Antwone Fisher : Production Notes

"Who will cry for the little boy, lost and all alone?

Who will cry for the little boy, abandoned without his own?

Who will cry for the little boy? He cried himself to sleep.

Who will cry for the little boy? He never had for keeps.

Who will cry for the little boy? He walked the burning sand.

Who will cry for the little boy? The boy inside the man.

Who will cry for the little boy? Who knows well hurt and pain.

Who will cry for the little boy? He died and died again.

Who will cry for the little boy? A good boy he tried to be.

Who will cry for the little boy, who cries inside of me?"

- Antwone Fisher


Antwone Fisher

Initially I wanted to tell my story because the opportunity presented itself and I was told that I could not do it, meaning that I did not have the aptitude to write. It reminded me of how I was always told as a child that I was worthless and that I would never accomplish anything in life - words that still haunt me. I became determined to write my story simply because I was told that I couldn't. Then, I discovered that it was cathartic and cleansing for me to write about my life. I felt free, free from what felt like secrets. .. free from the responsibility of such unhealthy shame.

Having my story told gives me faith and encouragement and reminds me that there are good and unselfish people in the world; people who would help an absolute stranger by giving him the tools to pull himself up, giving him the chance to benefit society. Despite the unfortunate circumstances of my life, there is hope.

How peculiar and blue that those words, "You ain't nothing. You ain't never gonna' be nothing, 'cause you come from nothing" made for a fervent fuel that gave me strength and the courage to persevere. But there is more to it than that. At the age of 17 when I was homeless, all I had were my thoughts and the comfort of pretending that my situation would improve. I would think to myself, 'something good is about to happen. ' I learned to convince myself of seemingly impossible things. Sometimes they would work out, sometimes they wouldn't, but I remained optimistic long before I knew the meaning of the word. It was that optimism coupled with my fear of failure that allowed me to hang in there for the nine years it took to bring this film to life.

When I saw the film for the first time, I was overwhelmed by a mixture of feelings: fear, joy, pride and satisfaction - all of which still linger, and I am certain they will for the rest of my life. I hope others, too, walk away with those same feelings and the courage to do something to better the lives of children in general. I hope that after seeing the movie and reading my memoir that people will see that every child has value and boundless potential and that even if all one has to give is an encouraging word as a genuine gesture of care. .. that gift alone can save a child's life and give hope for the future.


ANTWONE FISHER is the story of a man who digs inside himself to discover therein lies a king. ..

A sailor with an explosive attitude, Fisher (Derek Luke) is ordered to see a naval psychiatrist (Denzel Washington) about his volatile temper. Little did he know that his first step into the doctor's office would lead him on a journey home. With the support of the doctor, who becomes more like a father than anyone Fisher has ever known, and the woman (Joy Bryant) from whom he learns how to love, Fisher finds the courage to stop fighting and start healing. Only then can he call on the family he never knew and come to terms with the one he knew all too well.

A story of firsts, ANTWONE FISHER marks the directorial debut for two-time Academy Award®-winning actor Denzel Washington and first screenwriting credit for Antwone Fisher. The film stars newcomer Derek Luke in his first feature film role. Equally new to the big screen is model-turned-actress Joy Bryant playing Fisher's girlfriend, Cheryl. In addition to his directing duties, Washington agreed to play the pivotal role of the psychiatrist, Jerome Davenport. Rounding out the cast is Salli Richardson portraying Davenport's wife, and James Brolin in a cameo appearance as Fisher's commanding officer.

Antwone Fisher's story first caught the attention of Producer Todd Black (A KNIGHT'S TALE) while Fisher was working as a security guard at Sony Pictures Studios more than 10 years ago. Despite Fisher's lack of professional writing experience at the time, Black was so moved by the story that he hired him to write the screenplay. Washington committed to directing the project in 1997, but his busy acting schedule prevented him from taking the helm until 2001. In the interim, Fisher delved even deeper into his life by writing his memoir, Finding Fish, which hit bookstores in 2001 and is a "New York Times" bestseller.

Fisher's journey is nothing short of inspirational Washington says. "It's a triumph of spirit. I'm inspired by Antwone. When you look at all that he's gone through and survived and can still be a gentle soul. .. hopefully it will touch all who see it. .. hopefully we'll reach out to those who are dealing with difficult times and thinking that they can't make it. They'll see this young man's life and say, 'Hey, you know, I can make it. '"

ANTWONE FISHER is produced by Black, Randa Haines (CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD) and Washington. Other key behind-the-scenes people include Academy Award-winning Director Of Photography Philippe Rousselot, AFC/ASC (PLANET OF THE APES), Production Designer Nelson Coates (DON'T SAY A WORD), Academy Award-winning Editor Conrad Buff, A. C. E. (TITANIC) and Costume Designer Sharen Davis (RUSH HOUR).


