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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 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.
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TO - Essentially, going down the path less-traveled, and taking some chances. But any ambivalence in taking on a controversial project in Blue Caprice, for example, given the tragic real like story that it tells?

RS - Yeah that was a very disturbing piece; I remember when those shootings were going on, and from a business perspective I was nervous - would it sell, etc. And from a personal perspective, it definitely made me uncomfortable. But I have to say, as an artist, anything that makes me feel uncomfortable provides opportunities for even deeper understanding, of the human psyche. I remember thinking, who are these people? Who are these natural born killers, who are so heartless to shoot down people indiscriminately? I wasn't even in DC, but I was caught up in the grip of that fear. But I have to say that, if it wasn't written in such a way that gave me a new understanding, or that it was exactly the same story, told in the say way as it was reported on the news, then I probably wouldn't have undertaken the film. But the film I think seeks to understand how such a person might come about. I don't know enough about psychology to comment, but I sensed that they become that way because of the environment they are in. Because of how they're treated, how they're loved, or not loved. But to me, what was particularly fascinating was how this kid went from being essentially an abandoned youth, to being a natural killer. So, it was riveting. But again, at the end of the day, it was the story that really got my attention.

AYT - I feel that we all know that the incident was so horrible. But we can't just say to ourselves, oh that happened. We need to know exactly how that happened, as a society. Especially when it happens often. What makes a person think like that? How does that happen within a person? How do we recognize that. Some people were asking if there was going to be a lot of killing in the movie. But that's actually not what the movie is about. It's instead asking, how does someone become someone like this. What are the inner workings? We rarely see that. We rarely see the moment in which the person really goes dark, even when people are trying to reach them. How do we recognize that? And that was what was really fascinating about this for me.

RS - And also I've never really heard about African Americans becoming serial killers. That to me was a brand new construct. When you hear about a serial killer, you just assume a specific profile - usually a white man, who went off for one reason or another. But to have a similar kind of occurrence with African Americans, or for people of African descent to become that kind of a killer, is rare.

TO - There's definitely a racial element to it, and I think that makes it a hot-button project, and I'm looking forward to seeing the conversation that it inspires after more and more people see it. I'm especially looking forward to seeing Isaiah Washington's performance, which some are saying might be mentioned a lot during awards season later this year, into next year.

With regards to Mother Of George; this is a whole other world for you, we could say. A first for you in terms of the part of the Diaspora that it focuses on. I like that you're moving around the Diaspora. And, with Andrew's background in Fashion photography, as well as Bradford Young's cinematography, I'm expecting a beautifully shot film, like their last collaboration, Restless City, but with a more conventional story line than Restless City's. Speak on how you got involved with Mother Of George, your interests in it, and your expectations for it?

RS - It was actually mentioned to me by Tanya Hamilton who said, Ron, you really need to read this script; it's called Mother Of George, and it's really, really, well-written. I was working on Gun Hill Road then, and didn't really have the time to get knee-deep into it. But eventually I read it, and when I read it, I thought, wow, it's an incredibly well-written story. And it also had to do with a part of the Diaspora that I wasn't very well familiar with, about an African immigrant. And the uniqueness of the storyline as well; although any well-told story could speak to universal human challenges. But for me, the fact that the story was so well written, and required so little tweaking and adjusting, really drew my attention to it. And the fact that Bradford Young was going to shoot it, also got my attention. I'm a huge fan of his work, like Andrew's Restless City, which was so beautifully dark. I actually went to see Restless City at Sundance that year, because we actually had the same sales rep for our films. One of the producers on Restless City was my line producer on Night Catches Us. And so there were some things that tied us and our projects together. So, at the end of the day, I read the script, fell in love with the script. I thought it was a story that had to be told. And when I was about to come on-board, and I learned that Danai [Gurira] was going to play the lead - Danai who I think is a gifted actress, with her own personal aesthetic, her background, her just natural raw talent - I just knew that this was definitely an amazing project to get involved with. So I wasn't all that surprised when Mother Of George made the [Sundance] competition because it is so beautiful, and the colors, the clothing, are so rich in texture, rich in color. Bradford seems to catch every single light, he picks up every single color in the spectrum. It's just really extraordinary to look at. Even if you don't have the sound on, or you're not even really sure what's going on as you're watching; just to watch the film - it's a work of artistry.

AYT - The script is beautifully written; when I read it, I said, a serious writer wrote this. A serious writer who writes novels. I knew Danai's work. She's a brilliant actress. So that certainly helped. And I'd never really seen this story; even though I had written about lives that are very similar to this. I'd never seen it told with as much integrity and complication, and the struggle of merging this totally western identity with *home.* This was a no-brainer.

RS - Also in reading it, I felt almost like a fly on the wall, or a peeping Tom into the world of these individuals. And I know Andrew and Darci [Picoult, the screenwriter] were able to give us the privilege of looking into the lives of real people; not archetypes; not stereotypes, but real people. It all feels real. You feel like you're really there.

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