Towards the end of the documentary, there’s a moment where DMX misses a major interview day. Can you take me into how hectic that moment was for you and the crew?
I mean, we had an idea that maybe things were not going that great, but we didn’t know. And so that scene in which he doesn’t show, we realized throughout that day it was more than just a rapper thing or musician thing how they show up late always. We realized it was something more serious. In the film, you see us calling people and no one really wants to say, or doesn’t know. And so we were concerned, but we did have the knowledge that he does do that. He does isolate when drugs are involved. So, we kind of just figured that’s what was up.
We were alarmed, but I think at the end of the day—and he said this when he saw the film—the fact that we shot it works. It’s an example of something that happens when you’re dealing with substances and substance abuse. And I’ve been open about it, I am a recovering alcoholic. I remember when I used to drink, I used to disappear, because you don’t want to hurt the people that’s around you or the people that care about you. It’s better to just be completely alone. And that’s what he was doing during those time periods.
You said earlier that you told him you would talk afterwards if there were uglier moments during filming. How did he feel about his absence being in the documentary?
The thing is, we did say we’d talk about that at the very beginning. But as we got to know each other, and as we were working on the film, the moments that are the “uglier moments,” they become less ugly and more just the reality of the situation in his life.
So, speaking on post-production, there were moments while we were cutting [where] we would have conversations in the rooms about, “Oh, this might be too ugly,” or whatever. I would be like, “I don’t think so at all. Earl wouldn’t think so.” It was funny that kind of went away as the process went. There are very few things that he, when he saw the film, he really wanted taken out. Because I think when he saw the totality of what we had shot and thrown together, he was like, “Yeah, this is real. This is what happened,” and they’re not necessarily ugly to him, so they don’t come across as ugly to me.
There’s another moment towards the end of the documentary where X has a candid conversation with his son Xavier. Before that point, they had kind of a contentious public relationship. How did it feel to capture that moment?
[I’ll] just say: Dave and Busters, bro. You got to take anybody to Dave and Busters and you get some emotion out of them. [Laughs.] But, I don’t know. He’s coming to terms with something at that moment, and so is Xavier, and it just felt very natural. It was just such an organic thing. I felt happy for both of them, because I obviously had spoken to Earl about Xavier. I had spoken to Xavier about his father. So it was just a beautiful moment. It’s one of those moments where you’re holding a camera and you’re like, “Oh my fucking God,” and you feel happy that this is happening for your friend. You feel happy that it’s impactful for a film, for someone to see that sort of reconciliation. So, long and short, it feels good. Hope feels good.
What are some of the things that surprised you about DMX? How was it different being around him, compared to how the public perceived him?
I was not surprised, but it was really beautiful to see his interaction with the “everyday people.” I didn’t think he was going to be above anybody else, but the level to which he relates to fans, and fans relate to him, and he relates to regular everyday Joes and ladies, it was just cool, but not surprising so much.
You know that thing where you have a feeling about a celebrity or you’re a big fan of somebody, and then you meet them and they’re an asshole and it ruins everything for the rest of your life? That’s what it was like working at Mass Appeal. I was like, “Oh man, another one?” But it was none of that [with DMX]. It was just his openness about everything and the level of his spirituality. I never thought that was in any way some sort of performance, but it’s deep and you see it in the decisions that he makes, wrong or right. How he’s wrestling with these demons, so to speak, all the time.
When X saw the documentary, were you present with him? How did that go?
Yeah. Myself and Clark Slater, the producer and co-director, and Sean Gordon-Loebl, the three guys who went down to West Virginia in the first place [went to see him]. He was in a different rehab facility in February 2020, and we went and watched it with him and his counselors in a little room. It was on a little TV, as you can imagine, in an okay rehab spot.
We were all in knots, obviously, because we were like, “What’s he going to think?” It was a beautiful moment, because after he saw it, he just sat and he didn’t say anything for a minute. He talked to his counselor in hush tones. And then he was like, “Alright. I like this. You did it.” He’s like, “You got it. Alright.” He recognized there’s parts in there that some people could see that are not the most appealing, but he was like, “Nah, this is what happened.”
