Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind The Making Of “Drumline”

January 8, 2013  |  
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Source: Fox Pictures

If you ask me, Nick Cannon was never cooler than when he played Devon Miles in the hit turned period piece, Drumline. Tapping into a slice of black culture that’s rarely shown in mainstream media, Drumline was a coming of age story with a twist. You know all the music, the lines, some of ya’ll probably even memorized the dance moves; but despite all of that, we’d bet good money that you don’t know some of these behind the scenes secrets.

Source: Getty Images

Chilli’s Baby Daddy

You may have known this; but I had no idea that the Drumline story was loosely based on the story of famed producer, and the father of Chilli’s child, Dallas Austin. Nick Cannon’s character was based off producer Dallas Austin and his high school drumline experiences. Austin was heavily involved in the making of the film. He served as executive producer and was also the man behind the soundtrack.

Source: Getty

The Writers

The screenplay for the film was written by two women, the story and concept by Shawn Schepps and the screenplay by Tina Gordon Chism. Schepps was a former child actress who decided to start writing stories about people and time periods that are often neglected in the media. She’s known for writing the screenplay for Pauly Shore’s Son In Law. Schepps who was in the marching band, originally wrote the story about a kid who plays in the band in the Midwest. Tina Gordon Chism, who also wrote the screenplay for ATL and the upcoming We The Peeples.


Who’s the director?

Charles Stone III is the man who directed Drumline. Does he look familiar to you? Think back really hard. This is also the guy who came up with the concept and starred in the notorious “Whassup” Budweiser. You might be a little skeptical about that, so let me refresh your memory with the video.

But before the commercial, Stone was a  music video director for groups like Tribe Called Quest, The Roots and Public Enemy.

Source: Fox Pictures

What drew Stone to this film?

Back in 2002, Stone told Nitrate Online why he wanted to direct this film.

I never thought, ‘I wanna make a movie about drummers,’ to be honest. And when it was first presented to me, the protagonist went to a school out in the Midwest, and it didn’t have the kind of impact I wanted. But when he was at a black college down South, with the traditional show style drumming, that caught my eye. And then also, witnessing it in person moved me. They have this really intense sense of athleticism, choreography, and rhythms — it’s all so dynamic. It rang like a sports movie, because the characters are like superheroes to me, like warriors, athletes, gymnasts, and musicians, all wrapped up into one. I wanted to get that kind of power on screen, that discipline, that allegiance to the teamwork.

There are a lot of scenes in it that are stereotypical of sports movies, but for me that was important to have that, because it’s not a football or basketball team, so those generic moments twist what you expect. As long as the spirit was true, I wasn’t worried about clichéd shots. And I think the story of an underdog appeals to everyone, despite the cultural specificity.


Source: Fox Pictures

Little Drummer Boy

Nick Cannon has spoken extensively about how well prepared he was for this role. He was quick to remind people that that was him actually drumming. A decade later, he told Star Pulse about the physical toll preparing for the movie had on him, like the scars he developed on his hands from sleeping with drumsticks in his palms. “That was like 10 years ago, I wish I could still do that! It was about six hours everyday for about two months before we started shooting. I still have scars on my hands”


Source: Fox Pictures

Zoe was trying to get away from her dancing roots

Zoe Saldana is trained as a classical dancer. But when she decided to pursue acting, she wanted to distance herself from the dancer role. But she told Campus Circle, that’s not exactly how it happened for her with her first couple of movie roles. “I thought I was going to get to leave the dancing stuff behind me, but I realized that I am just going to do whatever is tossed at me. Who knows? Maybe the next thing might be martial arts.”

Source: Fox Pictures

 Hard for her to adjust

Though Zoe was a dancer, the style of music was bit different and not something she was accustomed to

“It was hard for me to adjust to the rhythms. I mean I am black, you know what I mean? But I’m not Southern black, which is a completely different story.”


Source: Fox Pictures

Sick on Set

Zoe wasn’t the only one who had a bit of a hard time, in the last couple of scenes during “BET southern classic” scene Leonard Roberts, who played Devon’s former nemesis, Sean, was very sick during his final scenes. He was said to be so sick that you see that he appears visibly weak and sweaty by the end of the film.

