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Exclusive Interview With Jeff Clanagan, CEO Of CodeBlack Entertainment

Back thanks to popular demand… or maybe I should say black by popular demand…

FINALLY – Here’s the transcript of the phone interview I did with Jeff Clanagan, founder and CEO of CodeBlack Entertainment – maybe the most prominent independent, black-owned and operated vertically-integrated film production and distribution company in the USA.

It was about an hour-long conversation. I apologize for taking so long to post it up. I couldn’t post the audio recording, and so had to get the entire thing transcribed and edited.

Thanks to Cynthia for taking care of it all for me (the transcription and the editing), otherwise it’ll probably still be sitting on my hard drive undone.

And thanks to Jeff for taking the time to talk to me and answer all my (and your submitted) questions.

So, here ya go below, the full transcript, mostly unedited (although there were 1 or two segments I couldn’t post for a few reasons). It’s long, but chock-full of some good information and insight, so take your time:

Tambay: Hey Jeff, how you doin’?

Jeff:  Pretty good.

Tambay:  Thanks for the time.  I really appreciate it.  I know you’re really busy.

Jeff:  Okay…no problem.

Tambay:  I think the consensus is that Codeblack Entertainment is the pre-eminent black owned and operated film distribution company here in the United States.   I guess first of all let me just start with origins.  I know that you guys were founded in 2005, so you’re still relatively young and I’m curious as to what you were doing before that and then what lead up to the founding of the company?

Jeff:  Well what I’ve been doing before that, I’ve been in this business…the entertainment business for twenty five years but previous to that I had a distribution company called Urban Works Entertainment and it primarily, at that time, was dvd distribution of television.  I had Urban Works from 2000 to 2005.  I sold that company and then started Codeblack but it’s Urban Works, I think, in terms of the home entertainment market of distribution.  I was in distribution prior even than studios in terms of the sale-thru model for dvd.  Prior to that, I ran and built Master P film distribution company when there really wasn’t even any.  There wasn’t, at that time, distribution until the retail sector.  So at Urban Works I did the Platinum Comedy series, the Cosby show, Dave Chapelle, a lot of big time.  So I did that for five years. So Codeblack, where “the company” is new, I’m not new in the space.

Tambay:  Right.

Jeff:  I’ve been at the forefront of distribution for the last ten or eleven years.

Tambay:  Yeah, well I figured that you more than likely have.  I’m familiar with you guys, I’ve been familiar with your name even before Codeblack…just in the circles I travel in and attending black film festivals over the years and such.  Okay, my understanding is that Codeblack is primarily interested in “black themed” content.  Is that a good way to put it or is there a better way that I should be saying that?

Jeff:  Here’s the thing…this is one of those business conversations.  If you asked me if  I were interested in black African American theme content? What’s allowed me to still stay in this business for the last ten years, when there’s other studios who’ve tried to get into this space by creating what they called “urban divisions.“  They hire a couple black executives because they’re really trying to get in this space.  My success is due to the fact I’ve been focused on one niche, one genre and it’s a genre that I know.  I know of and I’m very familiar with.  That’s not to say I wouldn’t do something outside of like a latin film or something like that but there’s no reason for me to move outside of this space.  It’s really about building distribution and giving opportunity to black filmmakers because the studios are not going to give black filmmakers these opportunity.  For me, from a strategy standpoint and from a mission standpoint, it’s focusing on black themed film and providing a distribution pipeline.  Building up business opportunities for black themed films.  I don’t have a desire to go above and beyond that and the reason being is that if I go into art house films or whatever, it means I’m competing against fifty other companies.

Tambay:  Right

Jeff:   In my case right now I really don’t have any competition.  I have people that will “play” in the space but there’s nobody really in dedicated resources and built up and brought in executives to really fill out a real company.

Tambay:  Right.  And so far, broadly, how is the industry itself?  How is it treating you?  Are you having a difficult challenging time?  We write about films–black films specifically–and we always have such a hard time finding films that we think are worth writing about.  So I’m wondering if  maybe you’re having the same sort of difficulty finding films to pick up and distribute?  Well, let me back up and say…I think initially I said you’re a distribution company but are you also in  production?  Are you essentially putting up a studio like a mini-studio?

