Saturday, May 05, 2007

66: The Art of The Deal

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ORAL EXAMS...Here's a scoop on a new game show for NBC. Musician and musical director Ray Chew (, is doing a new network show called "Singing Bee." With game shows and singing competitions both being hot; Chew might have a hit on his hands. But he'll have to compete with CBS's new version of the classic "Name That Tune," which will be hosted by Donny Osmond. You know we'll keep you up to date on "Singing Bee" developments.

ROYAL REMAKE...Seems Queen Latifah is on a roll. Her HBO film (Life Support) was a critical success and she is bringing the series "Wifey" to BET. Now the rapper-turned-Hollywood bigwig has just signed to star in a remake of the 1984 Steve Martin-Lily Tomlin comedy All of Me for New Line Cinema. In this take, Latifah plays a grass-roots activist type who finds herself in the body of a conservative. For the remake, Latifah rejoins Adam Shankman, who directed her in 2003's Bringing Down the House and the upcoming Hairspray. Shankman will produce the new All of Me. With Latifah getting such a diverse range of projects and behind-the-scene power--something that hasn't even happened for such noted actresses as Angela Bassett--we wonder what her secret is.

CHANGING HANDS...Last week we told you that the Black Family Channel (BFC) had ceased operations. Now news is that the Gospel Music Channel (GMC), a 24-hour all-Christian music network, will be purchasing BFC's cable slot. No word on what the new GMC channel will be or if there will be an increased Black Gospel prescene. We'll keep you posted.

HIDE THE BLACKBERRY...The A-List predicted there would be a reality show in the future for Naomi Campbell. First the buzz was the modeling diva, who just did a community service stint for throwing a cell phone at her assistant, had signed on for a MTV show called "The Minion" in which she searches for the perfect assistant. But word has it that Campbell backed out when MTV couldn't or wouldn't meet the supermodel's demands. Her camp has been reported as saying nothing is final. MTV failed to respond to our email requests for comment by presstime.

"N" WORD SEND-OFF...File this under--in our humble opinion--as nothing better to do. The NAACP is actually holding a mock funeral for the "N" word, according to the Detroit branch of the respected civil rights organization. FYI: The "funeral" will be held during the NAACP's national convention to be held July 7-12 in the Motor City. Though not original (a similar action being undertaken some 63 years ago regarding Jim Crow), we feel this energy would be better used on holding public town hall meetings with entertainment giants about more diversity in the board rooms and focusing on gaining control of African-American images in the media. Just our two cents.


RAPPER ON THE GREAT WHITE WAY...Though LL Cool J has a TV show lined up for the fall season, his acting career is taking an unexpected turn. He is in talks to star in all-Black version of the Broadway classic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which was also made into a hit film starring Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor. We hear LL will play "Brick," which Newman portrayed in the film version of the Tennessee Williams play. Debbie Allen is directing the revival and rehearsals start this October. Word is producer Stephen Byrd wants Danny Glover to play the role of “Big Daddy” and Thandie Newton to play “Maggie,” whom Taylor embodied on the big screen. While it will be interesting to see if the producer gets his wish, we have a few cast ideas of our own: Terrence Howard teamed with Lisa Nicole Carson (if she comes out of hiding) and Charles Dutton as Big Daddy. From films to TV and now to Broadway, LL's acting chops are getting a work out that will soon match that six-pack body of his.



According to the Copyright Royalty Board, Web radio stations have now have just under 60 more days to try to reverse a ruling that many in the industry insist will cause thousands of Web radio broadcasters to cease operations. A rate increase against Web broadcasters has been delayed and will not go into affect May 15 as planned. Web broadcasters will have until July 15 to pay the increase if their appeals don't win. Royalty rates for Web-casters--starting retroactively at $0.0008 per song in 2006 will increase to $0.0019 per song in 2010.



In Hollywood it's all about the deal. But how are deals made? How do you meet the right people? We asked a few insiders to give us the inner workings of doing the deal--from film and TV to mobile entertainment.

Get Connected: "I’m not going to say it’s totally about connections, but they help. You meet the right people by being in the right circuits…but more importantly you have to know what you want first. An assassin can’t be a good assassin without a target," says rapper/actor/filmmaker Sticky Fingaz (Kirk Jones) who has been bringing up Hollywood lately making Hip-Hop flavored deals (see "Then you go after it by any means necessary. You have to be dedicated. You can’t let roadblocks stop you, just go around them to make yourself stronger. But, if you have an incredible project, be sure to send it to my company Major Independents so I can take a look!"

