Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Q&A with Tom Freeman of "Breaking the Cage"

Breaking the Cage debuts December 5
at Loews Theater in Cherry Hill

Though the journey was rough
and I often felt alone, one friend
I knew I could count on was Tom.

BENNINGTON -- I met Tom Freeman the night he appeared Phil Jackson's Trentonian TV webcast in March 2012. Tom reminded me of Erick Sermon from the '80s rap duo EPMD because he was so laid back and kind of looked and sounded like The E-R-I-C-K.

The Fairleigh Dickenson grad and married father of 5 gave Phil a strong interview about his writing and budding film career, then was gone, and though we never saw each other again we followed each other on Facebook.

That's how he approached me last week, through Facebook chat. He asked if I could recommend someone at the 'tonian to pitch an interview for the new documentary Breaking the Cage: The Zu Life Story -- which he wrote and produced. I gave Tom a few names then offered to do my own Q&A with the man behind Zu Life: Jay Sykes of Burlington City, New Jersey. Read it here.

Then I thought that Tom deserves a Q&A, too. 

He has written several books (The Organization; Sons of Sin; Her Little Secret), a documentary (Live 2 Tell: The Lucas Torres Story) and a docu-series (Hip-Hop's Great Migration), and a feature film -- Her Little Secret, based on his book -- is in pre-production. Breaking the Cage: The Zu Life Story debuts December 5 at the Loew's Theater in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

Q. How and when did the idea for "Breaking the Cage" come about? 

 A. Late 2010. Reality TV was dominating the airways and I thought if we had a reality show documenting Zu Life's return to society it would be a good marketing tool for him. I realized that he would need to create a buzz to put out a reality show successfully so we decided to do a documentary. At the time he had about 18 months left before he maxed out. 

Q. What is your relationship to Zu Life personally and professionally? 

A. Personally were like brothers or at least cousins lol. We can talk and build on a variety of subjects. He has always been ahead of his time and I was the same way so we were always able to communicate about any topic and it goes both ways he can come to me for advice or vice-versa. Professionally we have a partnership. 

Q. How long did the project take? What kind of equipment did you use? Who are the directors? What is your role? 

A. The filming started September 12, 2012 and ended November 2013. The documentary was shot on DSLR cameras. The directors were J Dogg, Quest, Tone Morgan and J Criss. I co-produced and co-wrote it with Zu Life. 

Q. You credit yourself as a writer of the project --- what did you write? 

A. Narration. 

Q. What were some of the difficulties making "Breaking the Cage"? 

A. When Zu Life first came home I was still living in Atlanta so communicating my vision to the people who were handling the production in Jersey was a challenge but what's life whith out challenges! 

Q. How were you able to get the documentary shown at Loews in Cherry Hill? 

A. They respected the movement and the quality of the material. 

Q. How long is it? 

A. Approximately an hour. 

Q. What do you hope comes from the documentary? 

A. I hope people get to get a look at Zu Life, his life, struggles and triumphs, in hopes that they better understand the music. Also as a from of marketing standpoint, visuals are almost as important as lyrics and cogent nowadays. 

Q. What is Tom Freeman's goal in the entertainment industry? 

A. To make Zu Life a household name and keep doing what I'm doing but on a much bigger level.

Speaking of Zu Life, here's Jay's ode to his relationship with Tom ... 

I first met T-Blacc when I was very young. I didn't know him that much due to our age difference, but we were from the same area and knew all of the same people. It wasn't until the summer of 2003, when I was waived up to an adult, given a bail, and released from the Juvenile Detention Center, until we were formally introduced and became acquaintances. 

A close friend of mine, who was at that time in our rap group, informed me that Tom and 2 other brothers from my our neighborhood were starting an independent record label called "Sleepy Eye Entertainment". 

Initially I didn't have any interest in working with Tom and his partners because I didn't feel we needed their assistance, but I went to meet with them anyway. Skeptical at first, I was reluctant to hear their proposition, but soon after performing rap verses and conversing with them I had a proper understanding of their vision. We then went on to making songs all while forming a bond based on a common dream. Out of the 3 brothers who played the roles of our managers, my friendship with Tom seemed to grow stronger with each passing day.
One of Jay's Facebook updates yesterday

Tom was like the mentor and big brother I never had. Not only did he help me with music, but he helped me cope with everyday life as a teenager in the streets facing 20 years in prison. He was my voice of reason at times when I didn't see any hope for the future. Though our bonds were growing stronger by the day the time approached where I would inevitably have to serve at least 10 years in adult prison. 

I confided in Tom when I felt like no one understood or could relate to what I was going through at that time. He did everything he could to keep me mentally focused and prepared for what I was up against, as well as motivating me to continue to follow my dreams despite the unfortunate circumstances. I was sentenced on June 25, 2004, to 10 years in adult prison at the age of 17. 

Though the journey was rough and I often felt alone, one friend I knew I could count on was Tom. 

He didn't let me down. Throughout my prison term he sent me letters, pictures, books, magazines, etc. His letters were filled with words of encouragement and updates on all of the things he was accomplishing through writing. A gifted writer, he went on to publishing 3 books, writing for several magazines, and filming documentaries all while I was incarcerated. He was an inspiration to me. He never let up on his dream! That gave me the drive and courage to do the same when I was eventually released. A great friend, big brother and mentor, I'm eternally grateful for Tom's friendship. He believed in me when I didn't believe in ANYTHING. 

 Thank you Thomas Freeman... Much love, loyalty, and respect FOREVER!

Front-page story in the Burlington County Times