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Barry Jenkins Talks Turning Down Multi-Million Dollar Studio Gigs To Work On Pet Projects

by Tambay A. Obenson
April 21, 2011 2:10 AM
6 Comments
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I just read this wonderful, informative 6-page write-up on one of our favorite young, up-and-coming black directors, Mr Barry Jenkins (Medicine For Melancholy) in the Miami New Times Arts section on their website.

We've featured just about all of Barry's work, since his feature film debut in 2008, and I've interviewed twice in the last 2 years; we will be interviewing him again shortly, mostly inspired by his recent film, a short for the ITVS Futurestates series, titled Remigration, and another short title, Chlorophyl, which will debut at the the BORSCHT Film Festival in Miami, FL this weekend. Stephanie is handling the interview duties this time around, so look forward to that.

The Miami New Times piece answers several questions about Barry and his career that I think you'll find interesting and revealing. I certainly did. From how much money IFC paid him for the rights to distribute his revered first feature (Medicine For Melancholy), to the offers he received after the critical success of that film, and what he's currently working on. There's even a Tyler Perry reference in there :)

Summarily, the article reveals Barry's age-old artist's dilemma - the broadly-defined struggle between art and commerce that many of you I'm sure are intimately familiar with.

Here are the highlights:

First - IFC paid "almost $100,000" for the rights to Medicine For Melancholy, which he used to pay back his producers and the musicians whose songs were used in the film.

Second - Post Medicine For Melancholy, he did receive offers to direct - but, they were to direct scripts written by others; he preferred to direct his own work. He was also offered money to direct "more mainstream "black" films like those of Tyler Perry." See... told you there was a TP reference.

Third - Although, he'd like to keep his soul, he's finding it increasingly difficult to do so in this climate, especially when he has bills to pay, and he's having second thoughts about turning down the 6-figure salary director-for-hire gigs he has been offered; For example, last month he rejected an offer to direct a $10 million "feel-good, music-related film for one of Hollywood's biggest studios" that would have paid him a tidy $250,000, choosing to instead make smaller, more personal projects like the above-mentioned 2 short films. Ouch! Yeah, I'd be tempted too. You've got strong will there Barry, especially when you've got bills stacking up. Although now I'm really dying to know what that "feel-good, music-related" movie is/was. Hmm... I'll have to dig into my memory banks to remember what recently announced projects would fit that description. Any guesses folks?

Fourth - Barry adds, "Jesus Christ... I do think about the money sometimes. Not just turning down the project but turning down a job that lucrative. I'm seen as an independent, artsy-fartsy director right now. But I feel guilty about it. Who am I to turn down an opportunity like that when my mom, sister, brother could use that money?"

Fifth - As for what he has signed on for... Barry will direct one of four parts of the upcoming adaptation of the graphic novel, A Contract With God - a project we talked about previously, on the old S&A site. Also, he's working on what sounds like a biographical film with Focus Features, which he refuses to discuss because "the subject of the film is still alive." I'm really curious as to who this person would be. He did say that the film, if it moves ahead with Focus Features, would be budgeted in the many millions, and would pay him $250,000! Go Barry!

And lastly - the article says that Disney is wooing him "with a big contract," and he's considering it; BUT, in his words, "The problem is, once you get pigeon-holed, it's hard to get out. Disney movies are PG max, the characters are limited, and they can't do certain things they would in real life... But it's a lot of money."

So, there ya go! Like I said, interesting and revealing. Good to know that he IS at least getting offers, and isn't sitting by the phone waiting for it to ring. They may not be the offers he desires, but, it's nice to be wanted, and I certainly hope he finds the right fit and balance that would satisfy him.

I'm now even more excited about our upcoming interview with him :)

You can read the full Miami New Times piece HERE.

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6 Comments

  • Kunle Adekolo | April 22, 2011 5:30 AMReply

    Makes no sense at all. How does one expect to gain the power to do what one wants to do in Hollywood if one is broke? You have to pay dues, and that's what a lot of these newer filmmakers don't understand. You can criticize Tyler Perry all day, but you have to understand that the man paid dues to get where he is. He built a following, made his money, and then came to the table with some leverage. I love "Medicine For Melancholy", but that is just one single film that most of America didn't see. I'm quite sure that the majority of Blacks in America have not seen it. So for Mr. Jenkins to turn down work, because he has let the hype go to his head, it's just irresponsible and foolish.

  • Zeus | April 21, 2011 6:09 AMReply

    Kudos to Barry! He is a talented director who cares more about quality instead of making cookie cutter, minstrel show horse shit like that melon headed, bitch ass cry baby sonofabitch Tyra Perry.

  • Neziah | April 21, 2011 5:50 AMReply

    He has a lot of heart, I'm looking forward to his upcoming projects, he seems to actually care about the art of filmmaking.

  • Jug | April 21, 2011 5:25 AMReply

    Also a great lesson that your career isn't always about quantity or quality, but a merger of the two. It's a marathon, not a sprint and you want to be (should be) smart & thoughtful about when to "lay on the gas" and "when to conserve & coast". Too much of either extreme will get you going home quick!

  • Jug | April 21, 2011 5:23 AMReply

    Always a gamble, turning stuff down. But the winning hand is making sure it's known that you turned it down in favor of A) a better project (used loosely) & B) making sure it's known that it's not about vanity but about career passion/strategy.

    Great story about Phillip Seymour Hoffman, that when he was first getting known in Hollywood he was offered a small but high profile part in a major studio pic by a known & connected casting director. He turned it down, because he had an idea of the trajectory he wanted for his career, both creatively & professionally. The casting director, tho a little surprised, was ultimately impressed with his integrity (as well as his talent). That word spread around. But you can't do that if you ain't got the goods :-D

    Hopefully the same happens for Jenkins...

  • JMac | April 21, 2011 3:37 AMReply

    Choosing his soul over selling out.. What a man, What a man, What a mighty good man! Keep up the fight and the money will (hopefully) come later with more desirable projects.

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