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Film Producer Shannon Nash Reminiscences About Thomas Mikal Ford [Interview]
Film Producer Shannon Nash Reminiscences About Thomas Mikal Ford [Interview]

Film Producer Shannon Nash Reminiscences About Thomas Mikal Ford [Interview]

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. Photo Credit: Urban Movie Channel

Switching Lanes producer Shannon Nash shares with @Okayplayer her fond memories of the late, great Thomas Mikal Ford.

Thomas Mikal Ford, who passed away tragically and unexpectedly last year at the age of 52, is best known as Tommy “You Ain’t Got No Job!” Strawn on the classic ‘90s sitcom Martin. For five seasons straight, he kept us in stitches while it aired on Fox. But Ford was also a director of both stage and screen, and he also wrote two children’s books.

WATCH: Oh No & Tristate Pay Tribute To Actor Thomas Mikal Ford In New Video

One of the last projects he directed was Switching Lanes, an Urban Movie Channel film about a small town in Georgia divided across racial lines and two teenage girls—one black, one white—played by Jamila Thompson and Victoria Staley, who decide to unite the town. Featuring cameos from fellow ‘90s comedic stars Kim Fields and Terri J. Vaughn, Switching Lanes also features a pre-Dope and The Get Down Shameik Moore.

READ: 'Martin' Funnyman & Co-Star Tommy Ford Passes Away At 52

Shannon Nash, a producer behind Switching Lanes, graciously shared her fond memories of working on the film and her friendship with Tommy Ford with @Okayplayer.

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. Photo Credit: Urban Movie Channel

Okayplayer: Thank you for sitting down with us, Shannon. We’d like to start with you talking about Tommy Ford as a director.

Shannon Nash: Tommy was a funny guy. I know a lot of people know him from some sitcoms like Martin and movies like Harlem Nights, but Tommy had been a student of the craft, of the art of film. He’d been making movies for a long time. People in the industry definitely knew that about Tommy… You would see him [working] if you were on a set with him, even when he was in front of the camera, he still was talking to the director, talking to the producer. He was involved, always, in that business side of making the craft.

That’s who he was. He was a funny guy in front of the camera, he was a funny guy behind the camera and he was just really passionate [about his craft]. I think what I loved about him most was that he was really a student of the game. He really wanted to learn, and he would learn from everybody. You didn’t have to be a director, you could be on any level—Tommy was trying to understand your job, and, more importantly, I think, what motivated you to do a good job. So that’s kind of how I remember Tommy.

OKP: How long did you know him? How did you meet?

SN: I can’t really pinpoint the day I met him. I can’t tell you that part of it. It was just kind of one of those things where we had a lot of friends in common, and I had been working on a lot of different productions in Atlanta, and he worked on some of them, and somehow, we met. I don’t even remember which one.

We just became close. I thought about this for a while. I can’t remember the day I met him. I kind of feel like I always knew him, if that makes any sense.

OKP: What made you decide to come on board as a producer [on Switching Lanes]?

SN: I was approached by this woman Melanie Scott and her brother, Bryant Scott, and they owned Tyscot Records. It’s a gospel label, but they had been doing a lot of film work, and Melanie and I knew each other. She knew that I had produced some stuff, and I’d been working a lot with production companies, so I read the script. It’s based off of a book called Double Sided, and it was written by Raven Magwood. She wrote the book when she was about 13-years-old.

I couldn’t believe a 13-year-old wrote this and a lot of the themes that she wrote about are still applicable today.

It just moved me. So then, I signed on to help produce this with Tyscot, and my first order of business was finding a director. Tommy was my friend, and I said, ‘Hey, I want you to take a look at this. You know, what do you think about this script?’ He loved it so much.

His response was super quick. It was maybe like two or three days later and we were literally holding a table read at my house. We invited a whole bunch of people, ordered some good soul food, chicken, I remember it, and it was like a good ol’ southern smorgasbord. It was hilarious. We just did this big table read at my house. We just got a whole bunch of friends to come out, and that was it. We were both hooked.

