75: Russ Parr/MYHHTV.com
To subscribe to The A-List, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A FABULOUS MESS...Sorry kidz, but we just had to kick off this issue with a big, ol' fat gloat. Why? Because while one of this past week's Hollywood Reporter cover stories was about the ad backlash and negative reaction to BET's new lineup, particularly "Hot Ghetto Mess," we would just like to say that once again The A-List's crystal ball saw this coming as reported in our BET Upfront recap, which questioned a majority of the upcoming programming for a variety of reasons (thealistmagzine.blogspot.com/2007/04/65.html). Yes, dear reader, by now you are well aware that such advertising heavyweights as Home Depot have pulled out of BET's on-air and on-line platforms due to what they see as questionable content. Why BET's creative realm, headed up by Reggie Hudlin, thought shows such as "Hot Ghetto Mess," "Hell Date," and "S.O.B." should get the green light in the first place is what is troubling though, and indicative of the network's consistent two steps forward, one step back progress. However, in the competitive world of ad dollars for content, we'd say somebody is probably making the next chess move to scoop up this new found mini-pot of gold. Sad thing is, there is more interesting drama at present surrounding the network than ON the network. Let's hope they can turn things around. Of course, we'll be watching.
GOD SAVE THE QUEEN...In more positive news from BET, the company has just teamed with UK Internet TV firm Brightcove to distribute ad-supported Internet video channels there. BETonBlast.co.uk is set to debut later this summer. After the current programming backlash, let's hope the network will be choosier in the images it beams out across the globe.
LOST IN SPACE...As we know, the characters in film and on television all begin with the vision of the writers. But what if that vision is sadly lopsided? We recently overheard a "Ghost Whisperer" producer, a TV consulting producer for "The Dead Zone," and TV story editor who works for "Prison Break" admit to the fact that there is a virtually a black hole in TV writing rooms when it comes to people of color. According to a fly on the wall at a recent industry gathering, "The Dead Zone" producer said, "In my many years of writing in this genre, I have yet to see one person of color in the writing room." Added the producer for the "Ghost Whisperer," "I don't remember seeing one either." In 2007 this is just ridiculous. So we at The A-List would like to at least give some suggestions (after all, if it's all about fantasy, there would be all kinds of hues and creatures.) Let's start now: Black Sci-Fi fiction queen Octavia Butler may be gone, but novelists Tananarive Due, Steven Barnes, or even Black science fiction trailblazer Samuel R. "Chip" Delaney could easily be nominated. Taking note, Hollywood?
TINSELTOWN TEN-HUT...It's on again. It's taken nearly two years, but we hear from the Wayans camp that once again they are in talks with the City of Oakland to build a film production studio there. If these new negotiations work out, the facility will be housed on 70 acres and in an old Army base. Happy to see, but it didn't eve take the Pyramids this long to be built, did it? We were awaiting comment, but if it takes as long to get one as it is to get this project off the ground, we may just be in limbo for a minute!
DIVA TO DIVA...If you haven't heard yet, actress Robin Givens (left) has signed on to play shock jock Wendy Williams (right) in The Queen Of Media, a adaption of Williams' tell-all autobiography, Wendy's Got The Heat. The Furqaan Films production is set for release in 2008, says Nicole Spence, who keeps things running smoothly over at "The Wendy Williams Experience." Auditions have wrapped up, though no exact word on other casting or what studio is attached. But, says Spence you can make sure "Wendy will be very involved."
IDLE GOSSIP...Don't believe everything you read--but count on The A-List to always get the real scoop. While earlier this week the rest of the media was abuzz that Beyonce was in talks with Disney to star as "Aida" in a film adaptation of the Broadway musical based on Giuseppe Verdi's Italian-language opera of the same name, we asked our connect over at the studio, Heidi Trotta, who says it's all pure rumor. Whew, that was a close one. In fact, one more singing role for this talented star, and we'd have to throw in the towel.