After 11 years of service in the U. S. Navy and a three-year stint as a federal correction officer, Antwone Fisher became a security guard at the Sony Pictures Entertainment lot in Los Angeles. He describes, "Working at Sony gave me a place to rest, to gather myself. I was becoming very lonely without the Navy family I had created and I began reflecting on my life. The laid-back work environment made for less distractions and I began thinking of my childhood and eventually decided that I should try to find my biological family. "

Fisher found relatives on his father's side who gave him an airplane ticket to spend Thanksgiving with them in Cleveland, but since he was only two months into the job, he had to tell his supervisor the whole story in order to get the time off. Little did he know that his story would have such impact that upon his return he would be approached to bring his story to film.

Producer Todd Black first learned of Fisher's heart-wrenching story from his former college roommate Chris Smith. Committed to giving something back to the community after the devastating riots of 1992, Smith taught a free screenwriting class at the A. M. E. church in South Central Los Angeles. Fisher signed up for the class after learning about it from a friend. Smith taught Fisher the elements of screenplay development and introduced him to Black.

Black was so moved by Fisher's story and so committed to helping him tell it, that he took Fisher under his wing. Fisher still finds that to be one of the biggest miracles of all. " I don't know why Todd decided to take a chance on me-I wasn't a member of his community or anything-I was just this guy who came to his office. At the time I couldn't type; I typed with two fingers. But I didn't want to let Todd down since nobody else believed in me. He offered me an opportunity to do something better for myself. "

Black remembers, "It was an incredible story of survival and strength. So, the minute the studio said to me, 'no, he can't write it,' it was not even a question to me. If I had to mortgage my house to give him the money to write it, I would have, because I knew in my heart that he could do it. "

Black reveals, "We worked for one year and went through draft after draft after draft - even as Antwone was still discovering parts of his life, including meeting his mother for the first time. " Black credits the discipline that Fisher learned in the Navy with helping him to get through the exhaustive process of writing and re-writing. "Ultimately, a year later, the president of Fox called and said 'You were right; he can write. ' So he bought it and Antwone, in addition to going through the cathartic process of putting his life on paper, made more money selling it as a completed screenplay than he would have as a pitch. "

Black concludes, "One of the things I've really admired about Antwone is that he just wanted to make sure that this story was told for all of us, to understand the levels of abuse and learn how to break the cycle, break the pattern. .. A lot of people told Antwone that he couldn't do it and they could not get it in their heads that this wonderful, innocent kid wanted to write his own life story. I knew in my heart that he could do it. .. "

Fisher remembers, "Writing the screenplay was like a healing. It took me a long time to get myself together and a lot of people - strangers - encouraged me. It helped to believe in myself, to realize that I had something to offer, and it showed me that I did have some power over myself, something inside me that I could use to further myself as a person and a human being. .. I hope that this movie will show people that you can amount to something, even if you don't initially show any outward indication of it. "

Once the project was green-lit, and rewrite after rewrite was completed, Black sent the script to Denzel Washington to play the role of Jerome Davenport, the psychiatrist. When Black finally received the call from Washington's agent, he was amazed to learn that Washington not only wanted to act in the film, he wanted it to be his directorial debut.

Washington, who describes Fisher as "a poet," says of the story, "It touches on issues that have sort of been kept quiet, stayed within the home. That's one of the reasons why Antwone wanted his story told, to speak out to all those others who might be in hiding, or are struggling with it, that they also can survive. .. That became the reason I wanted to do the picture. I told Antwone, 'It's not about me, or my debut. It's really about taking care of you and taking care of your story. '"

Fisher acknowledges, "Denzel could have directed almost anything he wanted, but he chose my screenplay, and I'm really grateful to him for choosing mine. "

Selected for the lead role of Antwone Fisher was Derek Luke, a young actor who worked at the Sony Pictures gift shop and had, coincidentally, become friends with Fisher during the time that he was writing the screenplay. Luke remembers his first reaction to the script, "When I finished it, I was in tears but with the tears there was healing going on, which is why I wanted to do it. " Without ever enlisting the help of his newfound friend Fisher, Luke convinced a friend of a friend to allow him to read for the part. "I believed that the role was destined for me, so I got myself into the zone where nobody on the outside counted. When I went to read for Denzel and Todd, I said, 'I heard somebody was doing my story and so I just showed up. ' My heart was attached to this screenplay. You can't beat heart-especially the right one-and I just felt like I had the right heart. "

