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Voices From ABFF

Posted By Shirley Williams, Tuesday, July 10, 2018
Updated: Monday, July 9, 2018

The American Black Film Festival (ABFF) is America’s largest annual gathering of African-American film, web and TV enthusiasts. Held in Miami, Florida this year, the festival took place at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel and drew nearly 12,000 attendees. The home of Marvel’s Black Panther director Ryan Coogler, ABFF is sponsored by its long-time partner HBO. At this year’s festival, Sony Pictures premiered Superfly along with screenings of Universal Picture’s The Purge and TNT’s Claws. BET premiered The Bobby Brown Story about the life of the R&B star along with a screening of the film of his late ex-wife Whitney Houston, Whitney.

Ryan Coogler headlined the “ABFF Talk Series” where he discussed his journey to success, from his start at ABFF in 2011 where he made his directorial debut with Fig to his Hollywood hit Black Panther. In 2011 Coogler was rewarded $20,000 through HBO’s Short Film Competition; this year, HBO awarded $10,000 to director Alfonso Johnson for his short Moths and Butterflies.

Panel highlights included “Write Or Die” featuring panelists Cheo Hodari Coker (Marvel's Luke Cage), Karin Gist (STAR) and Kriss Turner Towner (Greenleaf) who shared tips on getting scripts greenlit, and discussed diversity in the writers room. Programming also included Master Classes where festival-goers got a chance to learn from power players like Karin Gist (STAR) EP, (Grey's Anatomy) on how to become a showrunner and Taj Paxton (Head of Logo Documentary Films) & Darrien Gipson (National Director of SAGindie) on how to get feature films financed.

Cadillac offered Ride With Cadillac, a complimentary shuttle service offering rides to all ABFF festivities as well as a VR lounge where you could build the first-ever XT4 Sport crossover. American Airlines hosted a lounge where attendees could check out the ABFF history and meet the official 2018 Filmmakers.

Pharrell Williams with Mimi Valdes

I got a chance to catch up PGA’s own Mimi Valdes, the Hollywood producer responsible for films like Netflix’s Dope and Roxanne Roxanne as well as the hit motion picture Hidden Figures to discuss how she as a woman of color makes sure her work spaces are always reflective of the world we live in.


Shirley: Tell me about your role at I Am Other.

Mimi: As Chief Creative Officer I am in charge of film and TV and our media ventures at I Am Other. I’ve been at I Am Other since Pharrell started it back in 2011 but working on film and TV since summer of 2014. That’s when we did our first movie, Dope. Pharrell considers it a creative collective. It’s really the umbrella company for all of his projects, but I’m specifically handling film and TV.


Do you have any upcoming projects?

We have a kids’ show that we’ve been developing for a couple of years now. We’re in post for Netflix. It’s a show for 8 - 12 year olds, similar to Brain Games. We partnered with the guys who created it - Atomic Entertainment - to do a kids’ version. We haven’t announced it yet because we’re still trying to figure out our launch date but that’ll be the next thing that comes out.


What are some of the things you do outside of I Am Other?

I am forever a student. I’m super curious. I just love discovering new things. I love people. I’m constantly trying to learn as much as I can about the world. I don’t really have a lot of time to do things outside of I Am Other. I do speaking engagements. I still write every now and then. I come from journalism; I used to be a magazine editor. I did a Solange cover story for Glamour a couple of months ago. I’m a storyteller first and foremost. In any medium that I can have an opportunity to tell a great story, that’s where I go. Wherever.


How do YOU bring diversity into your work spaces?

The magazine world has always had a lot of diversity. I’m from New York City, born and raised. Diversity to me is like normal life. It doesn’t feel comfortable if I’m not around lots of different people, and not even just people of color. I want all sexual orientations, I want different religions, I want everybody, because coming from New York - Manhattan, specifically, which is such a melting pot—that’s what makes me feel comfortable. But what I found in Hollywood is that there aren’t a lot of us. So what’s frustrating is you’re constantly on the lookout to make sure that our crews reflect the world that we live in. It’s not easy, because there’s not enough of us, in Hollywood, that have these positions of power, whether it’s greenlighting a film, or knowing the buyers that are making the acquisitions. But it’s important that we’re not just focused on the glamorous roles. We need all the positions. Whether it’s production designer, costume designer, craft services, line producers…we really need to be represented in all facets of putting together a production, but there’s not a lot of us. What I’ve tried to do is expose as many people as possible to these jobs, starting within my own personal crew of friends and family. We have to continue to let people know there are jobs in this field beyond just director, actor, producer. All of us that have been blessed and lucky enough to be in these positions where we are creating content in Hollywood. We have a responsibility to bring other people along with us and just let people know that these jobs exist.


Dennis Williams

I also spoke with Dennis Williams, HBO’s SVP of Corporate Social Responsibility, about his role at HBO and how it impacts the content the major media brand produces.


Shirley: What would you call social responsibility?

Dennis: I would call it “Robin Hood.” (laughs). I would say it’s just good business. You know, I’ve been at HBO for a couple of decades now but there was a time when people talked about things like business ethics—not just that you have a product and you make money, but is your product good? I think, fortunately in our culture now, we’ve gotten to a place where people are asking that question again and holding brands accountable in ways that we’ve not seen before. And we’re seeing brands understand in a very, very real way that consumers will choose to engage with you if they feel like your values match their values. If they feel like your product is welcoming and supportive of their experience, then they will support and buy your product. And if not, if that relationship isn’t authentic, then consumers will step away. I think it’s good business. I think it’s ethical business. I think it’s about business that has a moral compass. I think it’s the way that all companies should behave and operate, particularly in the media space. Media is so incredibly influential and powerful in our lives, it really nudges the culture forward in some very unique ways, so I think we have an even greater responsibility because we’re shaping ideas. We are speaking to people who feel invisible in the middle of nowhere, and they turn on their television and they see themselves reflected or they see their stories reflected or they see issues that they are grappling with handled in a mature, thoughtful, complex, compelling way and you can’t take that for granted. I think you have to be responsible with that power.


Talk about how you, growing up in Kansas as a child, didn’t see images of yourself reflected in the media and how that inspired you.

You called me out on my very selfish examplesometimes I say a “boy in Iowa.” (laughs) In my experience, it was growing up as an African-American kid in the midwest. My community was full of people who looked just like me and who were bound by the same kind of constraints that generations of folks had been bound by. So it was very difficult for me to see or to know what I didn’t know, right? It was hard to think outside of that. So media was key for me. I was incredibly fortunate to be born during the time that Oprah Winfrey launched her nationally syndicated talk show. I was obsessed with it. She looked like people that I knew. If up until that point all I had ever seen was Phil Donahue, then I could have never imagined that for me, because little black boys didn’t grow up to be old white men—not that we grew up to be black women (laughs) but at least that’s a little closer, you can get there. That’s not a bridge too far. Oprah is the best example, the shining example, and seeing her made a difference. Then I started to look for myself in other stories and other programs that I watched. As I grew older that became increasingly complicated, because I realized I’m probably not like the other boys here. I’m probably not going to grow up and marry a woman. I’m probably going to grow up and hang with other boys. I didn’t see that reflected. In this kind of crazy, scary way, my identity was so limited because I just didn’t see it reflected anywhere else. So I understand in a very personal, deep and visceral way how important it is to see yourself reflected, and if you don’t, it can be incredibly isolating and that leads to people going to very, very bad places. I’m fortunate that there were some examples there that showed me another way. I tell this story pretty often—and my mother is probably going to get upset with me—but I was so obsessed with television as a kid, that I would literally sit and time television commercials. I’d heard that television commercials were 30 seconds, and I didn’t believe it! I was like, that’s just not possible! There’s a commercial and the black woman is sitting at the table and her son comes in behind her from the army, surprises her, and they cry and they eat? How do they do all that in 30 seconds? And so I would sit and time television commercials. I was that into media at an early age. And my mother would say—in particular about Oprah because I watched Oprah all the time—she’d say, “Oprah has hers, you need to figure out how you’re going to get yours, television is going to get you nowhere in life.” And now I’m like, “Hey, you know that company HBO? That worked out pretty good for us, didn’t it?” (laughs). But like they say, if you knew better, you’d do better. My mother was working with the cards that life had dealt for black folks in Kansas. It didn’t look like we were going to be media moguls. Teacher, preacher, post office – that was what we were encouraged to strive for. Thankfully it got bigger for me.


