In 1994, Teri Woods unleashed True To The Game, a novel that details a love story infused with a lethal drug trade. There’s power in money, but with that dominance comes much evil. Woods tells the story of Gena and Quadir, two Philadelphia residents caught in the trappings of their surroundings. They fall in love, but things inevitably go wrong.
Woods knows the inner chamber of the coveted street commandments and politics that preside over the game. “As you struggle to hustle, taking gain after loss, don’t get discouraged. Just remember who’s boss,” she writes in the book’s foreword, Game Anthem. “Handle your business, and always watch your back. Don’t sleep on the stick-up boys waiting to attack. As you creep through the streets, the crack fiends holler. They’ve done any and everything just to give you those dollars.”
Over 20 years and 26 books later, True To The Game came to life onscreen earlier this fall with a film adaptation of the book. The movie was executive produced by Manny Halley, a music industry veteran who managed Keyshia Cole, Nicki Minaj and Shyne.
Halley crafted a modern take on Woods’ legendary book and infused present-day artifacts with ancient street credibility. Columbus Short (Quadir) excels at playing the drug dealer who’s caught between good vs. evil. He loves conspicuous consumption yet knows his means for doing so must one day come to an end. Gena, played by Erica Peeples, falls for Quadir’s game knowing that she’s smarter than his antics, but learns a valuable lesson along the way.
Alongside cameos by Draya Michelle and the legendary Vivica A. Fox, one of the most captivating things in the film is its gorgeous cinematography from the beautiful scenes set on California beaches to grimy East Coast city blocks.
Halley, who recently signed a first book deal with NBC has his eyes set on the movie-making business. True To The Game is just the beginning of a possibly lucrative career in Hollywood. He aims to make 26 Teri Books into movies/series, and produce a documentary about his early life in New York City.
The industry veteran chatted with VIBE from Los Angeles on financing his own movie, and the steps he took to get to where he is now.
VIBE: How did your experience as a manager help while creating this film?
I think the music and film business works hand in hand. It’s like all the same. First, you adapt what you like. Then you go out and find a great writer, director, and casting director. In the case of music, that would be finding the artist and then you find a great producer. So the music business and management business helps. It helped me in terms of getting all the right people to make a great film.
When did you first realize that you wanted to make a movie?
The first artist that I ever discovered or managed was Shyne. I signed him to Puff Daddy. We had platinum albums. He went to jail and every month I’d go see him to make sure he was straight. Then I told him, ‘I’m going to L.A. to make movies,’ so when I got to L.A. Nas was making a movie.
I told Nas, ‘I want to get down.’ So I invested in a movie with him. On the set that Nas and I were shooting in—we were both producing it—somebody introduced me to Keyshia Cole, and that’s how I got back into the music business. I met Keyshia, we blew her up. We had the show and everything. We were touring all over the world, and it got me back into the music business. After a couple of years of managing people, I wanted to go back and fulfill my dream. My dream was always to be a producer. I know a lot of people don’t know that, but my heart was always into making films.
What were some of your favorite films growing up?
I loved Scarface, and the way they represented it—keeping your word and starting from nothing. I love movies like The Notebook, it was the first movie that ever made me cry. It’s a love story. I love any movie Denzel Washington is in. He’s actually my favorite actor. I’m going to hire him to be in my movie. I don’t care if he’s $10 million or $30 million he’s going to be in one of my movies, one day soon (laughs).
Why did you decide to finance the film on your own instead of getting a studio or funders to back it up?
Because it’s not easy raising money especially when you’re a first-time film producer. They normally would give money to a seasoned producer. If you notice a lot of producers with big names whether it’s Tyler Perry or whoever it is, they’ll tell you their first time raising money wasn’t easy.
You have to prove yourself. When I went to studios to actually fund it. they loved the IP (Intellectual Property) —‘True To The Game is a great IP but we wanted it to ourselves.’ But I just wanted to keep control, and I decided to do it myself for that reason. Just to keep control, and not give it to a studio that will do it the way they want to do it.
Which character in the book or the movie do you relate to the most?
I’m definitely a Quadir type of person. I come from the streets of Flatbush, Brooklyn. I had to hustle before I became successful. I was an entrepreneur, I owned a lot of businesses. There were times where I wanted to get out the game. The difference between me and Quadir is that Quadir has street problems. I was able to get out the game without any street problems, and I always kept my integrity.
You included a lot of modern elements in the film like iPhones and Uber, which didn’t exist when True To The Game was originally written. What made you decide to do that?
I didn’t want to make it a period piece because a lot of urban movies that come out with a period piece kind of remind me of Paid In Full. I didn’t want this to be a Paid In Full, I wanted this to be present because this is a story that happens throughout time. It’s a love story. It’s a guy trying to get out the game, he doesn’t want to end his life. This is what goes on whether it’s a period piece or a present piece. I wanted to make everything present for the younger generation who didn’t read the book.
Can you recall any memorable moments on set?
The scene with the horse is very, very incredible. It’s beautiful. I said, ‘Wow I’m using my money—I’m hiring a horse. I’m shutting down Malibu beach paying for the permit. A guy from Brooklyn, New York who grew up with nothing shut down a beach with horses.’
Things like that felt great and just seeing a lot of the talent, working with Vivica Fox and Columbus Short. The late Nelsan Ellis, may he rest in peace, he was a great man. There was a time when SAG and a couple of unions said, ‘Hey we need to see this and see that,’ and he was just one the guys that said, ‘Nobody can stop this project. We’re going to make it work.’ I remember days like that where my cast was supporting me, a first-time film producer and they just wanted me to win.
How did Teri Woods react upon seeing the film?
I sent her the movie two weeks before we started the premiere, and she called me back like, ‘Manny not one thing I can say about this movie is wrong. For all these years I was going crazy thinking you were going to do something wrong. I don’t have one bad thing to say. My son and I saw it and we loved it.’ So I think we conquered what we wanted to.
We got the blessings from the person who wrote the book that she actually loved it. That was great for me because let’s say God forbid she didn’t like it— two weeks before the big screen it would have been hard for me.