The Big Break

An interview with Producer David Zito

History is rarely noticed while it's in the process of being made, but, in 1984, independent film producer David Zito, along with co-producer Allen DeBevoise and the infamous Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus of Cannon Films, made Breakin'. People were clearly paying attention: The film garnered tremendous box office on the strength of its star, Michael "Boogaloo Shrimp" Chambers (see companion interview), who, at the tender age of 15, embodied the heart and soul of the West Coast street dance style known as "poppin' and lockin'," in which the dancers appear to be less human and more robotic, edgy, and fleeting around the borders of normal bodily movement.

Breakin' captured a moment in time so perfectly that it's now required viewing for not only aspiring bicoastal B-boy dancers and choreographers, but also for anyone with an interest in hip-hop history. Like its East Coast rival Beat Street, which appeared in theatres two weeks after Breakin', the film remains a classic time capsule and cultural artifact. It's a piece of cinematic history, to be sure, but the dance moves by Boogaloo Shrimp look as fresh, fast, and furious today as they did two decades ago. They even inspired a sequel – a lesser effort, it should be said – with Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo.

And then both Zito and Boogaloo Shrimp seemed to vanish from the scene, leaving behind a wealth of hip-hop style that still echoes throughout global pop culture, influencing everything from Apple's silhouetted iPod advertisements to more hip-hop artists and videos than you could count in a week.

But the question lingers: What ever happened to Zito and Shrimp? And what of the rumors of a third sequel that have been floating around for the better part of 20 years?

Here's your answer, live from Hollywood, back and ready to boogie.

Austin Chronicle: What's going on with the long-rumored Breakin' 3 sequel?

David Zito: We live in exciting times, my friend. I'm in a position here where I might be the first person in history to finance a movie that will become a number one movie with no studio involvement, no family money, no investors, and no stars attached. Nothing but the reputation of Boogaloo Shrimp and David Zito and our street credibility. Because we were there in the beginning. I'm telling you, I'm diggin' it.

AC: Congratulations, then.

DZ: Don't congratulate me yet – it's like I'm on the 20-yard line and I've got 80 yards to run. But, for now, there's nothing but daylight in front of me.

AC: So you've been trying to do this sequel for ages, right? What finally got the ball rolling?

DZ: Here's the thing: We got Toyota to come in as a sponsor on the event at the Alamo Drafthouse after we'd been bugging them to get Shrimp to do a commercial for their Scion. They came across with some money for us, and it's not much, but they did send us a check to sponsor the show. So, now we've got some money to do the film, and this weekend, we're meeting with Toyota to discuss the commercial. It's a series of commercials, actually. But things are falling into place.

AC: It's been over 20 years, though. Granted, Breakin' has achieved cult status, but both of you have been off the radar for so long ...

DZ: Sure. The new movie is based on the question of where's he been for the past two decades? But people have never stopped asking: What happened to Boogaloo Shrimp? He's the greatest legend in hip-hop dancing and very, very few people have ever actually seen him dance. That's the amazing thing!

AC: So, do you have the script ready to go?

DZ: I'm stealing every minute I have to work on this script, and I'm on the phone an hour or two a day with Shrimp going over this business, and, man, his whole life story is leaking out over the phone right into my ear, through my fingers and onto the page: From the street corner to the silver screen! He's it! He personifies the rags-to-riches legend! He lived it! And he did it all on just his talent alone.

AC: How did you become involved in Breakin' to begin with?

DZ: I was working with [producer] Menacem Golan ... we had got a deal to do what would eventually become Breakin'. For about the first two weeks of production, I was there with the production manager Bill Connelly, just the two of us, and at the beginning we had no idea that there was this other movie called Beat Street, which was also going into production. It had studio money behind it; Harry Belafonte was producing it; and they were shooting in the Bronx, in New York, with real, live B-boys. How could we compete with that? When we found that out, things got real quiet in that office, let me tell you. I tell you, we had a bottle of Cutty Sark that someone had left in the drawer in that office and we began having a stiff drink before going home every night. But I told Bill, you know what? The style of dancing out here in California is a little different from what they're doing in New York. I could see it was not the same thing at all. We couldn't find any breakdancers per se. What was going on out here in Long Beach was this bizarre combination of mime and gymnastics, but it was all stand up movement and footwork. The breakdancing coming out of the East was all a blur: their hands and feet were going around like windmills. But this was different. So, right away, we began looking for the best of the best of these street kids who were doing what would become known as poppin' and lockin'. This was in September of 1983. I asked around, and, bingo, the answers came back, three out of three, "Boogaloo Shrimp." And I said, you know, Boogaloo who? Is that a person or a soup? And they said, no, he's 15, he's small, but he's the best. And, so, long story short, we got some tape on this kid, we looked at the tape, and instantly I knew we could beat Beat Street. And we did. All because of Shrimp. He's just that brilliant. And you know what? He's as good as ever. Better, even. And, now, after all these years, look out world, the Shrimp is back in town!

AC: And David Zito?

DZ: Well, yeah. He's back, too. end story

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David Zito, Michael Boogaloo Shrimp Chambers, Breakin'

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