Atlanta’s New Mavericks

New Mavericks march 27 2014

Written by Melisha “Mel” Childs, Senior Blog Contributor

Atlanta is shaking things up in the world of film with two new executives on the block – Janlatae Mullins and Gabrielle Pickle. Janlatae is a director and Gabrielle is a producer at Brothers Young Production (BroYoPro) – a production company owned by Matthew and Jared Young located in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, Georgia. Along with their production company, these women have worked with quite a few stars: Mo’Nique, Burt Reynolds, and Tom Sizemore to name a few. At present, they are working rigorously on their first film together – Untapped – a moving story about overcoming inner demons through contemporary dance. These ladies are on the rise in the Atlanta film community and we are certainly looking forward to more from them.

MC: What motivated you to pursue a career in film?

Janlatae Mullins: Ever since I was a child, I can remember being inspired by images and interactions between people. I called it “moment watching”. A grandfather sitting on a bench holding his crying grandchild with a scraped knee; a husband and wife holding hands; a child and his pet running in a field as the sun shone on their backs, the wind rippling through their hair, and their laughter squealing in the air. Those are the moments that inspired me. I felt like people needed to see what I was seeing – they needed to feel this heightened sense of awareness.

I believe that film has the power to change lives. When I watched movies like The Color Purple, Boys in the Hood, Singin’ in the Rain and West Side Story, I felt changed – I felt alive and well. Every sense in me stood at attention and wanted to live. I want people to feel the same thing when they watch movies I make.

I went to my parents when I was about 6 or 7 and I told them what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said I either wanted to be a director or a maid. I realize now that my desire to be a maid was just my inner desire to take care of people; to make sure that they’re happy. Over the years, I’ve realized that my desire to serve others is one thing that has made me a good director. You can’t be a good leader without knowing how to serve first.

Gabrielle Pickle: I’ve always been a storyteller. As a child, I used to weave intricate stories together for my siblings and I made short films every Sunday afternoon on our huge VHS camcorder. Years later, while pursuing my Master’s degree, I spent time living in northern Indonesia helping to coordinate education, healthcare and co-op programs. I distinctly remember sitting in the dirt across from the pregnant wife of a former rebel soldier, hearing her explain the struggles of growing up during a war and of giving birth to her first born in the woods while hiding from approaching soldiers. Her story was unique, but her fears and joys were those that every woman shares. As I sat across from her, I was overwhelmed with the realization that stories have the power to unite us across backgrounds, races, nationalities, and income levels. I knew then that storytelling was my calling. Shortly thereafter, a job with a non-profit introduced me to film and a year after that I produced my first project. And that was all it took – I was hooked!

MC: What challenges have you faced as a “woman in film?”

JM: Thankfully, I’ve never really faced challenges as a woman in film. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist or that I won’t face any in the future. I just grew up with wonderful parents that fostered an environment in which the buck stopped with me. I was taught that any challenges that anyone faces – male, female, black, white – it’s their job to break them down. I’ve never let me being a woman or other people’s ideas of what a woman filmmaker should be define me. I just see myself as a person that has a unique voice – someone that has something to say.

GP: I’ve faced prejudice as a female in other job fields, but never in film. I think the biggest challenge I’ve faced, and still struggle with, is producing with excellence while not losing who I am as a woman. I am a workaholic, like most women I’ve met in this industry, and I absolutely love what I do. It’s a constant struggle to protect time for the things that make me who I am, like my faith, my family and friends, and my quirky hobbies.

What advice would you give to women who are pursuing careers in film?

JM: Make friends! Make tons of friends. Your success in this business is truly based on the circle you know. People want to be a part of a team that inspires them – that pushes them to do more. When you make your epic first romantic comedy, thriller, or heart wrenching drama, your “friends” will be the ones to support you. Friendship is however a give and take. Give your heart, time and creativity to other people’s projects and it will pay off in the long run.

GP: Find a people who believe in you and share your dream for film – then stick with them! Jan and I would not be where we are today if it weren’t for the team at Brothers Young Productions. Those guys have challenged us to grow, paid for us to get training, pushed us to excellence, and fought side by side every day to help us achieve our collective dream of making quality films with an important message.

Why did you choose Atlanta to pursue your career as opposed to other places more popular for film?

JM: I was born and raised here. I believe in the filmmaking culture that exists in Atlanta. There’s a real sense of “We’re just here for the art. If you have a dream, we’ll support it.” I’m not saying that this feeling doesn’t exist in other places, but I’ve seen it best here in the South. Southern hospitality is our birthright (along with sweet tea and family).
I’ve grown up alongside some really talented filmmakers and want to see them succeed. I want to be a part of their journey. Brothers Young Productions has been integral to my growth. They’ve challenged me in every way to be a better filmmaker, a better visionary and a better business woman. If I had not stayed in GA, I would not have had that amazing opportunity.

The Brothers Young team are the most talented people I’ve come across. With such great hearts, integrity, and character not just for the art, but for people, they’ve not only made their dreams come true, but helped others achieve their own. It’s hard to walk away from that. Their friendship and leadership is part of the reason I am sitting here today and I am so thankful for that. That love and sense of family is definitely a perk of being in Atlanta. It’s a southern thang.

GP: I didn’t move to Atlanta for the film scene. It’s more like the Atlanta film community found me and won me over! As soon as I uttered the words, “I’m interested in film,” local actors, screenwriters and directors invited me on set, gave me opportunities to learn the craft and offered me jobs. The past few years have been a wild and incredible ride into a full-time film career. The opportunities for a Producer in Atlanta are many and I simply can’t fathom being anywhere else!

Photo courtesy of Gabrielle Pickle.

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Developments/Changes in Hollywood – Runaway Production

For many decades, mostly everyone who is anyone in the world of film [and television] have packed up their bags and have made their way out west to California to make it big in this industry.  Others have opted to go north to New York, the other place where their motto is – well, at least according to Frank Sinatra – “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”  These two states have held a very firm monopoly on film and television and have become lucrative hotspots for stardom, celebrity, and film production.  However, in recent times, a very subtle yet erosive phenomenon known runaway production is starting to break the monopoly in these two very traditional hubs for film and television.

Though runaway production is minimal at present, the long-term effects of it can be as scary as running from Godzilla.  According to the California Film Commission, runaway production is when production companies leave California to shoot elsewhere.  This is usually due to cheaper alternatives and better tax incentives elsewhere.  As with any monopoly, pricing is controlled by one very powerful source and there is little that can be done to break this control.  For instance, remember when Microsoft was seemingly the only computer company on earth in the late 1990s and early 21st century?  There was little that could be done until Apple and Dell started to step up their game and gain their market share.  Or step even further back into time and look at Rockefeller’s and Carnegie’s monopoly over the oil and steel industry, respectively.  There was not much competition for them until the federal government stepped in and regulated these businesses.

Well runaway production is what I call a quasi-governmental breakdown of a long-standing monopoly that has existed in the film industry for some time.  I say ‘quasi’ because the federal government is not stepping in to regulate this industry; instead, state governments are stepping up their game in places like Louisiana, Illinois, North Carolina and most importantly Georgia with tax incentives that allow them to compete effectively.  Is there anything for the traditional monopolies to fear?  Technically there isn’t because everyone knows that these places are where you need to be if you want to succeed in film.  However, their market shares are starting to erode and in essence we are starting to hear about filming taking place all over the U.S. and the world.

I’m not sure what is on the horizon for film but the South is certainly “heating” up.  Louisiana, North Carolina, and Georgia are neck-in-neck competing for bragging rights for film production.  What will the future bring as a result of this phenomenon of runaway production?  I don’t know; but, I will simply grab a tasty, fresh batch of popcorn and watch this ‘scene’ unfold.

For more information on this trend according to the California Film Commission, visit

http://www.film.ca.gov

Article 1 – “Bringing TV, Film Production Back to California” http://bit.ly/1shuQAI

Article 2 – “What is the Cost of Run-Away Production?” – http://bit.ly/1pCKGFX

 


FILM DISSECTION: Wolf of Wall Street – An Overall Perspective

 
Written by Melisha “Mel” Childs, Senior Blog Contributor
 

For someone that hasn’t watched The Wolf of Wall Street, the storyline unfolds very similar to these scenes that I photographed as I was watching it:

The Wolf of Wall Street

Scene 1 – Man on top of the universe

Scene 2 – Man down

Scene 3 – Man judged

Scene 4 – Man sentenced and humiliated

Scene 5 – Man jailed

~The End~ 

This is basically the storyline; however, one important element that I failed to mention before is that this is a Martin Scorsese film.  That being said, you and I both know that this film is anything but as simple as this storyline is.

Needless to say – Wall Street is a wild place.  One can see this every day on any given news channel:   when the bell rings and the floor opens, it is filled with brokers making calls, running around, shouting and engaged in all types of commotion.  This is the sophisticated Wall Street that we see on CNN, CNBC, Fox and other news networks.  Mr. Scorsese brings us into his world – his genius mind translates the unseen world of Wall Street as only he could imagine it.  Sex, drugs, lies, intrigue – everything sordid you can imagine is included in this film; everything except murder, unless you would like to consider ruined reputations as murder.

