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Freaky Tales Is a Hella Action-Packed Dedication to Oakland Underdog

Updated: Mar 4


MACRO and eONE's Freaky Tales premiers today at Sundance! UpRising caught up with directors/screenwriters Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden to discuss the mind-blowing anthology film featuring an ensamble cast that includes Jay Ellis, Pedro Pascal, Normani, Dominique Thorne, Jack ChampionJi-young Yoo, Angus Cloud and more.

UpRising: There are a few motifs that run through Freaky Tales; one is the idea of underdogs facing adversity. How did you land on that theme?

Ryan Fleck: It's funny, a lot of these stories have to do with obsessions of mine growing up in Oakland. When the first draft was outlined and presented to Anna, it never occurred to me that this was a story about underdogs. She pointed it out, then we started to build around that idea.

Anna Boden: Something that we always joke about is that Ryan has been obsessed with the idea of Too $hort’s “Freaky Tales” since he was 12, and has been pitching me various versions of Freaky Tales—the movie—for the last 15 to 20 years. This one stuck. One of the reasons is that theme really resonated. We were able to build four separate stories that were really connected by this wish-fulfillment idea of underdogs who could have their day.

How did Too Short come to be involved in Freaky Tales, and in what ways did he contribute to the storytelling?

Ryan Fleck: He inspired these stories. His song “Freaky Tales” was epic; it's offensive but also just makes you move your head to it. Listening to it as an adolescent boy I think is different from Anna discovering it as a thirtysomething woman. Once we had a script, we contacted $hort and had a Zoom [call] with him during the pandemic. He and his producing partner, David Weintraub, were like, “This is cool. Let's figure out how to do it.” He was really helpful in helping to secure his music and making recommendations here and there for people that could either act in the movie or other songs we could use.

Talk about the idea to depict the little-known rap duo Danger Zone in the film. 

Anna Boden: That got me excited about this version of Freaky Tales: What if we tackle Too $hort from the point of view of Danger Zone, a real female hip-hop duo with a song on Two $hort’s album called “Don't Fight the Feelin,’” where they brilliantly kind of take him down a notch. It fascinated both of us that he had the confidence in his 20s to put this song on his album. We thought that was awesome. So we created our own fantasy around how this song came to be and told that story. The casting was so fun. Normani [Kordei Hamilton], who hadn't acted before, is such an incredible performer and a natural presence. And then Dominique [Thorne], who is such an experienced actor—they have so much chemistry and such a great bond. It was really fun.

What were some of the challenges of working with such a great ensemble cast?

Anna Boden: Whenever you're casting that large a group of people, making sure their schedules align is hard. But when you cast [properly], it makes directing easy. We casted this really, really well. It made our jobs pleasant and enjoyable to watch our actors do what they do so amazingly. Jay Ellis, my God, it was just such a joy to come to set every day and watch him be so incredible. People are going to be surprised by what he does in the movie—not to mention everyone else [as well]

Freaky Tales also feels like a dedication to Oakland in the late 1980s. Ryan, how did your experience growing up there inform the story?

Ryan Fleck: Oakland is one of those cities that people who live there or are from there feel a very intense amount of pride about. Even though it's got its problems, there's still pride about its diversity, its strength, and its grit. I just remember growing up in a place that was both scary and exciting all at once, and defined by becoming a sports fan with my [Golden State] Warriors and [Oakland] A’s. The politics, the progressive radical history with the Black Panthers—there's a lot to be proud of in that city and culture, and it's always stuck with me.

I remember there was always some kind of racial incident [with] people coming in, usually from other parts of California, to start shit with the diverse population of Oakland. That whole first chapter [of Freaky Tales]—that’s the one most based on a true story [concerning] the Gilman punk venue. Of course, we embellished a bit. But Oakland stands up for itself.


You don’t have to be from Oakland, but if you are, you're definitely going to appreciate Freaky Tales… It's a fun, nostalgic ride, the music is mind-blowing, and it's not like anything else out there right now.

Come chill with us at the MACRO Lodge at Sundance, January 19-21.


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