Friday, May 02, 2008


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WEB OR BUST...It's all about the Web for movie producer Deepak Nayar (Buena Vista Social Club, Bend it Like Beckham) and Sandy Grushow, the former head of Fox Television Entertainment. The pair recently launched one of the first online studios to reach aspiring moviemakers called Filmaka ( The site solicits short video clips for a competition judged by industry notables and Web users. The site just announced a winner of its first film contest The winner will direct a feature film budgeted at $5 million-plus and produced by Los Angeles-based Filmaka.

A second filmmaking contest begins April 28, with submissions being accepted until June 2. "
Every month we'll have competitions and, a little over a year from now, we will announce another feature film winner," explains Nayar. "We also have a monthly documentary competition. And, FX enlisted Filmaka to develop a comedy series. Filmmakers have until May 11 to submit a short comedy film. The winner will create a full-length TV pilot." Such ventures as Filmaka can only further open sometimes difficult-to-navigate Hollywood circles to people of all cultures--and that is a good thing. Concludes Nayar, "We are in the business of getting behind talent and building their careers."

WHAT TO WATCH...Teamwork. That's the new Hollywood buzzword. Viacom Inc. and five Hollywood studios will join forces to create a new television channel and video-on-demand service. Starting fall 2009, the venture will show movies and television series from Paramount, Paramount Vantage, MGM, United Artists and Lionsgate. Access to the service will cost viewers on a pay-for-play basis. This way of consuming entertainment on viewers' time frame is evident with this model; however if it still misses the multicultural boat, it won't be nearly as successful as it could be.

TOXIC COCKTAIL...Talk about a hot ghetto mess. Gossip blogger Perez Hilton will be joining urban radio station HOT 97's controversial deejay Miss Jones on her show "Miss Jones in the Morning." The Hollywood motor-mouth will only drop in for segments, but we can guarantee the mix of these two will be more than volatile. We're sure Wendy Williams will be listening.

THEN THERE WERE NONE...What's going on with the CSI family? First, Gary Dourdan jumps ship--due to a number of reasons. Now we hear actress Khandi Alexander of "CSI: Miami" won't be returning as medical examiner Alexx Woods. Again, the official statement is it was a mutual agreement. Let's see, however, if the brand continues to include diversity in its casting when replacing both Dourdan and Alexander.

THE THREE PERCENT...The Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) has called for the government to get involved in increasing minority media ownership. This follows a Government Accounting Office comprehensive report released last week on the paucity of minority and women broadcast ownership that found, surprise, surprise, "ownership of broadcast outlets by minorities and women is limited" due to three factors: (1) the large scale of ownership in the media industry, (2) a lack of access to sufficient capital for financing the purchases of stations and (3) the repeal of the tax certificate program. According to the MMTC, minorities own just 3% of the nation's commercial television stations and 7.8% of the commercial radio stations. Always right on time, The A-List has been calling for not only government involvement but for corporate America to partner with minority media owners.

CASE CLOSED...Remember when Keith Beauchamp's 2005 documentary The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till and his investigative work prompted the FBI to reopen the 50-year-old murder case? Well, now the feds are looking to the filmmaker to help them solve other Civil Rights cold cases. He will do so by creating a series of documentaries about each one that will air on History Channel and TV One. Move over "48 Hours Mystery," Beauchamp's on the case.

CHANNEL SURFING...African Americans seem to be loving some ABC. According to the Nielsen ratings for last week, ABC held onto gains made with Black households following debate week. While "American Idol" led the list of top of the 25 most popular TV shows in Black households, overall ABC was the network of choice. The total number of Black viewers watching the top 25 shows was 33.7 million. It remains to be seen if this will ultimately result in ABC adding at least one show of color this fall. We'll be watching.

GOOD FIXINGS...Your heart may crave caviar, but your wallet is leaning toward chitterlings. Veteran media strategist Karen Taylor Bass, founder of TaylorMade Media, will debut "Caviar & Chitterling" ( on, May 6. To get the party started, LeGrande Green (, former senior booker for "The Oprah Winfrey Show" will join Taylor Bass to discuss how to package, pitch, and get noticed by top TV producers.
LIVE FROM...The Newport Beach Film Festival. This year the fest (April 24-May 1) opened to sold-out screenings. Media darlings Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt from MTV's "The Hills" surprised fans with an impromptu walk down the red-carpet at Fashion Island for the screening of Sherman's Way. Due to its high-profile exposure at the Newport Beach Film Festival Inside The Circle: A B-Boy Chronicle was picked up for distribution by Cinema Libre Studio. Steve Wozniak (Co-Founder of Apple) along with the rest of the cast arrived on Segways for their screening of Camp Woz: The Admirable Lunacy of Philanthropy. In the film, Joe Patane, a social worker, and Wozniak welcomed ten emotionally and behaviorally challenged young men from New Jersey, ages 14-20, into Wozniak's home, for the inaugural week of Camp Woz, which is focused on community sensibility, creativity, independence, and technology.