One of the first things that piqued my interest as the film opens is the lion strolling around the office.  For me, this symbolically lays the foundation of who Jordan Belfort would become to his constituents – a lion in charge of his pride.  Ironically, the director chose the title of wolf to describe Jordan, which is the same description in the title of the book. The opening scene, which is in stark contrast with the title, implies to me that even though Jordan may have seen himself as a lion or a regal, charismatic person before his pride; the outside world saw him as a vicious wolf leading a pack of vicious wolves. After this opening scene, came countless scenes of wild, reckless and carefree behavior, all at the investors’ expense.  Nobody was safe or innocent in Mr. Scorsese’s interpretation of Wall Street, except maybe Jordan’s young children.  Everything and everyone else were savages who basked in the essence of greed whether it was Jordan’s father – who was a co-conspiring accountant who tried to cover up his son’s wretched lifestyle in order to protect the family name; or Jordan’s wife’s sweet ol’ aunt who was just as much a shady villain, helping him launder money in offshore accounts.

I could go on and on about the good, the bad, and the ugly on Wall street; however, this is not my aim in this blog.  Everyone can draw their own conclusions about the largest and most powerful “invisible” trading firm in the world.  Instead my focus is on how Mr. Scorsese took the taboo nature of what he believes goes on behind the scenes on Wall Street and turned it into an ongoing extravaganza of drug induced chaos, not just on the business floor but in how these people live.  The rogue characters, the wild music, the abrupt changes in scenes all really give you not only the visual cue that this is a crazy world but you can also feel that this is a crazy world.  It is an incredible 3 hours of satire and propaganda at its finest and it’s no wonder that it racked up on Academy Award nominations for the following: Best Picture, Best Director (Martin Scorsese), Best Adapted Screenplay (Terrance Winter), Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), and Best Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill); and has gone on record as Scorsese’s highest grossing film to date.

 

Photos taken by Mel from screen shots of The Wolf of Wall Street.


Females Successfully Playing the Hollywood Game – Spotlight on Sofia Coppola

Sofia Coppola
Sofia Coppola

Written by Melisha “Mel” Childs, Senior Blog Contributor

Bling Ring ● Marie Antoinette

Somewhere ● Lost in Translation

If you connect the dots, it will lead you to a surprising conclusion and that conclusion is that a man did not write, direct, or produce these films. These phenomenal films were actually written, directed, and produced by Sofia Coppola, one of the most accomplished women in Hollywood.

There are millions of writers around the world and millions of outlets for writers; but the crème de la crème of the writing world, most would agree, is writing for Hollywood. It is by far the most competitive and one of the best avenues for successful writers to earn a lot of money for one single piece of work, if lucky. So, it comes as no surprise that there are not many successful women writers in this world. Likewise, there are not a lot of producers or directors who are women, either.

Sofia Coppola is one of those anomalies that has defied the odds and has shattered the glass ceiling to become a highly accomplished writer, producer, and director in the world of Hollywood. This blog will analyze her film, Lost in Translation, to determine how we as women can follow in her footsteps to create successful films.

Lost in Translation (2003) is a film starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson as two love interest who remain just that – love interests. Both of them are married but disinterested in their marriage for one reason or another. The yearning between the two is what propels the storyline forward. This very simple story earned this film an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 2003; a Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy Motion Picture; and several other awards and nominations. It also grossed about $120 million with only a budget of $4 million making it a phenomenal success.

So why was a film as simple as this such a remarkable blockbuster? Let’s look at some critical clues that I think made this film work and can also be useful advice for us women seeking success in this industry.

Clue # 1 – It is a romantic comedy.

I believe that anytime you can effectively appeal to the human emotion of happiness through laughter or love through romance, a film is destined to be a blockbuster. In this case, this film combines both.

Clue #2 – It has cute, romantic flirtation that never gets raunchy.

Obviously sex sells so most people use this as a way to sell products, including films. Sofia never opted for sex as a sales technique in the film. Instead she kept the sexual tension as the focus without actually having the lead characters give in to their desire. Hence you have a film that remains innocent with only a hint of sexuality.

Clue #3 – There is great cinematography.

I must say that the cinematography was spot on. The great thing about the cinematography is that it mirrors the tension in the film. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and Bob (Bill Murray) are both married to someone else which creates a major part of the tension; but another part of the tension is their age difference – he being substantially older than she is. The cinematography mimics this tension in that some scenes we see city life in Tokyo and in other scenes we see the beautiful green landscapes of Japan. Also, in some scenes we see wild behavior and drinking and in other scenes we see Buddhist monks worshiping.

Clue #4 – It’s focused on the two leading actors’ dilemma, not subplots.

Most films have a tendency to start with the main actors and delve into the other subplots of supporting actors and actresses. In this film, Sofia keeps the focus entirely on the two main actors to avoid confusion of the plot. She could have delved into the story behind Charlotte’s husband’s secret life which seemed to be full of scandal and cheating but she did not. She could have even developed more around Bob’s tension between his wife and their marriage that was getting stale but she did not. Instead she opted to hint at the fact that both of these characters’ significant others were losing interest in them; hence, this was the key driving force that sparked Charlotte and Bob’s interest in each other. Once these two express an interest in each other, everything in the plot wraps around their little coy love affair.

So based on all of these clues from analyzing Sofia Coppola’s film, what can we discern about how to successfully play this man’s game?

Add humor to our storyline; it’s the best medicine.
Avoid outright immodesty. Just because we are playing a man’s game doesn’t mean we can do what men do.
Focus on the beauty of film and what the human eye absorbs, not just the dialogue between characters.
Don’t get lost in subplot after subplot; focus.

Stay tuned for more articles in which I will discover keys to success based on analyzing the works of other successful women in Hollywood.

 

Photo of Sofia Coppola retrieved on August 19, 2014 from http://bit.ly/1yXbz9M


Local Performing Arts School – Callanwolde

Local Performing Arts School - Callanwolde

I remember that my first glimpse into the world of film and television – well, at least outside of watching my favorite actors and shows on television and at the movies – was in middle school when I attended a performing arts school. I still recall my drama teacher reminding us that whenever we feel paralyzed by stage fright to simply look above the audiences’ heads instead of at their eyes to avoid feeling nervous. I also recall the countless dance and band recitals that I attended, making me no stranger to the stage.

All of us in the film and television world started somewhere, whether it was a performing arts school or a place where acting, dance or writing classes are held. I’m sure as you read, this is probably taking you back to a time when your favorite teacher, or not so favorite teacher, pressured you into being your absolute best on stage so that you could have a career in entertainment. Some of us have made it big while others of us, like myself, have made many detours in the process; but, nonetheless, we are still passionate about this industry.

In this blog, I have decided to pay homage to one of Atlanta’s finest art centers, which is designed primarily for the purpose of helping those of us in the entertainment industry to get our start. My niche in this industry is writing and often it is very hard for us writers to find places that support our talent; therefore, it is for this reason that I am placing emphasis on educational opportunities offered at this venue. I have collaborated with Peggy Johnson, Executive Director of Callanwolde, to tell us more about this enchanting mansion of budding talent in metro Atlanta.

Peggy, I have to admit, I wasn’t aware that this place exists in Atlanta. It is through my involvement with the Atlanta Film Festival that I found out about this jewel of Atlanta. I discovered that the screenwriter’s retreat for the Atlanta Film Festival has been held here historically which piqued my interest. For readers who also may be just as baffled as I am that such a place exists here in Atlanta, tell us the great things about this art center, both historically and currently.

Callanwolde is a beautiful historic site built in 1917 by Charles Howard Candler (son of Asa Candler, founder of the Coca Cola Company.) Charles Howard Candler was also a President of Coca Cola and a trustee of Emory for over 30 years. His family loved the arts and they always wanted the estate to be a fine arts center. Today DeKalb County owns the estate and the Callanwolde Foundation’s mission is to preserve the estate and offer fine arts to the community via classes, concerts, festivals, gallery exhibits and more. Today we also offer tours Monday thru Friday from 11 a.m. til 4 p.m. Our Callan Café is open Monday thru Friday from 11 a.m. til 7 p.m.

Tell us what you offer budding artists in terms of education at your facility.

Our classes range from dance to music to pottery to the visual arts. We also offer classes in fiction and poetry writing and partner with many nonprofits and organizations in Metro Atlanta. In January 2015 we will start our music recording program and our Director of Recording will be Grammy Award winner Phil Tan. Our programs are portfolio and certificate based so you can take a class here and there or be on a path to achieve more.

Why is it important for us in the film and television industry to pledge our support for organizations such as yours?

[The reason is because] Callanwolde is embracing what is happening in Atlanta with the music and film industry. We have had 4 filmings this past year, offer classes in film, photography, and of course now offer classes in music, songwriting, composition and music recording. We are growing to reflect Atlanta and offer instruction and scholarship programs to teach all ages from children to adult. We want to teach skills, technique, and give our community the arts. Many of our classes are not taught in the public or private school systems and these are classes that are very important in the arts.

Are there any exciting events coming up that you care to share with our readers?

We have a marvelous Halloween Concert Event on October 31st – Night on Callanwolde Mountain. There will be trick or treating, a costume contest, pumpkin carving contest, food trucks, cash bar, and a concert by the Callanwolde Concert Band and Atlanta Braves Organist Matthew Kaminski playing the Callanwolde priceless organ.

http://callanwolde.org/event/halloween-night-callanwolde-mountain/

Of course we also have the very well known Christmas at Callanwolde – A Christmas Destination and Designer Showroom. This will be a 16 day event beginning December 1st. There will be a VIP Party, Cocoa and Caroling, Family Movie Night, Tours, Breakfast with Santa, Teddy Bear Tea and more.

