50: Stomp The Yard
GOLDEN APPLE... We warned you recently to stay tuned for New York (formerly of "Flavor of Love") to explode on VH1. Well, her "looking-for-love" reality show "I Love New York," scored the highest debut in VH1 history on Jan. 8. Some 4.4 million people (18-49) tuned see Tiffany Pollard begin weeding through a pool of 20 eligible bachelors. And it is no surprise that it was co-created by Flavor Flav--the man's smarter than some believe. VH1 has been wise in keeping its winning reality formula, even if some pass it off as buffoonery.
FEELING BLACK & BLUE...It was critically acclaimed on stage and screen, now HBO is developing Ruben Santiago-Hudson's autobiographical play Lackawanna Blues, which was also made into an award-winning 2005 TV movie, into a drama series. Santiago-Hudson is currently writing the pilot script. We'll keep you posted on cast round up and launch date. We also just heard that the network is working on an unscripted series from Larry Charles ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") that will star rapper Kanye West about the crazed life of a ego-tripping rapper. Sounds like perfect casting. If done in that signature cutting-edge HBO style, these projects just might help the network return to its powerhouse position. Other than "The Wire" and "Sopranos" (which is wearing thin) there's not much excitement over at HBO. Magic seems to be on hiatus for the moment--but maybe not for long.
COMEDY WHITE OUT...In more HBO news, we just heard about about the HBO and U.S. Comedy Arts Festival's 13th annual Aspen Fest (Feb. 28–March 4). On the lineup is a "Salute to Entourage with Cast and Creators," John Landis’ The Rickles Project; as well as performances by George Carlin, Steven Wright and Katt Williams. While fest touts its "mission.. to present the best cutting-edge new talent, writers and filmmakers as well as featuring appearances and performances by some of the biggest comedy stars," we'd like to see more diversity here. Loving some Don Rickles, but besides Williams where are all the urban funny folk? We ain't looking for Def Comedy Jam, but come on.
THE MOUTH THAT ROARED...Things are heating up over at Sirius Radio. The network just added yet another show on its uncensored hip hop channel Shade 45 (channel 45) entitled Lip Service. Watch out for a live, weekly female-hosted talk show featuring Angela Yee, who already co-host of Shade 45’s morning show, The Cipha Sounds Effect, and Leah Rose, a music editor at XXL magazine. While the addition proves that there is a growing audience for hip-hop radio programming that people will actually pay to hear, it might lure in greater numbers with different talent picked. There must be names with greater influence to pull in to host. Our suggestion: Us. Only kidding.
TAKE SHANAYNAY HOME...For the first time ever, Martin Lawrence's groundbreaking TV series "Martin" is finally on DVD. The 1992-1998 show has finally hit the home entertainment market with the release of Martin: The Complete First Season (HBO Home Video). Fans can see all 27 episodes of the show's first season along with a blooper reel and commentary by Lawrence on selected clips. Although the appetite for urban DVDs has been growing, companies have been slow in releasing many offerings. As the deluge of mainstream DVD has cooled, with the ever-increasing market for urban DVDs, "Martin" should do just fine.
COLOR BLIND...Hurray to Brad Pitt for all the hoopla lately surrounding the African documentary God Grew Tired Of Us, which he executive produced. But seems "do-gooders" like Pitt still might not get it. While Africa does deserve attention and help, things still ain't quite right here in the States. Also while Nicole Kidman's voice is melt-in-your-mouth desirable, you mean to tell us there was no prominent Black-American actor on earth they couldn't have reeled to narrate; because between Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Kidman all arm-in-arm on the red carpet, it's screaming superhero saviors. It is more than a tad condescending.
GOT OUR VOTE...Speaking of the Image Awards, we're excited to report that The A-List's own Gil Robertson was nominated "Outstanding Literary Work--Non Fiction" for his book on AIDS in the black community entitled Not In My Family. Way to go, Gil! Also, a quick congrats to filmmaker/TV director Millicent Shelton for a nom for "Outstanding Direction in a Comedy Series"--again. And to Bil Carpenter, who will be vying against Hill Harper for Outstanding Literary Work.
ES SALAAM ALEIKUM...Though we haven't been feeling the industry vibe in Canada, we had to give a mention to an innovative, quirky new sitcom called "Little Mosque on The Prairie," airing in the land up North on CBC. Created by a Muslim female filmmaker, Zarqa Nawaz (right) of FUNdamentalist Films, the new series is about a fictional Muslim family living in rural Saskatchewan. When you have such a influx of people from elsewhere, it is only a matter of time until they start desiring to see themselves on the small screen. African-Americans in the industry need to start taking risks and get a bit more edgy in their sitcom offerings. Congrats for CBC taking a chance on diversity. It should be only a matter of time that the U.S. and the UK follow suit.
BOOK IT...The folks over at Kimani Press tell us to be on the lookout for a new fiction imprint for African-American teenagers. Kimani TRU will cover topics from peer pressure, sex, drugs to alternative lifestyles. The novels are written by well-known Black authors and emerging literary talent, including 17-year-old Cassandra Carter whose first novel, Fast Life debuts this summer. The premier novel, however, is Indigo Summer from author Monica McKayhan. With urban youth novel the hot thing these days, it will sooner than later before Hollywood picks up a few for film options.
PARAMOUNT PREZ EXITS
One of Hollywood’s highest-ranking female executives, Gail Berman, the president of Paramount Pictures, has resigned. According to the New York Times, after meeting with the chairman, Brad Grey, on Tuesday, Berman called it quits. The following day, Paramount officially announced the departure and a reorganization of its production team. The duties of Brad Weston, co-president for production, will expand. His partner, Allison Shearmur, on the other hand, will be leaving Paramount. And. Berman will not be replaced. While Berman has refused to comment on her exit, according to the Times, the "dealings between her and Mr. Grey had become increasingly strained as Ms. Berman found her responsibilities to be less than expected when she arrived from the top job with Fox’s television operation in 2005." Grey, however, issues a statement, in which he said: “...Gail’s job became too small for her. She’s a great talent.” The Times also reported that "movie agents complained that Ms. Berman, who had no movie industry experience, was too abrupt, while executives at MTV and Nickelodeon which, like Paramount, are owned by Viacom, were upset when she criticized their film projects." Meanwhile, the studio hopes to have a few new hits on its roster. Insiders say the studio is betting on the David Fincher-directed thriller Zodiac and the Eddie Murphy comedy Norbit.
An A-List Exclusive: Producers Rob Hardy and William Packer Come on Strong With Stomp The Yard
Producers Rob Hardy and William Packer (pictured, right) are more than a little anxious about their film Stomp The Yard (Sony/Screen Gems) opening nationwide on January 12. Why? Because they are out to prove a point--that a film about the Black college experience can draw a broad audience. Especially when faced with people buying into stereotypes like the owner of a Springfield, Ill., theater. Kerasotes Theaters initially refused to show Stomp the Yard because they "feared" gang violence. After media backlash and NAACP suuport, the film is now set to open there on Sunday. For Hardy and Packer, Stomp The Yard is far from violent--it is a more inspirational tale.
Focusing on the Black Greek campus life, Hardy and Packer cleverly wrapped this picture driven by young black actors with seemingly universal images and messages. Stomp The Yard (http://www.stomptheyard.com/) has friendship, first love, school and peer pressure, fraternal loyalty, fierce competition--and the added cherries on top are two of music's most popular acts (Chris Brown and Ne-Yo), a young starlet (Megan Goode), hot tracks and high-step stomping.
The pair know how to do such expert layering based on experience. They created Rainforest Films in 1994 on the eve of the success of their first film Chocolate City. Shortly thereafter, the duo began producing a myriad of corporate pieces as their film was distributed to video stores. Next came the sleeper hit Trois. The independently funded, produced, and distributed movie, became the fastest African-American distributed film to ever surpass the million-dollar mark. This landed Rainforest Films at the #34 spot of Top 500 Film Distributors of 2000 listed by Hollywood Reporter, and in the picture being in the Top 50 Highest Grossing Independent Films of the Year, according to Daily Variety. Pandora’s Box followed and earned Monica Calhoun (The Best Man) an award for “Best Actress” from the 2002 American Black Film Festival. Lockdown, starring Richard T. Jones, Gabrielle Casseus, and Master P, was next up. It was one of Columbia Tri-Star’s top-selling independent releases. It's no wonder The Hollywood Reporter named Hardy and Packer one of the “New Establishment” of Black Power Brokers in Hollywood in 2002.
More small projects followed, such as Motives with Vivica A. Fox and Shemar Moore. But with Stomp The Yard, budgeted under $15 million, the pair is looking for big-time success. The A-List caught up Hardy on the eve of their first mainstream breakthrough.
Q: Were either of you ever in a frat?
Rob Hardy: Both Will and myself are members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. We are line brothers (inducted together) who pledged in 1993.
Q: The black college experience has been mainly overlooked by Hollywood, except for maybe School Daze. Why did you want to cover this?
RH: We are a product of the Historically Black College. The friendships and lessons gained there have made us who we are. Our first independent film Chocolate City, dealt with the topic. For us, it was only a matter of time before we revisited the experience.
Q: Was it hard to convince the studio of this idea since dance films have not done well? Plus it was an urban "dance" film?
RH: The first challenge was getting the studio to understand what "Stepping" is. There was a misconception that it was the ballroom waltz version synonymous with Chicago and R. Kelly's hit song, "Step In the Name of Love." Once the studio understood the history of the organizations behind the Steps, the momentum began to build.
Q: I understand everyone did their own dancing, was this a long process in teaching steps to non-steppers?
RH: Dancing was an important aspect of our story. Each principle actor cast, also HAD to be able to dance. With that said, the basics were there. The choreographer Dave Scott and the step master Chuck Maldonado, the put them in a four-week "steeping boot camp." The picked up the moves from there.
Q: Why did you decide to go with two musical artists rather than actors for two major roles?
RH: We had solid actors in all our roles. Both Ne-Yo and Chris Brown had the total package. They could dance, act and sing. It gave us a whole entirely new appeal, while still staying true to our core story.
Q: What has the feedback been from black frats and colleges?
RH: The people who have seen the film have really responded well. Many of them commented about how many fond memories it brought back of past experiences.
Q: What is next for you two?
RH: We are producing a holiday themed film entitled This Christmas. The movie stars: DelRoy Lindo, Idris Elba, Regina King, Columbus Short, Zoe Saldana, Sharon Leal, Chris Brown and Mekhi Phifer.
Q: What makes your team work well together?
RH: We have a mutual respect and understanding for each other. We are friends first, and business partners second. But we have a singular vision and a willingness to work, compromise and adapt.
Q: If there was one piece of advice you could give to a new filmmaker, what would it be?
RH: I would suggest that all filmmakers just go out and make your film by any means necessary. Use video or whatever medium you can.
Lil Kim, shock jock Wendy Williams, Foxy Brown, Nick Cannon, Cormega, Bone Crusher, Jimmy Cozier, Melly Mel, Richard Jefferson of the NJ Nets, Brooklyn rapper Maino celebratin' at Home in NYC the launch of Hip Hop Weekly, the latest venture by Dave Mays and Ray Benzino, formerly the men behind The Source.
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Love your stuff. Keep up the GOOD work.
Shawn Edwards, FOX-TV (WDAF-TV, Kansas City)