WEEZY, MOVIE STAR?...Lil Wayne, who once told a reporter he thought he was too "ugly" for films, has just signed on to star in Patriots, based in his hometown of New Orleans. He'll join Forest Whitaker, Isaiah Washington, Taraji P. Henson and Bow Wow in the true-life sports drama about high school basketball coach Al Collins, who a year after Hurricane Katrina takes his team of displaced students from various city schools to a state championship. Tim Story (Fantastic Four, Barbershop) directs the The Weinstein Co flick.



AT&T Inc. has announced it will launch a new video service for cell phones on two of its phone models via AT&T Mobile TV. This joins AT&T's other mobile video service, CV, which is based on different technology and works like Internet video, providing short clips on demand. The new service will be more like traditional TV broadcasts, constantly streaming shows on airwaves that run alongside regular cell-phone spectrum. AT&T Mobile TV will be available in 58 markets, including Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. The only AT&T handsets that will initially work with the service are the LG Vu and the Samsung Access. In all, there will be 10 channels available.


Being the heir to Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical company millions didn't pigeonhole Jaime Johnson into becoming the male version of Paris Hilton--flitting about the globe from one party to the next.

As we all know, Johnson instead decided to explore his wealth in a usual way: He's making films about it. First came Born Rich, a 2003 documentary film in which he followed around other 'rich' kids and introduced us to a world rarely seen by the masses. "It was just me with a camera, and it wasn't even a professional camera," says Johnson from New York City where his production company Wise & Good Films is based. Johnson's "little" doc got picked up by HBO, received two Emmy noms and set Johnson off on a mission. "Those [the Emmy] nominations were a total surprise. This was just a little film I was making; I didn't even think I would sell it," he says.

Due to that endeavor's success, he decided to further assess the impact of wealth and has completed another documentary called The One Percent, which analyzes the impact of one percent owns roughly 40% of the country's wealth. In it, he interviews Bill Gates Sr., U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and economist Milton Friedman. "I wanted to explore why so few have so much while the masses are struggling," says Johnson. "And to be able to talk to people like Bill Gates about this was incredible." To say The One Percent is timely during this election year is an understatement. "I made this film because it was something I don't think people in power, the politicians are talking about," says Johnson. "It's for this to be talked about in order to solve this problem."

Johnson, who majored in American History at New York University, says studying people has always been a hobby and filmmaking was a natural progression. Though he admits Hollywood isn't always easy to navigate. Luckily he got a few tips from his uncle, screenwriter and novelist Dirk Wittenborn. "He was extremely helpful [in explaining the industry] and encouraging," says Johnson. Wittenborn is credited as one of the producers on Born Rich.

With two much-acclaimed docs under his well-money belt, Johnson says he is next venturing into feature films, though again his base will be small. "I don't want this large production company with a lot of people. Right now it's just me and a camera person," says the scaled-down Johnson. "I just want to do films I am interested in making. Nothing more." And, obviously, nothing less.



Internet usage among African-Americans is growing--with recent reports projecting 25 million African-American Internet users in 2011, up from 19.6 million in 2006. So it was only natural that sooner or later a full-scale search engine would be created to fulfill what is pegged as a lucrative market segment on the Web: African-American's online research needs.

"We found that while people are used to search engines like Google, many complain that it is hard to find in searches information that is specially related to African
-Americans, " says Kevin McFall, Vice President, Products. "The information may come up on the search but it is way down on page 10. We bring it up to page 1." was officially launched April 10th and is a venture by Black Web Enterprises, a company owned by Barry Diller's IAC, the $6 billion giant behind and, among others.

"We have major backing behind us," says McFall. "When our president Johnny Taylor, who worked at IAC, proposed the idea to Barry Diller, he liked it immediate. And we had to be ready to roll as soon as possible. When you get the go from someone such as Barry Diller, you go full force."

Headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, promises to deliver an unparalleled digital experience by combining mainstream search results with those tailored to black audiences, which includes African Americans, Afro-Latinos, Caribbean-Americans, and others of African heritage.
"Since this is a global venture, we wanted to include all people of African descent," says McFall. "I think we are the only Internet venture to do so."

But RushmoreDrive, which is named after its street location, won't stop with just being a search engine. According to McFall, the site will include original content. "We will offer helpful articles and information for our users," he says.

On paper, RushmoreDrive appears to have all the bases covered. But can it take on a giant like Google? "Well, we are serving a market that is underserved by Google," says McFall. "We want people not to Google It, we want them to Drive It!"

Once again, the Tribeca Film Festival has invaded Manhattan. Taking place from April 23 to May 4, this year's event featured a ton of interesting flicks, lots of star watching (including Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon at the premiere of her film Tennessee), must-attend industry panels, music showcases, and hopefully for the filmmakers, plenty of dealmaking. And The A-List was hot in the midst of it all.

The opening day for the Tribeca Film Festival. So on this balmy spring morning we headed off to The New School to pick up press credentials and it's all rather smooth sailing. No lines, no major confusion except for a minor hiccup about the registration location at the last minute. But that was rather quickly resolved.