IDOL THREAT...Sometimes the best acting comes from the untrained. Since her TV movie debut on Lifetime's The Fantasia Barrino Story: Life Is Not A Fairy Tale based on her autobiography, "American Idol" Fantasia continues to prove she's a formidable actor. She's gotten rave reviews for her current Broadway stint in The Color Purple, and according to The New York Daily News, she's been approached to take on another play. If it pans out, Barrino will have the lead role in a production about the famed Ada (Bricktop) Smith, an African-American expatriate in 1920s Paris who became a nightlife superstar. The Great White Way is getting a much needed infusion of hue.
HE'S GOT THE MOVES...The few who still doubt the power of reality TV to boost one's career should take a look at Shane Sparks. While already known by the inner Hollywood circle as a celebrity choreographer (having worked with the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Marques Houston and Omarion), now millions now know his name since he's been welcomed into living rooms via Fox's dance competition show "So You Think You Can Dance?" With the added exposure, Sparks is taking the opportunity to venture out into to film producing, Sparks tells us exclusively. "All choreographers are typically also directors and producers eventually. It is the next step in the biz," says Sparks.
Look for an indie film entitled Backdown, about, guess what, the urban dance world. "Basically it is like a You got Served Part 2 but from a girl’s point of view with much more emphasis on dance quality. You Got Served was great, but we want to step it up." The low-budget flick goes into production this month, with a planned release for 2008. Don't think, however, Sparks, is totally given up his day job. He already has a slew of choreography gigs on his calendar and says, "I will be at the Orange bowl in Florida in December and possibly on an American Bandstand-type show coming to TV soon." Obviously, Shane is playing it safe and smart with Backdown. With the flood of such films, it could be a misstep--or a surprise hit!
GO WEST...FUEL TV thinks West Coast culture is so hot that it's decided to launch a special festival. Dubbed the Swerve Festival, it will annually celebrate West Coast art, film, music, and action sports and will kick off Sept. 28 for two days. And the festival is now accepting entries of independent feature and short films, music videos, live music performances and original art installations. Visit: http://www.swervefest.com/. Let's see if they include the West Coast rap scene, low-lows, Hyphy, Clowning/Krumping, etc.
CHECK THE DNA...We wonder if the scholarly audiences of PBS is ready for reality TV. It seems the producers behind two critically acclaimed PBS broadcasts "African American Lives" (2006") and "Oprah's Roots" (2007) are producing a reality show of sorts with professor and Black culture mouthpiece Henry Louis Gates Jr. For "African American Lives 2" an all-new group of men and women (including a poet, pop star, theologian, comedian, publisher, an actor, a radio personality, and rock ’n’ roll legend) will search for their roots. But here's the reality show twist: From the 2,000 viewers who sent in applications to have their own DNA tested, the producers selected one winner. That lucky person will also having his/her ancestry revealed when the series premieres in February 2008. Let's see if any of them will be as surprised Gates says he was when he found out more of his ancestors came from Ireland and France than from Africa! "African American Lives 2" is a co-production of Thirteen/WNET New York, Kunhardt Productions and Inkwell Films. Executive producers are Gates Jr., William R. Grant and Peter W. Kunhardt.
TRIBECA CATCH...When film newbie Charisse Waugh headed to this year's Tribeca Film Fest as part of Tribeca All Access (TAA), little did she realize she'd some home with a deal. Singer Alicia Keys and her year-old film company Big Pita, Little Pita Productions have just bought the rights to Catfish, a script written by Waugh. "I had no representation or access to the film community," Waugh tells The A-List. "And TAA's mission statement said I was exactly the type of artist they were looking for. I had never, ever heard of anything like that. It seemed like an incredibly huge opportunity--too good to be true. I knew that they received tons of applications, but I threw my script into the ring anyway. I was very surprised when I got the call [to participate]." No word on budget or when Keys and her longtime manager/production partner Jeff Robinson will develop the script. But be sure it will be--NYC-based Big Pita, Little Pita has landed a first-look deal at Disney.
