Feeling hyphy

Independent movie maker films in Suisun City

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

SUISUN CITY - Peter Ramirez, writer, producer and director of independent movies, hides from view as a cast of four men and three women film a club scene behind enclosed black velvet curtains.

Subtle sounds of laughter and light conversation saturate the small space within the Marina Shopping Center off Highway 12 until the eminent words, "Cut, that's a wrap," flow from Ramirez's lips.

A sly smile escapes his otherwise focused demeanor before walking from behind a camera into the smoky and dim lit room. The flawlessly skinned females, covering their just-filmed bare bosoms, stroll nonchalantly across the darkened space to dress themselves behind the curtains.

Fairfield resident Ramirez, together with Vallejo's Brandon Rodegeb, also known as B12, recently invited a renown cast to Fairfield and Suisun City to tape the "Ya-Da-Da Movie," an independent feature and comedy film highlighting the hyphy movement of the Bay Area.

The movement, a subculture of hip-hop, is associated with the San Francisco Bay Area as "crunk" is to the south. The term was coined by Keak Da Sneak on MTV's "My Block: The Bay" and continued its trend with the help of Vallejo's E40, Mac Dre and Fairfield's the Federation, all rap and hip-hop artists.

As Ramirez explains, "hyphy" is more than a dance or music; it's a euphoric feeling a person gets when everything is good and feeling right.

"It's a lifestyle, not just a movement," he says in between filming. His wife and right hand person, Selina Ramirez, stands by attentively and listens. "It's the energy, the clothing, the music and the attitude. It's weird but it means confidence and identity."

The partners, both in their late 20s, recently signed a five-picture deal with Image Distribution and will release at least four movies by the end of this year, including "Wannabe's," the "Ya-Da-Da Movie" and soon-to-be-filmed "Purgatory" and "Karma." And talk of making "Menace to Society II" with Mc Eiht is also in the works.

It's no coincidence, therefore, to see Ramirez feeling hyphy during filming.

The tourist attraction

For days, the Marina Shopping Center became a tourist attraction in Suisun City.

The local shops that would otherwise cater to several patrons from the area transformed into movie sets during this particularly hot four-day weekend. Barricaded areas became the headquarters for the "Ya-Da-Da" cast as several rented security guards patrolled the commercial area.

For Ramirez and B12, the "Ya-Da-Da Movie" will be their signature flick in the duo's independent film journey. Simply put by Ramirez, no matter what happens to the film, whether it's a flop or a success, it will always remain as the first film to document the lifestyle of someone living in the Bay Area during the hyphy movement.

"It follows a guy down on his luck and stuck in a life wanting more and hoping for that big dream of winning the lotto," Ramirez explains of the comedic film, which trails lead actor Rude Jude (the next Jim Carrey, Ramirez says) during a three-day span.

The film, with a production budget of $75,000, has remained under cost, according to Ramirez. Considering the cast - Jude, Rodney "Chopper" Hill, Sara Stokes, Janie Huang, Rick Rock, the Federation and D.J. Lady Tribe, to name a few - the managing of funds is impressive.

"Yes, but that still doesn't include editing," he quickly adds.

It also helps that Ramirez received assistance from local Suisun City shops, Scott Corey, project manager from the city of Suisun City and Solano Community College.

"I went to all the businesses at the Marina Center, told them I'm doing a movie and they just opened up to us," Ramirez says, who once had a recording studio in the same plaza. "And of course the hyphy movement is from the Bay Area and Fairfield, where the Federation started out. How could it not be filmed here?"

Dancing on cardboard

Ramirez, of Puerto Rican decent, sports the personality of an affable guy, willing to stop and talk with anyone in his path as long as time permits. It's obvious he wants people to enjoy their stint on the set as well as remember his name. And with good reason.

"I always knew as a kid that I wanted to be an actor or director," he divulges. "It's been so strange how one thing has led to another. Everything has been a coincidence. Everything is just happening at once."