For more info, visit http://callanwolde.org/christmas-at-callanwolde/

 


Film Boxing Match: California Assembly Bill 1839 May Give Other Film Tax Incentives a Run for the Money

A few blogs ago, I wrote about a phenomenon sweeping the California film industry called runaway production.  This phenomenon is causing states like our own to be successful in film.  On the flip side, it is causing California to lose a large chunk of revenue and is eroding the film legacy of that state.  In response to this economic loss, California has increased its incentives to an almost whopping $400 million per year over the next 5 years for anyone filming in their state. I’m a huge Georgia film enthusiast so I must admit that when I saw this news, I thought “uh-oh.”  This could affect Georgia’s and the South’s film boom in so many ways.  Here are some tidbits from the new bill that were contained on the California Film Commission website:

Round 1

Bill proposes a new five-year film and TV tax credit program beginning in fiscal year 2015/16 with expanded eligibility to include big budget feature films, 1-hr TV series for any distribution outlet and TV pilots

Round 2

Bill would also provide an added incentive for productions that film outside of the 30-mile zone and for visual effects and music scoring/recording performed in-state

Round 3/KO (knock-out)

Funding for the new program would be $330 million per fiscal year Yes, my fellow Georgians, this is scary.  California is definitely in it to win it in regaining its film heritage and this means that Georgia is going to have to really get ready to bring it’s “A” game to compete with this new bill if it wants to stay in the game.  Film and film production is just as fleeting and temporary as the wind so all of the efforts made in this state can be gone in the blink of an eye if we are not careful.  How will Georgia fare in light of this new legislation? I don’t know but I am certainly biting my nails.  What are your thoughts?

For more information on California’s developments in film, visit http://www.film.ca.gov/.


SAG-AFTRA Atlanta: Mel Interviews Mel

Melissa Goodman Interview

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to be in the presence of greatness. I had an opportunity of a lifetime to come face to face with one of the most powerful women in the world of film in the Southeastern region: Melissa Goodman, Executive Director of SAG(Screen Actors Guild) –AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) and Internal Governance Committee Chair of Georgia Production Partnership. Before I met her, I was terrified of our meeting because I thought that I would meet an executive who would be impersonal and cold, sort of resembling the interview scene from The Devil Wears Prada in which Miranda Priestly was far too busy and important to deal with interviewing Andy, the “poor fat girl” who was rambling on about her credentials. I was pacing as I waited for our interview to begin, hoping that I didn’t drop something, break something, stutter, or say something completely ridiculous that would end the interview. After a few minutes of twiddling my thumbs, rehearsing what I would say, hyperventilating, and breaking a cold sweat or two, I was put at ease when she entered because I saw the same warm smile that she exhibits in this photo. She was very easy-going and welcoming and this was a great icebreaker for my rattled nerves. We shared a few laughs and also realized that we have the same nickname. Her name is Mel, short for Melissa, and mine also Mel, short for Melisha; hence, the name of the article. Below is a recap of some of the things that we discussed about SAG-AFTRA in my interview with her.

 

Transcript
Hi Melissa. I’m so glad that you had the opportunity to meet with me to tell Women in Film and Television Atlanta’s audience more about SAG-AFTRA. For starters, tell us what this organization is and what it does for the actors.

Well[as you said], I am Melissa Goodman, Executive Director of SAG-Aftra Atlanta. I have been with SAG-AFTRA (SAG and AFTRA merged two years ago) 25 years having become the Executive Director in 1992. Screen Actor’s Guild is a labor union and we protect the wages and working conditions of actors – and when I say actors, it’s not just our members only; but, if it’s on a union set and if it is under our jurisdiction here, especially in a “Right to Work State” we protect everybody. We are a professional organization made up of professional actors. In addition to us protecting the rights and working conditions, we also form a family for the union members. We do conservatory events twice a month and we do member-only events to help people build their skills. We even monitor agents that are franchised under us. Right now we have quite a few franchised agents. Some agents let go of their SAG franchise and became part of the ATA (Association of Talent Agents) but we still help them and work with them and the members they represent and even the non-members. Any and all of our projects – all the film and television that’s being done here in Atlanta or Georgia right now – is under our jurisdiction. The only shows that are not under our jurisdiction now are some of the reality TV shows. Our agents have to comply with certain regulations that we set forth such as the amount of commissions that they can take on jobs so that the actor is not scammed. For those that are paying thousands of dollars to get with an agency, we make sure that that doesn’t happen. In addition to the many [franchises] that we already have, we have 6 and one more that is looking to be franchised. [As a matter of fact, before this interview, I was just at a site] making sure that the franchise coming onboard with us has a physical office so that it meets the regulations that the national office puts forth. It doesn’t matter how pretty or nice the office is, we just can’t allow [franchisees] to be working out of their house or other unscrupulous behavior.

 

Does your local Atlanta branch focus on protecting Georgia actors?