The day Washington chose Luke for the role, he insisted that he be the one to deliver the good news to Luke, who was working at the Sony store. Black accompanied Washington on the walk to the store where ironically they found Luke with Fisher, who had stopped by to buy a t-shirt. Washington describes the moment, "I walked past the real Antwone and I said to Derek, 'Hey, Antwone. How's it going?' He said, 'That's right, I am Antwone. I'm working on it. I'm Antwone. " And I said, 'No, you - you ARE Antwone. You got the part. '" Washington describes Luke's reaction, "First he was stunned, then he practically broke down in tears, then joy, then he started to pray. .. it was really exciting. "

Luke remembers, "When he said, 'Hey, Antwone,' and I saw that he was seriously talking to me, the only thing I could do was hug him because it was a dream come true. I was the only person in my family, the new generation, that ever achieved one of their heart's desires!"

On her pursuit of the role of Cheryl, model-turned-actress Joy Bryant recalls, "I read the script a few months before they started auditioning and at least three times in the script I just started bawling. I have always heard actors talk about how they respond to things when they read. This was the first time for me where the screenplay made me react this way. .. I know about obstacles and difficulties. I know about pain, so this touched me on many levels because I could see what was happening to Antwone. .. I've seen it happening to people that I know. .. even myself. "

Bryant hounded her agents relentlessly about the role before casting had even begun. When the New York-based actress learned that the auditions would be held in Los Angeles, she bought her own plane ticket and headed west. "To be blessed with material like this, to have a chance to bring Cheryl to life is amazing. "

Washington admits he took on quite a challenge, acting in the film, directing for his first time, and at that, two lead characters in their first feature film. He says, "It was tricky, but it worked out. They gave good performances. I really wanted new faces - someone who you would have no preconceived notions about. .. They're the new generation of young African American actors. There's been a whole wave or two after my group, people like Laurence Fishburne or Sam Jackson, and then kids like Larenz Tate. And now there's another younger crop coming in. It's good to give them the opportunity. "

Luke relished the opportunity to work with Washington who had been a personal hero to him since he saw his performance in MALCOLM X. Luke says, "Denzel is a genius. He's an actor's actor. He's able to conform to any actor and he brings out the best in you. .. Denzel said to me, 'Derek, I love mistakes. ' And right there, I never heard anybody say that to me, because in my world, it was either a right or a wrong. But in his world it was from good to even better. "

Bryant found the most valuable piece of direction she received from Washington to be, "Less is more. That always sticks in my head. If you're thinking too hard about how you're performing or how you're coming across. .. you're too much in your head. Less is more, throw it away, just let it go. " Apparently she took the advice well because Washington describes her as "a wonderful young actress. I predict really great things in her future because she's got star quality, no doubt about it. "

Salli Richardson, who plays Davenport's wife Berta, adds, "He knows the process we as actors need to go through, particularly in a script like this where there are a lot of emotional levels and some of them are sometimes hard to get to. He gives you the time to get there. He gives you those little words that maybe he says in his head, in your ear, to help you get there. "

To prepare the cast, Washington required each actor to know his/her character's history and story inside out before coming to the set. This mandate included everyone from Luke in the title role to key cast members like Vernée Watson Johnson, who plays Fisher's long-lost Aunt Annette, Novella Nelson in the role of Fisher's foster mother Mrs. Tate, Viola Davis as Fisher's mother, newcomer De'Angelo K. Wilson, seen opposite Eminem in 8 MILE, as the grown-up Jesse, Malcolm David Kelley as the young Antwone, and Corey Hodges as the teenage Antwone.

Summing up his directing experience, Washington says, "I really got a kick out of helping them as actors and sharing my experiences in filmmaking with them, watching them grow before my eyes. "


One mantra that Director Denzel Washington repeated to the cast and crew throughout the production of ANTWONE FISHER was "We're doing it for Antwone. " The concept was meant to keep everyone's thoughts attuned to the story of a man who found hope and love through the help of an outstretched hand. In turn, the filmmakers sought to give back to the communities that supported them during the shoot.

In the Cleveland neighborhood where the scenes of Fisher's youth and homecoming were shot, the filmmakers went out of their way to leave the urban area and its people in a better place than when they arrived. Structures like the apartment building where Eva Mae Fisher lived in the film and the house that was shot as Fisher's foster home were renovated and/or reinforced. Members of the community were hired to work on the production or as part of its preparation, and always Washington was out and about meeting people, shaking hands and offering thanks for their help in telling this great story of human perseverance and hope.