But networking doesn't always lead to deals. Says a former Hollywood agent, "A bunch of schmoozing is necessary. [But] at the end of the day, people go where the heat is. If you have heat, everyone wants to be your best friend."

But being in the right place can help. Comediennes Frances Callier and Angela Shelton (aka Frangela), who are co-creators, co-writers, producers and stars of a pilot coming to Fox this fall tentatively titled "Frances and Angela," say being in L.A. is a major plus. "It's an industry town. So most of the time when you go out you end up running into people you know who are in the industry and talking to them--which we're not sure is schmoozing, but it happens a lot. At the end of the day, people want to work with people they like, so, being outgoing and showing up to people's parties and performances is very important we think."

But where are the good spots to see and be seen? "We love the Ivy..You are almost guaranteed to see famous people there, but as far as deal making/networking, I've never seen anyone walk over to a table and start talking business," says Shelton and Callier. "People usually respect people's lunch/dinner time privacy. In our experience we do more networking at shows, our own shows obviously, and other people's, here in L.A., and it's always good to mention to people who you know that they know, make the world smaller. Like, when you know that a friend of yours just met with someone and then you run into them somewhere, let them know you know that person...In terms of places? We think networking works anywhere you can hear yourself and other people without screaming, and the key element to striking up a conversation with someone is have something to tell them about-- a project or something that you're doing."

And, of course, it's important to stay in the loop. "More than 80% of my business is from referrals. I do attend some industry events and also network online, but I don't consider myself a schmoozer by any means!," says Jamila White, "The E-Commerce Diva" ( "One of the best ways I've found to get in front of higher ups is to do high-quality, innovative work. It gets noticed. Stay in touch with people you've pitched before, even if it didn't work out at first. Sometimes a 'no' one year is a 'yes' the next year, so follow up is key. Persistence pays off."

How to Pitch: So what makes a good pitch? "The way I like to pitch is doing complete projects," says Sticky. "It’s just now on my third movie that I’m starting with the traditional script form versus shooting the entire movie myself then selling. Most people start with a script and pitch it...Nothing works better than a finished product because whenever a studio or distributor is involved, showing them what you’ve done is best. I always use stars in my films because that makes it easier to sell."

Add Callier and Shelton (, who are regulars on VH1's Best Week Ever and CNN's "Showbiz Tonight": "Things that help us in a pitch are: being high energy, being extremely confident in ourselves and our abilities, being fun and funny (we think that a lot of meetings are more about people walking away liking you and having a good feeling about you than the actual substance of the idea--because the idea can be worked on but if they don't want to work with you it won't matter what the idea even is), and being as specific as possible or as clear as possible--have a clear log line and be able to describe your idea clearly and fully/with specifics."

Pace yourself, say Shelton and Collier. "We've also found it better to end the meeting ourselves and early, no matter how fun you are people usually don't want to be in a meeting longer than 45 minutes maximum, so we try to feel out the energy in the room and leave before it starts dipping." Addsa former Hollywood agent, "Prevailing wisdom is that you should be able to pitch a movie in one sentence and the listener will get it. Often, the writer has to be able to sell the exec on the idea and the belief that the writer can deliver. That's why execs will hire a writers that have been produced. No one gets fired from hiring a writer from 'Cheers.'"

Make sure to think about the viewer, says filmmaker Rel Dowdell ( "Appeal. Does the concept sound like it has a wide appeal? Can it have appeal outside of the designated target area?," he explains. Callier and Shelton agree: "Clarity and excitement and being able to create a visual picture in people's minds about the project, so that they can 'see' what it would be like and who it would appeal to without you having to tell them or convince them of it. "

"For the web sites related to television or film programming, the most successful sites are the ones that extend the original experience for the use--additional content or interactivity--instead of simply regurgitating the plot synopsis and listing cast and crew," says White.

Why Do Pitches Fail: "Most pitches fail because they don't address the core needs of the person or organization being pitched. Too many folks start talking or pitching before they have taken the time to listen and identify needs," says Sticky. But says former Hollywood agent, getting a greenlight can depend on a number of factors. "It can depend on what studio execs are looking for, if the execs can visualize the pitch easily, what the execs ate for lunch and if any talent is attached," says the ex-agent. "The right representation can mean that you can get your project in front of the right people."

It's all in the way you pitch, says Dowdell. "Some pitches fail because they may not sound interesting to the producer," he notes. "You may have a great idea for a film, but if you as the writer or director can't make it sound compelling to the one who can green light it, a financier or a producer, your concept of vision may unfortunately never come to fruition."