Source: Fox Pictures

Where did they film?

You may have released that there’s no such school as Atlanta A&T. The movie was filmed at Clark Atlanta and at Morris Brown College. Members from Morris Brown’s band were featured in the film. Other extras were recruited from local high schools and from the Metro-Atlanta area. Those who had no band experience were trained by high school band director, Don Roberts.

Source: Twentieth Century Fox

Stone on Orlando Jones

Director, Charles Stone wanted to make sure that Orlando Jone’s character, Dr. Lee, was completely different from any other character he was more commonly associated with. There were times when he instructed Jones to tone it down so audiences would be surprised by his performance as he told Nitrate Online

Yeah, he’s a really smart cat. The big thing with his character was to play it down, so ordinary. And he was excited to play a teacher, since his father is a teacher and coaches college ball. And we worked on keeping it simple. One example I always bring up is that scene when he says, “What are you, Beavis and Black-head?” Originally, he did it with a smile, and I said, “Be serious when you drop the joke.” People are waiting for Orlando Jones to make a joke. And it’s funny, at every screening I’ve been to — and that’s a lot — everyone laughs when Orlando first comes on screen. And then they realize he’s not going to do what he usually does, and people are walking out going, “Gee, he’s really good.” It’s a shame that he’s been stuck in these extreme comedy roles. I’m so happy for him that people are seeing him differently.

Source: Twentieth Century Fox

Legal troubles

Once the movie was released, there were folks who said that the idea was stolen. Producer Darryl Lassiter and gospel singer David Gough sued Fox Entertainment Group, saying they got the concept from their movie “Pay the Price.” Lassiter wrote the film in 1992, which was about a trumpet player. Dallas Austin spoke publicly about the lawsuit saying this: “I’m not going to sit and say that this guy didn’t do his film or didn’t have the idea,” Austin said, “but it’s one of those topics like an army or football film. A lot of people experienced it. It’s not a surprise that other people thought of this.”

Source: Twentieth Century Fox

The money

Drumline proved to be a box office hit. With a budget of $20 million dollars, the film ended up grossing more than double that, bringing in over $56 million.

Source: Fox


The general consensus from several critics was that the movie was entertaining, it was shot beautifully, with several engaging shots of how the drumming went down but several critics said the plot was extremely predictable.

Source: Fox Pictures

Drumline 2

Nick Cannon confirmed last year, just a couple of months ago, that he would be producing and directing Drumline 2. Though Cannon will primarily be behind the scenes, he did say that some familiar faces might pop up and he might make a cameo or two. He also told Parade magazine that he has other plans for the sequel.

“I always thought Drumline would make a great television show. Drumline 2 will actually be a two-hour version of the first episode for a television show on VH1. It’s going to be a dramedy with the same tone as the film. When you think of the shows that are on now, like Glee, and even The Game on BET, it will have those tones.”

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  • spambrando

    The original was vastly superior than the shitfest that I saw last night, Drumline 2. Alexandra Shipp? There is NOTHING that girl can do well, from what I’ve seen. She must have had to spend at least a month trying to perform 5 second or less drum rhythms to make it look like she’s a real drummer. Well, it did NOT pay off, she looks like she has no business even trying out for the marching band, based on her lack of skills.

    She’s a substandard actress AT BEST and this ain’t gonna bode well for that Aaliyah biopic they made. Why couldn’t they just hire an actress that could act AND play drums? Sadly, she failed at both.

    And yeah, I’ve been a professional FEMALE drummer for over 40 years so this is a slap in the face to all those who worked their tails off to get where they/we are.

    You didn’t need a pretty face to sell this movie; you needed a great female drummer. She’s not even mediocre.

    And yeah, wish Orlando Jones was in the reboot but he must have known it was gonna tank. Straight to VH1…

  • Liz R

    The name of the school is Clark Atlanta UNIVERSITY! Correct that, thanks.
    That is all.

    • spambrando

      another Madame Noire troll

  • LOVED this movie!! “Halftime IS Gametime!” LOL… this movie made me love and appreciate big bands!! Ain’t nothing like feeling the bass from the drums on your favorite song!

  • Na Na

    They filmed at my school and I was soo geeked! they used our dorm rooms and we had to leave for a couple of days but it was cool to see the film crew around campus. I love Clark and HBCU Life!!!

