By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act July 11, 2013 at 1:04PM
Tambay Obenson (TO) - I've been following your progress since Night Catches Us; correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to prefer working under the radar; you're not out there screaming from rooftops about the work that you're doing. Generally, you tend to know the director, the cast, and you might know the producer, although I think the average audience member probably wouldn't dig that deeply. There are those super producers like Harvey Weinstein, Brian Grazer, Jerry Bruckheimer, and even Will Packer, who seems to be heading towards those heights; these are producers who are kind of celebrities themselves. You seem like you're really just all about the work itself, and not necessarily the glamour, and I wanted to first know if that's accurate of me to say, or if I'm completely out of line.
Ron Simons (RS) - I think that's pretty accurate. We've never really had a press agent; we've always had a press agent for the project that we're working on. And it's true. It's all about the work. I'm an actor, and that's also the same for April who's my co-producer. And we're all about the stories, so what you perceive is exactly right. One of the things that we started to look at in the last several months is actually determining that raising the profile of the firm will make it easier for us to make films. It might become easier for us to either get a door open or call prospective people, and they say, 'hey, you know, I've heard of this SimonSays company, and they do some quality work;' and we decided that it's probably time to start getting the word out about the company. Because that might help us in our endeavors to make more films, produce more plays, to get more work out there.
TO - And, so far, what would you say are the pros and/or cons of this change in philosophy?
RS - It's a double-edged sword. I don't want to be one of these people who are hounded by TMZ, you know, the movie mogul. It's really about the company for me, and branding the company. So that when people hear the word SimonSays, or when they hear a film is being produced by SimonSays, they have a certain expectation of that film. They have a certain expectation about the quality of the product, and that it's not just going to be some typical sugar-coated Hollywood coming-of-age teen comedy movie, or a vehicle for up-and-coming stars, or something like that. So the downside for me is, and the reason why I resisted it for a while, is that I don't want people to start hounding me just for the sake of hounding me and getting me out there. But people have been pretty clear to me that I need to get out there, because if you want to make more movies, then you need to up the profile of the company, and the company is headed by me, Ron Simons. So I'm kind of, sort of the reluctant press person coming into this. I'm a little nervous about what this might mean. Because I do like working under the radar. I like working without a lot of folks interfering, or a whole lot of people sort of beating down the door, so I'm hoping it ends up as a positive, so we'll see.
April Yvette Thompson (AYT) - If I can piggyback on that. In terms of some questions when we screened Night Catches Us at Urbanworld [Film Festival], it really struck me at that time, the questions were really moving towards: how did you know this was a good story, how did you make these complicated characters, I've never seen work like this. And it struck me at that time that this was why I was initially drawn to Ron's work. It took me some time to figure out where his tastes landed. It just wasn't about people on the outside of society; it was about the narrative. it was about complicated layered characters who are telling important stories, who are sort of impacted by history and politics. But his ability to recognize story, has everything to do with Ron being a brilliant actor, as well as a business man. And in looking at projects, we're thinking, wow, there are some great actors of color that we actually know, and people don't even know that they can do that. It was just a great story, the narrative really works, our hero has complications, and he's not just one-note. And part of the reason we know that is because we're artists, with years of experience at really solid storytelling. I'm a writer, and I need the story to be on the page. You can't be making it up as you go along the way. And I think that element of how we look at projects that need to change the world, these aren't stories being told. But these are stories that artist are asking questions like: why aren't we seeing that, or, why haven't we gone in for that, or, why haven't I read something like that, or been inspired to write something like that. All of that informs our choices and I think that's unique about SimonSays.
TO - So you started with Night Catches Us, then Gun Hill Road, and now Blue Caprice and Mother Of George; you're building a strong library of work, and these are films that get me excited about cinema, black cinema specifically, especially those that are somewhat off the beaten path, that take some risks. I'd like to get into your head and get to know more about how you make the choices you make, and why you make them, when you're looking for projects. Do most of them come to you, or do you actively seek them out?
RS - Most often, projects seem to find me. I think the universe conspires to bring projects into my purview. It was certainly the case for the 4 films I've produced thus far. As April said, because I come from an acting perspective, I first look at story. So I read a script and I want to know, am I interested in the characters, does the story have an arc, is there a journey that I'm taken on; it's the same thing when I'm reading a book; when I get lost in a book, I forget about everything else, and I'm just immersed in the story. It's the same approach with scripts. It's a very guttural thing, and eventually, when I really start to get excited about a project, then I start to understand the writer's motivations. I read from an actor's perspective, and so after I first understand what's happening, I then want to know why it's happening. It's never all 100% there, and there always has to be some tweaking, and I get lost in some of the minutiae. So those are the kind of things that occur after I decide to take on a project. The story is number 1, and then I have to feel like I really want to make this project because it's a story that I haven't heard before, or it's a story that hasn't been told in the same way that we've seen before, then I start to work with the writer/director, trying to figure out how we can improve this and make this a better story, so that when we get to filming, it's going to be an easier process, and then we'll know what we really have in our hands. One smart, influential person once told me: you make 3 films - there's the film that you write; there's the film that you shoot; and there's the film that you edit. And that's absolutely true. And every project that I've ever done has followed that formula. They always have to begin with the film that you write. Because if it's not on the page, then you are lost, and I don't think you'll ever be able to get it on the screen.
AYT - That's totally true because there are often times I'm watching films constantly, and there's something that's sort of amazing about them and I want to go back and read the script to see if that was actually on the page. Because you never want to get into a situation where you have something on the page, you had a great idea, when you were out shooting and then you get back, and into the editing room and you think, "oh, it's actually that character's story" and you go back and look at the footage, and then you realize you don't have enough of that person's arc. Or you didn't see them do this, or you didn't see them do that. Or what could be even more amazing is when you get to the set, and because an actor has really done their script analysis of their character, they see places where they can go deeper, and they say, 'wow, I think that's exactly what's happening here in the script.' And I actually saw some of that on Blue Caprice, which was amazing; like when Isaiah [Washington] once came to the set and said to Alex [Moors, the director], 'that's what's happening here,' and Alex says, 'oh my goodness, you saw that, because that's what I was thinking, and I was hoping that somebody else saw that.' And they shot that same scene from several different angles, and it was amazing just to see the two of them play. But that's because that was on the page. That was the thing that jumped out at me when I read it, and talked to Ron about it. And I was so glad to see that was actually the director's intent. It's a very complicated thing, character development, in indie film, which is all driven by character and the psychology of character. And when it's done well, wow. You can't move. You don't want to get up after the film is over. That power is on the page.