get mad at somebody for not paying for it. I’m gonna just make my movie. I ain’t gonna get mad for somebody not putting it out. I’m gonna put it out. It don’t have to be as big as everyone else’s, as long as it’s mine and as long as I can make a little money to put into making a bigger piece of work. So I don’t know, no one specifically gave me that advice, but I’m just looking at people that have a lot of money but don’t feel free. They feel broke.
Valor, you had an interesting arc throughout the movie. You moved in with your girl and her kids that weren’t yours while Marquis is giving you hell about that. You meet his uncle who also gives you hell and then towards the end, you boss up and kick your girl out. What was it like playing that role and conveying that transformation?
Valor Gosch: That’s the hero’s journey. We’re all going through it. I think a part of that is being able to give in to failure. You’re gonna f**k up, you’re gonna be submissive, you’re gonna make the wrong choices. My character made the wrong choice in a girl. He grows from it. The interesting part about that character is the fact that we kind of had to make him up on the spot because of the nature of how we shot that film. We only had so much time, we only had so many locations and so many people, so it was pretty interesting. His initial arc was gonna go from a guy who was reluctant about being a family man to a guy who was submitting to somebody he shouldn’t have been submitting to and then trying to find his way back.
Dash: Val, talk about how you wasn’t meant to star in the movie and I just put you on the spot and you became the star.
Gosch: The making of the movie is a movie in itself. I was in Wyoming because I was actually the chief writer for Donda. I get a call like ‘Hey, you need to be on a Gulf Stream in the next two hours.’ I get on set and the whole plan is I’m gonna be there writing. We have about 50 pages and I’m supposed to be 10 pages ahead of production every day. I walk out into the room and I hear that the main lead left. He had to go see his dog for some f**king reason.
Watson: Think about the spontaneity of one of the leads leaving because he missed his dog.
Gosch: Dame’s looking around and he’s like ‘Who knows the script?’ He looks at me and he just gives an evil f**king laugh. He’s like, ‘Why don’t you do it?” He starts laughing harder and I kind of see the gears clicking in his head. I know the scripts–I’m writing the scripts. I know the story better than anyone else here. I’m resistant at first and then he gets into a chant and the whole crew jumps in on it. ‘Valor! Valor!’ I think to myself, ‘F**k it, alright, let’s do it,’ and that kind of becomes the throughline of the movie and the production. Lucien’s making fun of me and I realized I got to be tough so I call him Vanilla Tupac because he looks like off-brand Tupac. Everyone goes quiet because this Jewish white guy says this to a Black guy who does not look like he would take it well.
Dash: It was like a left hook.
Gosch: Then Lu starts chuckling laughing and the air comes back into the room. That was the start of our friendship in and out of the movie.
I know you’ve done some screenings. What does it mean for you when people who view the movie have high praise?
Dash: If you notice, generally speaking, I don’t care what anybody thinks. As a director, I’m actually asking what people think. I do care. People like it. People love it. If you understand what it is and you have that expectation of going to a good stoner movie, because there hasn’t been one in so long, and understand the process, the circumstance in which we made it, it’s art. For me, the edit was also a very intricate piece of this. You see how everything’s cut to the beat. I was high while we was editing it.