Jeff:  Yes and that’s actually a good question.  As a distribution company, first and foremost, your normal business model is the acquisitions.  You look for finished films or films that people are producing.  Now the reality is finding good films out there is tough. There’s just not a lot of good flow out there.  So, as a distribution company, you can’t  survive on just acquisitions so the question is “yes” we are a mini so “yes” we do produce stuff.  Now my company, keep in mind, is just not film.  I’m doing television stuff.  Actually, I just produced a sitcom that’s going to roll out.  I do a lot of stand-up comedy specials.  So it’s not, from a distributor standpoint or from a studio standpoint, I’m just not focused on feature length film.  I’m focused on the content for the African American market.  And that content can come in the form of a film, can come in the form of a stand-up special…can come in the form of a music concert.  I’m focused on content as opposed to specifically say film, per se.

Tambay:  Okay. Oscillating a little bit into what I was going to ask.  Given that film is not your sole focus…it is one of your focuses.  I guess, for the sake of this conversation, I’m wondering if you are having…what your experiences are in terms of acquiring black cinema…urban cinema?  Are you finding that it’s challenging? Are you finding what you want to find or is it essentially a “crap shot”?

Jeff:  It is really challenging.  It’s challenging for a number of reasons.  The challenge is that you got filmmakers who may go out and raise money.  And enough money to probably produce good films but a lot of times they don’t talk to distributors or maybe some established producers that can help them kind of…help them in the filmmaking process.  They’ll go out, spend the money, make the film and bring you the finish film and a lot of times the films are not up to par. I mean they’re not.  A lot ‘em aren’t up to par for dvd distribution for that matter.  I have to pass on a lot of stuff.  Even specifically just for dvd because the market is so saturated and tough right now.  It’s difficult dealing with the new filmmakers who are able to put together projects and they’re not connecting to Hollywood.  The reality is this…In our space there’s a lot of out-of-work actors, out-of-work black directors that are good and they’re not connecting with “the independent black film committee.” So what happens is that somebody in Nashville might be making a film that might have raised a set of dollars which is enough to do a good indie film.  It just doesn’t have the connections, per se, in Hollywood to connect to the right people who could probably help them raise the quality level of their film.  And then what happens is that when they don’t make that connection and they end up making the film, they bring the film in and it’s not where it should be.  Now, the other part of that which is, I can tell you the more frustrating part is that filmmakers need to learn and understand the business.  I too often encounter filmmakers who are purely on the creative side and are not realistic with the type of film they have.  Every filmmaker that goes and makes a film…I would say ninety percent of  ‘em walk in and say “hey, I want a theatrical.  I want a thousand screens.”

Tambay:  Right

Jeff:  And I’m like “Okay…have you looked at your film versus the theatrical films out there?”  But they’re so blinded by the creative or the time they had invested or it might have been a script they wrote and they’re thinking their film is something that it’s not.  So for me it’s tough to have to tell you guys “no it’s not.” And a lot of times they would go shopping around.

Tambay:  Right

Jeff:  Just don’t take my word for it because I’m the only black distributor. You got Lionsgate…There’s a bunch of distributors out there.  Go shopping.  But they come in with an unrealistic expectation and they come in without an understanding of the business.

Tambay:  Right

Jeff:  That’s where it really gets tough because sometimes there’s films that come in that I actually like that I will sign but if I didn’t think the filmmakers were realistic in their expectations or the understanding of the business I’ll pass.  What happens, when you get in a situation like that, when you really have a filmmaker or producer that really has a basic subjective view of this film and doesn’t really understand the business…if the film doesn’t do well it doesn’t matter what I do.  They’re always going to point the finger at the distributor.  The distributor is always going to be the bad guy.  That’s the one part of the business I probably don’t like because it doesn’t matter what I do.  If the film doesn’t work or meet the expectations of the filmmaker when they come in, it’s never going to be it was a result of the film.  They’re always going to point the finger at the distributor.  That’s the balance I have to deal with.  You know, sometimes I won’t take something if I have a conversation with the filmmaker if I don’t think they get it I won’t take it because you get tired of being in that situation as a distributor.

Tambay:  Right.  So I’m curious if you aggressively, again, go after films that you want?  I’m assuming you do.

Jeff:  The films that I want, I’m aggressively all over it.  Yes.  I can tell you that.  There’s a film I want…I’m on it.  I’m not passive about it.  Where other films might just come in through mentioning or something like that but usually I identify films I want and I go after it.

Tambay:  Obviously, I’m sure you’re probably aware of all these sort of hot, independent black films that are coming out every year and you’re probably going after those.  I know you guys just picked up Legacy which we’ve been touting on the blog now since last year.   So I was glad to see you guys picked that film up.  I was wondering about other films that maybe missed you guys either because the filmmaker wanted to go with others or what the case was…I don’t know.  Like Night Catches Us for example and then, previously in 2008, you had films like Medicine for Melancholy and A Good Day To Be Black And Sexy…films like that. I’m not sure if you guys were ever in the running for those films or if the filmmakers themselves were just…or the production teams or film companies for those films were not even interested in talking to you guys.  I don’t know how much of that you can answer but take a stab at it.

Jeff:  Give me the two film examples you referenced.

TambayNight Catches Us which came out…which was at Sundance this year.  It was directed by Tanya Hamilton.  It has Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington in it.  And then in 2008, 2009 there was–

Jeff:  You talking about the one with Anthony Mackie and Kerrie Washington…Yes,  I was in the running for that film.  It was seen with my the sales agent.  I  also did not…I didn’t go after it aggressively.  I went after it soft.  I didn’t go after it aggressively but I was in the running for this film.

Tambay:  Okay.  Can you say why?  Did you not go after it because you didn’t think you could get it or it wasn’t your kind of film?  Can you add to that?

Jeff:  I didn’t go after it because of the terms that the sales agent was asking for, I didn’t think it was worth what he was asking for…that’s why.

Tambay:  Okay.

Jeff:  Let me rephrase that.  Not that I didn’t think it was worth it.  I wasn’t in agreement.  We were in a negotiation.  I ultimately didn’t go where the sales agent wanted me to go to.

Tambay:  The other two films I mentioned were from 2008, 2009…Medicine for Melancholy, the Barry Jenkins film and then  A Good Day To Be Black And Sexy, Dennis Dortch’s film.  I don’t know if those were films that you guys were looking at or not?

Jeff:  Yeah we were looking at those films.

Tambay:  Okay.

Jeff:  I’m aware of them but I didn’t go after those films.

Tambay:  Can you also say “why” there or not?

Jeff:  Okay…

Tambay:  Same deal?

Jeff:  Let me tell you what happens with those particular films.

Tambay:  Okay.  Go ahead.

Jeff:  So, okay.  The studios and other independent distributors like, let’s say, Image or people like that, they know there’s a business with black films and they know there’s a consumer there.  What’s happened in the past, everybody from Lionsgate to Fox…to Sony, at some point, have all kind of created what they call their little, mini-urban division.  And the way they created that, with their urban division, they’ll hire one…maybe two  black executives and call it an “urban division” and give them a  little budget to go.

Tambay:  Right

Jeff:  So what happens is…is this.  It’s like a cycle.  They’ll look up at the success.  Like especially in the past.  If I have a success with somebody like I’ve been having with comedy right now.  So all the studios try to do is follow me because they see me doing black comedy and it’s working.  So what happens is that you’ll get one of these distributors and they will overpay for a film to buy market share.

Tambay:  Okay.

Jeff:  And my strategy is…Now I’ll give you an example, the film that you’re referencing to, there was a couple of studios all in the running.  They were all into the urban space so they were trying to get into the space which was a good strip of cash for them.  So what happens is that they’ll overpay market value for the film to buy market share.  We understand it because I know, from an economic standpoint, what a film really should pay and I know what it’s doing so a lot of times.  I’ll let them do that because what will happen is that they’ll get that film and then they’ll overpay for a couple of other films and then in a year, when they don’t recoup, guess what?  Their urban division don’t exist   anymore.

Tambay:  Right…right.

