EXCLUSIVE: DIRECTOR REGINALD HUDLIN ON CELEBRATING HOUSE PARTY 30 YEARS LATER
Today marks the 30th anniversary of the coming-of-age, romantic comedy classic House Party. Released by New Line Cinema on March 9th in 1990, the film was written and directed by Reginald Hudlin and starred the rap duo Christopher “Kid” Reid and Christopher “Play” Martin of Kid ‘N Play
Also featured in the comedy were Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, A.J. Johnson, Gene “Groove” Allen (of Groove B. Chill), Darryl “Chill” Mitchell, Full Force (B-Fine, Paul Anthony and Bowlegged Lou), Kelly Jo Minter, the late John Witherspoon, who passed away in 2019 and Robin Harris (who died of a heart attack nine days after the film was released).
Play’s parents are out of town, and he’s planning the house party to end all house parties. His best friend, Kid, wants to go more than anything, knowing Sydney (Tisha Campbell-Martin), the hottest girl in school, is sure to be there. But when Kid gets into a fight at school, his father grounds him. Still determined to go, Kid sneaks out of the house and faces one calamity after another as he makes his way to Play’s house and the party of the school year.
Produced by Warrington Hudlin and Greg T. Olson, the movie became a huge success and spawned two sequels: House Party 2 in 1991 and a third installment in 1994. The movie continued to party on with a direct-to-video sequels House Party 4: Down to the Last Minutein 2001, which did not include any of the original cast. The fifth installment House Party: Tonight’s the Night was released in 2012 and saw the return of Kid ‘N Play to the franchise.
Blackfilm.com caught up and spoke exclusively with Reginald Hudlin on his experiences with the film. Hudlin has gone to have an illustrious career as a director and producer with credits including Boomerang with Eddie Murphy, The Bernie Mac Show, Marshall with Chadwick Boseman, and more recently the documentary The Black Godfather. He earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture as a producer on Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 film, Django Unchained.
How does it feel that your movie is now 30 years old and still talked about?
Reginald Hudlin: That’s great. Time is what really tells the story. The fact that it was a success at the time and the cuts of the dance numbers are still constantly popping up on social media, it just means that it’s still relevant to young people today. It’s wonderful.
How did the story come about?
Reginald Hudlin: It started when I was undergrad studying film and when I was in high school, my older brother Warrington gave me a book with blank pages and he says, “Stop telling me your movie ideas, write them down.” So over the years, I had collected all these little incidents or moments or snatches of dialogue. So then finally, I wrote a script that wove together all those moments that collected over the years from my own life, or my friends or my brothers. That became the script for the student film version of House Party.
Today’s millennials may not know who Kid ‘N Play are, but back then they were big. Can you talk about casting them in the lead roles?
Reginald Hudlin: Originally, I thought I would have to do the movie independently, but then New Line became interested and they wanted some folks with star power. I was a fan of the videos of Kid ‘N Play that were running on Video Music Box back then. I knew a young lady who worked for the management company they were with, and I asked them, “What’s the deal with those guests?” She said, “Oh, they’re hard working. They always show up on time.” So I said, “Great. Let’s see if they’ll be interested in being in a movie.” They were incredibly talented in the audition. They were funny, smart, and of course, could dance and had great visual style. But they had a big summer tour booked, and they would definitely make less money making the movie than doing the tour. I promised them in the long run that being in the movie will be better for their careers and that turned out to be true.
Did you allow their personalities to go along with the screenplay?
Reginald Hudlin: Absolutely. With not just them, Kid ‘N Play, but with Martin Lawrence, with Full Force, with Tisha and AJ. We had rehearsals where we would improvise and freestyle and I would incorporate their ideas into the script. You don’t have people that talented and say stick to the script. Particularly, you’re making a comedy.
Not only did you have Kid ‘N Play as your leads, but you also Tisha and AJ as you mentioned in good roles, and you wrote a dramedy with Full Force providing some of the humor. Was that a challenge putting it all together?
Reginald Hudlin: No. It made it easier and better. The fact is movies are for everybody and I wanted to make sure that the female perspective was there and that they were three dimensional characters and not just there as foils for the guys. I just thought that’s just good storytelling. It would also make the movie more appealing to more people.