The ABFF festival has proven to be essential to the growth of the African-American creative community. It has created platforms for untapped talent, granted award money to gifted artists and continues to be a space for emerging talent to meet other creatives to build relationships and cultivate partnerships. ABFF has signed a deal to return to Miami for the next three years. The 2019 American Black Film Festival will be held June 12-16, 2019. See full ABFF winner list below!




2018 HBO SHORT FILM AWARD, sponsored by HBO (Prize: $10,000)

Moths and Butterflies written and directed by Alfonso Johnson


2018 TV ONE SCREENPLAY COMPETITION WINNER (Prize: $5,000 and a production deal)

Connected – written by Rashim Cannad



Harold Williams Wait…What Had Happened Was



Craig T. Williams Allergic (Comedy)

Terrence L. Moore Uptown (Drama)


2018 BEST WEB SERIES, sponsored by Xfinity (Prize: $3,000)

 KELOID U.S.A., written, produced and directed by Huriyyah Muhammad


2018 JURY AWARD FOR BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE, sponsored by Prudential (Prize: $5,000)

Sprinter directed by Storm Saulter


2018 JURY AWARD FOR BEST DIRECTOR, sponsored by Cadillac (Prize: $5,000)

 Storm Salter, Sprinter


2018 JURY AWARD FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY, presented by ABFF (Prize: $2 500)

Not in My Neighbourhood, directed by Kurt Orderson


2018 JURY AWARD FOR BEST SCREENPLAY, sponsored by Time Warner

 JINN, by Nijla Mumin


2018 AUDIENCE AWARD, sponsored by BET Networks (Prize: $10,000)

 Sprinter, directed by Storm Saulter



Kamie Crawford

Winston Marshall


2018 NBC SPOTLIGHT ACTOR AWARD (Prize: $5,000)

Zoe Renee, performance in JINN


2018 SCRIPT TO SCREEN COMPETITION, sponsored by BET Networks and Color Creative

Courtney Perdue & Baindu Saidu, African-America

April Blair, Curves

Darnell Brown, The Good Book


2018 ABFF COMEDY WINGS WINNER, sponsored by HBO (Prize:  $2,500)

Blaq Ron


Post by Shirley Vernae Williams



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Natural Born Producer - Indie Veteran Lynette Howell Taylor Takes Aim At The Heart of Hollywood

Posted By Katie Grant, Friday, July 6, 2018

“The truth is I feel like I’ve been producing since I was five, or maybe three. My mother was the one who always said to me, ‘When you were in preschool, you were the one telling everybody where they should play and organizing everybody. So in some ways, it’s just kind of in your nature.’”

Lynette Howell Taylor sinks into the oversized denim-covered easy chair in the white brick-walled conference room at 51 Entertainment (her latest production company)—no makeup, a long sweater coat, hair down, bottle of water in hand. Everything about Howell Taylor—her attitude, her environment, her willingness to share—seems easy. There is no artifice here—not in the room and not in this very successful indie-turned-Hollywood producer who already has over 30 credits to her roster before hitting 40, including indie hits Half Nelson, Blue Valentine and Captain Fantastic. This fall marks her biggest credit to date, Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star Is Born, starring Cooper and Lady Gaga.

Howell Taylor, of course, backs up her mom, “You recognize that there is a confidence in your ability,” she says. “You’re not afraid of being in charge. You’re not afraid of making decisions on behalf of yourself and other people, and I think that’s something that you can certainly learn, but it’s also something that a lot of people are just kind of born with.”

Howell Taylor’s love of story began in Liverpool, England where she grew up in a blended family of five kids and her working-class parents. If her head wasn’t buried in a book, escaping into the worlds of The Lord of the Rings or Sweet Valley High, she was performing with her brothers and sisters in the backyard—and by age 11, charging for tickets.

She spent her formative years acting in musicals with a youth theatre and might have become an actor if she hadn’t been rejected from the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts’ acting program. The head of the drama program passed her application on to the head of the Music, Theatre and Entertainment Management program, and she was promptly accepted.

In retrospect, it was a fortunate turn of events. “Oh my god,” she declares with palpable relief, “thank god [producing] is what I’m doing and not the other … I just didn’t enjoy performing as much as I enjoyed the other side. It’s a very entrepreneurial program. And to me, that’s the cornerstone of producing—figuring out how to manage not only yourself but also a business and other people and situations and projects. I really learned the foundation of those skills while I was at that university.”

Producer Lynette Howell Taylor (left of center) consults with director Matt Ross (seated) while on location for Captain Fantastic.

After receiving her diploma from Sir Paul McCartney himself, founder of the school, she worked for an agent and then a casting director in London. But casting fell flat for her, and she was itching to get into production, specifically musicals. So that casting director put a call in to a producer and got her a job as an assistant. “I was so lucky that I had these incredible mentors that just helped me,” she adds.

The musical she went to work on was financed and produced by the company East of Doheny, which eventually provided her ticket to LA. She arrived in Southern California and was overseeing the various shows the company produced in the West End and on Broadway, loving every minute. “I was working in musical theater. I was working for a producer, and it was awesome.”

The jump from theatre production to film was prompted by watching every hour of the behind-the-scenes footage for Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, the book she regularly escaped into as a kid. “The reason I got into the movies was pure escapism,” she admits.

“I was just fascinated by how that [film] came to be,” she continues, “and how as a storyteller, you could make that. I was obsessed. ‘Wow, how did they do this?’ I love big fantasy, I love Star Wars, and I’m a big science fiction fan. I love the escapism of it, the notion that stories can take you to this other place.”

Howell Taylor has made all kinds of movies and considers herself “platform agnostic,” but when asked about the common thread among her varied credits, she has a ready answer. “That’s easy. It’s character. Genre to me is irrelevant. We all want to feel like we care about the people that we’re watching. It’s not just about the plot or the events or the story. It’s about human nature and the specificity that defines us and makes each individual character who they are. So I’m always drawn to the projects that have strong characters. The plot is so secondary.”

Guided by that conviction, Howell Taylor has assiduously sought out collaborators who can match and extend her passion. “For me, producing is the practical application of making somebody else’s vision a reality. I’ve always seen that as my role, an enabler of someone else’s idea … I can love a script, I can love the story, but if I’m not excited by the filmmaker, then it’s not for me, it’s not the right project, and I’m not the right person. But it’s incredibly exciting to me to find a short, meet the filmmaker and [go on] to help them become the filmmaker that they are destined to be.”

She helps a burgeoning filmmaker achieve that vision by instilling a realistic understanding of their budget, walking them through decisions that will directly affect their vision or sharing her knowledge and experience to let them “be the best that they can be” without overwhelming their creative voice. She calls to mind a “visionary Sherpa,”someone who easily carries your heavy load and tends to your every need but is unflinchingly honest about the rough terrain you are about to enter. She especially loves working with first-time filmmakers and directors, like Andrew Okpeaha MacLean (On the Ice), Brie Larson (Unicorn Store) and of course, Bradley Cooper.

