Business West Edition

Best opportunities in film behind camera, panelists say

LOS ANGELES – A cast of Hollywood insiders and business executives met in South L.A. recently to deliver a key message to African Americans looking for opportunities in the rapidly evolving film industry:

The message: The glamor may be in front of the camera, but the money and the growing career opportunities are behind it.

“There is something powerful going on, and we must keep up with it,” said veteran writer, producer, and TV and film director Bill Duke. “The paradigm shift is to cell phones and mobile TVs.  In four to five years, the industry… will be unrecognizable.”

Nearly 200 aspiring and seasoned industry types attended the “Money on My Mind” forum at OneUnited Bank to hear about changes in the entertainment industry and develop career opportunities to write, direct, produce or create films, documentaries and other creative works.

The most important keys to success? Be nimble, think outside the box and look behind the scenes, panelists and organizers said.

“Look beyond the glitz and glamour of the entertainment industry. It is amazing how many unsung careers there are in the business of entertainment,” said Teri Williams, president and chief operating officer of event co-sponsor, OneUnited Bank.

“Find alternative and wonderfully creative careers behind the camera that are an integral part of what is presented to the public on film and TV,” she said. “We need to keep money on our mind.”

Rapidly changing technology is altering how producers distribute entertainment content and how consumers retrieve and receive it, panelists agreed. The content producers who create successful and sustainable careers in the future will be those who keep up with – or help lead – the trends, they said.

“In Accra, the capital of Ghana, there is only one movie theatre, so filmmakers can’t reach them there, but everyone has a cell phone,” Duke said. “And Amazon is investing money in content — they already have the distribution platform.”

Allied Moxy Vice President Erika Bennett said social media is competing with television “to reach eyeballs. Those media work differently, depending on the content.”

Universal Cable Productions/NBC Universal Publicity Director Sharon Liggins added: “People will create content in their own bedrooms using I-Pads and smart phones. They’ll build an audience on YouTube.”

Panelists also said that to succeed in the film industry, people must be adaptable, delay gratification, save money for rainy days, develop mentors, cultivate and maintain relationships, and know their individual worth.

Duke – who directed such notable TV shows and feature films as “Miami Vice,” “American Playhouse,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Commando,” and “Sister Act 2: Back in the Business” – also emphasized financial literacy as a key ingredient in building a sustainable career.

“I wish I had been taught the distinction between spending money and using money,” Duke said. “We are not taught those things, nor about credit and debt, the FDIC and the federal reserve.”

Duke, Bennett and Liggins were joined on the panel by actor-comedian Chris Williams; Traci Lynn Blackwell, senior vice president of the CW Network; and Darrell Miller, chairman of Fox Rothschild’s Entertainment Department.

On a related note, panelists said black consumers need to speak up – early and often – when they see something they like or don’t like on television or in film.

“We need to make some noise that you like them when they are on the air…to keep them on the air,” Blackwell said. “It’s all about business – supply and demand. Poor ratings don’t get lots of ads, no one watches those shows and they come off the air.”

Miller added that black and Latino communities watch more television than any other ethnic group. That’s a power they can wield to guide programming decisions, he said.

“The demographics in our own community influence programming,” Miller said. “We have a voice to initiate some of that programming as opposed to waiting for Hollywood to figure it out and feed us.”