Jeff:  So it’s a business thing.  It has nothing to do with the film but it has all to do with the distributors trying to find market share.  Now in the case of Legacy, we were thinking the same situation but luckily the producer and the director, along with Idris, wanted to understand the marketing and how the film was going to be handled.  So we were going beyond just the economic terms of the deal because they were really concerned with how the film was going to be handled.  Now sometimes you get a  producer like that which is how I got Shadowboxer with Lee Daniels.

Tambay:  Right…right.

Jeff:  In those cases I’m able to get in touch with the filmmaker sometimes.  Now sometimes there’s a sales agent in the middle and I don’t have any conversation with the filmmaker.  So then it’s just a sales agent.  The sales agent really is about his commission so they’re trying to drive up the price as high as they can without any regard for the economics on the distribution side.  And in that kind of situation, the sales agent is going to go to all potential competitors.  He knows we’re trying to buy into the market and he’s suppose to drive it up as they can.

Tambay:  Okay.

Jeff:  That’s the reason why.

Tambay:  Yeah.  That helps clear a lot of things up because often the questions that come up on the blog and in conversations that people have are…”how come Codeblack isn’t going after this film or that or that film?”  There’s just a misunderstanding or just an ignorance to the way the industry works.  And so that helps, I think that will be an answer that will be appreciated by people.

Jeff:  It’s not like we’re not going after films but ultimately we have to run a business too, so… If there’s a competitor that’s overpaying what I believe for the film, I’m a let him overpay it because ultimately it will come back and bite him in the ass.

Tambay:  Right.  And I guess also because if you’re competing with a studio that has almost an unlimited amount of money to spend it can, obviously, be a problem.  It’s a challenge.

Jeff:  Exactly.  For the studio, if someone really wanted a film…like a studio they have it.  They have the money where they can just get it and, if they lose money, ain’t no big deal. They just right it off.  It’s part of a bigger machine.

TambayCodeblack is completely independent or are you guys…Is there some larger company that owns a piece of you or are you guys completely independent?

Jeff:  We have a partner which is Vivendi Entertainment which is part of Universal Music Group.  It’s a 50/50 joint venture partner.

Tambay:  There’s been a lot of conversation on our blog about the possibility of financing black cinema since there’s not a lot of it out there.  Financing black films independent of the Hollywood studio system and how something like that would work.  So the question really is if you think there’s some viable model for financing black films without Hollywood influence?

Jeff:  Absolutely.  There’s plenty of independent money out there if you have a solid business plan and a solid strategy.  And what I mean by that…I’ve seen people walk around looking for twenty million dollars to do a film.  That’s not realistic.  So what I mean by that is you have to have an understanding of the economics.  If you’re going out for independent money, you have to understand about what you should be spending on a film, what the risk return is for the investment that you’re going to lay out.  There is plenty of independent money out there for films though.

Tambay:  Okay.

Jeff:  Just as a case in point…A lot of stuff  I do, even though I have a partner in Vivendi Universal, I don’t use their money to produce films.  I have my own independent equity investors that I use.

Tambay:  Because the marketplace is obviously changing very rapidly thanks in large part to the internet, the web,  I think you guys have taken advantage of that.  You do have an online presence.  Yet you have an online presence and I’m assuming this is something that you’re obviously going to exploit fully.  From where I’m sitting anyway, it seems like this is the future.  This is an area I assume you guys are really making a play for?

Jeff:  I can tell you…I have two priorities in terms of strategies for the company.  To really build and establish an online presence.  I want to build our online presence and create the same presence, if I can have it, in physical space.  It is going to be the future how people view and buy content.  It’s going to be online, it’s going be on your tv, it’s going to be HD, it’s going to be GoogleTv, it’s going to be on devices.  That is a huge area that I’m very focused on.  The other area is building our international business for the company for distribution.