[I reiterate], I protect anyone here working on set. We have tons of people joining now because of the amount of work we have due to the incentives that came here in 2008. Hence, we have been growing and growing and growing. Right now, our membership has been growing because of that but there have been a huge influx of people coming in from LA (Los Angeles); and because the incentives aren’t working out in North Carolina, we are also seeing people from North Carolina coming here. When they are working on a set that’s under our local Atlanta jurisdiction we monitor that. So [for example], if someone is here from LA and they have a claim against that, it goes through us. We work cooperatively with the Florida office if they might file a claim but we do the investigative part of the claim. For instance, when I was down on the set of “The Walking Dead” and there were members from all over. They are not just our [Atlanta] members but they are members in general, both [SAG-AFTRA] members and non-members.

 

Ok finally, I read that California recently passed the Assembly Bill 1839. How do you think the passage of this bill will affect our incentives here, if at all?

I think that it’s great for California. I think that it will help them maintain some of their shows and even take back a few of their shows, but for California, it’s just not enough for them. They needed a bigger package. I don’t think it’s going to affect us here at all. We are seeing a lot of new production coming in here all the time. Our incentives are still fine for what we need here.

 

For more information on SAG-AFTRA Atlanta, visit http://www.sagaftra.org/atlanta.

For more information on GPP, visit http://www.georgiaproduction.org/

Photo courtesy of Melissa Goodman


Greenwood Avenue: The Decimation of an American Dream

Tulsa Race Riots 1921

 

The American Dream has worked for many; however, for some – particularly a small community of African Americans in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921 – that dream went up in smoke, literally. I’m referring to the annihilation of a prosperous African American town known as “Black Wall Street.” I won’t spell out the details of this event; instead, I will allow CorShonda “Coco” Springer, accomplished screenwriter and author of the new script Greenwood Avenue, to tell us more about her rendition of the story.

Thank you Coco for taking the time to tell our Reel Focus readers more about this troubling event in American history. What inspired you to make the details of this obscure event known, especially now?

There couldn’t be a better time to tell this story. In my opinion, 5 years ago was not the time. Even 7 years ago was not the time. With Obama being in office and with the success of movies such as The Butler, 12 Years a Slave, and Belle, it is obvious to me that audiences are responding well to historic projects. However, each of the movies mentioned depict African Americans in the same light that we have been accustomed to seeing them on screen – as slaves, as subordinates! They don’t show African Americans as pioneers or as entrepreneurs.

Boardwalk Empire did an amazing job at “introducing” progressive, wealthy African Americans over the past two seasons. Audiences ate it up! I know that audiences want to see more than one portrayal of African American people on television or at the theatres. “Greenwood Avenue” the series is the story of an almost unknown incident; centered upon historic events of 1921. Our projects focus on the famed Black Wall Street of Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Greenwood Avenue” charts the happenings of a thriving all black community in the face of racism, prohibition, oil greed, and corruption – a community that was destroyed, reborn, and then forgotten.

As we approach the 100 year anniversary of the Tulsa race riots, we have the ability with this television project and community campaign to change the face of our community for generations to come. The first time I heard about “Black Wall Street” I was attending college at Ball State University; which is where my creative partner Hadiyah Robinson and I met. We spent hours talking and envisioning this network of black investors that found a way around the racist strongholds of Wall Street to make millions of dollars. It wasn’t until many years later, after hearing countless other ideas of what Black Wall Street was that we started to do some digging and found the amazing story of an all-black town in Oklahoma that boasted millionaires, doctors, and entrepreneurs; that was burned to the ground and then swept under the rug of American History.

Hadiyah and I started to dig deeper. We began researching newspaper articles, watching documentaries, traveling to Tulsa, and in 2010 while sitting in Brooklyn, New York brainstorming; we made the commitment to breathe life into this project. We made the commitment to tell this story to the masses. Already having vowed during college to work together and produce media that matters; this project consumed us. Obsessed with television shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Boardwalk Empire, Spartacus, The Tudors, Game of Thrones; we noticed a very obvious trend: there were rarely any shows on TV with a non-stereotypical, positive, and strong African American presence. We immediately thought of the amazing story of Black Wall Street as the strong African American presence that was missing from Cable TV dramas. And what we envision so special about “Greenwood Avenue” as a series is the varied characters that would be portrayed. From a shoe shine boy and the hustler to a millionaire and a police deputy, ”Greenwood Avenue” embodies the variety of the African American experience that is rarely seen on television today and it’s what we want to see. It is our goal with this series to take this little known historical event and surround it with our characters, storylines and weave them with historical references, conspiracies and truths to honor this town, its legacy, and create ground breaking television that will usher the demand for more shows of the like.

Lastly with “Greenwood Avenue” The Movement we plan to produce a campaign that will lead people into a new way of thinking. This movement will serve as a modern-day push for self-empowerment and self-determination using the thriving Black Wall Street of 1921 to serve as a living testament to what minority entrepreneurs can accomplish today. It is our goal to change people’s mind set one day at a time. We would like to use the power of influence from celebrities, artists, historians, civil rights activists, senators, entrepreneurs and other like-minded individuals to move these projects forward.