HE'S A BAD MOTHA...Richard Roundtree, who forever will be remembered as Shaft, is taking on a way different role. He is in the middle of filming a live-action version of the '60s cartoon "Speed Racer" in Berlin, Germany, for Warner Bros. With Matrix creators--Larry and Andy Wachowski--behind the project you can expect something unique. Roundtree plays Ben Burns, a racer-turned-commentator who is a hero to Speed. Matthew Fox, Christina Ricci, Susan Sarandon and John Goodman are also in the pit. Thank goodness, the Wachowski brothers seem to believe in diverse casting.
CLOSED CIRCUIT...For those keeping score about the almighty upcoming 700 MHz auctions, the CTIA-The Wireless Association filed ex parte letter last week with the FCC. Signed by 44 small and regional wireless companies and organizations, the letter expresses wireless carriers' opposition to the FCC's consideration of open access proposals in the 700 MHz Service Rules proceeding. But looks like the FCC just may help out the little guys for a change no matter how loud the current carrier giants roar. Great to see action being taken, now let's see what really happens for new players in this realm. Thing is, how many of those new players may actually end up being Black companies, given the hefty price tag!
CELEBS ON PARADE...Call it a show with legs. "nCONTRAST," the Urban entertainment show formerly seen on the now-defunct Black Family Channel, is heading to BETJ on July 17--and it's going from bi-weekly to weekly. Described as an Urban "Entertainment Tonight," the show is set to give yet another run on Black entertainment news programming, let's see if it will garner the ratings to stay in the lineup.
LEGAL BRIEFS...With many Civil Rights cases making their way just now to trial or for re-investigation, George C. Wolfe is right on time with his new film, Blood on the Leaves, based on a 2004 novel by Jeffrey Stetson. Wolfe is still wrapping up Nights in Rodanthe for Warner Bros.
SPEEDY DELIVERY...With prices less restrictive, more and more Black folks are using broadband. According to a new study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, about 40% of African Americans now have broadband, compared with 14% two years earlier. But Blacks still lag behind Whites. What will be even more interesting is how this news may affect upcoming broadband programming and one has to wonder if reported "redlining" has anything to do with these stats, rather than pocketbooks.
PREEMPTIVE STRIKE?...Well, looks like the week is never quite complete without a bit of controversy. Seems the NAACP is very concerned over Hollywood's commitment to diversity. In response, African American Film Critics Association (http://www.aafca.com/) president and A-List contributor Gil Robertson IV issued a statement: "Despite lip service to the contrary, Hollywood is still woefully negligent when it comes to promoting minority talent to the networks and production studios. The recently announced fall TV season and 'soft' summer film lineup certainly indicates a disconnect on some level when it comes to minority talent. In an effort to quell a growing storm of protest, the NAACP just requested employment data from all the major talent agencies in Hollywood that will be included as part of the organization's follow up to its 2003 landmark "Out of Focus, Out of Sync" report. Says Robertson, "The major agencies in Hollywood have long failed to employ minority agents, and this environment has created an insensitivity to the importance of diversity at the networks an d throughout the entertainment industry."
HIP HOP HOLLYWOOD
I WANT MY HHTV...They're calling it the world's first Internet Hip Hop Television Network (HHTV). Myhhtv.com; launched in beta earlier this year and has been broadcasting original Hip Hop programming based on the four elements of Hip Hop (rhyming, graffiti art, DJing, and breakdancing) on the web 24/7 ever since. So we thought we'd find out a bit more about the man behind NYC-based HHTV--founder/CEO Ganiu "Scrills" Ladejobi.
The A-List: When was the launch of HHTV?
Ganiu Ladejobi: The site has been up since Feb. as a beta version, but we officially came out of beta on May 3.
AL: Are their plans to go beyond the Internet?
GL: For the moment, we broadcast solely on the Internet at our website.
AL: How are you backed?
GL: Presently we are self financed.
AL: Why was it necessary to launch HHTV?
GL: It was important to launch a television network that catered to our culture in an authentic, balanced, entertaining and innovative way. So as young individuals that grew up on Hip Hop and love our culture, we decided to take things into our own hands and create an outlet that caters to us exclusively.
AL: Who is the target audience for HHTV?
GL: Our target audience is within the age range of 13-34.
AL:What are the long-term goals for HHTV?
GL: Some of our long term goals include exploring different ways to distribute our content and more innovative features. We're a pretty creative crew and we have so many plans for the future, but I don't want to let it all out yet. You can definitely look forward to some great things from HHTV.
GANGSTER MENTALITY...When it comes to covering the gang culture on film, we thought we had been there and done that--until we heard about Gangster With A Heart: The Noonie G. Story. It spans the Black-American gangster culture during the last 20 years in Chicago and tells the true-life story of Harold“Noonie” Ward, a former high-ranking member of the Disciples (reportedly the largest criminal organization in the United States back in the day). Ward went from gangbanging to actually becoming one of Chicago’s entrepreneurial and philanthropic elite. Coodie & Chike, the directing team for Kanye West’s “Through The Wire”and “Jesus Walks” music videos, directed the film, which is narrated by West and Common and will be released Aug. 21. So, The A-List spoke with executive producer John D. Curran and co-executive producer Ward.
The A-List: Why did you decide to go straight to DVD?
John Curran: We wanted to avoid going through the red tape of taking the movie to theaters. We thought it would take much too long and we figured this DVD needed to be seen now.
AL: Can you give us an idea of the budget?
Harold "Noonie" Ward: About $700,000 to $1,000,000.
AL: Who is distributing?
JC: Select-O-Hits Distribution.
AL: How easy was it to get Kanye West and Common on board?
HW: Kanye West and Common are both from Chicago and they had heard about me and they were happy to be a part of the project.
AL: Why did you want to tell this story?
HW: We felt it was a story that needed to be told in today’s world and it fits every genre.
AL: Upcoming projects?
JC: Noonie is currently shopping for a book deal.
PASSING IT ON...A while ago we told you about filmmaker Tim Greene taking it to the 'hood. He's been on a campaign to bring the art of film making to low-income areas. The Lil Homeez director is set to "I do these events because it opens up a whole new world for these kids," says Greene. "These kids never had a chance to hold a camera or boom mic or even see themselves on camera...I do these events in low income areas because I feel that it is where they need them most...There is great talent in the hood and you don't have to be a statistic." So look for a Greene filmmaking workshop in a 'hood near you.
FILMING ON THE FLY
He had the money--$10,000, mostly for a tax refund. The next challenge was obtaining a script. So he penned one in two weeks. He solicited actors and a crew--though at times it was hard to retain them, especially since many worked for little or no pay. And even harder to attract Black crew members.
"The sad thing when I sent out the notice, I specifically asked for all ethnicities to submit, especially African-American," he says. "I did not receive one submission, I couldn't believe it. So many projects are for free, but our pay was minimal ranging depending on job from $50-200 a day. I had to call in a few [Black] friends to join the crew; I was pleased we had a bit of a mix with Hawaiian, Latino, White, Asian, Black."
"We filmed for five days in Long Beach and Los Angeles," says Traylor of his guerrilla filmmaking stint. "We had a great DP, but no one was really a true professional. We didn't have someone who had extensive experience, so it was a bit of us shooting form the hip," he says. There weren't a lot of mistakes, but I learned that if you plan everything out, it's going to save you time and money. One thing I discovered is that in whatever you do get a strong AD or at least a production manager who can run things."
Despite the harrowing experience of filming--and just a short mind you--Traylor is tackling a feature next year. "I'm going to do a full three months of pre-production," says the filmmaker. "We want our films to speak to something--especially for Black males seeing our movies--while entertaining you." In fact, the feature will be about another controversial topic--"It's about someone seeking vengeance on those who inflict abuse upon children," says Traylor, who is also writing the script. --Anthony Davis
MEDIA ATTACK: RADIO JOCK RUSS PARR TACKLES THE MOVIE INDUSTRY ON ALL FRONTS--WRITING, DIRECTING, PRODUCING
Being heard every weekday by more than 3.2 million listeners obviously isn't enough for Russ Parr, the host of the nationally syndicated "Russ Parr Morning Show," which airs in 45 U.S. cities. Parr, who is also the co-host of the TV One dating show, "Get The Hook Up," has just entered the film arena. He just wrote, directed and produced his first feature called The Last Stand (see review below). It was released on DVD July 10 by Warner Home Video.
But getting The Last Stand made wasn't an easy task. "I wrote the script 10 years ago and peddled it to Hollywood and no one was interested in Black dramas, they're still not interested in Black dramas but I went out and got financing from friends and put up my own money and went in and finally shot it," says Parr. "It's a story based on events in my life; though I embellished on a number of things to give it more of a dramatic flair. Most Comedians who have seen the film say that I hit the topic dead-on--There's a lot of [comic material] thieves, there are a lot of drugs, there's a lot of alcohol abuse, a lot of mental illness."
Once he had the financing--just under a million from Parr's attorney, friends and himself--in place, Parr set a quick pace for shooting. "We shot over a period of 24 days. I was broadcasting my show on the East Coast so I would get up at 2 am and broadcast to about 7am, get to the set around 9am, film 'til around 10-11pm. I slept about 2 to 3 hours a night."
And for The Last Stand, Parr decided to go the route of choice for many indie Black films--straight to DVD. "You have to find someone who believes in putting in a lot of money to take it theatrical," explains Parr. "Going straight to DVD sounds like a bad thing, but it's actually not. Most movies make a majority of money from DVD sales. The landscape is changing out there. I would have loved to have gone theatrical but...you can be the number one movie in the country and still loose your ass. Thousands of dollars for the prints, you have a thousand theaters that's almost $6 million, then you have to advertise which is another $4 million, so you're $10 million in the hole. It's also a matter of people believing in the Black drama, unless you're Tyler Perry there isn't a lot of room right now to pick and choose. So I got a great deal from Warner Home Video, and I haven't seen a deal as good as mine for a first feature film."
Warner came into the picture, after the film had been completed and was making the film festival rounds. "They saw The Last Stand in the Pan African Film Festival and came and saw it at another film festival where I was showing rough cuts of the film," says Parr. "They stayed on me for at least 8 or 9 months saying they wanted the film, but I wasn't totally done with it, and I wanted to see what market was there. They came pretty strong to the table and blew anyone else who had offers out the box.
With The Last Stand in the can, Parr is moving forward with more film projects--using the same formula: keep costs low, calling in friends, and shoot fast. "I'm working on a new film called The Business. We start filming August 19th. It stars Kevin Heart, Quinton Powell, J. Anthony Brown, Kim Whitley and a whole bunch of people with a shooting schedule of 20 days. That's how you save money. You have to be really organized, have people who believe in the script, and you keep moving." But one thing may be different with The Business; Parr wants to go the theatrical route. "I wanted to do The Last Stand because it was drama, and I wanted to do something that humanized us, and for me, if I broke even I'd be happy," says Parr. "So now I'm going to do a comedy because everyone expects a comedy from me. Comedy is easier to sell. But if it goes to DVD, so be it." --words and photo by Anthony Davis
THE LAST STAND, Warner Home Video
Written and directed by Russ Parr, The Last Stand is about the untold story of comedians--those who make us laugh, the pain they often face, and the tragedies they endure along their path. Unlike most straight-to-DVD movies we've unfortunately seen, we were thoroughly impressed by this movie on many levels. It was a low budget, expensive looking, classy, well-written Black contemporary drama loosely based on the experiences Parr back in his days as a struggling stand-up comedian. And Parr created three-dimensional characters who you immediately cared for. There were great performances by actors Darrin Dewitt Henson as Tru Dogg Kincaid, an ex-con troubled with his sexuality; Guy Torry as Reggie Sinclaire, a young man who deeply desires to be a comedian but is tormented by the demons of addiction; Todd Williams as Bo Clark, a man struggling to raise a family and be a comedian; Anthony Anderson as Jay, a drug-dealing veteran comic; and Tami Roman as DeDe Calvin a self-confident woman with the desire to be a serious actress but is haunted by her past of sexual abuse. Some scenes were extremely funny, others quite riveting. The Last Stand is worth being added to collection of classic black films. Not sure that the masses of Black movie watchers, still digesting a diet of badly written films about Black people, will be able to pick up on the powerful subtleties layered in the film. But we certainly hope so. Rating: The A+-List. --A.D.