It was beautiful. Watching some of our friends that were actors and seeing how [the script] resonated with them. We both were like, ‘Yeah, we’re doing this project. How fast? Who could be in it?’ And the rest, as they say, was history.

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. Source: Urban Movie Channel

OKP: What was the message you wanted people to leave with after seeing the movie?

SN: It was definitely about sparking dialogue and showing that there are a lot of silos that go on in this country. It was about when people get to know each other on a one-on-one basis, the silos go down pretty much every time. As simple as that sounds, it obviously is much harder than that and I think when we asked Raven what was the genesis to why she even wrote the book, she said how that’s what she saw in her world. As much as there was so much opportunity and great things happening in her life, there were still these unwritten rules and everybody were in their silos. The mind of a 13-year-old, is like, ‘Why is that?’ She let that come out through her art.

And so we were trying to do that justice, and ultimately honor that, the goal of why she even wrote the book in the first place, which was to start conversation and dialogue and break down barriers.

I was searching about something for Tommy, and I found it, and I actually cried the first time I read it. He was speaking at Purdue University where we had done a screening. And what he said was that his vision for Switching Lanes was “For it not only to be a success in film and TV and win awards, more importantly for him, that it becomes an opportunity for the nation to have dialogue about how you can be affected by the subject matter. I think it’s powerful, and I think it goes way beyond entertainment. It moves into ministry, empowerment, and really helping the lives of others. That’s what I would love to see happen with this film.”

I’ve heard him say this a million times, but that’s really where that was for him. It was a passion project, and luckily, other people who decided to join this very small-budget, independent film, that were friends of ours, agreed with that mission.

OKP: That’s beautiful.

SN: We had a great crew and we had great people. We had a great cast. Marla Maples, she’s a really nice lady. She reached out to me when Tommy died. So, he had that type of impact [on us all]. And that’s not somebody he knew, we went through a casting agent for her.

There were people like Terri J. Vaughn, Angie Stone—I mean, these are our friends, so of course, that was special. Kenny Lattimore, that’s a friend. There’s a young man by the name of Shameik Moore, who wound up doing great things in Hollywood. A young Shameik Moore was on set, and he used to have us cracking up, because he would try out his singing and his Michael Jackson moves, and he would tell me what his pickup lines were, and I would tell him those lines would never work on anybody my age, and he’d say stuff like, “I prefer women older than you.” Just craziness. It was fun working with him. He was a sweet kid, nice guy. I’m super happy for all his success.

OKP: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk about the movie, and about what Tommy Ford was like as a person. I grew up watching him on Martin, and he made me laugh for decades. So thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and memories about him, and how the whole movie came about.

SN: You would have liked him. I was telling somebody else, the one thing about Tommy Ford is, he was a regular guy. Just a regular guy. I’ve been with him in many, many public settings, from airports to restaurants, and Tommy would speak to everybody. He would take a picture with everybody. He was not one of those people who was like, “Oh, I’m bothered,” or anything like that. In fact, that type of thing pissed him off because he was very much about feeling that he had been very blessed. The other half about Tommy is that he’s very much into his kids. He loved his kids and he loved his family. Particularly his momma… he talked about them all the time. He loved his family.

My heart breaks for his family. It really does. They had a good dad. I lost my dad and I was 40-years-old, and I still have my days where I’m like, ‘Oh my God, my dad is dead.’ It’s hard, and they’re young, teenagers. So, that’s the painful part. When I think about that, that’s hard to swallow. Because I know he was really a good dad, he really was.

He was that type of good person. That’s why he did all of these programs, particularly giving back to young African American men, African American boys, and all the volunteer work and the projects that he did. My heart just breaks because he can’t do that anymore, and he was just so inspirational to so many people.

So, I hope that the movie lives on and does what he wanted it to do, and I just hope that all of the people whose lives that he touched, I hope those people go out and touch other people’s lives. Let it pay it forward, you know?

Stream 'Switching Lanes' exclusively at Urban Movie Channel by clicking here.


Danielle A. Scruggs is a Chicago-based photographer and writer who runs the website Black Women Directors and is also the Director of Photography at the Chicago Reader, an award-winning alt-weekly newspaper. Follow her on Twitter at @dascruggs and view her site at