Tambay:  Okay.  So all that talk that we hear about black films not traveling…Anything you want to say about that?  Has that been–

Jeff:  That’s a misconception.  Let me tell you why they don’t travel.  The distributors and the suppliers, and the buyers overseas, are not and did not want to take the time to build out a business for our films.  There’s no buyers.  There’s no distributors.  So my strategy right now is we’re building out international.  What I’m doing is taking it in steps.  We’re going to build out Codeblack UK and Codeblack South Africa and are partnering with two of the biggest companies in each of their respective markets.  The company in South Africa that I’m parting with is a company called New Metro.  Now just some background on New Metro… New Metro is the largest distributor in South Africa.  They distribute studio films but, above and beyond that, they own twenty-five cineplexes in SA.  They actually own the theaters as well as distribution.  So what we’re doing is, we’re venturing together to build out a venture where we can build out a viable business in SA for black American films.  A part of that is–the strategy–is taking our talent over there, doing real marketing.  The same way we do it here.  It’s really building out there business.  And they’re looking for our content.  It’s not like they’re not looking for our content because I do deals over there all the time already.   So, I’m attacking the UK and South Africa.  Those are my first two markets that I’m really going to go after and build up.

Tambay:  Okay.  Are you interested, whether now or later on, you think you’ll open up your criteria to include other cinema from the Diaspora; so like African cinema, South American cinema, cinema of the Caribbean, Europe, etc…?  Right now your focus is just on African American cinema?

Jeff:  Right now it’s on African American but yeah in the future we would open it up.

Tambay:  Okay.  Someone wants to know–

Jeff:  Let me say one thing too…You haven’t even asked this but this is something I think especially filmmakers need to understand.  One of the complaints you always hear, now this is more on the studio model, so you always hear the complaint that the studios are not green lighting black films or when they do greenlight they’re very small budgets compared to their other films.  Let me explain to you why this happens and how this happens.  In the studio model right now, sixty percent of their revenue comes from the international market.  So when they release a film and they do their P&A calculations or estimations, they are looking at revenue of sixty percent coming from the international market only forty percent coming from domestic.  So that justifies them doing Spiderman and the big budget movie because it’s really about the international revenue and that’s really what they’re basing their formulas on.  And the thing about it right now is actually the international market is really growing at a rapid pace.  If you start looking at the box office figures you’ll see that the international market, the revenues, they been growing over the last couple of years.  So, if you take that formula and say okay, sixty percent of my revenue is coming from international, when you walk into a studio and you got a black film and you’re pitching something well the first thing they’re going to tell you is “there’s no international market.”  So what does that mean?  Well that means they’ve at least wiped out at least sixty percent of  the revenue which means “hey guys, if we’re going to do a film for you it’s only going to be X in terms of budget because we can’t count on any international revenue” and that is why and how they keep the budget and it also justifies not green lighting black numbers.  It’s all justifiable by numbers which is why we have to crack the international market.

Tambay:  This is kind of one of those generic questions.  What would you tell a young black filmmaker who is maybe thinking about going with Codeblack or who may be going into production on a film right now and they’re maybe not even thinking about how it’s going to be release and how they’re going to distribute it?  In terms of just some general advice on what they should be thinking about at this stage of the process?

Jeff:  At this stage in the process, whether you’re looking at a theatrical release, a dvd release or if it’s a television movie, unless you have a very viable thing like let’s say Drumline or something like that’s kind of conceptual…you have to have cast.  If you walk into a distributor and you got a film, you may be a great filmmaker, but no cast it’s going to be discounted.  I can’t stress that enough.  With that said though, there’s a lot of viable cast out there people are working with that filmmakers can get too.  But the first thing you got to do…don’t cast with a hundred percent unknowns.  You have to have cast.

Tambay:  Do you guys actively seek scripts that you want to package and produce?

Jeff:  What I do is seek properties.  I seek brands.  I’ll give you an example of what I mean.  The next project that I’m producing, I’m in pre-production right now.  I’ve entered into a deal with TD Jakes and we’re doing Woman Thou Art Loose, a sequel to the first one.

Tambay:  Okay.

Jeff:  That’s a brand everybody already knows. I got a brand new Jakes.  I only seek those kind of things.  I don’t necessarily go after scripts.  I go after properties that have either a brand attached to it which could be a book adaptation or just say a TD Jakes or, before I go after a script, I might go to an actor or actress and say “hey, Gabriel Union or Bill Cosby what do you want to do?” because then it comes attached with cast already.  And she may have something or we may develop something but I try to find a packaging element or a marketing element first.  And using just a regular script coming through the door, which means there’s nothing attached, which means I have to do a lot of work going to cast and stuff like that.