The options for Tribeca has always been a bit overwhelming, and this year with more than 900 screenings and 53 world premieres to choice from, we're torn as to what to see and what to do. But to make the fest more manageable, the organizers have installed a few new things. One of the most obvious changes is that the venues for screenings had been condensed to locations in the East Village in rather close vicinity to the press office--meaning one doesn't have to run around town. Plus, it gives the festival more of a cohesive feel. Also the intranet for the festival could not be more comprehensive and accessible.


The festival kicks off with a Hollywood red carpet frenzy with the screening of
Madonna's new documentary, I Am Because We Are. Directed by Nathan Rissman, the movie depicts the struggles and hardships facing the children of Malawi, an African country ravished by poverty and HIV.

Madonna, who is in
the process of adopting boy from Malawi, is the film's executive producer, writer and narrator. Among the celebs we spotted at Madonna shindig were gal pal Rosie O'Donnell, designer Donna Karan and actress Bernadette Peters. But there is so much else to see and do. So we head off to plot of the strategy for getting the most out of Tribeca. There was, however, a dark cloud looming just beneath the surface.

While a bright breezy day in New York City, a darkness was about to overcome the city. Just around 9:30 AM the verdict is back from the murder trial of Sean Bell, who was shot and killed by NYC police on the eve of his wedding. The not guilty verdicts seemed to almost immediately engulf all of New Yorkers, including those folks in town for Tribeca. Even jaded industry folks were buzzing about the outcome--and what might happen in the city in lieu of it. For us, we decided to now gravitate more gravitation towards movie/documentary Tribeca offerings that addressed social injustice.

One was Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans. It is a first-person documentary by New Orleans natives Dawn Logsdon and Lolis Eric Elie. The film addresses the trials and tribulations of the community of Faubourg Treme, better known post-Katrina via the media as the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. The documentary is powerful because it draws the viewer into the sensibility of the community. It's like a family reunion, going through the family album and getting a sense of one's past. Yes, you do find out how proud, smart African Americans were before and after the Civil War, but the viewer also see it all snatched away post Reconstruction. This is the story of Blacks' struggle for dignity, freedom and equality continues with exploration some of moderate gains due to the Civil Rights Movement and ends in a disaster called Katrina. But WAIT! - It's not over- the film seems to be saying "We've will not give up, give in or go away."

Today was Mariah's day. Mariah Carey, that is. After a horrible showing in her film debut, Glitter, the singer is easing back into the film world with Tennessee. The world premiere seemed well received. Directed by Aaron Woodley, it follows two brothers on a soul-searching road trip to find their estranged father. Along the way they meet a waitress played by Carey. While not blockbuster material, this should play well in art houses and small venues--and maybe pave the way for Mariah to make a bigger film in the future.

Taking a short break from the action, The A-List comes back rested and strong for the rest of the festival. More on that in our next installment, Monday.--dan k. williams

The A-List was running a bit late for ASCAP's special invitation-only star-studded tribute to composer/producer/arranger/conductor Quincy Jones to celebrate the music master's 75th birthday. But as we approached we noticed we weren't the only ones. Some major A-List names were still making their way into the Nokia Theatre in NYC's Times Square. Once all got settled, they were in for a spectacular treat--each performance tribute topped the next. Among the serenading Jones were: the legendary Lesley Gore; the incomparable Tony Bennett; Tevin Campbell; Tamia, looking gorgeous in a gray dress adorned with a red belt, and sounding equally magnificent; James Ingram was EXCELLENT! and the crowd--especially the women--went wild during his set; Ashford & Simpson along with the extremely talented Siedah Garrett; James Moody joined Take 6; Gloria Estefan, who looked great by the way, performed her own hilarious version of "Me and Mrs. Jones"; Roberta Flack performed "Eternally." Al Jarreau, Patti Austin, Clark Terry, Opus 118 Harlem School of Music, Greg Phillinganes, Savion Glover, the cast members of the Broadway musical Stomp, and James D-Train, who sang "In the Heat Of The Night," also graced the stage. Jones was also honored with the prestigious ASCAP Pied Piper Award, presented to him by ASCAP president/chairperson Marilyn Bergman. The ASCAP Foundation also established a fund in Jones' name to benefit aspiring music creators. Proceeds from the evening were donated to the fund in his honor. And of course, the house was also packed with celebs, including Johntá Austin, opera diva Kathleen Battle, producer Jellybean Benitez, Hal David, Jon Faddis, Michael Feinstein, Whoopi Goldberg, Chuck Jackson, Hal Jackson, Johnny Mandel, Melle Mel of Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Julie Taymor, Jimmy Webb, Bebe Winans, singer/songwriter Gordon Chambers, and musician/TV producer Ray Chew. --Jaleesa Brown

The A-List is: Lauren Coleman, founder/co-publisher...Ann Brown, co-publisher...Melissa Ross, European correspondant...LeAnne Lindsay, contributor...Anthony Davis, contributor...Gil Robertson, contributor...Dan Williams, contributor...Jaleesa Brown, contributor...Clemetine Clarke, columnist.

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