Lynette Howell Taylor reviews footage with director Derek Clanfrance (center) and cast member Bradley Cooper (right)
on the set of
The Place Beyond the Pines. 

Howell Taylor was brought on relatively late in the game for A Star is Born, joining the already robust team of producers that included Bill Gerber and Cooper himself. That kind of collaboration is what brings her the greatest joy. “[Bradley] and I had worked together on The Place Beyond the Pines and he called me out of the blue. There [were] a lot of great, competent producers on the movie, but there was a lot to do, and Bradley wanted to bring me on … to really have a voice creatively. So I was deeply involved in the script development work with everyone else.”

Asked what makes a story good enough to remake, she answers, “I mean, love is timeless. It’s a love story and, as Bradley says, ‘What better way to express love than through music?’ Because you can’t hide in music, and I think it’s, like anything, specificity of character [that makes] any story fresh.

“And that, to me, is what this new incarnation is,” she continues. “I think it has enough about it that the fans of the original will feel that we’ve paid homage to those films. But [Bradley’s] done his own version.”

We discussed how A Star Is Born shot at live concerts like Coachella, Stagecoach and Glastonbury to capture the true crowd feel and avoid prerecorded singing per Lady Gaga’s suggestion. Howell Taylor reports, “It was complicated. It was a lot of coordination and a lot of relationships. But that’s why it took a lot of us to make that movie.

“Bradley was the true leader of all of us,” she elaborates. “He had very clear vision for what he wanted to do, but more than anything, such a deep passion for the material and a commitment to excellence. When you work with somebody who is committed to that level of quality, it makes everybody rise to the occasion.”

With this current studio piece under her belt and Oscar buzz starting already, will Howell Taylor ever return to the indie fold? “Yes,” she answers. “The primary reason I will always do indies is because that’s where you discover new voices.”

Those new voices, however, still come at a price when talking financing. She contends, whether she’s working with an unknown filmmaker or big names in the business, the fight to finance remains the same. “I’m still dealing with the same issues I was dealing with when I started. I’ve made a lot of movies where no one wants to finance them before they’re made: Half Nelson, Blue Valentine, Captain Fantastic. People that do want to make them, want to make them for a lot less than what they need to be made for. I am forever trying to figure out how to deal with that gap, between financial safety and what the movie needs to be.”

She’s constantly trying to get the script that’s on the page made for the budget it demands. The usual objections—it’s too risky; can we change the cast?; and can we do it for this budget number instead?—haven’t changed. “[Like in 2010] … when no one wanted to buy Blue Valentine, and then it ends up getting distributed and it gets nominated for all these awards, suddenly, everybody loves it. So then you go into all these meetings with financiers and studios and they’re like, ‘We really want to make a Blue Valentine.’”

Howell Taylor learned about financing from the other side of the table at East of Doheny, who were financiers as well as producers. She found “being the first stop” for investors a fascinating role, learning the best ways to approach people for money, and more importantly, the best ways not to.

“Ultimately,” she reflects, “I realized that every company and every individual that decides to finance something has their own reasons for doing it. And you have to figure out what their reasons are—you can’t talk them into your reasons for why they should do it. Learning that lesson early on was really the foundation for me figuring out how to go and find partners for the movies I want to work on.”

Working on a film, for Howell Taylor, even meant venturing to the other side of the camera on one occasion. The experience only reinforced her deep love and respect for actors, when she was tapped to play a role in The Place Beyond the Pines for Derek Cianfrance. (Sadly for her fans, her character ultimately didn’t end up in the film.)

“Derek is so committed to truth and his actors really embodying their characters,” she observes. “He wants to do whatever he can to make those experiences in front of the camera as honest as possible. Even if he has a script, he loves to improvise. So he asked me if I would play a role that was in support of Bradley’s character … just to provide more color.”

Howell Taylor said yes and approached the challenge with total focus, leading the improvised scene with Cooper and Emory Cohen. “It wasn’t scripted, and I was fucking terrified,” she admits. “So I said, ‘Okay, I cannot be a producer today.’” Howell Taylor was picked up by a teamster to get to set, sat in hair and makeup, was fitted in wardrobe and was greeted by the first PA, who walked her to set like any other cast member. “I rode through the full process and I’m terrified the whole time. And what I realized was that every single interaction I had on that day helped me. So when I stepped in front of the camera, I was able to do what I was there to do.

“It really made me appreciate what kind of conditions you need to provide for your actors,” she continues, “in order for them to do what ultimately is the most important thing. You can prep your movies every which way but, at the end of the day, if your actors don’t have a space to work within that allows them to do their best, it’s literally all for nothing. Getting to know the other side of that was the most incredible experience, and I’m so grateful to Derek for giving me that.”

Howell Taylor with director Matt Ross on the
set of
Captain Fantastic

Howell Taylor also feels fortunate to be in a position where she can consciously choose content that’s more representative of the diversity of her audience. I asked her if she sees a creative cost to that choice. “I don’t think that there’s a cost to doing it at all,” she answers. “I think that the cost, if anything, is just the continuing effort to educate the industry that there’s a benefit to it. But it doesn’t feel like a cost, it feels like a responsibility.”

And she is determined to carry that responsibility to her crew. “In front of camera, I’ve always had a pretty good commitment to inclusivity and diversity. But she admits, “Definitely behind the camera, I have not had the same level of representation. So I have a deep commitment to the projects that I’m producing, moving forward, to making sure I improve that. But there’s no cost to it. There’s only opportunity.”

What’s next on her plate? Howell Taylor is moving into heavy development. She plans to “really focus more on optioning books, optioning articles and working with artists earlier on [in the process].” Perhaps that will help her fulfill her wish “to contribute positively to the content that [my daughter] watches.” She sees everything her kids watch and doesn’t worry about the strong protagonists available to her son, but her young daughter, although a tomboy and fierce soccer player, is already obsessed with princesses. Howell Taylor aims to solidify the notion that “she can do and be anything.”

It’s a notion she’s clearly taken to heart when she reflects, “I think if I hadn’t gone into the arts, I would have tried to be an astronaut.” Let’s be glad she stayed here on earth and managed to find another way to reach the stars.

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Scaring Is Caring - Jack Davis And Crypt TV Connect The Millennial Masses With Their Monsters

Posted By Kevin Perry, Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The horror-going experience is a macabre blend of intimacy and community.

We huddle in the dark, cowering from ghouls and gore, and we are simultaneously together and alone. This dynamic is akin to the lure of social media. We consume it en masse, but it is intensely personal (and occasionally frightening), like a pixelated puppet master, twisting us to his digital whims…

Meet Jack Davis, the 26-year-old CEO of Crypt TV.

“I started Crypt not long after I graduated college,” he recounts. “I’m from Los Angeles, so I feel like I have entertainment in my blood more than I care to admit. I grew up in LA around this whole crazy world.” In fact, Jack is the son of producer John Davis, who is credited with hits as disparate in time and tone as 1987’s Predator and 2017’s Ferdinand.

But Jack looked beyond his family ties when cinching together the hottest online horror brand in town. “I had this friendship with Eli Roth and called him up and said, ‘Nobody is doing this genre, for this medium. Maybe we should try it.’” That’s when Crypt TV was born in blood and brash ideas. “I think the connectivity Eli brings to the company is the perspective of a filmmaker,” assesses Davis. “He has said to me on many occasions, ‘I wish I had something like Crypt when I was 25. How much could that have advanced my career?’ Getting that shot. We try to give filmmakers a shot.”

