And just like that, Chicago is up 200 points in the new film “Heist 88,” written and executively produced by Chicago native Dwayne Johnson-Cochran. The Paramount+ and Showtime film, “Heist 88,” stars award-winning actor Courtney B. Vance and is produced by Vance and his wife, award-winning actress Angela Bassett, under the Bassett Vance Productions banner. Johnson-Cochran has worked in many facets of the entertainment industry, specifically on the Chicago scene as a former cameraman and journalist for WTTW-Chicago.
During the early stages of his career, he covered the story of the largest bank heist in history in the 1980s, in which four young Black bank employees were enticed by robber and conman “Jeremy Horne” to rob the bank they worked at for $80 million! Johnson-Cochran grew so engrossed in the case that he wrote the screenplay for the film “Heist 88,” which is loosely based on that, though it’s not a non-fiction project.
Chicago Defender: Let’s talk about the importance of Black Chicago Media.
Johnson-Cochran: Black Chicago Media serves as a champion for the community and keeps Black people abreast of what’s happening. Black Media was the first channel of social media. In the Black community, we have operated by telephone (conversation) for years as a vehicle to communicate. We reinforce our strength when we reinforce Black voices, which is extremely important in Black Chicago Media. This is why we must back, fund and support them so they don’t disappear. We must preserve Black media simply because there’s always another side to the story that must be told.
Chicago Defender: As a storyteller, what elements play a part in ensuring that a great story is told?
Johnson-Cochran: The first element is to care about the story and its characters. When I write, I write from the character’s perspective. For example, in “Heist 88,” I think about the main character “Jeremy Horne” played by Vance, and those four young people. Each of these characters’ worlds collide based merely on varying views on what they want their life to be. As people (viewers), we all can relate to that. We all have our ambitions, plans and goals. When I think of a storyteller, I automatically write based on having empathy for the characters. In my opinion, you must care about the characters first to move to tell the story.
Chicago Defender: What advice would you give an aspiring Chicago filmmaker looking to be inspired to go to the next level?
1. The most essential aspect is to respect the art form. What keeps you watching the film as a viewer? The story. Success in the film business is based on one thing: good storytelling. You must take pride and respect your craft enough to hone your storytelling expertise to save time and effort.
2. My advice to any aspiring filmmaker is to work on the writing of your story (ensure that it makes sense) and that it’s not predictable because that creates boredom, and your audience tunes out.
3. Always remember your audience is much more intelligent than we’re led to believe as filmmakers.
Chicago Defender: Let’s talk about the importance of partnership. How did the Bassett Vance Productions partnership occur? Did Vance sign on first, or was it the other way around?
Johnson-Cochran: Courtney and I have been friends for over 20 years. We met on a project about 20 years ago that I directed for HBO. From there, we built a working relationship to develop projects over the years. Bassett Vance Productions formed and created a deal with Paramount in the last few years. With this particular project, I wrote it with Courtney in mind (as the lead) and submitted the treatment to him. From there, we went in, pitched and sold it with him sitting right next to me (and the team).
Chicago Defender: On the subject of preserving Black stories. What is the importance of telling Black stories in film?
Johnson-Cochran: The importance lies in sharing stories of our heritage. Our life (and the lives of other Black people) in America through the lens of Black creators. The importance of filmmakers who are Black and of American descent have a different point of view. The stories must not paralyze us but empower us to be better storytellers. It is our responsibility to get beyond the obvious to write, create and produce something from our lens to bridge the gap and forge history to live on through conversations through the lens of storytelling.
Chicago Defender: With “Heist 88” gaining high momentum, what do you want all viewers to take away?
Johnson-Cochran: To be open to the uniqueness of this story; it’s a different way of telling a heist. Sophistication in reality can be put in film, and it can be entertaining. Allow yourself the freedom to experience this ride.