By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act July 11, 2013 at 1:04PM
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.
It's quite an impressive resume, and one that I think most independent production houses would envy - well-directed dramas, telling well-written stories about a diverse body of interesting characters, brought to life by a selection of strong actors. A critically-acclaimed library of positively challenging projects, with the icing on the cake being that 3 of the 4 titles (thus far) found theatrical distribution - a dream for most filmmakers; although, if I were a betting man, I'd say that Blue Caprice, despite its controversial subject matter, and we could even say, controversial star, will attract interest, given how well it's been reviewed, as well as the conversation starter it's been, since its Sundance Film Festival debut last month.
And it's fair to say that the Sundance Film Festival has served as something of a baptism for the company's existing library of films, as every single one of them made their world premieres at that top-tier festival - universally accepted as one of the most prestigious in the entire world. Night Catches Us premiered in dramatic competition at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival; the company’s second feature, Gun Hill Road, was a Sundance Grand Jury Prize nominee a year later, in 2011; and its most recent titles, Blue Caprice and Mother Of George, both premiered at this year's installment of the festival, in the NEXT category for Innovative Storytelling and in Dramatic Competition, respectively.
Add to that list of film titles, production of 2 recent acclaimed theatre - specifically Broadway - projects: the Tony Award-winning longest running Broadway production of Porgy & Bess, as well as the all-black Broadway production of A Street Car Named Desire; and with a growing library this rich, built in a matter of just about 4 years, some public chest-pounding likely wouldn't necessarily be frowned upon by the public. But it's just not the kind of self-congratulatory act that interests the man who is the face of SimonSays Entertainment - Ron Simons, founder and president of the company - at least, it hadn't been, until this year. Unfortunately, the climate dictates that focusing strictly on the work itself, toiling away in a kind of anonymity, no matter how impressive the product is, isn't always enough; and a little showmanship can go a long way - hence this interview.
Although Simons hasn't suddenly developed a flair for the dramatic or ostentatious; it simply comes down to a matter of ensuring that the audience paying to be entertaining and educated by these films and shows, recognizes the people responsible for them; but also, and maybe more importantly, attracting those who understand and appreciate the company's goals, who are in any position to assist or join them in seeing each film, or stage production through completion - whether that be co-production, financing, casting, marketing, distribution, exhibition, etc.
SimonSays Entertainment, both a film and theatre production company, was founded in 2009 by Simons, with a mission to showcase an eclectic variety of stories (Tell Every Story™ is its trademarked tagline), particularly those that center on under-represented groups of people, that are innovative and unique.
And with a producing team who are, first and foremost, artists themselves - Simons, an actor with stage, TV and film credits; and Producing Associate, April Yvette Thompson, a writer and actor with stage, film and TV credits as well - the work that the company produces is a reflection of their artistic sensibilities, demonstrating a critical eye for intelligent, well-executed, engaging, and entertaining storytelling - identifiable elements of what is becoming the SimonSays Entertainment brand.
Their enthusiasm and confidence that there is not only room for that brand, but also room for that brand to expand, are palpable, and even contagious, in conversations with the selective duo, who are sensitive to the precarious terrain they're building on, and remain fluid enough to adapt to change, while still staying true to their brand.
So how exactly does a team of primarily actor/writers successfully transition to film production, moving from the "show" side of what we call Show Business, to thrive on the "business" side, and manage to navigate a firm and steady course, with product that, for all intents and purposes, exists on the fringes, in a rapidly-changing, uncertain, though exciting industry climate?
I had the pleasure of speaking with Ron Simons and April Yvette Thompson, as 2 of their most recent films - Blue Caprice and Mother Of George - were making their debuts to mostly rave reviews at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. In that lengthy conversation, Simons and Thompson answered that specific question, and several others I posed, including, how and why the company was created, what the company's focus is in selecting its projects, how it goes about selecting its projects, questions about each of those 4 film projects themselves, challenges and obstacles they face in film financing and distribution given their project preferences, predictions on how cinema will evolve in the near future, and more.
A transcript of that long and insightful conversation follows on the next page: