Hollywood's Black Movers and Shakers

Very few folks have the power to green-light a picture in Hollywood. None of them are black. But these power players are finding a way to make films on their own terms.

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When Packer talks about pushing it over the hump, he means pulling out all the stops to help get it done -- including tapping into his sizable network. "You have to have relationships; you have to know how to sell it to talent, financiers and distributors; and you also have to keep the motor running as the producer."

Key: Learning the Business

Part of keeping the "motor running" is being thick-skinned -- and resilient enough to keep it moving, despite seemingly endless obstacles. Observes DeVon Franklin, vice president of production for Columbia Pictures, "I try to stay clear on what story I'm telling and why I'm telling it. Understanding from a business perspective which ideas are most commercial is also important, so I have to prioritize and make decisions about which projects to help push through the system." Franklin -- whose films include The Pursuit of Happyness, Hancock, the remake of The Karate Kid and Jumping the Broom -- is currently working on a remake of the film classic Sparkle.

Decisive decision making is a skill that Edmonds and Packer also had to learn. Says Packer, "I had to learn the art of independent filmmaking, including raising money and getting distribution. I worked as a music supervisor before making a feature film, so I was constantly engaged in the process of learning and adapting, which helped me to figure out which film projects to make."

For Packer, this was strictly a learn-as-you-go proposition. An electrical-engineering major at Florida A&M University, he had no experience in entertainment or film. "At the beginning, it was all about just getting the film Chocolate City made. We had no expertise," he says.

"Then it was about making a film that could make money, which is what Trois represented for us," he continues. "Every film since then has been about honing our craft and telling a variety of stories that speak to our audiences and Hollywood." Packer is also taking what he has learned from film into television; he is co-owner of Bounce TV, a digital network launching this fall.

Learning the craft of filmmaking cannot be undervalued, says Franklin, who refers to himself as a constant student of film. "I want to become a better studio executive, a better storyteller, so there are a lot of books that I read in order to stay sharp and fresh," says the University of Southern California graduate.

The Rewards of Pleasing Your Audience

Having a passion for film, building and maintaining a strong network of inspired and influential people, telling compelling stories and even tackling the challenge of getting a film made all keep executives inspired.

But given all the obstacles, why do producers like Johnson, Debra Martin Chase (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) and a handful of others even bother to try and make Hollywood films? Franklin, who is also an ordained preacher and recently published the self-help book Produced by Faith: Enjoy Real Success Without Losing Your True Self, says that nothing compares to going to the movies and hearing audiences, laugh, cry and respond to a film in which you have invested every ounce of your being.