Smith: But on the level of studio producers and development execs, do you really think it matters if youre pitching to a woman or a man?
Prince-Bythewood: Oh, completely. For instance, Gale Ann Hurd. Look at the projects shes been involved with and the strong women in those movies. I know she had a hand in that. Women like that are who I gravitate toward, because theyre up-front in saying, "We dont want to do the same crap." Im not getting that from male execs. Only one actually Tom Rothman at Fox, whos an amazing guy. But otherwise, the most exciting meetings have been with women who are saying, Were getting power, lets do something different.
Smith: I know a lot of great women working in the studios, I do. But overall, the product coming out of studios . . .
Prince-Bythewood: Oh, its crap. Dont get me wrong; were in trouble.
Lemmons: But I think the wave of filmmakers coming up is going to change the product so that it doesnt matter who the executive is. Theyre going to see that its cool to green-light this movie, because Love & Basketball did make money, Eves Bayou did make money . . .
Weekly: Something we hear constantly is that in order for any film to be considered a good financial risk, it has to be viable in the international market, which black movies supposedly are not. How does that notion affect the way you conceive a movie, create it, pitch it?
Lemmons: God. How often have we heard that one? How you pitch it is the big one. Definitely. I learned a lot when I was running around pitching Eves Bayou, and theyd ask who I thought the audience for the film was. Id say African-American college graduates, and the room would go dead. I learned to say, "Well, its the Waiting To Exhale audience," and theyd go, ch-ching!
Prince-Bythewood: The word universal is very important.
Lemmons: Yes. You have to say to them, This is a movie for everybody; just like you related to the script, anybody can relate to the movie.
Smith: There was a luncheon during the Democratic Convention where a bunch of filmmakers sat down with editors from Newsweek, and there was an editor who was a Hong Kong correspondent who talked about how she was confused about why black filmmakers are told that our films are not commercially viable overseas. Shed just attended a black film festival in either Hong Kong or Singapore, and it was packed every night. And she said it wasnt the shoot-em-up, hip-hop genre that was popular it was the family movies, the character studies.
Prince-Bythewood: With Love & Basketball, after we had the first screening at Sundance, everyone was hyped. I remember the guy in charge of foreign distribution was like, This could definitely play overseas, because womens basketball is huge overseas. But during the conversation, he said I had to cut 20 minutes from the second half of the movie because overseas audiences dont like long movies and add more to the sex scenes. Im like, There is no more. Its not like I trimmed it there is no more. And then he was like, Well, well try to sell it. After that I got the same thing: It just doesnt sell overseas. I do not understand why someone in London wouldnt get it. Or Japan. Black culture is huge there. And thats why you start to think, honestly: Is it a conspiracy? Because its not even like anyone is trying to change it.
Smith: I wish someone would just really look at the numbers.
Lemmons: You can actually get the information. Ive been going to the Summit for several years now . . .
Weekly: Could you explain what that is for the readers?
Lemmons: The Black Filmmakers Foundation started the Summit, and its expanded beyond filmmakers. Its filmmakers, people in television, producers, executives its like the hundred hottest people. It feels like being in a room of the best and brightest thats out there. They bring in Internet people, black people that you dont even know about that are out there running corporations. They bring them down to the Summit [at a Southern California retreat], and one year we did a study on the international market and the list of black movie stars that sell foreign which is incredibly large and which Hollywood overlooks. They overlook this information, which is factual. You can get a sheet, print it out and bring it into a meeting. Because I think its a myth. I dont know why people wanna believe it.
Smith: I can think of a few reasons people wanna believe it.