And it was a mighty inaugural blast. Roth and Davis enlisted hordes of ravenous horror fans to contribute to 6-Second Scare, a user-generated contest that played out on Vine in October of 2014. “The test went past our wildest expectations,” beams Davis. “Over 15,000 submissions, Eli ended up on Good Morning America to talk about the contest, and the content was great! Really exciting!”

Jack Davis has enthusiasm that can’t be contained in six-second clips. His boundless ambition and social media acumen soon caught the attention of the two-time Oscar nominee who puts the house in horror powerhouse. “During that time, Jason Blum saw what we were doing. Jason and Eli had a friendship, and he agreed to come on and be our first investor and strategic partner.” Davis marvels at the chaotic chronology of the ensuing events, noting that Blum “invested in Crypt in March of 2015, and we officially launched in April of 2015.”

The schedule was as torturous as a Crypt TV death scene, but Jason Blum is impressed by his protégé, declaring that Davis has “delivered on everything he’s said, and that is very rare in anyone, especially when you’re young. So I feel very lucky to be in business with him … he’s definitely one of the most talented people I’ve encountered.” Blum specifically praises Crypt’s data-driven digital approach. “Production on TV or movies takes so long; it’s much slower and much less reactive. So I think Jack has really taken advantage of the technology behind Crypt to inform the storytelling.”

Over the next three years, Davis wielded his tech prowess to transform a startup creepshow into a social media juggernaut. “We have over seven million fans on Facebook.” He says it without an ounce of braggadocio, but rather with an eye for metrics. “There’s something so powerful about reaching that young consumer on their phone. You get so much data from that, so many analytics from that. We have a frictionless relationship with our audience. That allows us to move fast, to grow our IP fast, to constantly be serving the audience and listening to them.”

When Davis discusses market research, it goes far beyond likes and shares. “We have sentiment scores around each character. How does the average length of a comment increase over an episode? When are people tuning in? When are they tuning out? The data is impacting those creative decisions.” His rat-a-tat delivery is a dizzying mix of revelry and reverence. “If you’re all data and don’t respect the creative process of the filmmakers, you’re going to lose. But if you don’t listen to the data and make this stuff for the audience based on what they’ve already told you, through either their comments or when they tune out or their viewing duration, then that’s not good either. It’s really a marriage.”

The spiritual spouse to Davis’ beloved data is creativity, and one of the most successful directors collaborating with Crypt TV is Landon Stahmer. When asked about his CEO’s affinity for audience trends, Stahmer praises, “Jack is such a good learner. He’s bold at swinging at things and he’s really, really quick to learn. I think that’s amazing, and it really trickles down in their company … Crypt is really smart. They’ve really been watching what the fans want and how they’re reacting. Engagement is huge. It’s one thing to get views, but engagement is another aspect of that. Comments and likes and shares—those are the things that tell a company like Crypt, or creators out there, that this is something that’s viable and moving towards something bigger.”

“Bigger” is an epic understatement when you consider that Davis is modeling his company after the most successful entertainment franchise of our generation. “We want to be the next Marvel for monsters. Marvel for monsters.” He repeats the mantra like Jimmy Two-Times from Goodfellas before resuming his analytical assault. “What makes Marvel so amazing is the love people have for these characters, but also their staying power. People are really interested in their stories over decades.”

So how does Davis plan to go toe-to-severed-toe with the big screen phenomenon that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe? When asked directly, he invokes the almighty nondisclosure agreement. “That’s a story for a later day. I will tell you that we have a guided universe document here that only three people have ever looked at or read or seen. But we have a plan for all of this. You’re gonna see the Crypt monster universe start to come together in future seasons of our shows this summer.”

But while the major studios are clamoring for screen counts and IMAX space this blockbuster season, Davis is setting his sights on the precious real estate in your hands. “People always think about scary movies being in the theater, and it’s a shared experience and you’re in the dark and you feel safe, but you can feel suspended reality enough to enjoy the scares. But most Crypt fans are watching this stuff in a solo experience; they’re watching it on the phone. The part of the experience that makes it shared is the comments section, the fact that there’s a whole community of Crypt fans that self-identify and self-aggregate. Scary is the genre that people can rally and unite around.”

Beneath the blood-soaked umbrella that Davis designates as scary, he deconstructs a multi-tiered breakdown of subgenres, starting with two major Crypt TV classifications. “I look at the company as scripted and non-scripted. They’re obviously totally different business models, totally different feels of what you’re trying to create.”

On the non-scripted side of the sword, Crypt’s marquee monster is Giggles the grotesque clown princess. She’s a reality starlet who conducts woman-on-the-street experiments across multiple platforms, interacting with unwitting victims in the real world. “The impetus with Giggles is creating a character born through social media—something that’s authentic, true and nascent to the way people enjoy content now: very accessible, do-it-yourself posting.” By terrorizing the Insta-landscape, Giggles carves a new set of monster motifs into Davis’ wheelhouse. “Giggles is all about self-empowerment. Her slogan is born a clown, as in I was born this way, I’m proud of it, I don’t feel pressure to conform to typical beauty standards.”

This launches Davis into a gleeful diatribe, cataloguing Crypt TV’s greatest hits and their even greater themes. “The Birch is about bullying; and the response to it. Birch has over 30 million views on the internet, we won a Webby for Best Drama, people have had full tattoos of the Birch on their back. The amount of fan art we get from The Birch is insane; people are obsessed with Birch. Yes, the monster is awesome and visual, but guess what? It’s a deep story about something meaningful.”

Gaining momentum, Davis dons metaphorical rose-colored glasses when describing Crypt’s popular killer-cabal series. “Sunny Family Cult is about a young girl coming of age and trying to accept whether or not she wants to join the family business while also dealing with the difficulties of school. It’s just that the family business happens to be a murderous cult.”

Now reaching a crescendo, Davis becomes reflective. “Look-See is about grief and letting go. So it’s all about these deep themes, and scary just gives you the unique permission structure to tell these stories.”

One of the prime beneficiaries of Crypt’s liberating creative license is Look-See director Landon Stahmer. “The Look-See is a representation of attachment to the past. He’s made up of pieces of his victims. The past doesn’t really need to see or smell or hear; it just consumes us when we focus too much on it.” Summoning his feral philosopher within, Stahmer continues, The word monster comes from a Latin word that means to warn and advise. I think that it’s a pretty therapeutic way to explore some things about life.”

But the Crypt TV generation doesn’t merely watch monsters; they become them. Davis and his tech team are creating Augmented Reality (AR) experiences that literally put users behind the mask. “How accessible the monster is matters—what will allow the viewer to put themselves in the story and really engage with it?” ponders Davis. “Can it become a mask? These are the questions we ask ourselves when we’re in the greenlighting process, when we’re in the development process. Can this grow into a mask? Is this a powerful visual? That will help us get shots on goal. We’re gonna have hits and misses like anyone else, but our cost structure allows us to take risks and the data gives us a chance to have a higher hit rate than the average folk.”

Translation: stay scrappy, stay cheap, stay millennial.

It’s a fiendishly effective formula, according to indie horror maestro Blum. “Horror always skews younger. We like it for the same reason why we like rollercoasters and jumping out of airplanes, because it gets your adrenaline up. People like that because it makes them feel alive.” Blum asserts, “Crypt is catching younger people the way that they consume content and putting horror on their mobile devices. For that reason it makes a ton of sense.”

And it potentially makes a ton of dollars. Crypt TV is dominating the digital airwaves, constantly blurring the line between social and media. As Davis surmises, “You follow your friends on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. Quite often we make it seem like our lives are a little bigger than they are, a little better than they are, a little happier than they are.” So, if real people are living a fantasy on social media, wonders Davis, then why can’t a fantasy invade reality? “Authenticity is so important on the internet and authenticity is so important in building a brand people connect to directly … We ultimately have to build an authentic brand for that Crypt fan, because that is how we grow the fastest, and that’s also how we can die the fastest.”

