It is commonly known that prospects and resources for Black filmmakers are scarce. But every Saturday, at TCL Chinese Theater (formerly Grauman’s Chinese Theater), off Hollywood and Highland, industry vets of color unite to mentor to the next generation of multiethnic creative hopefuls eager to showcase and celebrate the kinds of diverse treasures unearthed and cultivated at the Indie Night Film Festival.
The weekly festival is the brainchild of founder, Dave Brown. According to the Indie Night site, the Morehouse alum and entrepreneur made it his goal to unite Hollywood’s emerging talent with heavy weight “movers and shakers” and give the gifted filmmakers a chance to shine and cultivate professional relationships.
Brown references the impact of Doboy’s Dozens, a monthly filmmaker’s showcase (created by Eugene “Doboy” Williams, diseased in 2003) , a program held the last Wednesday of each month at various venues in the Leimert Park area in the 90’s. Doboy’s closed down in the early 2000s. Brown saw a void and created a similar festival that brings to life the creative work of dedicated and talented writers, actors, directors, and producers of color.
Indie Night is an example of what a diverse Hollywood may someday resemble if programs like this, stick. The festival doesn’t boast of being a Black thing but there is a high focus on multi-ethnic stories. Brown is proud of what has been accomplished historically. “Indie Night is the first weekly platform for all writers, directors, actors, and producers in the World!” he said.
The hidden gems of the festival are the appearances of celebrated industry professionals and access to them in the physical, to soak in their words of wisdom and to be inspired by their encouragement. Robi Reed and Stephanie Allain – two symbols of triumph in a men dominated industry – took a moment, in between films, to chat on stage about their prolific careers and fielded questions from the audience.
Reed, a renowned Hollywood casting director and producer, and staunch supporter of the festival, hosted the event. She is currently vice president of Talent and Casting for Original Programming at BET. She has over 50 film and TV credits, with her breakthrough moment coming in casting Spike Lee’s School Dayz, not long after graduating from Hampton University, a HBCU in VA. Reed went on to cast Lee’s iconic films, Malcolm X, Do the Right Thing, Mo’ Better Blues, Crooklyn, Clockers, and Jungle Fever, and has had a hall of fame worthy career to date. She is the first African American to be nominated and win an Emmy for casting.
Reed takes the festival seriously and backs up her public statements by not only showing up to the festival but also by helping to recruit other influential celebrities, supporters, and those pursuing careers in entertainment. “It’s very important to support Indie Night and other projects like this because there are people like me, and other folks who are always here, looking, and you never know who’s going to see you and might give you that call you’ve been waiting for,” Reed said in a video interview.
Award-winning independent film producer, Stephanie Allain, joined Reed on stage as a special guest. Allain is best known for discovering and helping to engineer the early development and career of Academy of Motion Pictures and Arts nominated film director John Singleton of Boyz’ n the Hood fame. She ascended from the position of reader to sr. vice president of Production for Columbia and later ran Jim Henson Productions as president, before forming Homegrown Pictures and producing the Oscar and multi-award winning film, Hustle & Flow.
Allain and Reed have a knack for sculpting contending projects into iconic blockbuster films that become etched in history. According to the Homegrown site, Allain is a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the Producer’s Guild of America, and sits on the board of Women in Film. Allain has been the director of the Los Angeles Film Festival since 2012.
In front of an audience of eager creatives, two of the most influential and powerful women in Hollywood discussed their lives, their victories, hurtles, how and when they leaped, to their newest frontiers, projects and dreams. They also discussed their bottom line when casting actors in projects.
“When you see yourself on the screen, you are validated. That means somebody took the time and the energy, and the money, and the effort to tell a story about you,” Allain said to Reed, then focused on the audience. “When I’m looking to cast a role, I really want the actor to connect spiritually to their character because there’s something so profound about that!”
Allain recounted the challenge in casting Terrence Howard for her uber successful film, Hustle and Flow. She shared that Howard wasn’t the popular choice with studio execs for the role of DJay. But she felt there was an intangible to Howard and his commitment to character development that made her gut-call worth it. “Terry had a feeling in his bones; I knew this was it for me.” Howard went on to win a Best Actor nomination from the Academy of Motion Pictures and Arts, and he racked up substantial awards for his revered performance of DJay, the street thug pimpin’ rapper with an empathetic heart.
Reed conveyed what she looks for in every casting session. “For me, it’s when someone can make the character real. I think the best acting is when we don’t think they are acting,” the Emmy award-winning casting veteran said. Reed gave advice to actors, to be different and bold, to stand out from the rest, especially when the room is overcrowded and the days are long and arduous. “It’s being in rooms with 40 plus, but appreciating the rare times when someone comes in, does something totally different and nails the part.”
It isn’t often that such titans in the film industry are so publicly open and transparent. But in this impromptu talk, Reed took advantage, asking Allain what she would say to her younger self … Allain reflected for a moment. “I would say to the younger me … don’t hold back. Don’t let fear rule, “Allain said. She shared a sense of allegiance with the audience to do away with trepidation and procrastination. “I feel like this is my time … and if I want to do anything, I am going to do it.“ Allain challenged the reassuring audience to do the same.
Indie Night provides exposure to projects such as FLIPPED, a film that centers around a standout high school student-athlete, Christopher Imani, who is on a path to success until one day, things go terribly awry. He becomes overwhelmed by the injustices he faces in modern-day society and finds himself in a dire situation from which there is no escape.
Tyler Street Films, a company spawned by three Hampton University alumni, produced the film. Jack Manning conceptualized the story, Tiffany Elle Burgess wrote the script, and Lawrence “LAW” Watford co-produced and directed the film. The producers were interviewed by emcee DJ QNice.
“To have the film screened in Los Angeles as part of the Indie Night Film Festival was an amazing experience. What matters most to us is that FLIPPED leaves an impact, a lasting impression on viewers. Huge thank you to Dave Brown (Morehouse) and Robi Reed (Hampton U) for this wonderful opportunity!” said Burgess.
Reed reflected to Allain and the audience. “I love to be here. I just love to meet new folks and support new talent, “ she said. After the event, Reed expounded. “Indie Night is a great platform for new and veteran talent to showcase their works. It’s also an opportunity for me to meet skilled performers and artists in front of and behind the camera. It’s important that we support festivals like Indie Night.”
To date, industry heavy weights such as John Singleton, Tisha Campbell Martin, Ruth Carter (Hampton U), Morris Chestnut, and many others have made impacting appearances in the festival. Brown explained the significance of producing a weekly festival. “Why should you wait once a year to be seen and miss all this work in between? We are here to showcase your hard work!”
One audience member received chuckles and accolades from the crowd for shamelessly pitching his project from his seat. A humored Reed and Allain appreciated the audacity and provided the eager producer with helpful information. But that’s what happens when you show up to Indie Night. You gotta shoot your shot!
Indie Night is every Saturday, from 2:30 pm to 5:30 pm, at the TCL Chinese Theater on Hollywood and Highland. For info on Indie Night, future film submissions, tickets and parking, visit http://www.indienightfilmfestival.com/