Detroiter Behind Starz ‘BMF’ shares what it took to build a television career
Randy Huggins thinks his hometown is long overdue for such a stylish and exciting TV series as “BMF”.
“I think it’s time the rest of the world saw how special our city really is,” says the Detroit native who created executive producer and legendary rapper Curtis (50 Cent) Jackson’s latest Starz crime thriller .
Set in Detroit in the 1980s, “BMF” is inspired by the true story of Demetrius and Terry Flenory, two brothers from southwest Detroit who built a cocaine trading empire and ventured into the music industry before being sentenced to 30 years in prison.
The show debuted on September 26th. Less than a week later, it was renewed for a second season.
Huggins, 49, has a personal connection to the project. He points out that his middle name is Demetrius, just like the Flenory brother known as Big Meech. Growing up in Motor City at the same time as Big Meech and Terry (aka Southwest T), he understands the obstacles they faced.
“I remember asking Terry, ‘What did you want to be?’ He said, ‘I really wanted to be a businessman and own most of the businesses in the country,’ “says Huggins.
Actually, Huggins wanted to be a writer. The former Detroit public school teacher needed talent and determination to move to Los Angeles and build a formidable career in the television industry.
He found encouragement from Erykah Badu and David Mamet, among others.
Huggins speaks so vividly of his life that it is hoped his next prime-time series will be autobiographical.
Long before he became executive producer and author of “BMF”, Huggins was mentioned in local newspapers as the national soccer player of the now closed St. Martin de Porres High School. Sport has always been a part of his life, he says, and he continues to guide him in building teamwork between his cast and crew.
A grant from the Coleman A. Young Foundation enabled him to attend college. Established in 1982 by Detroit’s legendary first black mayor, the foundation provides financial support and mentoring to promising students. In a 1996 Free Press story, Huggins revealed that after leaving two colleges due to grade problems, he received help from staff on the scholarship to focus on his studies and received a degree in history from Grambling State University in Louisiana.
In Grambling, he took an acting class and shared entertaining stories from his life that prompted a classmate named Erica Wright to urge him to write them down. “She used to say, ‘You’re lying! You’re not telling the truth. Nobody’s life is that dramatic,'” he recalls with a laugh.
“She graduated three years later and I was going to Chicago to visit my friend,” continues Huggins. “And my friend says, ‘You know, Erica’s album is out. Erica Wright is actually Eryka Badu. “
In those early years, Huggins stuck to Badu’s advice. “She was the first person to tell me that I need to start turning my life into films.”
After college, Huggins returned to Detroit as part of his scholarship to help the city. He worked as a primary school teacher for five years and also mentored new Coleman Young Foundation scholars. However, his dream to write remained.
He heard about a program at the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles, but had to raise about $ 8,000 to attend. Determined not to miss the opportunity, he tried grassroots crowdsourcing long before it became a trend.
“I wrote a letter to all of my family, friends and colleagues,” he recalls. “I asked them for donations of $ 100, $ 250, and $ 500. In three weeks I had $ 10,000. I got in a car and drove to California and just pushed my way up from the ground floor. “
Finding work as a writer was a difficult process. Although Hollywood now pays more attention to diversity and inclusion, most TV show creators back then were and are white men.
Huggins says he got a foot in the door through the Streetlights Production Assistant Program, which helps men and women with color gain experience for a career behind the camera. He began working as an entry-level assistant on TV commercials and was making nearly $ 1,000 a week.
Then Huggins received an offer to work as a production assistant for two months for $ 500 a week. That was a huge pay cut, but he knew he was going to be working on a TV pilot. The show emerged as a popular crime drama “The Shield” starring Michael Chiklis, which ran from 2002 to 2008 on FX.
On this assignment, Huggins met the pilot’s director, actor Clark Johnson from “The Wire” and “Homicide: Life on the Street”. Huggins recalls, “I’m the only black guy in the office. He’s the black director. So he’s talking to me. And it’s just that Clark Johnson used to play ball at Eastern Michigan University. “
Johnson eventually introduced him to Shawn Ryan, creator of “The Shield,” who later asked him to return to the show once the pilot was taped as a series. Huggins previously worked on Fox’s “The Bernie Mac Show,” where one of his jobs as a production assistant was to have Bernie Mac’s favorite beer, Miller Genuine Draft, on hand and keep it cold for the star.
“Every Friday, Bernie just stood up against everyone on the set. … That was the greatest job ever, ”he remembers.
Huggins says that when he returned to “The Shield” as an assistant script, there was another black writer on the show at the time, Kevin Arkadie (“The Temptations” miniseries). When Arcadie left, he remarked, “I was the only voice in this writer’s room who represented the (black) community.”
When Ryan became executive producer on The Unit, Huggins was his assistant for a brief period. Then fate – and David Mamet – intervened.
Mamet, the Pulitzer-winning playwright and screenwriter known for “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “The Verdict” and “Wag the Dog,” created “The Unit,” a CBS drama about an undercover special forces team. Huggins says, “David Mamet met me and said, ‘I love this guy. We have to hire him. ”After a season there, Huggins was promoted to Staff Writer.
Since then, Huggins has written and produced several shows including CBS’s “Criminal Minds”, the American version of “Prime Suspect” and Fox’s “Star”. He was also the showrunner (the industry term for the everyday creative boss on a series) for the one-season BET drama “Rebel”.
Huggins knew 50 Cent from writing and producing the original Power, a big hit with Starz. Jackson co-starred and executive producer, eventually helping turn the show into a true franchise of sequels and spin-offs for the network.
Jackson had long wanted to do a show about the Flenory brothers and their BMF organization (like in Black Mafia Family). He reached out to Huggins, who knows and loves Detroit, to help bring the idea to life and become their showrunner.
Huggins met Big Meech, who is still in federal prison, immediately through phone calls and extended visits. He spoke to Big Meech’s younger sibling, Terry Flenory, who was released into domestic custody in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also met with her sister Nicole Flenory and mother Lucille Flenory to stay true to the true spirit of the story and to weave actual family details into his fictional narrative, which is loosely based on the truth.
Crime is just an element of the eight-episode season one. Huggins says “BMF” is a family saga, just like the major mob dramas “The Godfather” and “The Sopranos”.
More:First episode of the TV series ‘BMF’ receives an A for Detroit authenticity
“What I really love about this story is its brotherhood. I’m an athlete so I always compare (Big Meech and Southwest T) to Shaq and Kobe. … When they were together, they were unstoppable, “he says, referring to Los Angeles Lakers greats Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, the dominant NBA duo that had famous clashes.
Huggins uses a sports analogy to describe his advice to Da’Vinchi, who portrays Southwest T, and Demetrius (Lil Meech) Flenory Jr., who was selected and mentored by 50 Cent to play the role of his father Big Meech. Huggins encouraged them to work together as teammates and capitalize on each other’s strengths, particularly Da’Vinchi’s extensive acting experience and the in-depth family knowledge of newcomer Lil Meech.
Huggins wanted to shoot in Detroit for the entire “BMF” season, but most of the shooting was instead filmed in Atlanta due to the Georgia film sponsorship program. He was able to shoot here for a week and remembers bringing his mother to the set as an extra.
From filming on Belle Isle to dropping “What up doe?” Huggins set about adding as many authentic Detroit details as possible to the dialogue in “BMF”. And he advocated casting Detroit rapper Arkeisha (Kash Doll) Knight for Monique, a Big Meech love story drawn into the rivalry between the brothers and their main adversary, the menacing Lamar (Eric Kofi Abrefa).
He believed Kash Doll would be perfect for Monique after hearing her on Big Sean’s 2020 song “Friday Night Cypher”. When he suggested her to “BMF” director Tasha Smith, he remembered, she immediately said, “Should I call her right away?”
Says Huggins, “We know how dynamic (Kash Doll) is on the mic. I think she’s got even more talent on screen.”
Now that “BMF” has a second season, there is still a lot of history to inspire further storylines. For example, Huggins (speaking before the show’s renewal was announced) mentions what happened after the 1980s when the brothers moved from Detroit and relocated BMF’s base to Atlanta.
“The really interesting thing about Demetrius and Terry is that they really didn’t blow up in Detroit,” he says, referring to the growth of Big Meech and Southwest T’s fame in the 1990s.
Huggins sounds like he’s thinking about future plans as he speaks. There are still stories to be told here, which means that he is exactly where he wants to be.
Contact pop culture critic Julie Hinds of Detroit Free Press at [email protected]