Victroia Rowell

I recently reported (HERE) that veteran actress, author and now producer Victoria Rowell recently joined the list of well-known industry people who have started Kickstarter campaigns to raise money for projects they are currently developing.

In Rowell’s case, the campaign is for a soap opera spoof television pilot she’s currently developing based on her bestselling novel, The Rich and The Ruthless.

Last week, Ms. Rowell reached out to me to talk to me and, in extension, to S & A readers about her campaign, why she has decided to use crowdfunding as a way to finance her pilot, and her opinions on the criticisms of celebrities using Kickstarter for their projects.

SERGIO: You had any second thoughts before starting your Kickstarter campaign because of the flak so many celebrities have gotten, like Whoopi Goldberg, Zach Braff and especially Spike Lee for using Kickstarter to fund their projects?

ROWELL: Well first I want to say that I want to thank for your interest in The Rich and the Ruthless, my maiden voyage as an executive producer, and to everyone who has supported me and wanted to see me back in this genre. We have the prefect product for them. We have a fabulous cast and crew and we’re very excited with director Carl Seaton who directed me and Angela Basset on a film a few years ago, Of Boys and Men, and I always wanted to work with him again.

But to answer your question, no, no, no, of course not. First, I know who I am. I am a minority female artist and I’m looking at all of the possibilities out there in terms of getting projects made. As you know, I worked in network television for many years and, of course, I went to network television first. I went to predominantly black entertainment as well, I pitched to Tyler Perry’s company and I pitched to Oprah before they put on their own soap operas. I definitely have a following and I believe that I have to exhaust all the possibilities that are out there and Kickstarter is just another possibility.

This brings up the question, why did you think that the networks or producers didn’t have the vision to pick up your project? What is it that they are looking for?

I can distinctly answer that for you. You ask Ridley Scott why he sometimes has to wait 25 years to make a movie. And you can ask any number of luminaries in the entertainment industry like Wynton Marsalis and why he has recordings stockpiled by his label that haven’t been released. This is the age-old gripe that artisans have had, like, forever. So when you figure out this entertainment business then you let me know.

Like Matthew Weiner the executive producer and creator of Mad Men. He went everywhere. He begged everyone, and he worked for HBO, and he tried to convince network TV execs and anyone who would listen: “Look I’ve got this great project called Mad Men,” and he would be laughed out of their offices over and over and over again. And when he wound up on AMC, people thought that was madness. But he went to where they accepted him; and whether Kickstarter winds up being the home for us or not remains to be seen. But I’m willing to try and you have to start somewhere. It’s called courage.

So you would agree that the old models such as network television are broken relics of the past, doomed for extinction?

You know, I think that network television will still be around for a long time still.

Well I’m not sure about that.

But what is so wonderful is that there are all these other opportunities, all these other platforms from Netflix to Hulu to web series on the internet, and beyond. We have film houses that are producing their own movies and completely cutting out the middleman. It’s infinite in terms of how we’re watching television. People are developing their own channels and putting their own content on them that people want to watch. So I think there are tremendous gains for having this frontier of independent programming.

I read an article recently in the New York Times which said that television networks are losing that coveted 18-49 year old audience in droves and that they can’t get them back, and that number will only just increase as time goes on, which says to me that it’s a dinosaur.

So when you look at a new show like Orange is the New Black and that Kevin Spacy/David Fincher show House of Cards which garnered four Emmy nominations on Netflix, and when you look at what Mark Johnson is doing on Breaking Bad, you can see that there’s a lot of opportunity out there. And when you look at PBS, which, unlike the major networks, has had an increase in audience viewers this season, with shows like Downton Abbey, and now they’re heavily into production with new projects; so, yes, it’s exciting. It’s exciting to be an executive producer creating these projects.

So you would say that this is an avenue now for independent black filmmakers and producers, instead of trying to go to a studio or a production company or a TV network to get a project made?

Well I want to say that it’s the new frontier for everyone. It’s not just a black or white issue, though it is extremely difficult for African Americans to get projects off the ground. It takes a tremendous amount for fortitude to get it done. Unfortunately there is a misunderstanding of the importance of our stories being told even if they’re checkerboard.

By that I mean, a story dealing with someone with a checkerboard past; and if you have an African American who is the lead character it's coined as a “black story" and it can be potentially pigeonholed. But having said that, what is available today is fantastic and we’re just not talking about the domestic market. There is international interest in all entertainment. I just took a meeting with a production company headquartered in Scandinavia. There is tremendous interest and people are going to where there is interest and money.

I’m glad you bought that up because one regular issue we deal with is the fact that black filmmakers and producers should be more aggressive about entering the overseas market. And yet whenever we do, we always get some people who say things like “They don’t care us po’ black folk over there. I’m just going to sit in my rocking chair on the porch ‘til kingdom come”. I mean what’s with this attitude of limitations?

Look, we’ve all heard and it’s a total myth. It is not true. In fact, this is a form of what you could call mental enslavement. I’ve never prescribed to that as an artisan. That is nonsense.

Finally, what’s your secret for being a survivor in the business?

This does not happen by accident. I am a hard worker. I absolutely, emphatically, campaign to go on auditions that are not necessarily written for black actors. I’ve even worked in roles that weren’t even written for the same gender originally. I convinced casting people and producers to see it in another way. Our stories are international stories and we are an international people. For example I was very fortunate to take a meeting with PBS recently to discuss the possibility of my memoir The Women Who Raised Me for a multi-part mini-series on the network. That was very exciting.

But as a minority I knew that I needed to start at the root, so I wrote the book for The Rich and The Ruthless first, but continued to work out my script throughout prior to the book and post book, and now we’re at the juncture where we want to shoot the pilot, which is like Soapdish meets The Office meets 30 Rock. That is the tone. It is about a black-owned soap opera with multi-ethnic cast that struggles to stay on the air, which they do through some nefarious behavior (laughs) behind the scenes, and we get to see this behavior not only on set but off set as well.

To contribute to Ms Rowell's Kickstarter campaign, which has 16 days to go, $47,000 to go, click HERE or within the widget after the video pitch below: