By Melissa Silverstein | Women and Hollywood August 8, 2011 at 2:19AM
Around seven years ago when I was a production company executive, producer Glendon Palmer and screenwriter Elizabeth Hunter pitched the idea of Jumping The Broom (JTB) to me. I loved it and told my boss about it. Unfortunately, our company didn’t have discretionary funds and we were unable to make a deal to move forward.
Cut to three years ago. I had quit my job and moved to Rome, Italy to write full-time. Sometimes, I still don’t believe I made the move.
One day I was speaking with Glendon and asked him what ever happened with JTB. He had just read a writing sample of mine. The three of us got on the phone. I was told by someone in the industry not to write the JTB spec, as it would never sell. The movie was “too small” and a film like that would pigeonhole me.
I loved the story so I wrote it anyway. As a writer, who is a black woman, the pigeonhole train left the damn station a long time ago -- especially in the feature world. TV is a little different.
Many writers complain about the development process and getting notes from their producers. Elizabeth and Glendon were fantastic and I really enjoyed working with them. Once we had a solid draft, Glendon gave it to his boss Tracey Edmonds.
We wanted to attach a director before going to buyers. Meanwhile, Glendon slipped the script to DeVon Franklin. DeVon is a VP at Sony Pictures. He used to work with Glendon years ago at Overbrook.
Sony happened to have a deal with Bishop T.D. Jakes. The Bishop and his team loved the project as well. Salim Akil was hired to direct, making his feature film debut. Elizabeth did all the production rewrites. The film went into production very quickly. Most scripts are never made into films and the few that make it usually sit in development for years and years.
Once my script was sold, Elizabeth and Glendon, could have easily said, “we’ll see you at the premiere.” That didn’t happen. There was a really sense of community on this film. To have a cast of this caliber on such a small budget was incredible. Everyone took pay cuts. Salim had a tiny (by Hollywood standards) 6.5 million dollar budget and a very short shooting schedule.
Originally the film was going to have a limited release, maybe around 700 screens. Then the film received great responses during test screenings and the advance buzz was strong. Sony kept increasing the number.
In the end we were released on about 2000 screens. Sony’s marketing team was amazing. I’m still in shock that a tiny film like ours received such strong support from a major Hollywood studio.
JTB far exceeded expectations. It made 15.3 million dollars opening weekend. Industry box office analysts predicted 7-9 million.
I was a wreck all that week knowing that by Saturday morning we would have a clear idea if JTB was a hit or not.
The whole experience was surreal. I’ve known Glendon and Elizabeth for over thirteen years. Elizabeth was one of the first people to read a script of mine. She was very encouraging all those years ago, even though that script was awful (it was my first). To stand there on the red carpet with the two of them was pretty great.
When I first started in the business there were plenty of movies with African American leads like LOVE JONES, THE BEST MAN, THE BROTHERS, LOVE & BASKETBALL, THE WOODS, TWO CAN PLAY THAT GAME, FRIDAY, etc. Most of those films would not get a green light today.
With the studios so focused on franchise films, I don’t think anything will change anytime soon. It’s unfortunate because there is an audience for these types of films.
Regarding advice for writers trying to break into Hollywood, I say, write want you love and don’t try to predict what will sell. Yes, it’s good to be aware of trends in Hollywood, but by the time you finish your spec, that trend might be over. Despite all the negative news from Tinsel town, I do believe good writing and an original voice will find a champion.
JUMPING THE BROOM is out on DVD and Blu-Ray tomorrow, August 9th.
Arlene Gibbs is a writer and producer based in Rome, Italy and Los Angeles, California. Her recent writing credits include, “Jumping The Broom”, a spec script (based on a story by Elizabeth Hunter) She also sold the teen comedy project, “My Best Birthday Party Ever”, to the Italian production company Cattleya. Previously, Arlene was Senior Vice President of Production at Crescendo Productions, a film/television company founded by actor/producer Don Cheadle.