Tambay:  Continuing on that, I’m curious as to what a day is like for you?

Jeff:  A day is about six to midnight.  Although I love e-mail it’s great, there’s plus and minuses.  I get a hundred to hundred fifty e-mails a day that I have to try to respond to.  So it’s a lot of meetings, telephone calls, meetings, telephone calls, research…One thing that I always stress, and I say this to young filmmakers, I read at least two hours a day.

The stuff I’m reading now has to be more in the technology and new media area.  A lot of reading…a lot of research.  I’m a research junkie because I think knowledge is power so I’m always staying abreast of what’s the trends in the marketplace, what’s going on in technology, what’s happening with television, broadcast and Google and thinks like that.  So I do two hours of research a day.

Tambay:  Right.

Jeff:  Now with that said, I got to fit family in too.  So it’s going somewhere…breaking.  Going somewhere…breaking.  It’s a long day and it’s a long week.

Tambay:  Right.

Jeff:  But I’m always researching.  I’ll take classes once a year just to keep up with what’s going on…specifically in the new media area.  Like in 2008, I went to Harvard Business School to one of their executive programs before that I was going to UCLA.  Stuff like that.  So if there’s an area I don’t know, either I’ll take a class or get a whole bunch of books and I’ll read.  I don’t think we do enough of that…as a people.  We don’t read and learn our craft.

Tambay:  Yeah I think Spike Lee said that some time ago…”learn your craft” essentially.  I’m wondering also if you folks are feeling the Tyler Perry effect?  If you’re feeling pressure to either produce or acquire similar kinds of films because of the Tyler Perry effect, because of how successful he is and how he sort of kind of represents black cinema…studio black cinema anyway?

Jeff:  Zero.  Zero effect.

Tambay:  Okay…that’s cool.  I know you say that Codeblack is sort of the preeminent company but you have to have some competition so I’m wondering who your competition is?

Jeff:  (Laughing) You tell me.

Tambay:  Is it other studios?  Is it–

Jeff:  I tell you what it is…and I kind of alluded to this earlier.  There’s not another black studio that‘s staffed and that’s totally focused on the African American.  There’s not a studio that’s a hundred percent focused.  Now there are companies that have a black executive that want to dabble in this space and I guess you can call them a competitor.  But there’s not a company that’s totally focused on building this space offline and online.  Yet I have companies out there, from time to time, you know the acquisitions…Like you said the Kerry Washington…This company is bidding on it so I guess you can call them competitors.  They don’t really  factor into my strategy because I know they’re not focused on the space and are not allocating the resources.  The thing is, and this even like on the music side too, you have this big company that know there’s this big market out there but they’ll glean one or two executives.  But they’re not allocating the right resource support to really build out a company.  The thing is, although I have an affiliation with a big company, I don’t work for them which is a difference if you’re in a division within a company.  I don’t work for them, we’re partners.  There’s a difference there.  So I control my company, my destiny, my strategy, what I’m doing.  There’s no companies out there like that.

Tambay:  I guess I’m wondering if it’s at all your goal or if there’s any interest in having black filmmakers with “black themed films” think of you guys first?  Like, I’m a black filmmaker and I’ve got a film I’m working on right now.  It’s not made or, regardless of what stage it’s in, that I’m thinking “what are my options?” I mean obviously, as a filmmaker you can’t really say what happens after the film is made.  But still, just talking with other filmmakers, they have some idea of who they’d like to go with.  It’s almost like the NFL or something like the draft.  You have a team you want to go with.  So I’m wondering if that’s something that’s on your mind?  If that’s a concern at all that you want to be on the minds of black filmmakers with black films, so that when they’re trying to sell their films, that you guys are in play?

Jeff:  Yes, I definitely want to be on the mind of black filmmakers.  But I don’t want us to be the only choice because I think it’s an education for filmmakers that they should talk to…Like don’t go with me because I’m a black company.  But you should keep me in consideration because that’s what I focus on.  But they should talk to multiple distributors and make a decision on what they think is best for the film.  You know, they may bring me a film that’s a black film but the theme may not be something that I’m like “I don’t know if I can do a good job.”  You know, in the past I’ve sent filmmakers to other distributors and said ‘they can probably do a better job with this than I can.’  And I’ll be honest, I’m not going to take them if I can’t do a good job.  So, I want to be on the minds of filmmakers but I also would stress I’m not the only choice and they should shop around.

