Hollywood Icon Robert Townsend
By Brandon I. Brooks
Sentinel Entertainment Editor
Producer, director, writer and star of motion pictures continues to make history with new award winning web series, documentary, national tour and two new movies.
Robert Townsend, multi-talented Hollywood heavyweight, proves again to be one of the hardest working icons in Hollywood with his new documentary (Why We Laugh), two new movies (Phantom Punch and Of Boys & Men), a national tour (Ultimate Pitch Master Class), award winning web series (Diary of a Single Mom) and still making time for his philanthropic efforts with his Robert Townsend Foundation. A visionary and innovator, Townsend has set a new standard for creating in the midst of Hollywood’s challenges.
Back in the news with a hot award winning web series entitled, “Diary of a Single Mom,” Townsend’s web series is a powerful drama that chronicles the lives and challenges of three single mothers (from different nationalities and backgrounds) and their families trying to get ahead despite obstacles that all single mothers face, such as childcare, health, abuse, education and finances. The innovative web series stars Hollywood legends Billy Dee Williams, Richard Roundtree, and actors Monica Calhoun and Leon (The Five Heartbeats).
“There are not that many movies starring African Americans and there is less in television programming so the web is the new frontier,” said Townsend. “So I put together and all-star cast for my first web-series and the response has been incredible because the web is truly the future. For example, I went on the radio, I was talking to Tom Joyner and the next minute I got 60,000 hits from just two minutes on the radio. So to me the web is the future so you don’t have to wait for programming to say it’s going to be on this network this night. I could say it’s on network right now, go to www.pic.tv and you can check out the show. ”
If that’s not enough to keep the versatile Hollywood heavyweight in the headlines, Showtime movie network is currently airing two projects directed by Townsend, “Phantom Punch” and “Why We Laugh.” “Phantom Punch,” is a boxing biopic which stars Ving Rhames as legendary boxer Sonny Liston. “Why We Laugh,” is a documentary based on a book by Darryl Littleton long time friend of Townsend and it explores the different styles and eras of black comic expression and how it has impacted American culture. The film is narrated by Angela Bassett, and features comedians and cultural critics such as Bill Cosby, Dick Gregory, Chris Rock, Steve Harvey, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Whoopi Goldberg, Sherri Shepherd, Paul Mooney, Members of Congress and many other pioneers and notables giving their opinion on the influence of black comedy on America.
“I love comedy and he (Darryl Littleton) convinced these guys Code Black (Entertainment) to put it together,” said Townsend when referring to how he got involved with the documentary project “Why We Laugh.”
“Because I love comedy it was a chance for me to reflect back on heroes of mine as well as to catch up on what the new cats are doing. So everybody I called to do interviews came aboard. So Bill Cosby’s in it, Chris Rock, the Wayans (Brothers) and Steve Harvey, so I just feel blessed that everybody I reached out to responded.”
Townsend will also display his talents in front of the camera this summer as Angela Bassett, Robert Townsend, Faizon Love, Victoria Rowell and Bobb’e J. Thompson star in Of Boys & Men. A touching movie about the journey of a family after a husband loses his wife in a fatal accident and has to raise his three children on his own. The story is seen through the eyes of the youngest son, who discovers through the loss of his mother what it means to be a man. The movie is scheduled to be released in honor of Father’s Day this year on June 20, 2010.
Looking to make an even bigger impact on the movie industry, Townsend has created the Robert Townsend Foundation as a venue to create and fund new film content and set up a new distribution model. The foundation’s mission is to open the doors to new and underrepresented artists and create a new model to showcase the new filmmakers to the world.
“Many artists are not trained,” said Townsend.” “So part of the goal of the foundation is to one, be able to train artist and develop artist. And I am like one of twelve guys who get to go into the room with the top executives so everybody else doesn’t really know what it’s like. So then for the foundation it’s to say ‘hey, here’s how you pitch an idea because some people don’t even know the basics.’ It is a whole aspect to pitching ideas. What is it like to be in a room with an executive? How long do you talk? When should you get up? When should you leave? What should you bring with you?”
Townsend was adamant about stressing the importance of proper training and teaching. “My thing is support my foundation so I can create content, help new artists and you know we need more images. We need it. I’ve always tried to put it down, from “The Parenthood” to the “Five Heartbeats,” I’ve always been there. So the thing for me is I am always looking for innovative ways to approach creating.”
Townsend’s innovation is shared and taught through a nationwide tour titled “Ultimate Pitch Master Class.” The three-hour session is designed to teach those seeking careers in film and television how to pitch their ideas to networks and studios. Townsend shares his technique from concept to development, through the various stages of rewrites and pitching to studios as well as providing advice on how to close the deal with clarity, precision and confidence.
“I think for young artist in the business they have to be willing to go the extra mile,” said Townsend. “If there is any kind of key to my success is I have always been able to go the extra mile. I could always figure it out. It’s just really all about hard work and being focused. You get out what you put in.”