Brickson Diamond Photo by: Arayna Eison
(L-to-R)”Roxanne Roxanne” producers Nina Yang Bangiovi and Mimi Valdez, Chante Adams and Brickson Diamond
(L-to-R) David White (National Executive Director, SAG-AFTRA), Kimberly Steward (Producer, “Manchester by the Sea”) and Brickson Diamond
The Co-Founder of The Blackhouse Foundation shares how his background in finance & philanthropy helped to create preeminent programming for African American filmmakers to gain access into some of the most coveted industry festivals from Sundance to Toronto, Tribeca, LAFF, AFI and more.
LAS: Were there any humbling experiences within your career that at the time you thought were detrimental but in hindsight it was actually a learning lesson?
Brickson Diamond: In the last decade I learned an invaluable lesson which was no matter how successful you are at what you do, if it’s not what the company prioritizes, you can’t win. I did something in terms of a business line that my organization just didn’t like. It made a lot of money, it was very successful but as soon as it faltered even a little bit, because they never really wanted to do it, they made sure to take constant and steady aim at me and that decision. The lesson was if they don’t want to do it, they’re not going to do it and even you slaying it isn’t going to make them want to do it. Find some place that wants to do that piece of business and lend your talents to them.
LAS: With Sundance as well as the Toronto International Film Festival being founded in 1976 and The Blackhouse Foundation being established in 2006, how did you and your team gain access into these already structured festivals in a way that they saw value in what you brought to the table?
BD: I would look at the distance of when Sundance and TIFF were founded to when we were founded and what’s significant about that time span is that in order to continue to survive that long, each organization has to continue to refresh themselves and find new pathways, new forms of artistry and new voices–it’s imperative for their business model. We had the advantage of having a series of relationships that drove out of our board’s identity that allowed us to leverage their need for the new. We walked in prepared with all of the legitimacies that they were accustomed to. We came in as festival sponsors with our own financing and our own programming. We came into spaces that they were familiar with, refreshed them and made them new. When you think about the orgins of Sundance, in the beginning it was a bunch of people who got together in a ski resort town to watch their friends movies. Blackhouse was a group of people that were artists and their friends who got together to support people who were making movies to show them in this town that wasn’t really small anymore; it’s now a hub for celebrities, artists, studios and exhibitors from around the world.
We helped make the feeling of Sundance new by going back to that core of why it was founded, replicating it and doing it for black folks. If you look at our first year that we were open in Park City, Utah in 2007, eight days out of ten, the guy who heads programming for the festival shared that every time he had a free moment, he would come and sit in our space because it felt like home.
LAS: With your background being in finance and philanthropy, what drew you to this endeavor as someone that isn’t a filmmaker by trade?
BD: I come from a long line of storytellers: my father taught graduate school theology; my grandfather and Godfather were ministers. And my stepmother was also a minister. My mother sold Mary Kay cosmetics which actually has a lot of relevance because they all told stories in order to sell…which may be considered a dirty word so in order to promote an idea or an ideal.
I went into finance because it allowed me to work around really smart people and tell stories about what they did. So I was a marketing guy, I went in everyday and talked to prospects and clients basically telling them stories that would convince them to buy an idea or ideal. Keeping that in mind, I’ve always loved movies and TV. After college I moved to L.A., then to New York then to Boston for business school. When I came back I was fortunate to work for a philanthropic firm that gave a lot of money. I knew that it was my job to give back and uplift others. Because of my education and my relationships, I knew I needed to do that in a way that was authentic to me.
I came out of the closet when I was 30-years-old and movies were incredibly important to help me envision a life beyond whatever stereotypes there were about my sexuality with my southern upbringing. I got involved with OutFest in L.A.. One year I went to Sundance with some classmates from business school, I was the only African American, single and gay man in the house. I saw “Hustle & Flow” and was mesmerized by the experience. The next year I went back to the festival and I was sitting with Ryan Tarpley who’s the former Chief Diversity Officer for Creative Artists Agency (CAA), Carol Shine who’s a Caucasian TV and film producer from San Diego. She came over and said ‘…We should do this: panels, food and parties for black folk.’ I was very fortunate in my career to have the means to be philanthropic financially as well as with my time and this felt like a really good way to help others tell stories and to help them build careers because my whole mantra around philanthropy is create opportunities and give access. I wanted to make sure that people who should be in the room at the table are there so that’s how Blackhouse was born with that ability, those resources, relationships and that passion around access and opportunity.
LAS: What does relationship building and networking mean to you? How should up-and-coming creatives that attend your events go about creating genuine relationships with some of the more established filmmakers and industry executives?
BD: I’m not a networker, I’m a relationship collector. It’s about meeting people before they get on. Emmy and Oscar nominated director Ava DuVernay is an evolution of the Ava I met coming out of her first film–it’s that Ava that you want to meet and make an authentic connection with because the Ava of today may not need anything from you but the Ava of “I Will Follow” is really excited when you attend her screening in downtown L.A. when she isn’t sure that anyone is going to show up.
It’s less about the folks who are already in the mix and more of the folks that you think are talented because it’s your belief in their talent that’s really going to mean something. in the long run.
When Issa Rae is making “The Misadventures Of Awkward Black Girl”, before it gets it’s first YouTube view, is not only going to be more open to you but she’s going to need you at that stage in her career. You have to a develop a discerning pallets around who has talent and who is together. Because there are people with talent who don’t have it together but when you find someone with that magic combination you support them and help to propel them forward. That’s what creates meaningful relationships. If you’re in your 20s or 30s, I wouldn’t necessarily tell you go find someone in their 50s to be your mentor; instead, go find people in your age bracket that you believe are the flyest people in the world and dive as deeply into them as you can because those are the people that in five or ten years, everyone else around them is going to realize how dope they are and you would have known it all along and they will know that you knew it.
When I see talent, togetherness and then I’m compelled by their content and their voice, I will jump on board and in some cases open my wallet but in many cases, my advice and my council is much more valuable than my dollars.
I was recently speaking to someone about family wanting to borrow money and the reality is, my well of money has a limit but my well of engagement and relationship is limitless.
To learn more about The Blackhouse Foundation visit: theblackhouse.org