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SimonSays Entertainment - You Know Their Work; Now Discover The Enterprising Artists Behind The Brand

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act February 10, 2013 at 8:40PM

The name SimonSays Entertainment may not immediately register with you, but I'm sure film titles like Night Catches Us, Gun Hill Road, Blue Caprice, and Mother Of George, most certainly will - at least one of them, especially if you've been a reader of this blog over the last 2 years, as we've celebrated every single one of those titles.
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TO - I can't say enough about Andrew. I've seen his work, and I got to know him a little bit as a person from the few moments we've actually been in the same physical space, as well as interviews I've watched with him, and he's definitely got my attention as an artist, and I'm looking forward to seeing Mother Of George, and what he does next. So, it's good to get a little bit of the back-story on how you guys linked up to work on the project.

I'm sure you've heard all the stories about how hard it is to get financing and distribution, especially when it comes to films that tell stories about people of color. I'm not certain if as producers, if you choose when your involvement ends at some point, or if you're with a project all the way through and even after distribution. So just talk about challenges, obstacles, and overall experiences in getting your films financed and distributed - especially as almost every single one of your films has been picked up for distribution, theatrical and after.

RS - When I first started this, I said to myself, the timeline for producing a film is a year-and-a-half to two years. You find the money; you go into production; you shoot it; you edit it. And even though I had read all those books about producing, I was ill-prepared for the length of time it really takes to take a film from script to screen and then home video; and I realized that it's really more like 4 or 5 years of your life that you're basically committing to any one project. And honestly, if I had to do it again, I probably would've done my second film maybe 2 years after I did my first film, to give myself some breathing room, and get that first baby out into the world before I got started on the second one. But to answer your question, we're involved from the very beginning, at the script stage, up through and passed distribution, until you see that film on Netflix, Amazon or Showtime. I get reports on how sales have gone through ancillary rights, so we're always there. In terms of film financing, there's never one way to do it. In the case of Night Catches Us I was able to finance much of the film myself, which was, for me, a huge investment. But I was so in love with the project, and I really wanted to be involved with it. And you always hear that in the international marketplace, black films don't translate... the don't travel well, which limits their potential. As a general rule, I'd say it's true, but because people make it so. It's not because the films aren't as good, or as smart, or as complicated. It's because people have that as their mindset, and therefore it becomes the rule, which I think is one of the things we need to change. But with my films, we were very lucky, because all my films got distribution. And I think it's because we've produced really interesting work. They're really well written; they're well executed and well directed, they're well acted. And I feel really lucky to have been around really talented artists. And good films can go places if you let them go. The odds were stacked against us for every one of our films. With Gun Hill Road, no one wanted to go see a film about a high-school transgender person of color. But ultimately it's a family drama. It's about love; and how does a family hold together, despite all its issues. It's a universal story, and I think all of the stories we tell have universal themes. They're strong stories about real people, and they just rise; and I think that's what draws people to our work, and why I think we've been lucky so far (knock on wood) to have our films distributed. Now, about raising money - it's hard to raise money. Part of the reason why you and I are on the phone right now, is because I'd like to believe that there are people all over the world who'd like to see these kinds of stories told on film more often. And some of them are people with money, or organizations with money. And I want them to know that we're committed to a certain kind of storytelling, and if they're also committed to the kind of storytelling that changes the world, one film at a time, then they can help us with our endeavors. So, with Mother Of George the Ford Foundation was involved, and this is the first feature film that the Ford Foundation has ever put money into. They've put money into documentaries. But not scripted fiction feature films. And I think that speaks to the strength and the originality in the storytelling. So I'm hoping that more people, more organizations (for profit or non-profit), wealthy independent people, will learn more about what we're trying to do, and say, hey, these people are trying to do something interesting, they're trying to change the world, let's find out what they're doing; maybe we can be involved.

AYT - We do look at what has been the creative history of a project. because the more places a script has gone, where people have weighed in and tried to develop it, those same people are invested in the script's success. So, down the road, fundraising isn't only about money. When people can't give you money, they can give you goods and services to help get your film done. So that's part of it, to be connected to a network or a series of film labs, or schools or mentors. You have to look at the background of the people who are making it, even if it's a first-time person, which we've done quite a bit of work with. You sit down and talk with them about their ideas. You also look at their past work, whether it's feature film or not. It's a clear indication of how their previous projects got made, and how they could continue to work with you with a level of accountability and investment in a project. And so that's another determining factor. And in terms of getting a film distributed or sold, just as a writer, I believe strongly that in specificity is universality. So the more specific you make a father's struggle, in dealing with his son who's going on this journey that doesn't look anything like his traditional definition of manhood, every man everywhere can understand that fear and anxiety for your child. Every parent gets that. So when you're pitching the script, or when you're sending it out for people to look at, what people are looking for is the specificity of those relationships, and how that same fear of love and anxiety and desire for the best for your child, reflects in their own life. Night Catches Us is a love story between 2 people who want to believe that they can change the world. Everybody gets that. And I think that's key in any great story.

RS - I have to also say that none of these films would've been made without the help of so many people. It's never just one person. For example, these films wouldn't have been made without the IFP, Tribeca All Access, the Sundance Screenwriters, Producers and Directors labs. All these organizations provide us with interesting ways to either find the money, or film stock for film projects, or a camera, etc. You can't just do it on your own. So without those organizations, these films wouldn't have been made, so that's very important for a new filmmaker or producer; you have to know what the landscape is, and what organisations and people out there are interested in helping new filmmakers make films. And if you're lucky, and they support your film, they can go a really long way to making sure your film comes about. I don't really know how exactly it's done in Hollywood. But in Indieworld, we talk to each other, and we share resources, and I think that's how we get our projects made.


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