By Donnie Leapheart | Shadow and Act July 5, 2012 at 10:13AM
Originally, I wasn’t even going to submit “Osiris” into the 2012 American Black Film Festival. Seriously.
This year, the long-standing annual gathering for black filmmakers in South Beach, FL had included its first ever category for Web Series, the Webisode Challenge. Our scifi thriller series “Osiris” was my production company’s first legitimate attempt at producing content for the web so this seemed like kismet.
We’d had a lot of success at the festival in the past with both of our previous feature films receiving distribution deals directly as a result of us being selected out-of-competition into the 2004 ABFF. Today, those films show we were very green filmmakers at the time, but getting distribution deals gave us the confidence we needed to keep getting better, which prepared us to even attempt something like “Osiris.”
So why wouldn’t I want to submit this new project into the festival? Reading the fine print, the festival’s guidelines stated that only three episodes could be submitted with each episode running no more than five minutes long! Are you kidding me! If any of you have seen “Osiris” then you know a great deal of our 8-12 minute episodes are about mood and buildup. Whether we’re trying to pull off a tense suspenseful scene or an action setpiece, we need a time to set things up a bit.
“Osiris” is a big, ambitious story on a small, non-existent budget…so being the writer/director of said project, the thought of squeezing an episode into five minutes seemed like chopping off your baby’s arm so that he could fit into a car seat. Ultimately, I took off my writer/director hat and stepped into the editing room as just a producer and savagely chopped away.
Fast-forward to the phone call telling us that we had been accepted into the festival. “Who else got in?” I asked. The answer was Aaron Greer’s Getting Grown TV, John P. Wheatley’s Eeazy and Tony Clomax’s 12 Steps to Recovery. All solid web series as well…Each very different than the other. It was a toss-up on who could win. But the main prize had really already been awarded, the opportunity to head down to the ABFF and spread the word about “Osiris.”
NETWORKING LEFT AND RIGHT, NOT UP
So all four of us producers mobbed down to South beach to represent. The talented actor who plays Osiris even managed to make the trip. I must say that as a filmmaker, the festival was great for networking. I made it a mission to speak to just about everyone I saw with a festival pass around his or her necks.
To paraphrase Casting Director Twinkie Byrd during one of the festival’s panel discussions, “Instead of always networking Up, you should be networking to your Left and to your Right because those are the people who will be running the industry in 10-15 years.” That was the theme of the entire festival for me. In addition to the web series creators mentioned above, just a few of the fellow filmmakers I connected with included Matthew Cherry (The Last Fall), Storm Saulter (Better Mus Come), Talibah L. Newman (Busted on Bringham Lane) and Byron L Hurt (Soul Food Junkies). I also politicked with actors Bill Duke, Michael K. Williams, Nelsan Ellis and many others.
The festival can be what you make it. Too many people are quick to pretend to be listening to you long enough to say, “Do you have a card, we should work together.” When does that ever really eventually happen? What has worked for me is to just patiently build on professional and personal relationships with like-minded individuals, minus any expectations.
Back to the ABFF Webisode Challenge. We were scheduled to screen all four web series at one event on a Friday Night. This is where things get tricky. There was very little advertisement for the event itself…none that we saw at least. The festival mini-guide (the booklet attendees used to navigate the screenings, panels and parties) was printed with just a small one-paragraph mention of our event in the schedule (I later found out that this was done in error).
Most people I approached with festival passes didn’t even know there was such a thing as a Webisode Challenge. Then we found out that Matthew Cherry’s film would screen at the same time and surely a well made film like The Last Fall would draw a packed crowd. In all honesty, we were kind of bummed…temporarily. It only took a few minutes for us to remember that it was a privilege to be invited out in the first place and regardless, we were having a great time in Miami.
Friday night came and we hopped into a cab to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel for the Webisode Challenge. To our surprise, there was a hallway full of people all piling into the room where the screenings were to take place. Actor/Comedian Chris Spencer was the host of the event attended by the likes of Mekhi Phifer, Robert Townsend, Datari Turner, reps from Warner Bros and festival founder Jeff Friday himself. All four web series creators sat next to each other and we watched as the lights dimmed and the episodes began rolling.
To our horror, only 2 of 3 episodes per web series were shown. This was disappointing to all of the filmmakers as all of us arranged the order of our shows so that our best episodes would screen last. Go out with a bang, so to speak. The third episode of “Osiris” not only featured a fight scene, car rigs and the production value of extras portraying FBI agents…it also introduced our two strong black female characters that break current reality show stereotypes. But it wasn’t shown.
Once again, I was bummed…temporarily. In filmmaking, it’s really all about how you begin the film, not how you end. If they’re not engaged from the start, the best endings in the world will never even be seen.
AND THE WINNER IS…
After the screenings, Chris Spencer not only opened up deliberations for the judges, he also invited the audience to text in their vote for the winner. Double pressure. So when Jeff Friday and Chris Spencer announced that “Osiris” had won the first ever ABFF Webisode Challenge, I was genuinely shocked. We glided to the stage and were handed a plaque and the obligatory “big check” for $2,500.
That alone would have been sufficient (we still have many bills due from going over-budget on material costs during filming) but Jeff Friday had more to offer. We’d also won a trip to LA (inclusive of 1 coach class flight and 2 nights accommodations) and a pitch meeting /lunch with Warner Bros Distribution and Digital executives. Dude…sweet.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Thanks to the ABFF prize money we now can pay for the production items bought on credit during filming. We can also use the remaining pesos to promote “Osiris” to the general public through screenings, advertising and promotional items & apparel. As I prepare for the Warner Bros pitch meeting, I’m remembering to keep expectations in check and to not lose focus on completing post-production on the remaining five episodes of season one of “Osiris” (which has been delayed due to location/actor availability issues and the fact that I’m an overly demanding perfectionist without the budget to back it up).
We hope to continue to share our brand of black filmmaking with the world. New episodes of “Osiris” should (finally) drop later this month. We also have several feature films and television pilots, as unique and marketable as “Osiris,” packaged and ready to go. The genres range from paranormal, horror, comedy and action-thriller.
Thanks to Tambay and Shadow & Act (who’ve been supportive since our very first “Osiris” Kickstarter campaign last year) we’ve been able to reach many people that are hungry for something quality and different. We just want to add high caliber work to the limited pool of black films available. There’s room for everything and variety benefits the media junkies within us all.
Follow me on Twitter: @DonnieLeap
Friend me on Facebook: facebook.com/DonnieLeapheart
Follow the Production Company on Twitter @PyramidPictures
Here’s the promo trailer for Season 1.5 of the web series “Osiris”: