Friday, May 11, 2007

67: Diary of a Filmmaker, Aaron Greer

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...Just announced! Spike Lee and an Italian billionaire are venturing into YouTube territory with Babelgum, an online video site started by the founder of Italy's second largest telecom. Babelgum founder Silvio Scaglia has announced his plans to focus more on videos by professional filmmakers as well as make the site open to the public (it previously required a password to enter). The first film up is a new Lee short called Jesus Children of America. Content by a filmmaker of color is definitely welcome on this digital front. Kudos to Babelgum. Now let's see if U.S. business folk catch up to this Italian forward thinker in terms of who to tap for mobile content.

NO SNEAK PEEK ALLOWED...Warner Brothers has decided to ban any and all promotional screenings in Canada due to the piracy rate in the country. Since it's not considered a felony to record a movie North of the border, that seems to have given the green light for certain people to go a bit wild. The proof is in the pudding. Says Warner Brothers, about 70% of its releases have been pirated in Canada during the last 18 months. Without the ability to see films before their opening dates, Canadian media will be unable to pre-review. It will be interesting to see if this helps or hurts Warner Brothers films at the boxoffice. It should however aid legitimate DVD sales.

SPACE WELL USED...Looks like MySpace is about to get a few new high-powered friends. The company just announced it will hold a series of "town hall" meetings with U.S. presidential candidates on its Web community. The goal, it says, is to encourage its millions of members to play a role in the political process. NAACP and Urban League, take note: Progressive moves utilizing relevant media can do wonders for the brand, relationships and goals.

FRENCH DOORS OPEN...You read about "Tropiques Amers" ("Bitter Tropics"), the French equivalent to "Roots," here first (see Well, the historic series hit France's airwaves starting May 10. In all, there will be six episodes focusing on slavery. And The A-List caught up with the lead actress, Thiam Aïssatou, and asked how "Tropiques Amers" might forever change French programming. "This is the first time French production, and in particular a public channel, is doing a fiction on this matter," she says. But this wasn't an easy production to mount. "It was hard to find the money one believed in this project. But the team fought hard," explains Aïssatou, who is one of the most popular actresses in France. For her, this was a challenging and fulfilling role. "It's rare that we have such beautiful Black characters in a movie in France," she says, "'ll probably help the public understand the violence of slavery. As a Black actress I feel concerned by anything that can helps us go further. Lastly, the character of Rosalie is a gift, and emotionally complex and complete. It was a wonderful exercise as an actress." In light of the recent presidential elections in France in which conservative Nicolas Sarkozy won, the timing seems right for "Tropiques Amers." "Mr. Sarkozy said that France doesn't not have to do 'repentance' [for slavery] but...[it] is necessary. French people are ethnically diverse--even if some don't like it; it's about time to show it!!" (photo by Patrick Glaize)

VERTICAL HOLD...According to Nielsen ratings, this spring has seen the worst TV ratings in recent history. More than 2.5 million fewer people were watching ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox than at the same time last year. While there could be many reasons--from increased TiVoing (which cannot be calculated) and uninspired programming to more viewers watching original broadband and mobile programming. If it's due to poor programming, judging from the unimaginative fall pilot offerings (, the fall season might not fair any better. One solution: More diversity on TV that actually reflects the American landscape. When people see "themselves" on TV, they'll tune in.

GAG ORDER...With countless people calling for the censorship of Hip-Hop lyrics, TV execs are doing just the opposite when it comes to their own programming. It has been reported that at the 56th annual National Cable & Telecommunications Association's event The Cable Show, earlier this week, execs from Time Warner Inc., Viacom Inc., News Corp. and Comcast Corp. all urged the government not to regulate programming. The arguments were in response to a Federal Communications Commission report on TV violence that suggested government could oversee violent programming without infringing free speech.

