The Wonder Year
11/12, 4:15 p.m.
City Stage • 21 North Front St.
$10 • http://thewonderyear.l-r-g.com
Kenneth Price is a man of action. There is no better way to describe him. He’s been producing and directing a constant stream of innovative work for the past seven years. From groundbreaking short films like “Deconfliction” and “Sadie’s Waltz,” to a pair of highly imaginative and insane features, “Lightning Salad Moving Picture” and “Americatown,” he has also managed to pick up a handful of degrees at UNCW and UNC Greensboro. Along the way, he took an interesting left turn into the world of hip-hop. His collaborations brought him to the attention of a pioneering producer and modern-day renaissance man by the name of 9th Wonder. The product of this pairing is the highly entertaining documentary “The Wonder Year.”
I sat down with Price to pick his sizable brain about the music, movie and the man himself.
encore: How did you initially hook up with 9th Wonder?
Kenneth Price: A friend of mine from UNCW ended up working as 9th’s label manager. One day over instant messenger, she told me about him going to teach at Duke, and I started thinking about how wild it was that this Grammy Award-winning producer was still here in NC—and how he was going to be teaching at Duke. I guess a light bulb went off at that moment about thinking how it could make for an interesting documentary.
The first time I actually approached him about the film was over a meeting in a chemistry classroom at NC Central University. I was nervous as hell, but it all worked out in the end. His main concern was he didn’t want it to be like a reality TV show—and there was really no chance in that happening, so everything was smooth.
e: What motivated you to do the documentary? Was there one moment where the light bulb popped in your head?
KP: His music motivated me; it’s as simple as that. I’d been a fan of Little Brother since probably 2003 or so. I used to see them open up for acts at Marrz and The Soapbox [in Wilmington]. I just liked their early ‘90s, soulful sound. That’s really been the best part of the whole process: being able to share that love for the music with people who don’t know who 9th Wonder is.
A lot of these screenings haven’t been in front of “hip-hop” audiences; a lot of them have just been normal film festival audiences, with little connection to that world, so it’s great to have some part of exposing others to the music, which is a really hard thing to do nowadays. Music is so accessible it’s sort of overwhelming, so spending 90 minutes in the world of this music I think really gets a lot of audience members interested in it.
e: What was the most interesting aspect of making the documentary? Anything interesting to happen while filming?
KP: Hmm—due to the fact that the entire film crew was just me, I think pretty soon after starting it, I just became part of that world. I really never felt like I was the “video guy” who was there working on the film. I just became part of the family. I started doing music videos with 9th and his artists and really gained a lot of friends from the whole experience. I never thought about doing music videos, but here I am two years later looking back on 50-plus videos, and somewhere along the lines I kinda became a music video director. I guess that was the most surprising and interesting thing that happened.
e: You’ve logged a lot of miles with the movie. How has the response been; what have the screenings been like?
KP: The great thing about the screenings so far is how varied they’ve been. We’ve done the standard film festival approach, premiering at RiverRun International Film Festival back in April and, most recently, at the Hawaii International Film Festival. That’s been exciting because a lot of those audiences aren’t really familiar with him. Really, the most dynamic screenings we’ve been doing, with the help of the clothing company LRG, are where we’ve been taking the film to music festivals and colleges where people get to hear 9th lecture, see the film and have an afterparty to hear 9th play the music that the film celebrates. A lot of times with film festivals, the film can get lost in the mix because there are 100 or more being screened. This approach is great because it really makes it an event and not just a screening.
The week after Cucalorus we’re having our first Ivy League screening at Harvard where the hip-hop archives are located; we were pretty blown away by that phone call.
e: They say every good documentary should educate. What does “The Wonder Year” teach us?
KP: I want people to walk away feeling inspired. At the core of the film, I think it has a universal message that we control our own destiny. It’s not just about becoming a hip-hop producer. It’s about a guy struggling to make a living, who had nothing but a little Hewlett-Packard laptop and a $100 piece of music software (Fruity Loops); three years later, he was working with Jay-Z and had a Grammy. I hope it’s inspirational to follow whatever your passion is. 9th works all the time because he loves what he does, and because he’s constantly working, he’s found success. I think that’s true in any field.
e: What’s on the docket next?
KP: Currently, I’m focused on wrapping up Ghost Recon Future Soldier, a video game to be released in March, which I’m an associate producer on at Ubisoft Entertainment. I’m still doing a lot of music videos and am in talks with LRG about beginning another music-based documentary to start up next year.
Honestly, it’s been nice not working on a big project for the past six months or so. It’s been kinda a necessity to properly promote “The Wonder Year” and stay focused on lining screenings up wherever there is interest.