Townsend will be featured in an upcoming documentary that will center on how he made “The Five Heartbeats.” The film, which was released 25 years ago on March 29, 1991, is loosely based on the lives of several recording artists, including The Dells and The Temptations, and depicts the rise and fall of a Motown-inspired group.
In addition to co-writing “The Five Heartbeats” with Keenen Ivory Wayans, Townsend directed and starred in the movie with Leon Robinson, Michael Wright, Harry Lennix, Tico Wells, Hawthorne James, Roy Fegan and Diahann Carroll.
“Right now, I’m working on a documentary about how I made the film, the journey behind from the very beginning when I first started saying to Keenan, ‘Hey, I want to do this script after ‘Hollywood Shuffle.’”
For Townsend, the project has been a long time coming as fans have come to him over the years with questions regarding everything about “The Five Heartbeats,” from casting the film’s characters to editing.
“Sometimes there’s the story behind the scenes that’s almost as powerful as the story itself,” he said. As I started to delve into all the things…people would say ‘how did you do that?’ because people love the movie so they always ask me questions about casting and questions about how it was made and the editing and the wardrobe. I was like ‘Oh I got all these amazing stories about what happened behind the scenes that people have no idea.’”
From there, the fuse was lit to bring the full story behind “The Five Heartbeats” to the masses. Although he was tight-lipped on who was in the running to star in the film, Townsend alluded to it involving “major casting considerations.”
“A lot of it is gonna be in the documentary so I don’t wanna give it away [laughs],” the actor-filmmaker explained. “The only thing I would say is that it took me three years to get the movie made. And in that time, people were on other projects. Certain people were doing television shows. Certain people were doing movies and they weren’t available when I finally got my green light. So there’s a whole legend. It’s pretty juicy because I have all the footage. If you’re a fan of the movie, the documentary is just gonna make you go, ‘Oh my god. Oh wow. Look what Robert was doing. And this is his second movie.’” [Laughs]
“The documentary tells a whole ‘nother story of behind the scenes of everything I was going through,” Townsend added.
Rather than take the traditional route with his documentary, Townsend mentioned that he plans to take a “really different” approach with the project.
“I’m doing it really different. So the way I’m doing the documentary is just because it’s before the movie even began and after the movie is over and it’s all the journey behind the scenes,” he explained, calling the film “a treat for that ‘Five Heartbeats’ real fan.” “So it’s really done in a very artsy way. It’s not a traditional documentary by any stretch. Anything I do is always gonna be different. So it’s not gonna be like ‘so we were sitting there shooting. [Laughs]. It’s not that kind of documentary. It’s a Robert Townsend project. I’ma do something different. I gotta shake it up.”
When asked about the documentary’s release, Townsend stated that he has the first rough cut of the film and is now “tweaking it and putting it all together” with hopes of getting it completed and ready in time for the American Black Film Festival (ABFF).
“I’m trying to have it ready for June,” he shared. “In my mind, I want to have it for June and hopefully premiere it at ABFF. The film festival is in June. Hopefully I’ll have everything together, but the editing process right now is just a doozy
For more on “The Five Heartbeats” documentary, visit www. RobertTownsend.com or follow Townsend on Twitter.