Is this a feature or a documentary and if it is a feature, what inspired you to make it a drama instead of a factual documentary?

I have a fully developed feature length movie as well as s fully developed TV series. Both the TV series and movie have signed talent and signed directors – known talent and directors.

The documentary has already been done by others. However, I think all of the attempts at making the documentary dropped the ball. No one focused on the resilience of the human spirit. No one focused on what these people were able to accomplish at a time in history when it was unheard of. Instead, they focused on the riots. I decided to make a television series because I wanted the characters to become characters that you look forward to seeing each week and that you want to go learn more about. Ideally, the series will run for 7 years and people will fall in love with our characters and be “edutained” while watching. The movie is the pre-quel to the TV series. I am actively seeking funding to produce the movie independently.

You compared your film to Rosewood and, as we know, when that movie was released, it stirred a lot of controversy. What type of effect do you think your film will have, especially along racial lines?

Greenwood Avenue will stir many emotions. There are people who will be embarrassed. Some will be angry that we have told the story. Some people will feel vindicated that the story has been brought to the masses. Some people will feel motivated. It will definitely get people talking, both black and white. It will make people re-assess how they view African American people. It will make African American people look at who they really are and who they really can be. I want for every person who views my project to realize their potential and know that they do have worth. I want them to know that they can do whatever they put their minds to.

As they tell us screenwriters, if you are truly a writer and passionate about it, you write and you write and you write some more. In other words, you don’t stop at one success or failure – you keep perfecting your craft. Tell us where do you plan to go after Greenwood Avenue?

I have 7 other film projects ready to go. I have several TV shows ready to go. After Greenwood Avenue the movie, and Greenwood Avenue the TV series, I plan to continue to tell stories that matter. I am going to have to take the Mel Gibson approach I am sure but it will get done.

I am hopeful that I will find funding for “Isis and Osiris”, which is a story concerning the deities of Egyptian mythology Osiris, Isis, Horus, and Set. It is one of the most important and powerful stories in Egyptian mythology during the New Kingdom.

Secondly will be “Nat Turner’s Rebellion”. Nathanial “Nat” Turner (1800-1831) was a black American slave who led the only effective, sustained slave rebellion (August 1831) in U.S. history, spreading terror throughout the white South. This story might really stir a lot of controversy; but, I look forward to telling it.

Corshonda's Photo

Main photo courtesy of Ebony Magazine online at http://yhoo.it/1IYzJZt

Photo of Corshonda Springer courtesy of Corshonda Springer.

 


New York Film Academy – Training the Stars

Al Pacino

 

Since the advent of film and television, there has been a need to educate film professionals in the trade.  One such school that understands this need and understands the need for affordable film education is New York Film Academy.  In order to tell us more about this unique institution that is located not just in New York but around the globe, I have teamed up with Frank Pasquine, Director of Social Media at New York Film Academy in order to tell us more about this school.  Frank is no stranger to the industry.  He is a freelance writer and  award-winning screenwriter – his work having been featured on ABC’s Good Morning AmericaHuffington PostRotten TomatoesScreenRantPaste Magazine and more. His most recent comedy script, Rusty Trombone, won Best Feature Screenplay at the All Sports LA Film Festival.

Frank congratulations on your most recent award for your screenplay and thank you for joining us.  Tell us about New York Film Academy and what it does for students?

The New York Film Academy is a premier hands-on school that focuses on the visual and performing arts with short-term, long-term and degree programs in filmmaking, acting, screenwriting, producing, animation, game design, musical theatre, cinematography, broadcast journalism, digital editing, photography, graphic design and illustration.   Since its inception in 1992, the New York Film Academy has not only expanded its programs, but also its locations around the world, offering courses in Los Angeles, South Beach, Disney Studios, Sydney, Gold Coast, Abu Dhabi, Florence, Moscow and more.

Is financial aid available to those who qualify?

The New York Film Academy offers FAFSA and a Need Based Tuition Discount to all qualifying students. We also have a financial aid staff to assist students with their potential financial aid availability.  In addition, NYFA is a military-friendly school with many of its programs approved for GI Bill benefits, including the Post – 9/11 GI Bill. Both the New York City and Los Angeles campuses are approved for the training of veterans and eligible persons under the provisions of the GI Bill. Those who are not fully covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill funding will receive a 15% discount on tuition.

Is it possible to take classes online?

The New York Film Academy offers an online course for those interested in learning the craft of screenwriting.  Those interested should refer to the following site:  https://www.nyfa.edu/online-screenwriting/

As you have said, NYFA is located in many places around the world.  Is there a possibility that it can expand into the Atlanta market?

While the New York Film Academy is open to expand its locations domestically and abroad, there are no current plans to open a campus in Atlanta.

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For more information about New York Film Academy’s programs and admissions, visit www.nyfa.edu.

 

Photos courtesy of Frank Pasquine.

