A 'Momentum Experience' for Black Filmmakers

A new project offers a distribution alternative for black filmmakers to showcase their movies. Tarice Sims reports on The Momentum Experience.

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ED GORDON, host:

Black filmmakers often struggle to get their movies distributed. This is especially true for those not connected to major studios. Now some veterans of black Hollywood are working on a solution to bypass the usual stumbling blocks to distribution. It's called The Momentum Experience. NPR's Tarice Sims has more.

TARICE SIMS reporting:

Edgar Davis came to Los Angeles two years ago to pursue his dream. He taught filmmaking at Howard University and wanted to do it himself. So far, he's doing a good job. He works on the set of an urban sitcom and also just finished shooting his first feature film, titled "The Good Neighbor Policy," which he financed with unemployment checks. But now comes the really hard part. Getting the film out there.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

Mr. EDGAR DAVIS (Filmmaker): I like to compare it to a farmer, you know. You have all these crops and you plow and you pick your crops and you take them to the market. Now first of all, you need to have some transportation to get it to the market.

SIMS: For many independent filmmakers, festivals are good for exposure, but they don't generate much money and no guarantees. Some black filmmakers go straight to video distributors. That distribution method rakes in 2 to $3 billion a year. But most filmmakers still prefer theatrical release.

The Momentum Experience, a new project backed by Hollywood heavyweights including Will Smith, Blair Underwood and Duane Martin, is trying to move black independent films onto the big screen. Those screens aren't in the places you'd expect though. Project co-creator Nia Hill borrowed from the business model of the Chitlin circuit plays.

Ms. NIA HILL (Co-creator, Momentum Experience): Well, about 10 years ago, the promoters got together--I used to promote in tour theater--and started to create a model that was different than traditional--what they call legit theater. It was a touring model that went around the country, and we would sit in markets, you know, 4,000-seat venues, for a week. And it was kind of a hybrid, live musical-slash-stage play model. And so that, from a marketing promotion standpoint, is sort of where Momentum was born from.

SIMS: The Momentum Experience books films in live theaters and concert spaces. The first film it's distributing is "The Seat Filler" starring Kelly Rowland of Destiny's Child and actor Duane Martin.

(Soundbite from "The Seat Filler")

Unidentified Man: (Rapping) I met this girl and we had this instant connection like soul mates. Her name is Janelle.

Mr. DUANE MARTIN (Actor): So it's sort of like a male Cinderella where, you know, "Notting Hill," "Maid in Manhattan," kind of thing for men. Where, you know, what would happen if, you know, Kelly Rowland, you know, dated the guy at McDonald's or the bus driver, you know--like that would rarely happen. So we're--I'm like taking the guys on a journey of like what would it be like if you were dre--dating a starlet?

SIMS: Duane Martin stars on a successful sitcom titled "All of Us." He says The Momentum Experience opens the door for other African-American actors known and not so known to star in films.

Mr. MARTIN: ...make probably six films a year with African-American leads, and, you know, Will is in one of them, Jamie's in one of them or two of them, Eddie Murphy's in one of them. And it's like, you know, there's very little content for people to go to the next level and to get exposure. We're just trying to create more avenues for people to be creative.

SI MMS: Right now, The Momentum Experience is only committed to one film at a time, but its intention is to make its distribution model contagious in the film industry. Some filmmakers in New York are already trying to mimic the concept. In the meantime, the movement is progressing throughout the nation, continuing the promotion of the film, "The Seat Filler." The first leg of the tour kicked off in July, and it will continue through the fall. Tarice Sims, NPR News.

GORDON: This is NPR News.

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