Ramirez recalls humbly the days he would break-dance on a piece of cardboard, the time he was considered the best dancer in high school and the public access show he hosted in Napa during 1998 - all signs of a young man with the ambition to soar.

He continues to mention other ventures with stories that seem to ricochet from his thin face when he segues to his meeting with Rodegeb.

"I met Brandon in 1996 when he was doing music at the time," he says of his partner. "I told him I wanted to do movies but then he got a job running Bayside Distributions. The movie thing eventually got on hold."

Ramirez then formed a rap band called The Saints, performed at the Puerto Rican festival in Vacaville and later, "bumped" into Rodegeb at the Bay Area Rap Summit.

"He called me days later, told me we're doing a movie, we have a budget and to come up with an idea," Ramirez recalls of how the independent movie "Wannabe's," filmed in Bakersfield, originated. "And that has led me to all of this."

Given a chance to portray the hyphy movement and demonstrate an installment of his comedy, Ramirez demurs on his plot of "Ya-Da-Da."

"I wanted it to be more than a hyphy movement, I wanted it to show a storyline, another layer," he says pensively. His dark hair and goatee frame his innocent expression. "The Bay Area is a melting pot, that's why Jude's character is living with an Asian girlfriend, whose parents own a Mexican restaurant. That's what the area is all about."

The club

A loud flash of silver grills beam down from the six-foot-three-inch man known as Chopper to thousands of fans from P. Diddy's reality show "Making the Band" on MTV. To the rest of the world, he is Rodney Hill, a man laden with tattoos and an endearing personality.

"I'm on the ground now, working really hard," Chopper, who plays Rell, says after shooting the club scene in the "Ya-Da-Da Movie." He then mentions an upcoming video, a movie in Australia and his latest album, "New Jack City," scheduled for release on Aug. 27.

"I mean, I believe in the hyphy movement," he continues as a swarm of females flutter around him. "When I first came out here from New Orleans I didn't understand the movement then I saw it and I grasped it and it was like, man. Tell you what, this is now my second home, I love it here."

Stokes, sitting in the back of a souped-up SUV with her husband, Tony "The Grouch" Stokes, behind the wheel, seems to revel in the warm weather. "I just came from Detroit where it's freezing," the Michigan-reared vocalist says.

Stokes is stoked about her latest role as Michelle in "Ya-Da-Da." As she puts it, "I'm kind of that meddling best friend, the irritating friend that keeps putting things in my best friend's ear."

Most recently seen in the film, "Resurrection: The J.R. Richard Story," Stokes became known to the Hollywood arena when she appeared in the TV shows "Making the Band" and "Chapelle's Show."

"You know, I'm a straight drama queen, so I know I have some drama skills. It comes natural," she says and her husband laughs.

She recently signed on with Trillville Records to express her "dirty South flavor on her album," although she adds that she still has the Midwest going on.

But it's Jude, a comedian who frequented "The Jenny Jones" show and is now a Co-host for "The All Out Show" with Lord Sear on Sirius Satellite Radio's (Eminem) Shade 45 Channel, who seems anxious to get the hyphy word out.

"I really checked out the hyphy movement before coming to the Bay Area and to me, it's some of the most original stuff coming out right now," he says, his blue eyes popping from his fair skin. "I feel like hip-hop has become so homogenized that it's actually turned into pop music accessible to 12-year-olds.

"It was once a voice of the underdog and the lower class, now you see it on potato chip commercials," he adds. "It's showing you this hybrid of different cultures being smacked together and having a good time."

The movie shows some nudity and certainly spreads profanity around the scenes. It's part of the everyday person, Ramirez says, people will be people.

"You can't judge someone by what they do," he says. "When you see an Arnold (Schwarzenegger) movie and he's out there killing yet he's our governor, you don't look at him as that's his message.

"That's the way I want people to look at this movie, to laugh at the situation," he adds. "It does show drugs but it's here, it won't go away. We just make humor of it all."

The "Ya-Da-Da Movie" is scheduled for a December release on DVD.