Practice makes perfect, say Callier and Shelton. "Things that have hurt us in meetings: not being prepared enough with specifics about the pitch, not doing enough research on the people/company you're meeting with and their current and past projects, finding out if you know people in common, getting off topic for too long, staying in the meeting too long, being too desperate sounding (asking for the opportunity instead of making it clear that you're offering them an opportunity--without being an arrogant dork about it of course). "

Step by Step: "You just have to be patient and be ready for anything. It took Train Ride over seven years to finally come out. Sony ended up distributing it. It's been one of their most successful African-American films ever," says Dowdell, who has two projects coming up--one for television, and one for the big screen. "You must have a good lawyer representing you. That's the first thing you need. Make sure the lawyer is a reputable entertainment lawyer. It's very important to get someone who specializes in that kind of law. Many filmmakers make the mistake of getting a regular lawyer to rep them in entertainment deals. There are many loopholes that a good entertainment lawyer must know about in order to get you as the talent the best possible deal."

Each deal is different. "Our deal for our own sitcom was not a typical deal we've been told," say Frances and Angela. "We performed a development showcase for industry and then we got a development deal and talent hold from that show from Fox network--we have been told that usually people get deals through studios first and then pitch to network, so ours was sort of backwards. Other than that, it's our understanding that every deal is different, it depends on if you're a writer or an actor or both or a producer, or a non-writing producer, etc. "

When & If To Play the Race, Sex Card: It depends on what you're pitching and to whom you're pitching. "For the most part, execs look at the African-American market as a specific market and they only have a few of those slots to fill on their schedule or film slate," notes the ex-agent. "It's infrequent to see a Black person write a script for a mostly or all-White cast or a woman write for a male lead." Dowdell says to play up the project's marketability. "Well, one thing I can tell you is that the case especially now with African-American films is that Hollywood is seeing that they are very marketable," he notes. "African-American films are usually made for relatively low cost, but turn a profit often. I think the main thing at this point is just to make sure that we as African-Americans are not abusing our position by making stereotypical fare which all-too often graces the screen, both the movie screen and the television screen."

Bottom line: Be who you are and play up your strengths. "We have never tried to hide that we were African-American women through make-up or fake names or something," say Shelton and Callier. "We don't pitch projects, generally, that we think only appeal to one kind of audience, we think that our sensibilities are broader than that, but we're not sure what the people we are pitching to walk away with in terms of these issues. "

Hollywood stars, politicians and business leaders came out to mourn the loss of former Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) president Jack Valenti, who was laid to rest on DC. Valenti died on April 26, 2007 from compilations of a stroke he suffered in March.

Valenti, who at one time served as a leading White House publicist for President John F. Kennedy and assistant to President Lyndon B Johnson, forever ached Hollywood during his tenure at the MPAA. In 1968 he created the MPAA film rating system. In a move against censorship, Valenti also abolished the industry’s restrictive Hays code, which prohibited explicit violence and frank treatment of sex, and in 1968 oversaw creation of today’s letter-based ratings system.



They're the darlings of reality TV--Angela and Vanessa Simmons, daughters of Rev. Run and co-stars of the MTV show "Run's House." Now the sisters are venturing out on their own--and following in daddy's retail footsteps--with a sneaker brand of their own, Pastry Footwear.

Arriving at about 8pm, there wasn't much of a crowd but by 9pm or so it was packed. The Simmons girls make their entrance around 10pm and went straight to the VIP section. Remy Ma dropped in a few minutes later. Also in the house were: music man Irv Gotti, DJ Clue, comedian Talent, and hip hop's Jazzy Joyce and CoCo Chanel. But no sign of Rev. Run or the rest of the Simmons clan--unless there was a VIP VIP section. And the event had a gang of sponsors--including Vitamin Water. The vibe was lounge cool--darkly lit and the sparse decor included sleek black sectional couches and neon lighting on the walls.

Making a way into the VIP section , I chatted with Vanessa a bit before another guest mistook me as a fellow member of the Simmons church. He even called over Angela and asked if she knew me. But alas, I've never ventured in to Rec. Run's church.