Never one to succumb to fatalism, Davis perseveres. “We try to put into the culture of the company: don’t think that you know better than the audience.” Humbled and harkened by his data, Davis concludes, “At the end of the day, we’re gonna be more loyal to what the Crypt fan wants than to what we want, personally.”

So, when the fans say jump, Crypt TV says how violently? Or, as Jack Davis puts it, “Listen, the writing is on the wall for big, macro changes that are happening via the consumer, and I live by the creed that the consumer is never wrong.”

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Produced By Conference 2018 - Press Roundup

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, June 12, 2018

 BLEEDING COOL / Kaitlyn Booth
June 9, 2018: “Marvel Movies Will Have More Female Directors in the Future, According to Kevin Feige”


COMICBOOK / Matthew Mueller
June 9, 2018: “Kevin Feige On Marvel Studios Getting X-Men Rights”


COMICBOOK.COM / Cameron Bonomolo
June 9, 2018: “Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige On Making 20 Marvel Movies in 10 Years”


COMPLEX / Victoria Johnson
June 9, 2018: “Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige Promises to Hire More Female Directors For Films”




DEADLINE / Dawn Chmielewski
June 9, 2018: “Lena Waithe Says “The Things That Make Me Different Are Also A Commodity””


DEADLINE / David Robb
June 9, 2018: “Hollywood’s “Disgrace Insurance” On The Rise To Cover Productions’ Sins And Losses – Produced By”


DEADLINE / Anthony D’Alessandro
June 9, 2018: “Jim Gianopulos On Why He Chose Paramount, What Makes A Hit And Sparking To ‘Sonic The Hedgehog’ – Produced By”


DEADLINE / Anthony D’Alessandro
June 9, 2018: “Kevin Feige On Marvel’s Success, ‘Black Panther’, ‘Infinity War II’ & How He’s “Bad With Numbers” – Produced By”


DEADLINE / Anthony D’Alessandro
June 9, 2018: “‘Fargo’ EP Warren Littlefield Provides Update On Season 4 – Produced By”


DEADLINE / Anthony D’Alessandro
June 9, 2018: “‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Team On Season 2 Closer & How Bonnets Were Nearly Cut From Hulu Series – Produced By”


DEADLINE / Dawn Chmielewski
June 9, 2018: “Netflix Accused Of Favoring Tentpoles Over Indies — Produced By”


June 9, 2018: “Marketplace is more receptive to diverse content, says Mudbound producer”


June 9, 2018: “Kevin Feige Says He Walked Out Of Superman 4 Thinking About A Sequel”


June 9, 2018: “‘Ant-Man And The Wasp’ Has Just Completed Post-Production”


June 9, 2018: “Produced By: Paramount's Jim Gianopulos Stresses Originality As The Key To Deciding What Movies to Make”


June 9, 2018: “Marvel's Kevin Feige on Awards Season: "It Doesn’t Mean Everything"”


June 9, 2018: “Produced By: Writer-Actress Lena Waithe Advises "Make Sure You Are Surrounded By Greatness"”


INDIEWIRE / Anne Thompson
June 9, 2018: “Kevin Feige on the Future of the Marvel: More Women, More Diversity, and More Sequels”


June 9, 2018: “Marvel Studios' Kevin Feige reflects on making 20 superhero movies in 10 years”


SCREEN RANT / Thomas Bacon
June 9, 2018: “A Lot of Future Marvel Movies Will Have Female Directors Says Kevin Feige”


SCREEN RANT / Thomas Bacon
June 9, 2018: “Kevin Feige Is 'Waiting for a Phone Call' About X-Men & Fantastic Four”


SYFY WIRE / Josh Weiss


VARIETY / Dave McNary
June 9, 2018: “Produced By Conference: Kevin Feige Promises More Female Directors on Marvel Movies”


VARIETY / Dave McNary
June 9, 2018: “Paramount’s Jim Gianopulos: ‘Diversity is Good Business’”


VARIETY / Dave McNary
June 9, 2018: “‘Mudbound’ Producer: ‘The Marketplace is More Receptive to Diverse Content’”


WE GOT THIS COVERED / Joseph Falcone
June 9, 2018:” Kevin Feige Says He’s Waiting For The Call To Bring The X-Men Into The MCU”


THE WRAP / Jeremy Fuster
June 9, 2018: “‘Fast & Furious’ Producer, Paramount CEO Explain Why They Greenlit ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’”


THE WRAP / Jeremy Fuster, Umberto Gonzalez
June 9, 2018: “Marvel Boss Kevin Feige on Ryan Coogler’s ‘Black Panther': ‘Best Movie We’ve Ever Made’”


June 10, 2018: “Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige Promises Different Incarnations of Characters After Avengers 4”


CBR / Anthony Couto
June 10, 2018: “Marvel’s Feige Says Fandom is More Precious Than Prestigious Awards”


CINEMABLEND / Jessica Rawden
June 10, 2018: “Kevin Feige Is Waiting Around For An X-Men Answer Like The Rest Of Us”


COMICBOOK.COM / Jamie Lovett
June 10, 2018: “'Ant-Man and the Wasp' is Officially Complete”


COMIC BOOK MOVIE / Vincent Hernandez
June 10, 2018: “Kevin Feige Is Waiting On The Phone Call That Will Let Him Bring The X-MEN Into The MCU”


DARK HORIZONS / Garth Franklin
June 10, 2018: “Marvel’s Feige On Female Film Directors”


DECIDER / Dawn C. Chimelewshi
June 10, 2018: “Netflix Is Being Accused Of Neglecting Indie Films In Favor Of Big Hits”

*Please note this is pick-up of the DEADLINE feature


DEADLINE / Anita Bennett
June 10, 2018: “Hollywood Harassment: Best Fight ‘Is to Have Inclusion’ – Produced By”


DEADLINE / Anita Bennett
June 10, 2018: “Bill Hader: HBO’s ‘Barry’ Is ‘Less Stressful’ than ‘SNL’ – Produced By”


DIGITAL SPY / Chris Edwards
June 10, 2018: “Marvel boss Kevin Feige vows "a heck of a lot more" movies will feature female directors”


FADER / Opheli Garcia Lawler
June 10, 2018: “Lena Waithe on Hollywood: “We deserve a seat at that table.””


THE MARY SUE / Chelsea Steiner
June 10, 2018: “Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige Promises “A Heck of a Lot” More Female Directors in the MCU”


PAGE SIX / Dawn Chmielewski
June 10, 2018: “Lena Waithe says ‘The things that make me different are also a commodity’”

*Please note this is pick-up of the DEADLINE feature.


