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

January 8, 2013  |  
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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.

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.

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.

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.


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”


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.”

 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.”


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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.


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.

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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