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Orlando producer helps deliver Tupac pic

Orlando producer Wayne Morris has a reputation for pulling together troubled projects and getting them done. His latest achievement is “All Eyez on Me,” the biopic of hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur.

“I had to marshal the whole thing to a conclusion,” said Morris, 59, who started on the picture in November 2015 and consulted before that. “There has always been huge acrimony in the making of this film. It went through four significant directors. It’s been going on for seven years in the development and active production sense.”

The movie opened last Friday, what would have Shakur’s 46th birthday. “All Eyez” exceeded expectations by earning $27.1 million in its first weekend.

Some acrimony continues after the opening. The movie earned just a 22 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Actress Jada Pinkett Smith, a Shakur friend who is portrayed in the film, complained that “the reimagining of my relationship to Pac has been deeply hurtful.” But she praised Kat Graham, who plays her, and Demetrius Shipp Jr., who portrays Shakur.

Morris said the movie takes some creative license, and he defended its take on Shakur, who died at 25 in a 1996 drive-by shooting. He stressed producer L.T. Hutton and others involved in the film were part of Shakur’s music production. Hutton and director Benny Boom previewed the movie during the editing process for many hip-hop artists, who gave their approval, Morris said.

“It’s not just a biography. It’s a message to American society,” Morris said. “It was a reaction to what it was like being a young black man in American society at that time.”

Morris, who has been based in Orlando since 1998, attributed the film’s success to its timeliness.

“It is very contemporary with issues of society at the moment,” he said. “It translates from the mid-’90s to the mid-teens in terms of issues going on in our neighborhoods and people reacting to being disenfranchised and wanting to make a change.”

Fans learn that young Tupac performed Shakespeare, went to the Baltimore School for the Arts and was driven by ideals.

“The music industry is a very tough world. He used it less for making wealth and more for being a leader of a movement to make everybody part of the dream in society, “ Morris said. “His involvement in things on a very visceral street level was something he really believed in.”

Morris relocated from Los Angeles to Central Florida for his wife and four children, who are now grown and have worked in the film industry. “My fourth child just graduated from the University of Alabama, so I have finished college,” Morris said.

Locally he produced “The Inbetweeners,” an MTV series, and a string of 10 movies with various studios. He has a separate Orlando company called Wonderland Creative Group that does commercials and corporate videos.

But he’s savoring the reaction to “All Eyez on Me.” “People may like it or not like it, but they’re thinking about what they just took in,” he said. “It’s the epitome of storytelling. It evokes a reaction.”

hboedeker@orlandosentinel.com and 407-420-5756

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