REFINERY29 / Meagan Fredette
June 10, 2018: “The Handmaid’s Tale’s Creator Hinted About Offred’s Baby’s Future In Season 3”


SCREEN RANT / Ana Dumaraog
June 10, 2018: “Kevin Feige Shrugs Off Marvel Studios' Lack of Awards Success”


VARIETY / Joe Otterson
June 10, 2018: “Bill Hader, Alec Berg Talk ‘Barry’ Throwing Out Hitman Tropes”


VARIETY / Kirsten Chuba
June 10, 2018: “‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Costume Designer on Offred’s Look as a Political Statement: ‘It’s Throttling in a Beautiful Way’”


WE GOT THIS COVERED / David Pountain
June 10, 2018: “Kevin Feige Says Future Marvel Movies Will Have A Lot More Female Directors”


WE GOT THIS COVERED / Joseph Falcone
June 10, 2018: “Kevin Feige Addresses The MCU’s Lack Of Awards Season Success”


CONTACTMUSIC / Daniel Falconer
June 11, 2018: “Kevin Feige Prefers The Marvel Cinematic Universe's "Engaged Fans" To Awards”


June 11, 2018: “Kevin Feige Teases Kamala Khan’s Big Screen Debut After ‘Captain Marvel’”


June 11, 2018: “Kevin Feige Again Won’t Rule Out Marvel TV And Film Crossovers”


LADBIBLE / Daisy Jackson
June 11, 2018: “Studio President Is Waiting To Get X-Men Into Marvel Cinematic Universe”


SCREEN RANT / Thomas Bacon
June 11, 2018: “Kevin Feige Wants Ms. Marvel Movie To Be Comics Accurate”


YAHOO! / Hanna Flint
June 11, 2018: “Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige promises more female directors for future films”

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CHARLES D. KING - Charles D. King Isn't Looking To Join Your Club. (But Maybe You Could Join His...)

Posted By Chris Green, Thursday, June 7, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, June 6, 2018

As anyone who’s worked in this business for more than 15 minutes can tell you: It’s a different world out there. The equity money isn’t where we thought it was. The technology can do things we only dreamed of 10 years ago. In fact, 10 years ago, the dominant player backing new and original content barely existed as a distribution platform. The audience doesn’t look like we thought it did, and the creators producing the most exciting content definitely don’t look like we thought they would.

Near the center of this shifting landscape stands Charles D. King, himself both a symptom and an agent of these changes. But before he was an agent of change, he was simply an agent, working for 15 years at WMA/WME, ultimately earning distinction as the first African American to be named as a partner in the venerable company’s history. As a talent rep, King built a thriving career out of working with filmmakers of color, among them Ryan Coogler, Tim Story, Rick Famuyiwa, Lee Daniels and M. Night Shyamalan, fighting to help them seize their chances in a Hollywood that was characteristically averse to those who looked, spoke and thought differently than the dominant industry culture.

But for King, agency work, however rewarding, was always a stepping stone to something larger—ambitions toward a career as a producer of content and media, a mogul in the mold of David Geffen or Barry Diller. Those ambitions took a massive leap forward in 2015 with the founding of King’s company, Macro, and the succeeding few years have helped establish his reputation as a savvy and judicious champion of the kinds of stories and storytellers for whom he once drafted deal memos. First came a pair of collaborations with longtime personal hero Denzel Washington, serving as a backer and executive producer on the searching character study Roman J. Israel, Esq., directed by Dan Gilroy, and the long-in-gestation adaptation of August Wilson’s stage classic Fences, directed by Washington himself and nominated for four Academy Awards, winning one for Viola Davis’ performance. Even more triumphant was Mudbound, which King put together as one of the lead producers on a substantial team of collaborators. The first film to carry King’s name as “Produced by,” Mudbound proved to be the biggest sale at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and ultimately scored an historic quartet of Oscar nominations for writer/director Dee Rees, director of photography Rachel Morrison, and cast member and songwriter Mary J. Blige. Releasing this summer is King’s second film as producer, Sorry To Bother You, a wildly imaginative satire from hip-hop trailblazer turned first-time writer/director Boots Riley.

As his company name—and the interview that follows—suggest, Charles D. King has an intuitive grasp of the big-picture changes taking place in the entertainment business. For nearly 20 years, he’s worked to give talented outsiders the access and support that, once upon a time, only Hollywood insiders enjoyed. If King and Macro can deliver on their substantial ambitions, in a few years we’ll be looking at an industry in which there are no true outsiders and no true insiders—just supremely talented artists telling the best stories they can.

There’s plenty to talk about in your career, but I’d like to get a sense of how you found your way to Hollywood.

I grew up in Decatur, the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. As a kid growing up, I would watch movies and television pretty voraciously. I went to Vanderbilt University, where my focus was initially business, and I was a political science major.

One summer, I started doing some things creatively, really just as a way to make some money … some commercials, some print work and some modeling. From that, I began to help friends get into the business, and I discovered that I had a knack for identifying talent in others. Somewhere along the line someone suggested, “Look. You’re at Vanderbilt. You’re studying political science. You obviously have an interest in entertainment. You should think about entertainment law.” I had really no idea what an entertainment lawyer did, but I did recall the show L.A. Law and the character played by Blair Underwood, who was the one African American on the show and who was so charismatic and intelligent. I really liked that character. So I had that model in my mind.

I graduated, worked in the corporate world for a couple years, then went to law school with a focus on entertainment law. Around that time, I read this book called Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun? by Reginald Lewis. That’s really where the idea formed that one day, I could perhaps start a media company that would focus on telling these stories that would reflect who I was and would reflect the community. I wanted kids and people around the world to have that same kind of “aha” aspirational moment that I had when I saw L.A. Law because, frankly, I didn’t have enough of those stories and images of people that looked like me.

At that point I was considering my entry point into the industry. Someone suggested I look at the talent agency world. I did the research and learned about these titans, like Barry Diller, David Geffen, Bernie Brillstein … these iconic figures who built these amazing companies and careers and studios all at one point were agents. So I thought that the agency world would be an ideal space for me to cut my teeth, to build the relationships and connect with artists, to understand the landscape and then ultimately go on to build something. It’s the epicenter of the industry.

So I moved to LA. I went into the belly of the beast and went to WMA (now WME) and had an amazing career working with some of the most compelling and inspiring artists across every sector. After 15 years, I felt as though I had done everything that I set out to do in that world—having created new deal models for filmmakers, actors, musicians and media titans. It was time for me to forge ahead and really build out this vision that I had since before I even moved to town. So three years ago, I launched Macro and we’ve been having a great journey ever since.

So in representing all these creative figures, it put you across the table, in many ways, from producers. What was your experience of producers and content creators from that vantage? And how did that inform your path as you crossed the line over to the side of generating the content as opposed to representing the artists?

That’s a very good question. I represented filmmakers, writers, directors and a lot of producers too. The best ones, for me as an agent, were the ones who just made things happen, right? They did whatever it took, driving things forward by identifying ideas but also by building out a team and connecting the dots.

I never really thought about it until you asked this question, how much I learned from so many of those people about what worked, what didn’t work; when to push, when to lay back; how to coalition-build with the filmmaker and align the right elements to support the filmmaker and the right crew; knowing which distribution or studio partner would be the best fit for certain types of vehicles; how to navigate the landscape and be amenable to deal structures with talent. It’s like you’re putting together whole companies, teams of hundreds of people, all to work together toward a common goal, and you’re doing it over and over.


Going back over all the producers that you worked with, are there particular instances that stand out in your mind as times where you arrived at some degree of insight into what the job was, at its best?

There was one movie where I had more than one client involved with the production. It started out as a smaller independent movie, but the vision and scope of this movie continued to expand and grow. It wasn’t a massive $100 million movie or anything like that, but it went from being a tiny, micro-budget project to more of a low-to-mid-size film. But the producer on it was someone who had made many movies that were much larger in scope, an incredibly accomplished producer who was already at the top of their game.

Now this was one of the most challenging films that I was involved in. I still joke with friends about this one particular film, that I had hair before that movie. [Laughs] But I’ll tell you this: The producer, athough they went through lots of ups and downs through it—and there were some moments of yelling and things like that—the thing that really struck me through all of that was how committed that producer was, from the time it was a micro-budget movie all the way to the mid-size range that it ended up in. Even though they had produced these massive blockbusters, they were just as committed to this film as to anything else that they had worked on or could be working on. The amount of energy and time they committed was absolutely extraordinary. It made a huge impression upon me, how when you believe in a story and you’re passionate, then it doesn’t matter what your producer fee is or what the economics of it are. You’re going to pour all of your heart and energy into every one of those things that you’re working on.