The final scene of the doc is an emotional one with his family. He’s singing “The Way We Were.” Did it feel to you like a good final scene in the moment? What tone do you think that it elucidated for the documentary?
I mean, in that moment, it felt like the end. I’m a kind of dude that can keep shooting forever until someone tells me that I have to stop. But that was in early December. We had almost done a year and we’re sitting there with this whole family, and at that point (and to this day) we’re good with everybody. So I think in the film, when he’s like, “We’re family, friends,” he’s referring to us, the three of us eating crab legs. We happened to have cameras with us, because that’s our job, but it was just such a fitting moment. I felt it. I had sort of goosebumps because it was… I don’t know. It’s hard to describe. How did you feel when you saw the ending?
It was very emotional. Sometimes that word doesn’t even capture what you fully feel. I mean, I was on the verge of tears. The lyrics are very existential and optimistic. Taking that into account with all the turmoil in his life, and how through it all, he just wanted to try to do the best he could… It spoke a lot to the human experience.
Yeah. That’s why it’s kind of hard for me to describe, too. It kind of sums it all up. It’s weird, because it’s this very peaceful moment where you hear all this noise in the background, and people are kind of paying attention or not. He’s just so at peace there. I do think it’s hopeful, and I think what you said is right on. It’s like doing something that’s the best you can, despite all of the obstacles and shit that’s been thrown at you your entire life. He’s there.
We live in the tragedy of his passing, but at the end, I believe this to be a hopeful film because any of those things—the child abuse as a very young child, incarceration as a very young child, crack and drugs as a very young child, poverty, then as an adult being sort of victimized by the industry—could have led to self-destruction way before the monumental success, instead of everything that he did achieve in his life and everything that he means to everybody. Despite the fact that he passed away, I think that everything I just listed [shows] people that there is hope. It’s weird because he’s gone, but there’s hope.
When was the last time that you spoke to him?
Honestly, I mentioned my substance issues. The last time I spoke to him was in late February of this year, and I called him about something and then told him, “Yo dude, by the way, I’m about to check myself into rehab for drinking.” And the last time I talked to him, he was like, “Yo, Chris you’re going to be fine.” He’s like, “I’m proud of you. Do that.” I went in for a month, and the day I was about to get out, my girl called me and was like, “Earl’s in the hospital.” So I never spoke to him again. But the very last time I spoke to him was about me about to go get sober. I credit part of my sobriety today, to quitting drinking, to him.
That was the last time I talked to him and he was in good spirits. He was in Florida doing something, trying to get me to go there and make some music videos. I’m like, “Dude, I just told you I’m about to go to rehab.” [Laughs.] But yeah, that was the last time we spoke. I think he touches people on a level that’s like you see in the film. Like, that street sweeper in Detroit, he was like, “He changed my life. I wouldn’t be able to make it through a 15-year bid without Earl.” That dude’s not being hyperbolic when he says that.
Do you think the documentary tells the story you intended to tell?
From the perspective of, I didn’t purposely want to tell a story that I conceived of in my head. It succeeds on that level, I believe. I think that it’s honest, and I think it’s what he would’ve wanted. I think it’s just something that people can take things away from as they wish, as opposed to oftentimes in docs, filmmakers beat people on the head with information and how they’re supposed to process that information. I think Earl himself lent his personality, the way he moves, the way he acted, and the things that he did… They lend themselves to people interpreting things on their own, so we don’t need to be like, “Feel sorry for him here, feel this way here.” He’s a complex person, and you have the right to feel any way at any point, or draw anything, or make any conclusions as a viewer, as you will.
Was there anything else about the documentary that you wanted to express?
No. The only thing I would say is, if you come into it with an open mind, I think you’ll be able to find something in Earl that you can really relate to. That’s why we made the film.