BLAIR OF ALL TRADES...Currently playing the new love interest for Julia Louis-Dreyfus' character on NBC's "The New Adventures of Old Christine" before he hops to HBO to star in a new drama series called "In Treatment," Blair Underwood is now about to switch gears. He is co-authoring a new detective novel called Casanegra with husband and wife writing team Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes. It's the second time Blair has teamed up with Due and Barnes. He also bought the rights to their novel, My Soul to Keep. That film is currently in pre-production. So will Blair, who is also shooting his feature directorial debut for the indie drama Bridge to Nowhere (starring Ving Rhames), turn Casanegra into a film as well? Stay posted.

TECH MISSION...Richard Jones, founder of, is on a mission--a mission to not only increase the visibility of Blacks online but to push for more Web ownership by African Americans. "There are sites out there that call themselves Black, but are not Black owned," says Jones. "We need to be in control of the images of ourselves that are created online and are seen across the globe." So, Jones launched the 20 Million March (representing the research that there are some 20 million African Americans online). This online campaign is twofold: "Major corporations are using our image to establish and brand Black websites," notes Jones. "And our viewing patterns online are scattered across hundreds of websites." Under this directive, Jones is urging people to make Black Report their homepage, thus not only boosting his site's visibility but "I want to get Black sites in the top-viewed sites in the world." A Black ownership drive is also underway. "I don't want us to repeat mistakes from the past--like we've done with music, haircare products, and so many other industries. We are major users on the Internet, so we should have an economic stake in this," says Jones. Obviously, The A-List, which called for increased minority media inclusion with our petition to the FCC, isn't alone in its believe that people of color need more power in all forms of media. For more info about the 20 Million March, visit or


YOUNG & RESTLESS...Here's a new reality show twist. A reality program for the tween generation and younger. Nine-year-old rapper Big Korey is set for a reality run that will track him as he tries to launch his own record company. While no one has picked the show up just yet, we hear that the producers--who include rapper Ludacris--are thisclose to inking a deal. Sounds like the perfect show for Nickelodeon.

A SERIES OF FIRSTS...The writer behind the play In The Nick of Tyme, David E. Talbert (, is about to start directing his first feature film in next weeks. It's Ice Cube's First Sunday. Judging from his success in theatre, Talbert should be able to make the jump to film seamlessly.

Earlier this week, Viacom Inc. reported that its first-quarter profit fell 36%. The reason: restructuring charges and higher expenses at its MTV Networks. The revenue results, however, still beat Wall Street estimates. Viacom's profit fell to $203 million from $317.2 million last year when it purchased Dreamworks SKG and began distributing Dreamworks Animation films. Revenue at Viacom's cable networks, which include BET, MTV, Nickelodeon and VH1, jumped 10% on higher affiliate revenue, but operating income dropped 3% on increased expenses including higher programming amortization and selling and marketing expenses.


Film festivals come and go. Filmmakers flock to them in search of that elusive, though career-changing, deal. So The A-List decided to get the inside scoop from a filmmaker attending a festival. Aaron Greer headed to this year's Tribeca Film Festival. It was his second trip to Tribeca. In 2004, he screened his debut feature film, Gettin' Grown, a micro-budget DV feature. This time around however, Greer was participating in Tribcea All Access, a program that seeks to diversify the film industry (see His latest project is Fruit of the Tree (, which was inspired by the true story of the only known survivor of a lynching, Dr. James Cameron.

Greer, who is also Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Telecom & Film at the University of Alabama, has screened his films at more than two dozen festivals and attended at least half that many. "Tribeca is probably the most prestigious festival I've had work in, with the possible exception of the American Black Film Festival," he says.

Here's what happened at this year's Tribeca All Access, from a filmmaker's perspective.

DAY 1: Tribeca All Access Orientation

I always like going to NYC. I think the city has such amazing energy, and I find I get invigorated just by being there. So I felt a burst of energy as soon as I got out on the street. My first real festival day was on my second day in NY, when I arrived at the Tribeca All Access orientation and met the other filmmakers involved in the program. I could tell from the moment I walked in that this was going to be an exciting and talented group of people to be with.
There was a really interesting mix of excitement and anxiety in the air; people were anxious to get started and to begin meeting with companies and talking about their project, but there's some nervousness too. Most of us don't get many opportunities to meet and pitch our work to a lot of companies or people with influence, so it felt like the stakes were pretty high.

