feature: an interview with cronies film director, writer, producer michael larnell

June 3, 2015

First time filmmaker, Michael Larnell kept it cool, calm and collected amidst the mayhem of the 14th annual Tribeca Film Festival, where he screened Cronies, a film shot in St. Louis, Missouri where he’s from. The film uses comedy to unravel the dynamics of race, community and socioeconomics through three close friends, over the span of a day. The project was brought to life during his time in grad school at the Tisch School of the Arts, film program. Larnell, a student and mentee of filmmaker, Spike Lee, executive produced the film. During the course of the 14-day New York film festival, AfroPunk had the opportunity to speak with Larnell about putting together this project in his hometown.

By Priscilla Ward, AFROPUNK Contributor 


What originally prompted the film?

I have always had an interest in showing the difficulty and awkwardness of young men expressing their love for one another. The simplicity of childhood friendship becomes complicated as old friends develop new relationships, and the tension and competition, resulting from these growing pains is real. In hindsight, it’s also funny and enlightening.  

I wanted to show a character drifting away from childhood friendships in the pursuit of his own, growth and opportunities, all while facing the challenges and hurdles that come from pursuing those opportunities.  In my hometown of St. Louis, opportunities are available to young people, but they’re not always evident, and one young man’s pursuit of opportunities can be mistaken for the betrayal of old friends and the communities in which one’s raised, especially when opportunities instigate consistent interaction among different races and social classes. Fortunately, the expanded networks provided by both school and work also provide a chance for cross-cultural communication and meaningful bonds of friendship and understanding. 


I wrote CRONIES to tell a different story of male friendship – one that was rooted in love, enriched with my own experiences, and brightened by the universal humor inherent in growing pains. The characters are my friends, the location is my hometown, and the story is my authentic reflection of the ways in which young men figure out how to show love among friends. 



How would you describe your experience growing up in St. Louis as a kid?

Growing up in St. Louis was a really good experience. Mainly because its a small/big city. It sort of has the best of both worlds. I was able to get the experience of small town, where everyone in the neighborhood knew each other and it was a community like a small town, while being able to have access to different events and experiences of a big city. 

In what ways have you seen things change or remain the same in St. Louis? 

That’s one thing that comes with a small city. Most people usually stick with traditions and what they know.  So not much has changed in St. Louis since I’ve grown up there.


In what ways was the film a portrayal of your personal experience growing up there?

The film is basically me observing several different people I know and hung around.  It is not my personal story, its just me observing the sometime awkwardness of male friendships.


Why did you decide to call this film Cronies verses another name that means friendship?

One of my favorite movies is “The Goonies”.  So when I came across the word “Crony” and it meant friendship.  I just pluralized and made it “Cronies”, similar to “Goonies” 

What was it like working with Spike Lee? 

Working with Spike was a great experience.  He spent most of his time with the editing of the film.  He has watched the film, in its entirety 10-15 times.  We would sit down and trade notes on the film. Its was nice.

Can you talk about the process of selecting the three main characters?  

I always knew I wanted to cast local people from St. Louis.  Whether they were actors with experience or no experience.  I definitely wanted to have the authentic feel of St. Louis, so I cast locally. I held auditions and the guys came out.  They were the best ones to fit the roles they played.


Why was it important to you to show the relationship between a black police officers and the African American community?  

I thought it was an interesting back story to a friendship.  We never see stories about a person leaving and venturing out from the neighborhood and becoming a cop, but he is still cool with friends from where he grew up.  Considering “since forever” there has always been friction between the police and people of color. Cronies actually was based around that story, but due to the amount of time I had to film the movie, it was to much for me to complete in a certain amount of time.  So I re-wrote the film and made it more achievable within that time.

Tell me about the selection of music in the film?

The music used in the film is mostly St. Louis artist.  I wanted to cast locally as well as use local music within the film. Also, since the three guys travel to different areas of the city, I wanted to incorporate different styles of music that goes with the area.

What do you hope the social impact of this film will be? 

There are many different themes and social awareness within the movie. But overall, my biggest one is to try not to judge a book by its cover.  In other words, try not to judge to judge a person solely based of the color of their skin. Whether it be black, white or brown.

What are your plans for distribution of the film? Has it been picked up by anyone yet? 

The film has not been sold, but we plan to get it out regardless.

What’s your next project?

Not sure. I’m still figuring that one out.