In the same category is a producer who I represented along with a talented filmmaker on a number of projects. They were literally my first call every single day. And getting into my office somewhere between  7 a.m and 8 a.m., before the workday even started, they were literally the first person calling me every single day—“So, what are you doing?” I admit, I didn’t expect that kind of tenacity every day. They were just a force of nature. No matter what, they just made things happen.

It got to the point that there was a moment where they weren’t calling every day and I was honestly a little worried … “What’s going on?!” It turns out, they had gotten married and they had calmed down for a second. And then all of the sudden they were calling again, “Yeah, I’m back in action now.” We had a great experience and those projects all moved forward. Really great producers—they put in the work, they work their asses off, they will projects into existence.

I could probably give you a hundred more examples, but those are the first two that jumped out at me.

Producer Charles D. King and Mudbound writer/director Dee Rees at the PGA's Produced By: New York conference in October, 2017

So now you are one of those folks. How did you take the leap and start putting together those first productions?

When I was agent, I represented Kenny Leon, who directed Fences on Broadway. I was fortunate to be at the opening night when Denzel Washington and Viola Davis were starring. I was just so blown away by their performances and the emotion of those characters. I knew that Fences was in development for years at Paramount. Over my last couple of years at WME, as I was charting my path to go and launch this company, I began to create a grid of projects that I would be interested in if they ever moved forward and if there were an opportunity to get involved.

Fences was one of those projects that we were tracking. I also had a tremendous respect for Denzel, who has, throughout my life, been my favorite actor, hands down. I’m a connoisseur of his entire body of work and what he represents. But for years I also had a great experience as an agent interfacing with [producer] Todd Black.

So when I found out that this was moving forward and there could possibly be an opportunity to partner, it checked every box of what we were looking to do as a company: supporting the vision of a brilliant filmmaker and artist like Denzel, working with one of the great actresses of their generation in Viola and working alongside a masterful and thoughtful producer like Todd Black.

We were not day-to-day on the physical production side of things. They already had their cast, obviously. We were probably a little more involved when it got to some of the efforts around the marketing of the film and social media strategy and things like that. But it was a team and a vision that we were thrilled to be a part of as executive producers and financiers.

I wonder if you could contrast that with something like Mudbound. Denzel and Todd have been making movies for a long time, and Fences is a classic of the American stage. But Dee Rees is a younger, less tested filmmaker, and not as many people are as familiar with the source material. What was your role as a producer in that scenario?

So this is one where you know how they say, “It takes a village?” Mudbound truly took an entire village of mission-aligned producers, who all brought their own skills to the table and who all worked together as a team to move this forward. But the unifier was really a commitment to supporting the vision of a brilliant filmmaker like Dee Rees. Five months into launching Macro, my friend and former colleague Cassian Elwes had lunch with me and he said, “Hey, I have this script, Mudbound, and it’s the best thing that I’ve read in the last few years. It feels like it would be a great fit for your company and your mission and what you’re looking to build. And if you respond to it, we should do this together.”

Now I’ve got to give Cassian credit. This was before we even announced who our investors were and what our financing was like. But he, as a smart producer, knowing the landscape of this town, understood that I have credibility in terms of the relationships and my understanding of marketing, and my ability to galvanize creative contributors even though I had not physically produced a movie yet. My colleague, Poppy Hanks, read the script first and told me, “Charles, this is amazing.” I read it, and I agreed.

Dee needed the right opportunity to be supported in her vision. She’s very selective. She had passed on so many things for years and really only focused on making films that she was deeply passionate about. And when she shared her vision for Mudbound with us, again, it checked so many boxes and had a universal theme. It was a story about a time and an era that we hadn’t seen before.

From there, Cassian and Macro partnered with the other producers who had developed it, Sally Jo Effenson and her son, Carl. We had a group that had developed it, who got the story to a certain point. They brought it to Cassian, who helped with his understanding of how to package. Cassian brought it to Macro. A few months before, it was a dormant script that no one paid attention to. All of a sudden, it was on fire. We had talent at the highest levels interested in being a part of it. That’s a big part of what producers do, galvanizing the community. Cassian was strong on financial structures. We were bringing the equit, along with a market understanding and talent relationships as well.

My colleague Kim Roth, who used to run production at Imagine, joined right around the same time. It was Cassian and Kim and myself really engaging the talent, putting the cast together with Dee. We had two other great producers who also came in as co-financiers, who weighed in a lot as well. But each one of us knew our strengths and where we should play, working almost like linemen in front of this quarterback, Dee, who was throwing touchdowns every day on set.

You look at all the historic nominations around that movie, with Dee being the first African-American woman to get nominated for an Academy Award for an adapted screenplay, Rachel Morrison being the first female DP nominated in the history of the Academy and Mary J. Blige being the first artist to get nominations in a movie for both a song and a performance. To be frank with you, those things happened with the support of a company like Macro with an African-American financier who, alongside our co-financier, ultimately drove most of those decisions of who should be hired. We supported our filmmaker with who she wanted to bring on, in every case. I know for a fact that the average studio wouldn’t have given her that kind of support.

But in our case, we ended up with a product and an opportunity and a historic win that we are all proud of. Almost every one of our department heads was a woman, and we made a tremendous film. Hopefully more people will take note and will take similar strides.

It seems crazy, that the entire industry seems to be waking up to the fact that there’s this giant, untapped talent pool just waiting to show what they can do. What took everyone so long to recognize that?

To be honest with you, I can’t speak to why other people make these decisions, except to think that people are just used to working with who they know and who they think they’re going to be most comfortable with, instead of asking “Who’s the best person?” Right? That’s the only way I look at it, whether we’re building our team at Macro or when we’re putting together a project. We didn’t have an inclusion rider in front of us when we were looking at who we were going to bring in. I know it was important for Dee, it was important for us, but we didn’t sign anything to that effect.

But obviously we are going to be a part of supporting every single one of the initiatives about more inclusion in our space. We’re going to be driving it and hopefully in front of it. But it’s just smart business. You want the best people. You want to have a lot of different voices as part of your production. It’s going to make the product better, and it’s going to make your company better.

We’ve worked in the business long enough to see a few cycles in which ideals of diversity, frankly, have gone in and out of fashion. But something feels different this time.

I feel like the wider range of opportunities we’re seeing in both film and television is really a part of the digital revolution. The streaming platforms have created tremendous opportunities, both in terms of longer features as well as scripted shows.

But it’s also about the falling cost of digital cameras and the tools available to young storytellers, like crowdfunding and wider access to independent capital for emerging filmmakers whose talent and gifts are evident. Access to opportunity is less organized and no longer defined by the same group of gatekeepers.

What I think we’re going to see, along with the shift in demographics, is the growth of what I will call the “new majority.” You have organizations like Macro that are African-American owned, that are financing and telling stories. You have others like Franklin Leonard and the fund that he launched recently. You’ve got other producers who are thinking more entrepreneurially, who are not looking to say, “Hey, please let me be in your club,” but who will participate in the larger ecosystem.

You’re going to have groups of people who are smart, who want to work with artists and who want to tell stories for an audience that is thirsty to see a wide range of offerings that are more reflective of their experience. They’re going to build market share and create value and not be concerned about whether they’re in someone else’s club or not. They can create their own club. They can create their own studio in the way people have like Tyler Perry back in Atlanta or Robert Rodriguez had with his compound in Texas or the way George Lucas built his studio in San Francisco. I believe we’ll see people from diverse backgrounds doing more of those.