As the partygoers left, the Simmons sisters gave out gift bags--containing a T-shirt, cute candle, lip balm, and a note pad. Wished they had dropped in a pair of kicks--they're actually very unique. We're sure you'll be spotting them on the feet of Angela and Vanessa during the new season of "Run's House." --Jaleesa Brown


Ex-"American Idol" contestant Kimberly Locke appeared at the spacious Hollywood & Vine Borders Bookstore to promote her newly released Curb Records CD Based on a True Story, her sophomore follow-up to her successful debut CD, One Love. The crowd was filled with fans, curious seekers, and a small entourage of music and Hollywood industry folk. Locke performed two songs from the new CD before meeting and greeting. It will be interesting to see if Locke makes the leap into film and TV--as has so many ex-AI contestants, from Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson to now Broadway star Fantasia. Maybe Locke's CD signing in town marked more to come from her in Hollywood. --words and photo by Anthony Davis


Thursday, May 03, 2007


Only if you were under a rock could you have missed all the recent debates regarding Hip Hop and misogyny. But one voice is mysteriously missing in all of this. Who? We'll give you a hint. Women. More specifically Hip-Hop women--from execs, media, and artists to video vixens and fans.

The most notable absence was probably on the recent Oprah Winfrey Townhall Meeting on Rap, which failed to have any even one soul representing the female side of Hip Hop. So, The A-List decided to not only address this glaring oversight, but to ask a few women from the world of Hip Hop their thoughts.

"It's typical for the media to exclude women from these critical discussions on Hip Hop," says Dr. Joycelyn Wilson (, Assistant Professor of Education LaGrange College, Hip-Hop culture expert. "I'm not sure if it's because they don't take the time to find women who can speak about these sensitive issues or if they only look for women who fit a particular profile. In Oprah's case, I can only speculate why the show was put together in the way that it was. That is, Essence (editor in chief) in the crowd, Gayle (King) on deck at Spelman, conservative critic Stanley Crouch in the audience, and four men on stage, including noted male rap artist (Common). They skated over so many issues, the main one being the agency women have in all of this...One of the key the lack of representation at the table of discourse. I mean, I don't wanna hear saditty Spelman chicks speak for women like Whyte Chocolate or Gloria Velez or Superhead. I want to hear it from them."

"The media already has their notions on how they view Blacks so they feel if they exclude [Black women] and their opinions there won't be any further verbal altercations or situations. In other words they want to leave us out because they think we will get something started even bigger because that is how we are viewed majority of the time in White America," say Zamada and Poyzen from the female rap group NINE aka P By tha Pound.

For social entrepreneur/writer/activist April R. Silver it's even bigger than just Black women. "The exclusion is what sexism looks like on an ordinary day," she points out. "And thereby makes the whole discussion ironic and not really empowering but rather re-affirming the exclusivity."

According to Dee Dee Cocheta-Williams, who represents Hip-Hop acts and video directors as president of A.B.C. Associates Entertainment Firm, it's nothing new for women to be left out of Hip-Hop discussions--but the exclusion still is unacceptable in this multi-media age particularly when they are the ones often driving sales for the male artists from their physical image in videos, the lower management label employees who are the backbone of ensuring the administration behind the artist from airline coordination to publicity. "I can clearly say that this has always been on going perhaps because Hip Hop has been viewed as male dominated and women are not the first to be considered or 'top of mind' when speaking on behalf of the culture," she notes. "It is blatantly a disrespect that there were no women of Hip Hop represented on Oprah's show regardless of who books the guests. Anyone can search the Internet and put in 'Hip-Hop Ambassador' and Toni Blackman's name comes up. You can enter 'Hip-Hop Activist' and the first female seen will be Rosa Clemente...and enter 'Hip Hop Mama' and there you will find me--Dee Dee Cocheta."
"It is blatantly a disrespect that there were no women of Hip Hop represented on Oprah." --Cocheta-Williams

Those within Hip Hop understand the art and the culture and respect it as a mirror of the world at large. "Rap is a reflection of society. The rap industry, or should I say the corporate media industry that distributes rap music, is at fault," offers Dr. Wilson, who penned in the chapter "Tip Drills, Strip Clubs, and Representation in the Media" in the new Hip-Hop feminism anthology Home Girls Make Some Noise. "I draw this distinction because rap, the technique, is and has always been a linguistic tool to express opinions about our social experience and worldview."

Cocheta-Williams, who is also the mother of seven, agrees: "Of course rap music is reflective of the society lived in. If I was raised around nothing but pimps and hos, then that's what I will talk on....For those rappers who grow and their lifestyle changes, you tend to hear that reflected in their lyrics. Ludacris is a great example, now that his daughter is relevant in his life--he goes from 'What's Your Fantasy' to 'Runaway Love.'" From the artist's point of view, Zamada and Poyzen say lyrics are inspired by life: "Rap is reflective of one's self first and foremost, it's also reflective on society and ones environment just like any other genre of music. Rap is at fault in no way shape or form because the words someone else chooses to say has nothing to do with another person acting upon mere words. "

By narrowing in on Hip Hop many in the media are missing the bigger picture, say those in the community. And not only has the media blamed rap for sexism, racism (with the N Word), mainstream media is now blaming rap for the "Stop Snitching" ethos rather than focusing on the deeply ingrained Black community's mistrust of the police and the originators of such practices from Italian mafia to the CIA.