Pitch Day: In Search of A Deal

The Tribeca All Access program isn't about screening a finished film, but rather pitching a screenplay or documentary in development to a series of production companies and industry executives. We had relatively few meetings scheduled for the first day, but we were certainly nervous going into the first one.

Tribeca had prepared us with a practice session from a couple seasoned producers who gave us some feedback and notes about our project, which turned out to be invaluable, because our initial pitch was a little rough. By the time we actually got to the meetings, I think my team felt much more comfortable talking about the project and it seemed like our idea and script were well received.

In terms of movers and shakers, several of the companies we met with were pretty big names, with pretty deep pockets, so the stakes felt pretty high even for what was only, essentially, a 30-minute get to know you and your project conversation.

There were a couple "celebs" who I ran into at one of the parties or receptions that were part of the Tribeca and Tribeca All Access event. I was pretty jazzed to shake hands with Chuck-D, for example, I don't know how many other film festivals I'd be able to run into and meet someone like him.

As a side note, when I did screen Gettin' Grown at the festival in 2004 I had a great experience with that audience. There was a really interesting mix of filmmakers, your standard festival viewers and parents with children (since Gettin' Grown is a family friendly film). I was really impressed by the Tribeca audience, both of my screenings that year were packed, and had great Q&A sessions after the screenings.

Final Day: Leaving Fellow Filmmakers Behind

My final day of the festival was bittersweet. I left feeling rejuvenated about our project and believing that we had done good work and made good contacts. Besides, I had missed my 1-year anniversary to be at the festival and I was anxious to get back home.

At the same time the festival was still going on, a lot of my fellow filmmakers were staying in NY (either because they live in NY or had arranged to stay another week), and I was going back to Alabama where I know the energy and opportunities would be smaller. So part of me felt reluctant to leave. It's kind of like the last day of summer feel like you've been in the exciting environment where a lot has happened in a very short period of time and you've made some really strong connections, and you suspect that when you leave and go back to your "real" life that it will all feel like dream.

Looking Back...

Overall my experience at Tribeca this year was great. I can't think of anything I would have done differently, though I do regret that I didn't have more time and energy to see films. One of the differences of experiencing the festival as part of the TAA program or even as a visiting filmmaker screening a completed film at the fest is that you are there primarily to work, not to play, and particularly if you're only there for a few days (as I was) you don't get the opportunity to just experience the festival as a movie lover.

Stevie Wonder singin' "Ribbon in The Sky" at the L.A. showing of Morris Chestnut's play Love In The Nick of Tyme while Lorretta Devine enjoyed the show, no doubt being impressedy ex-"American Idol" sason 2 contestant Trenyce Cobbins. On the opening night for the play, Elise Neal, Michael Beach, Marlon Wayan and Terry Crews venturin' to the Kodak Theatre.

Don Cheadle, Claudia Jordan and Ananda Lewis playin' poker at the 2007 UHI Celebrity Poker Tournament at the Playboy Mansion.

Fox Atomic COO John Hegeman and Cassandra Butcher, VP of Publicity for the studio, holdin' court recently in London at the post premiere party for the studio's much anticipated release 28 Weeks Later. The affair was b
rimmin' with A list Brits who joined Harold Perreoneau and the film's other stars at the party till you drop affair.

Everyone was havin' a ball at Chris Brown's 18th birthday party on May 5th in NYC at the 40/40 Club and the Riverbank State Park Gymnasium. Instead of just a star-studded gala, the singer/actor also threw a celebrity basketball game benefitting St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. The half-time performance was given by Juelz Santana. And guests included: Jennifer Hudson (pictured w/ the birthday boy), who sang "Happy Birthday," Sanaa Lathan, Rihanna, Jo Jo Simmons ("Run's House"), Remy Ma, MTV’s "Sweet 16" show recorded all the action.

Hip-Hop artist/actor Method Man playin' arcade games at the ESPN Zone Baltimore and watchin' the NBA playoffs.