Academy Award-winning Director of Photography Philippe Rousselot leapt on board the project after reading Fisher's script and learning that Washington, who he had previously worked with on REMEMBER THE TITANS, would direct. From their first meeting about the film, Rousselot had great confidence in Washington's abilities. "He is naturally gifted. He is a very bright man, full of enthusiasm and very convincing that he wanted to do this project. " Additionally, Rousselot had had good luck with another actor-turned-director - he served as director of photography under Robert Redford on A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT, for which Rousselot won his Oscar.

Coates joined the filmmaking team both for the opportunity to work alongside Washington and for the chance to work with such important and moving material. He says, "It's rare to work on something that affects you so deeply. "

The film shot two weeks in Cleveland, capturing the Glenville neighborhood of Fisher's youth, five weeks in San Diego, utilizing the U. S. Navy bases of 32nd Street, North Island and Point Loma, and aboard the USS Belleau Wood. Despite the increased complexity of shooting in a city with few experienced crew members (Cleveland) and on naval bases suffering from the aftermath of September 11, the filmmakers agreed from the beginning that it was important to be in these historically correct places in order to capture the true essence of the story that inspired Fisher's screenplay.

About Cleveland in particular, Black says Fisher had painstakingly included every detail of the neighborhood in the script. "There's something distinct about the rainy days. .. the lack of sun. .. the buildings, the smell. When you watch the film, there's a smell to it that Antwone described. And we wouldn't have gotten it in any other city. "

San Diego was important to the story in conveying the sharp contrast to those rainy days and reflecting the feeling of hope that pervaded Antwone's life there as a naval petty officer. "Obviously, this story is a love letter to the Navy," Coates says, and credits them for their willingness to cooperate. Washington adds, "I have to really take my hat off to the Department of Defense and the Navy specifically because they bent over backwards for us. They allowed us to film on their base. They allowed us to go out on their ships. It's not a big-budget picture. We didn't have a lot of money to spend. Without their help, we wouldn't have gotten any of the size or scope. "

Lt. Tanya Wallace, the Public Affairs Officer who worked closely with the production, enthuses, "This story is amazing. It presents the Navy in such a positive light, and the fact that it helped turn Antwone's life around made it really easy to get excited about it and support it. "

Though the tragic events of September 11, 2001 occurred prior to the start of principle photography, the Navy never wavered in their support of the project. Wallace explains, "This project was already in the works and we really wanted to support it. " The heightened security on each base did, however, greatly increase the degree of difficulty of shooting.

In addition to allowing the shoot on three San Diego bases, the Navy authorized the cast and crew to film on the USS Belleau Wood, an amphibious ship that transports Marines and helicopters and can hold up to 3,500 military personnel. The ship's captain agreed to berth overnight a minimal cast and crew of 27 people while they were out at sea so they could film some of their standard maneuvers. One of the maneuvers included the traditional "manning the rails" where sailors surround the flight deck in their formal uniforms and stand at attention as the ship leaves the port. To maintain an air of authenticity, nearly all the Navy extras that are seen in the film were actually off-duty officers and enlisted men and women from the bases where the film was shot.

The drastic differences between Fisher's experiences in Cleveland and San Diego required Coates to develop two different worlds. He explains, "The Navy palette is very different from the Cleveland palette. There is such a strong demarcation between the looks of all the Navy environments and the Cleveland environments. The trick was to stay out of the way of the story. "

In creating the dichotomy between Fisher's past and present, Coates says the filmmakers focused on sense of place. "On a small budget movie, a trap that filmmakers often fall into is: you're in a room and you can't see depth, you can't connect it up to more of the house. We worked diligently to connect things so visually you could see more of what was going on, adding depth, adding neighborhood. Instead of being just up against a building, we were trying to dress so we could look down the street, we could see more of things, so you get a larger sense of the world and how lost he is. .. When Antwone finds his mother in the film, we wanted to depict how far she had fallen and how far he had come. So we put her into what looks like a tenement house, and in two seconds you see how far she's come down, and then by putting him in his Navy pea coat for that meeting, there was just enough polish to him that you see it's not his world at all. "

Going back to that world where his life began so painfully was a difficult experience for Fisher. Black recalls that there was one particularly painful scene shot in Cleveland where Fisher walked off the set stating simply, "I don't need to watch this. I've already lived it. "

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