"Oh yeah, and by the way Hip Hop is responsible for the war in Iraq too. You didn't know?," Dr. Wilson.
It's the hypocrisy that bother rappers Zamada and Poyzen. "They point the finger when something bad or negative has happened, have nothing to say when Hip Hop is selling their products-- McDonald's, Burger King, Sprite, Pepsi, Coke, Radio Shack, Chevrolet, Nike, Reebok, and the list goes on," say the two. "Hip Hop is a movement that's getting bigger and bigger; it's taking over and they don't want to face the reality of it, and you know why? Because Hip Hop originates in the Black community. But what they fail to realize is that Hip Hop does not have a color; it is for everyone who wants to be a part of it."
"Hip Hop is a movement that's getting bigger and [the media] doesn't want to face the reality of it because Hip Hop originates in the Black community. But...Hip Hop does not have a color; it is for everyone who wants to be a part of it." --Zamada and Poyzen (female rap group NINE aka P By tha Pound)
Reflects Cocheta-Williams, "I think that is what the media does...find someone, something to blame, already knowing the facts just so there is a controversy storm where people voice their opinions, get the general public to pick sides (continuing to separate) and where opportunists jump on the bandwagon. Before you know it, it all blows over and the media is onto publicizing something else for you to be judgemental over and further separated. Bottom line, the media power controllers achieve their goal by taken your attention away from the critical/bigger issues at hand and center you around some bullish..."

Well, if pictures say a thousand words, then what are music videos saying about women and where is the image problem coming from--the rappers themselves or the folks behind the video cameras? According to Zenobia Simmons, director of publicity of Imperial Records (which has various Hip-Hop artists on the roster), "I think that in this day and age the artist has input as to which treatment he/she wants so it should start with artist, management and labels soliciting different directors and production companies. I don't think it has anything to do with being White owned. The one thing Hip Hop was always known for was trendsetting with videos and a lot of the trends start there. A number of artists have always done creative videos with little or no budget, including Hip-Hop artists."
Adds Dr. Joyce: "If you look at the credits of videos nowadays, the artist is co-directing along with the director, who might be White or non-White. That's the same with the video production houses. Of course, there are more White-owned and -operated video production houses. There are only a handful of Black video directors and many of them belong to White agencies. "

For Cocheta-Williams it's a matter of a lack of creativity. "Video treatments should be varied which would definitely give more creative expression," she notes. "My question is why would the directors or artists want to follow the same 'trend' of videos? If an artist doesn't seek to be creative, requesting to choose the director/video production company to work with then they lose their control. The record company mainly has the upper hand and chooses the treatment to be used allowing the control to be in the director's hands who normally follows the same (money, clothes and "H's") blueprint because 'it sells' then they gain control and set forth the images the public gets to see. And, the music industry uses white owned video production companies that they are familiar with." Silver agrees, "Variety often breeds creativity...More than anything else, the environment of corporate entertainment kills creativity. And I believe that research would show that video production companies and other service oriented companies in the entertainment or music industry are mostly White-owned."

So where is the disconnect? Has older Black America abandoned younger working adults? "Yes, I think most people are very self centered and only concerned with themselves. There should be more people that care about making a difference," says Simmons. For Dr. Wilson the answer isn't as clear cut. "Yes and no," she points out. "It is dangerous to draw a broad stroke with this issue. Abandoning the voice of the youth is a historical tradition regardless of the ethnicity."

"Hell, there would be different images of women if we were in the driver's seats of these media houses."--Dr. Wilson

"In some cases you can say no, yet there is still that notion that the elders don't listen to their young and thus there is a generation gap. We are divided on certain issues because we have lost touch with one another," says Cocheta-Williams.

So, what's the solution? Would there be different images if more Black women were on the boards of record companies, behind the cameras directing videos, on the airwaves as rappers, etc.? "Definitely," says Dr. Wilson. "Hell, there would be different images of women period if we were in the driver's seats of these media houses." That's only a start, says Silver. "It's not just about getting Black women on the board or behind the cameras," she adds. "It's about getting Black women on the boards and behind cameras who will not sell out the needs of the greater community for the sake of maintaining an industry that doesn't care about destroying us. If that were accomplished, Black women would still be embattled in a furious war to protect us from harm."