 


Black History Month – A Current Look at African Americans Images in Film & Television

Dr. Rhines

Written by Melisha “Mel” Childs, Senior Blog Contributor

As you know, February is Black History month and in order to kick off this month’s blogs, I have invited someone to our blog to speak about African Americans portrayed in film. Dr. Jesse Rhines earned a BA in Political Commuications from Antioch College in 1974, an MA in African Ameican Studies from Yale University in 1983, a Political Science MA degree at UCLA in 1986 and a PhD in Ethnic Studies in 1993 at UC Berkeley. He also was Assistant Professor of Political Economy in the African American Studies Department at Rutgers University-Newark when Rutgers University Press published his dissertation, Black Film/White Money, in 1996. Dr. Rhines entered USC’s film production MA Directing program but worsening heart problems took him back to Rutgers after only the first year of the 3-year program. Currently, Dr. Rhines is residing in Los Angeles, California, continuing his writing career and serving regularly on Los Angeles’ Rotary Club working on global projects spanning from South Central, California to Kenya, Africa.

Dr. Rhines has studied the topic of Hollywood’s portrayal of African Americans in the past and his most notable work on the topic – Black Film/White Money – tackles this topic from many angles. He joins Reel Focus blog this month in honor of Black History month, providing his opinion on the current state of African Americans’ portrayal in film and television.

 

Thank you for joining us Dr. Rhines. Back in an article you wrote in a journal called The Black Scholar in 2003, entitled “Black Film/Black Future,” you explored portrayals of African Americans in the early 20th century in film.  For this blog, let’s start with the late 20th century with 1970s films known as Blaxploitation films.  From that point in film history until now, how far do you think African American films have come?

Let me begin by saying, in my opinion, African American fimmaker, Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweetback, Blaxploitation films [Sweetback was NOT Blaxplotation, although it initiated the genre that whites subsequently dominated] generally demeaned African Americans and provided few jobs or other economic gains for African Americans. In 1986, Spike Lee took advantage of imperfections in the overall film industry and released She’s Gotta Have It, which began a trend toward African American control behind the camera and expansion of economic gains. I won’t go into the details here because my book Black Film/White Money covers a fair deal of this expansion. However, I will say, as late as 1996, the cover of People Magazine revealed that Blacks were still short-changed at the Oscars. As a result, the Motion Picture Academy changed its traditions with the result that Black Oscar nominations increased as did the number of quality Black character roles and memberships is the various film guilds.

Tyler Perry’s more recent films have had almost entirely African American cast and crew and have been attended by multi-racial audiences. Smaller films such as Fruitvale Station  have recently received financing, good distribution and Oscar buzz. Blacks also have more salutary, speaking roles in a larger variety of films by non-Black producers and directors as well and important behind the camera internships and positions. The Oscar win in 2014 for 12 Years a Slave may have been redemption for the Academy; but, I am still looking for something that signals a more even playing field. However, I still do not think it time yet to begin the research on that topic.

 

There was an emergence of black film and television in the 1980s and 1990s.  What do you think spawned this boom and do you think that there is still a boom at present?

I think there is a boom at present. I don’t know about behind the camera but I see many more Blacks in a broad range of films today. However, I cannot elaborate on your question because, at present, I am no longer studying the industry.

 

The movie Selma just hit the box office and seems to be doing quite well. What do you think about this film?Black Film, White Money

When Black Film/White Money came out, people used to ask me why rich Blacks did not finance more films. Well my answer to this is no sane person, regardless of wealth, should use his or her own money to produce movies. What most filmmakers do is put together packages of a few investors’ monies so as to spread any possible losses. Oprah, I suspect, followed this model in producing Selma, a cinematically beautiful and very well-directed and well-acted movie. I found it to be a near perfect film. Nominated for Best Picture Oscar— this will be a second year in a row now for African Americans—Selma should bring even more African Americans into the film industry and allow other producers to give greater consideration to their scripts.

  

How do you feel the portrayal of African American women has developed over the years since Hattie McDaniels in “Gone With the Wind?”

Alfre Woodard plays US President on TV in “State of Affairs,” a serious drama. Oprah produced and acted in Selma but Hustle and Flow has led to TV’s “Empire” which, in my opinion, seems much less laudable for the main Black actors of both. If “Empire” makes money, Alfre may end up on the stroll next. Spielberg had Halle Berry in Extant, a multi-racial future/space TV drama, but it died pretty quickly, it seems. I think Black female actors need to be careful in this period and demand better roles and more control.

 

Tell us what is your next prediction on African American film within the next twenty years?

My prediction is that unless more Blacks follow Tyler Perry or Oprah’s lead, more Hustle and Flow type films and TV shows will take African Americans back to the Blaxploitation period.

 

 

For more information about Dr. Rhines and links to his publications, visit his blog at http://memoirandutopia.weebly.com/.

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