  • Na Na

    They filmed at my school and I was soo geeked! they used our dorm rooms and we had to leave for a couple of days but it was cool to see the film crew around campus. I love Clark and HBCU Life!!!

  • Na Na

    They filmed at my school and I was soo geeked! they used our dorm rooms and we had to leave for a couple of days but it was cool to see the film crew around campus. I love Clark and HBCU Life!!!

  • Na Na

    They filmed at my school and I was soo geeked! they used our dorm rooms and we had to leave for a couple of days but it was cool to see the film crew around campus. I love Clark and HBCU Life!!!

    • Jamilia

      Omg, I also attended Clark during the time of the filming & I Also served as an extra during one of their scenes since they ask a lot of students to participate. GO CAU!!!

      • spambrando

        are all you Madame Noire people the same person, just trolling? Looks pretty stupid.

  • HA!

    Coming from a REAL musician, THIS MOVIE SUCKS!!!! Nick didnt play, he was acting. Everything that he “played” was pre-recorded. I, myself, am an actual drummer & know that what he did was NOT play. He was thought the basic fundamentals of holding his sticks, but that was about it. And honestly, HIS FORM SUCKED! My entire high school band hated this movie b/c it was 1) predictable & 2) didnt truly show musicianship. Even my friends that attended a HBCU cant stand that movie. No one can not & will not ever be accepted into a music program without knowing how to read music. Every person must pass a theory placement exam AND site reading in their audition BEFORE being accepted & beginning classes in an actual music dept. This movie is a joke.

    • HA!

      Btw, he’s not the only person faking. The “drum captain” had no idea what he was doing either! Even in the “drum battle” at the end, one of the quint & snare players didnt even have sticks. Look closely people & you’ll see everything.

      • Things only bandheads see LOL!!!

        • Ha!

          I’m not a “bandhead”, I’m a musician. There’s a HUGE difference *flips hair*

          • lol well exsqueeze me!!!! I’m a proud bandhead (better than band geek lol), I do know the difference and musician I know I am not, I still was a damn good Clarinet player!

            • QuitaSooPhyne

              Haha, that b*tch told you

          • spambrando

            not if you can’t play.

        • Ha!

          I’m not a “bandhead”, I’m a musician. There’s a HUGE difference love….*flips hair*

    • Riles

      Majority of your statement was true..but not all of it.

    • spambrando

      Wait, his FORM sucked? Was he supposed to stand upside down or something? He pulled it off, sorry. Can’t say the same for Drumline 2, which should never have seen the light of day. So, blah blah blah to you and your requirements for the movie. It was a hell of a lot better than the sequel.

  • TheRealJadeFox

    The band that inspired this movie was none other than The Southern University Human Jukebox. They even tried to pay our band to be in the movie but Dr. Greggs respectfully declined because our band would have come in second place and we never place second… Not even for a movie @TheRealJadeFox on twitter and Instagram

    • Preach: Waking Up The Masses

      SU In Tha House!!! Watcha know about Tha Yard?

  • Nu

    I heard that marching band of Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA turned down the role of the losing band in the end due to the fact that they always win marching band competitions. Is that true as well?

  • Being that I was a bandhead from high school on into college, I can say that this was a movie that bandheads loooved to hate lol. We loved the movie because it told a story that a lot of people outside of the HBCU lifestyle wouldn’t know, but we hated it because of the predictable storyline and because it only told a quarter of the story of what we had to go through being in a black college band. No matter how we felt about the movie we still referred to it because it was a story about US!

    I hope Nick Cannon doesn’t come out with a Drumline 2 because most movies that come out with a sequel are a major fail for example Belly 2…. need I say more.

  • Felicia

    OMG….When I first saw this movie, I had to go back and see it again. I miss marching band so bad. Damn I wish I could play “Big Ballin'” right now.

    ONE BAND! One SOUND!!!!

  • tajy

    Nick that was your ONLY good role, LEAVE THE MOVIE ALONE! No sequels, no TV just please let it be

    • spambrando

      and it was a joke of a role in the second one

  • Semi

    I love Orlando Jones in this movie.. I watch it over and over again just to watch him..