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.
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.
"There's nothing better than when audiences really get [a film] the way that you intended for them to get it, and they connect to the story the way that you hope they would," he says. "That's why we do what we do."
Edmonds, who planned to become a doctor before her life changed drastically after meeting and falling in love with Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, now her ex-husband, echoes that sentiment. "As a child, I loved films, but coming from a working-class family, it was expected that I would go to college and become a doctor or lawyer.
"I was on that path until God and fate stepped in and put me on the course that I've been on for many years now," she adds. "I love making films and giving audiences quality programming that they deserve. It's truly a blessing."
These heavy hitters have been at bat a long time, paving the way for others to follow. This leaves us wondering: Who's up next?
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is an associate professor of film and new media at Goucher College in the department of communication and media studies. She is editor-at-large for The Root.