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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Entertainment Wednesdays: ABFF in NYC: A 4-day Recap

I thought about the various ways I could do this recap.  It can simply be a recap of each day; or maybe a run down of the good, the bad, and the ugly; or better yet, a collage of pictures.  I've decided to mix it up and give you the top 5 events or activities, and what we did/didn't get out of it, followed by some pictures.

#1 Opening Night Movie on Thursday: Our first night in the Apple was exhilarating as the New York Premiere of "Think Like A Man Too" was much anticipated.  Stars Kevin Hart, Terrence J, and Romany Malco were in the theatre, as were Producer, Will Packer; and Director, Tim Story.  Other celebs in the audience included Alfre Woodard, Robert Townsend, and Leon.  The movie kept the audience hyped with "the funny" and it was no surprise that with it's 30 million tally, it was the number 1 box office movie this past weekend.  What we got out of it was the presence of the men, but what we didn't see were any of the ladies from the film.  Word had it that they might have been in Canada promoting the film opening weekend while the men took on NYC. 

#2 Master Classes:  Rhonda took the Producing class with SAGIndie National Director, Ms. Darrien Gipson.  Each attendee was given a booklet that had samples of various budgets.  Scheduling was briefly talked about, and is considered very important when determining the budget. The less days you have, the more your budget will not inflate. There was also a discussion of the responsibilities of a Producer, of which there are many. As it relates to sourcing money, Ms. Gipson recently learned of a new crowdfunding site called "Seed&Spark" that is gaining credibility in the indie film fundraising movement outside of Kickstarter and Indiegogo.  I took the Pitching class with Actor/Director/Producer Robert Townsend.  I got out of it that you need to pitch to literally dozens of people before setting foot into an executive's meeting room.  Also, there are 24 hours in a day, so use it wisely as you build your project to fruition.  A final word of thought is that you often get 10-15 minutes with an executive.  Be prepared: give your characters energetic names; know the character's world; have a budget; and give a passionate 2-3 minute pitch followed by the executive(s) asking questions (and make sure you have the answers).  What I didn't get out of the class was an instruction booklet of what to say or not to say in a pitch, or better yet, how to get into the executive room.  Of the more than 150 persons in attendance, only one has ever pitched their project to an executive that could offer money for the project.

#3 New York:  In the festival's 18 year history, this was the first time held in New York after being in Miami most recently, and previously in California and Mexico.  What's interesting to note, is that the headquarter's has always been in New York, so logistically this was a sound idea.  Many of the celebrities in New York showed up, and were very personable if nicely approached.  However, the move from Miami to New York did have it's hiccups. The subway for example.  There were subway line changes that affected the routes to and from the various locations. And while the distance between the two primary locations was within 10-15 walking distance (we got our walking on), it did not have the close feel that Miami held.  Furthermore, the films in competition were only shown once, and often coincided with Passholder Perk events and activities at the other location. 

#4 Conversation and Talkbacks with Celebrities:  We attended a few celebrity talkback events from the Panel on "Leading Black Men" to the cast of the James Brown biopic, "Get On Up".  Each of them had their sensible moments when they spoke "the truth", but nobody did it better than Phylica Rashad and her daughter Condola.  They have a common mother-daughter banter, and we couldn't help but laugh with the frequent "side-eyes" mom would give to daughter (very reminiscent of our mom).  Not to mention, those "Claire Huxatable" moments that gave reason to her being the ideal mother figure to those in the audience rearing children.  Many who dared ask the question "What Would Claire Do", only to have to watch an episode or two of "The Cosby Show", and they'll be on the right track to an answer.  The only issue we had with all the celebrity talkbacks was the room itself.  It was separated by huge pillars that blocked the view from various angles on the side, middle, and back.  Also, the lighting issue.  Miami theaters are very bright when the house lights are up.  However, New York theaters remained very dark, and this was often an issue when you wanted to take a picture of or with a celebrity.  Yet, no flash photography was allowed, and it dampen the mood a bit when you wanted to approach a celebrity, but afraid to because you couldn't get them in the best light. 