And to the degree that the industry’s larger institutions don’t recognize and understand that this audience is there, they’ll lose market share and they’ll lose relevance. Some of them clearly do get it, like ABC. Look at the success of all their shows. Look at what happened with Disney with the success of Black Panther, bringing in all these new audiences into the Marvel universe. I’ve seen the trailers and the commercials for the new Avengers—they have Black Panther characters out in front of them. If you’re telling me that they aren’t smart enough to know that they have a chance to keep the same Avengers audience while also bringing in new people, you must be kidding me.

Marvel is brilliant to be doing that. If other places want to sit back and keep making movies for who they think the audience was 40 years ago, they’re going to get acquired or they’ll die. That’s what’s going to happen. I think that forward-leaning producers are going to understand how to tell stories for the world, not for what they think their buddies in the halls of Hollywood want to see.


Making your own club, that’s a really useful shorthand for understanding the transformation that’s going on.

Maybe they can come join my club. [laughs] I don’t mind going to your place either. 

Charles D. King (right) with cast member Denzel Washington at the premiere for Roman J. Israel, Esq. in New York

In terms of being part of the digital revolution, well … Netflix distributed Mudbound, after all. The company is clearly a key driver of changes we’re seeing. As somebody who’s worked very successfully with the company, what should your fellow producers know about Netflix?

First of all, I have to say that on Mudbound, Netflix was an absolutely incredible partner. The passion and the energy that they exhibited from the moment they saw Mudbound galvanized the rest of the team. They came in and acquired the film out of Sundance, making it the biggest sale at the festival that year. The entire organization backed up everything that they said they were going to do, and then some. They over-indexed on everything that they said they would and took it to another 10 festivals ... what they did on the marketing campaign, what they did on the awards campaign, how they made sure it was seen around the world. They did share a nice amount of data with us. Would it be great to have the full algorithm and sit there and digest everything it could tell us? Yes. Of course we would all love to see that. But hey, we also want to know the formula for Coca-Cola, right? This proprietary approach obviously works for them as a company. Everyone would love to have more of that data.

But I’d say that in our case, I was very happy. They were the ideal partner for that show. All around the world, people know what this film is. This movie was seen in 180 countries and it will continue to be seen. It had cultural relevance. So Netflix was an incredible partner. Still, as we think about going forward, we want options. We still want to work with studios. We still believe that there’s a huge marketplace for theatrical features and that shared moviegoing experience in the theater, whether it’s a period drama or a love story or a comedy. Then there are some films that might be great to see at home on your television through Netflix or watch them on a tablet. We still believe that there’s a great independent film marketplace where you can make movies outside of the system and then you can decide if you want to have a theatrical release or you want to have a streaming service acquire it for their platform.

So we, as a company, are playing ball in all of these arenas. We’re mindful of where the business is going. Obviously there’s a different kind of pressure on theatrically released movies. But then that’s where as producers, as well as financiers, we have to be smart and thoughtful about movies that we’re financing, how we’re making them, how they’re being marketed, who the best distribution partners are and what is the best way to not only create a great product, but what are the best ways to monetize this great product that we’re hopefully making?

We will continue to seek other new players, and if tech companies want to create great content, we’ll get involved. That’s why we’re producing and financing stories on all platforms: film, television and even shorter-form digital. You want to create content where all of these audiences are. For other producers in our space, if they want to maintain relevance and market share and business, they also need to be aware of those things. Otherwise they’re going to limit the possibilities and all of the cool things and fun content that they could produce over time.


Could you talk a little more about your approach to short-form work? To date, Macro has mostly gained notice for its feature films. How are you looking to crack the “television-plus” side of the equation?

We believe that there’s all kinds of quality storytelling on the digital platforms. Our initial slate was focused on premium short-form content that, if you looked at it, you’d think, “Wow, this could pass for an independent feature. This could stand next to something you would see on a streaming platform or a premium cable network.” It’s just in a shorter form, more episodic. We’ve had great success upstreaming a nice amount of that first group of projects on our initial slate.

As we go forward I believe we’ll be looking at Gente-fied and I Turn My Camera On as good examples of shows that we created as short-form content that have now been upstreamed in those areas and brands we want to work with. But we’re also beginning to think about even shorter forms of content. Those kinds of content might not usually be considered “premium,” but they’ll be pieces of storytelling shared via social that still connect to and unify the premium content we’re creating. How do you connect the pieces and begin to create a consumer-facing connectivity to an audience over time, whether or not that content appears on others’ platforms or one day, maybe our own?

Right now, that’s how we’re doing it. Obviously it’s a space that’s going through a lot of change, but we ought to be nimble enough to adjust as new models come together and entrepreneurial enough to try different things. But it’s also a way to incubate great new voices, as well as an arena where you can work with established filmmakers who want to just experiment and do some new things.

From left, Mudbound executive producer Cassian Elwes, cast member and songwriter Mary J. Blige, Macro president of production Kim Roth, producer Charles D. King. - Wenn LTD/Alamy Stock Photo

Speaking of new things, I can’t let you go without asking about Sorry to Bother You. For a producer who’s built his early rep on these almost literary dramas, this movie seems wildly different.

It is wildly different. I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of work with Sundance. I had a lot of great experiences with the festival when I was an agent, supporting so many filmmakers that I worked with from Craig Brewer to Rick Famuwiya, Justin Simien, Dee Rees and lots of others through the years. I’ve been a mentor in a number of the labs. I met [writer/director] Boots Riley at the first lab that I was a part of, and then he was at a second one and a third one. I kept seeing him there, and I was really impressed by his vision for what he wanted to do with the script. When he would pitch the story, I could see his energy as an artist and where he was coming from, both as a musician and now transitioning into a filmmaker. It was bold, and it was audacious, and it was unique and refreshing. For me, it was about helping him channel that into a budget and a framework that I thought would make sense and then making sure he was equipped with the experience and tools to make the transition. Between all of those labs, he spent a good year or so working on the script and the budget.

The other key element was partnering with great people. We’re a company that’s very collaborative. Nina Yang Bongioviis a producer who I have the utmost respect for. We had a lot of success together when she produced Fruitvale Station with Ryan Coogler when I was one of his agents, and then I gave her the Dope script and we worked together again where I was the agent and she was the producer, partnering up with Rick Famuyiwa, and she did a great job making that film.

So we were looking to find something else that we could work on together. She had also met Boots at those labs. I told her, “Hey, if you ever get the budget and the range, I would love to do this with you.” And so they got it to that place and then I said, “Let’s do this together.” She, along with the other producers, drove a lot of the production. We got very involved in casting and galvanizing the town and packaging the movie. On set, Nina and her team led a lot of it. We came back in for a lot of the post process and determining who could best distribute and market the film--we were heavily involved in all of that.

So once again, it was a great team scenario, which is always our choice as a company. It was great to tell a story like Mudbound. It was great to tell a story like Fences. But it was important to us to tell a more contemporary story, to push the genre boundary, the way Sorry To Bother You does ... to make people a little uncomfortable with the movie. It’s funny and it’s out there. It’s unique. That makes some people uncomfortable. But I think uncomfortable is good. It gets people outside of their comfort zone, thinking about things and waking them up.

This is a film that so many people respond to, and it speaks to the audience that we’re talking about. It’s incumbent upon producers to think about and listen to the marketplace, to understand the wide range of audiences that are out there for such stories. And it was important for us to work with a brilliant auteur like Boots, who is willing to take chances, to push boundaries and tell the kind of stories that haven’t been told before. That’s a part of our mission. I can 100%, for a fact, tell you you’ve never seen a story like Sorry To Bother You before. I can’t wait for the world to see this.

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