The thing that people talk about this movie is the dancing sequence that folks have seen many times on YouTube. How was filming that? Was it done all in one take?
Reginald Hudlin: That day of filming that number was one of the best days of my life, certainly as a filmmaker. I was just so happy. I grew up loving musicals and shooting that musical number and no, it wasn’t one take. We did it a million times. After a while, even though we aside from every possible angle, I want to keep shooting mainly because I was just having so much fun. But the budget was so low, and normally with a scene that big, that would be a whole day’s work. We said, “No, we got to shoot that and we still got to shoot all these other scenes on the other half of the day.” So we shot it. We nailed it and then we had to keep it moving.
They’re not with us anymore, but you talk about comedians Robin Harris and John Witherspoon because they provided some of the biggest laughs in the movie?
Reginald Hudlin: Absolutely. Well, those are two geniuses, flat out to comic geniuses? Both of them are the epitome of great old school comedy. I first saw Robin in ‘Do The Right Thing,’ which hadn’t been released yet but Spike (Lee) let us see the movie in advance to see his parts. I just thought, “Oh my God, we gotta cast this guy.” There was some pushback with people saying, “Oh, you can’t really understand what he’s saying.” I’m like, “Oh, now you’e really going to make me cast him.” Just because this guy speaks with flavor. “Oh, no, we’re definitely going to use him.” He was an absolute joy to work with. The next movie I was going to make after House Party was to do a Bebe’s Kids movie with Robin. Then when he passed away, I said, “Well, I still want to do the movie as a tribute to him.” So we ended up doing the movie as an animated feature so that people will always remember who Robin Harris was.
With John Witherspoon, when he passed away last year, I sat down and counted and I realized I’ve worked more with Johnny Witherspoon more than any other actor. House Party, Boomerang, Bebe’s Kids, and commercials for Tide. I cast him in the Boondocks. Basically whenever I was working, I’ve tried to have Johnny Witherspoon in my cast because he’s just such a very comedian. He inspires everyone else working around him. He’s a total professional, and just a great guy. I missed him so much. He just brought so much to the world of comedy, whether it was him in stand up, or him in movies. I always encourage people to go back and look at his clips on the early Richard Pryor show. He was always doing fantastic work.
The movie did very well at the box office commercially. What did it do for you as a director? Was Hollywood calling you? Were you getting a lot of scripts? How did that impact you?
Reginald Hudlin: Yeah, it was fantastic. We debuted the movie at the Sundance Film Festival. It played at midnight. It sold out. They had to add all these additional screenings because everyone at Sundance wantws to see the movie. We got offers from major studios wanting to buy the film, from New Line Cinema. Pretty quickly, we had offers from almost every studio in town. All of whom had passed on House Party wanted to do my next movie so we ended up setting up deals and I started working and that became the rest of my career. I did Boomerang with Eddie Murphy, I did Bebe’s Kids and all the other stuff.
Is House Party on Blu-ray?
Reginald Hudlin: I don’t know. It’s always been strange to me that House Party never really been given the first class treatment you would expect from a movie that’s been as successful as it has. I guess it’s the biggest black teen movie ever made. Hopefully, New Line changes their attitude about it, and does a first class revival of the film at some point.
Have you kept in touch with the cast throughout the years?
Reginald Hudlin: Oh, yeah. It’s funny whenever I see any of the cast, it’s like we all graduated from high school together. The person who had the most experience was actually Tisha (Campbell). She had done stuff like Little Shop of Horrors, but for most of us, this was our big break and this is the movie that catapulted us all into the public eye. We had such a great time working together and whenever we get back together, we just go right back to where we left off. It’s really a great connection that we all share.
What do you have coming up next?
Reginald Hudlin: I have a pretty full plate. The Black Godfather is still getting tons of viewers on Netflix. I’ve got a movie I produced called Emperor that’s coming out on March 27. I just did a football drama for Disney called Safety. That’ll be debuting your Disney plus later on this year.
What advice do you give to filmmakers about trying to produce an independent film and then staying in the game?
Reginald Hudlin: I think the key is always great storytelling. Great storytelling never goes out of style. You’ve got to watch every kind of movie. You got to watch them from all over the world. Don’t just don’t just follow trends, but figure out what people aren’t making and make that. Fill a need