#5 Closing Night Awards & Film on Sunday:  Congratulations are in order for the feature film Cru. They won 5 out of 6 categories. The movie starred Keith Robinson. The closing film was Spike Lee's "Da Sweet Blood of Jesus".  Rhonda and I were super excited because we financially backed this project which made over 1.2  million dollars on Kickstarter.  It had an interesting name, and even the premise, which was not identified until after the money was raised, kept our hopes high that Spike was "back in the saddle again."  So here we are, watching an original Spike Lee Joint, only to find that he used mostly his NYU students as both talent and crew, and what was in our sensibility a storyline that centered on the "life" we have because of the blood Jesus shed, turned left, then right, then left again.  We were looking for Spike to gain his mojo or passion back, but only to find that the only passion in the movie (apart from his dedication of the movie to his brother who died over this past Christmas holiday) took place between the actors, and as sure as day, to garner an NC-17 rating if the movie was to pick up distribution.  In fact, half the people on the back row walked out in the first 15 minutes.  Then there was the lukewarm applause Spike received at the end of the movie.  Yes, we give liberty to artistic taste, but know your audience, time, and place.  We want to know what the meaning of the film was about, not have you answer, "I leave it to your own interpretation."  

So in short, will we go back....Yes....but not for a few years while they get things in NYC together.  In similar vein of thought, we met a few connections from the film festival that we're vetting to collaborate with in future projects, both theirs and ours, and that might keep us busy for some time to come.  In addition, Rhonda and I plan to submit volunteer applications to attend both Sundance Film Festival (Park City, Utah), and the Tribecca Film Festival (NYC) next year.  Application submission period opens soon.  Wish us luck!!

Actor Chadwick Boseman (42) talks about
The James Brown  Biopic Movie "Get On Up"

UP Table Read for three screenplays vying for the opportunity
to go into production to be on the UP Channel. 

The writer narrates, while Actors - Charles Dutton, Brad James,
 Tatyana Ali, & Rising Star Finalists bring the words to life.

CNN's Don Lemon moderates the Hollywood Diversity Report Panel.

The Leading Man Panel with Morris Chestnut,
Omari Hardwick, & Stephen Bishop.

The Hollywood Diversity Report Panel.

Rhonda poses with former Oprah Producer Denise Hendricks.
Ms. Hendricks currently works for Headline News (HLN) in Atlanta, GA

The 18th street station we became familiar with for
the Metropolitan Pavilion ABFF events. 

The 23rd street station (1 line) we ventured thru often as we head
to watch ABFF movie screenings at the SVA Theatre.

Rhonda poses with actor Leon after the
HBO Short Film competition.
Rhonda poses briefly with actor Charles Dutton (Roc) at the
Hollywood Diversity Report Panel.

Jeff Friday, Jeff's wife Nicole, Star Jones, Phylicia Rashad,
Condola Rashad, & other guests.

Phylicia Rashad hugs a young mother who watched
The Cosby Show to learn how to raise her children.

NBC host Tamron Hall, Tika Sumpter, Chadwick Boseman, Director
Tate Taylor, & Nelson Ellis from the James Brown movie "Get On Up"

Rhonda at the American Airlines lounge. After taking this photo
actor Chadwick Boseman (SC Native) came in & Rhonda introduced herself.

Sharee in the American Airline lounge. Great food of hummus & crackers,
trail mix, & water. Many celebrities stopped through: Star Jones, Condola Rashad.

Love, Art, & Activism. Life Essentials: Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee.
Beautiful documentary film by their grandson.

Director Spike Lee prior to the screening of his ABFF Closing Night Film
"Da Sweet Blood of Jesus"

Have you attended a film festival recently? What did you get out of it?

Sharee W.


  1. Hi Sharee and Rhonda! I am so sorry I did not get to attend this festival. I really wanted to go to Bill Duke's workshop, but, it was closed by the time I logged on to sign up. I love going to film festivals when I can. Although I am a writer and, an actor, I have dabbled in film. I did a couple of short films that were shown on educational TV, a few years ago. One of my films was entered into a film festival. I got wonderful and useful comments. I enjoyed the process. It is really exciting when you actually get to hear from the writers, filmmakers and actors about the making of the film. Most people are friendly and willing to share their views about the events at the festival. I get to learn new things and confirm the stuff that is already working.

    Thanks so much for sharing. Please let me know asap when you hear about another great film festival.

    God Bless!
    Betty Jean

    1. I will not be able to attend, but if you are able attend the BlackStar
      Film festival in Philly July 31-Aug 3, 2014. It's been called the
      Black Sundance Film Festival. Directors Spike Lee and Ava DuVernay
      attended last year. Lots of films, documentaries, workshops, and
      networking opportunities...

      One of the things I forgot to mention in the post is that the most
      successful films or TV show is the one with the the most diverse cast,
      writer, and director (Fast & Furious franchise, Scandal, & many of the
      cable shows). Some minorities come onto shows via the diversity programs offered by Network stations, but many more diverse writers, directors, and actors are needed.

      Keep on writing and enter the UP Channel contest next year at ABFF.