LOVE & OTHER SOCIAL ISSUES–A ONE MAN SHOW by Malcolm Jamal Warner, L.A.
We would be the first to admit that we were pleasantly surprised and impressed with Malcolm Jamal Warner's one man show Love & Other Social Issues. It was so refreshing to take in an evening of entertainment headlined by a sensible Black man being backed by a musical crew of talented brothers that together gave the evening just the right amount of street credibility.
Warner kicked things off with an introduction, that initially surprised us until we realized that for most people he is still identified as Black America's favorite son, Theo Huxtable. But the show moved along briskly with Warner baring his soul as he shared commentary on the state of contemporary Black life, socially, politically and in pop culture. However, the centerpiece of this production is built around his candid narratives exploring age-old mysteries about women--Black women, specifically. In collaboration with director Denise Dowse, Warner very capably delivered a mature piece combining the right amount of sensitivity and balance that audiences will be able to relate to and enjoy abundantly. We really enjoyed his performance and highly recommend this show as a must-see! Rating: The A+ List --Gil Robertson IV
LIVE PERFORMANCE REVIEWS
LAURYN HILL, Hammersmith Apollo, London
The girl had mad energy but the sound system was horrible! She also rearranged many of the songs to the point that they were unrecognizable to the average fan. She looked fantastic, minus the light brown afro. Interestingly enough, the show was at the same venue as The Wu (see review below) just three nights before and they kind of had the same sound problem. Lauryn's was worse because though; rumor had it that people were walking out in droves from the standing area downstairs and asking for their money back (not a good look L. Boogie). The review she got was not too pleasant either. Though we enjoyed the rare appearance.--Melissa Ross
THE WU TANG CLAN, Hammersmith Apollo, London
This was the first time the Wu have all been on stage in years and it was fantastic. Their tribute to ODB was perfect and Method Man doing his drunken, standing stage diving was priceless. And if things couldn't get any better, we got into the afterparty. Sponsored by Bodog Music, it was was hot to death. It also was a birthday shindig for Rza. Notable guests included: The whole Wu posse (except ODB, rest in peace), Clive Owen (yeah, Clive and Rza are boys, whoda thunk it!) and UK singer Corrine Bailey Rae. --M.R.
A producer and reporter for ABC News, Eddie Pinder died of complications from recent heart bypass surgery on July 12. He was 36. According to ABC, Pinder initially recovered after the operation several weeks ago, though complications surfaced recently. Pinder joined ABC in 1997 as a reporter, and was named New York Bureau Producer in 1999. By 2002 he became producer for World News Tonight.
Actor/rapper X1 was found dead in Las Vegas On July 5th. The cause of death hasn’t been announced but, according to reports, the rapper who is affiliated with the rap group Onyx, may have committed suicide. Rapper/actor/producer and Onyx member Sticky Fingaz considered X1 like a younger brother. He was even cast in Fingaz's upcoming film, A Day In The Life. X1, who began his career as a member of Gang Green, most recently was signed as a solo artist on Las Vegas-based Ball’R Records. He was 28.
The Caribbean Heritage Organization, Inc.'s first Tribute to Hollywood and the Arts honored TV and film producer Suzanne de Passe at L.A.'s Museum of History. Some 200 friends, family, and such guests as Tracey Edmonds, president/COO of Our Stories Films, Sidney Poitier, Debbie Allen (who was the host), and Style Network's host Niecy Nash turned out.
Suzanne de Passe, family, and friends on the blue carpet --Photo by Alice Fuller
SHOUT OUT TO THE A-LIST POSSE: ANTHONY DAVIS, GIL ROBERTSON IV, MELISSA ROSS!