Too $hort
Photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

How ‘Freaky Tales’ Reimagines the Making of a Too $hort Classic

The film will open the 2024 Sundance Film Festival

The Bay Area’s presence will be felt this evening in Utah, as the much-anticipated Freaky Tales premieres at Sundance. The film, a trippy, action-packed anthology that celebrates underdogs and Bay Area '80s culture, features a stellar ensemble cast that includes Jay Ellis, Pedro Pascal, Normani, Dominique Thorne, Jack Champion, Ji-young Yoo, and Angus Cloud. 

MACRO’s newsletter, UpRising, has reported that rapper Too $hort, a producer on Freaky Tales, was a source of inspiration. “He inspired these stories,” said the film's director/screenwriter Ryan Fleck, an Oakland native, who adds that the hip-hop pioneer provided input on casting and the score. “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.’”

The movie's connection to the 57-year-old rapper goes deeper than the title and credits. One portion of Freaky Tales zeroes in on Danger Zone, an obscure female hip-hop duo that featured on $hort's 1988 song "Don't Fight the Feelin.'" The track is notable for its battle-of-the-sexes setup in which Danger Zone (made up of Entice and Barbie) trades slick talk with the song's host.

"It fascinated both of us that he had the confidence in his 20s to put this song on his album," said Anna Boden, who also directed and co-wrote the script. "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."

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True to MACRO’s ethos of telling substantive stories from a Black and brown lens, Freaky Tales isn’t like anything currently out in Hollywood. Hip-hop is only one aspect; the film is a wonderfully bumpy ride that changes gears throughout and throttles to the finish line over its four-part arc. The movie is anchored by its incredible performances; a nod must be given to Jay Ellis, who goes beyond his comfort zone in an incredibly unpredictable role.

Jay Ellis, my God, it was just such a joy to come to set every day and watch him be so incredible,” said Boden. “People are going to be surprised by what he does in the movie—not to mention everyone else [as well].”

MACRO, owned by Hollywood power executive Charles D. King, has been lauded for the quality content they develop and invest in. The company raised more than $90 million in 2023 and delivered the John Boyega-anchored film They Cloned Tyrone. Also starring Jamie Foxx, the film was placed on several best-of-2023 lists.