Tambay:  Okay.

Jeff:  Then they’ll get a real idea what the marketplace is, plus it’s a learning process.  They should shop around.  Just like if you’re buying a car, well you might go to three dealerships.  I would advocate to shop around and kind of see what the best deal is.  It’s like going back to what I was talking about earlier, they may be in a situation where they’ve got an investor and he’s put in X amount of dollars and that investor is really pressuring them to get the money back.  And there may be a studio willing to overpay, or pay more than I am,  and the goal may be to only get the money back and not really be concerned with how the film is handled.  So people have different things that are attached to the film.  So I do advice to shop around.

Tambay:   Lots of filmmakers now seem to be heading to the web.  We talked about having web presence but, specifically, lots of black filmmakers are creating these web series now.  So I don’t know if that’s something that Codeblack is, you’re interested in content obviously–broadly speaking–so I’m guessing that maybe you’re also looking at possibly web content?  Either producing or acquiring or whatever?

Jeff:  Here’s the thing on web content.  Definitely interested in marketing, promoting web content.  The reality is though, the economic model, like I wouldn’t pay for web content because I have no way to monetize it.  If I buy web content how do I recoup my investment?  So the thing is, web content is used more to create awareness or for promotional purposes.  Now the areas and the way that people are making money off web content, what they normally would do is go to a sponsor first.  Let’s say Cadillac wanted to do a web series and they do something around product endorsement and get them to fund it.  The ad agencies…that’s a big business right now.  I would be down the line before they would come to me because you really wouldn’t want to go “how would you get it funded?” because a studio or distributor is not going to pay for a web series.  There’s no way to monetize it unless they have an advertiser looking for some content.

Tambay:  What does Codeblack have coming up that maybe we should be paying attention to other than Legacy which we already know about it?  I’m not sure exactly what you’ve got in the pipeline in terms of production or distribution?

Jeff:  The TD Jakes, that’s going to go into production this year.  That will come out probably the third quarter of next year.  So we got Legacy coming out in October and I’ve got Momma I Want To Sing coming out the second week of January.

Tambay:  The TD Jakes project is a sequel to…?  Tell me again, I forgot.

JeffThe Woman Thou Art Loose which is the first one.

Tambay:  Can you tell me a little more about that?  Is Kimberly Elise going to come back?   The whole cast?

Jeff:  Well actually let me rephrase that.  It’s not actually a sequel.  What we’re doing with the franchise Woman Thou Art Loose is we’re going to create a series of movies.  We’re going to do one movie a year.  He’s going to write a novel to go with the movies.  So it’s not a sequel but it’s really a brand extension.  So, for example, when you’ve seen like Star Wars or The Jedi.  They may or may not be sequels.  It’s more of a brand extension to the movie.  So it’s not a sequel with Kimberly Elise coming back.

Tambay:  Okay.  I understand.  People talk about the state of black cinema.  I don’t really care for that term because it’s just so broad and it’s not very specific but it happens to be something people ask a lot.  I will ask you that but even more specifically.  What do you see as the future of black cinema?  Where you see us going, trends that you’ve spotted?  Patterns and trends that you spotted?  Things that we should be aware of? Just in general, either from a distributive standpoint or production standpoint…or even from an audience standpoint?  What do you see in the next five or ten years?

Jeff:  Well, what I think in the next five or ten years is the distribution model like rapidly evolving and changing.  Like we talked about earlier, you have films that are for web enabled television.  I believe that it’s going to be a lot easier for independent filmmakers to distribute content and monetize that content.  And that’s going to be a video-on-demand model.  You’ve got your movie on this internet site, it’s going to be on tv, it’s on your computer, it’s on your Ipad.  You’ll pay 3.99 to stream that movie.  I really think that’s where the industry is going in terms of ways to monetize the content.  Your going to make your content available for devices anytime.  The studio model, which is where they’re going right now, is moving a lot more towards bigger budget, franchised features.  You know these graphic novels that they’re adopting and things like that.  The reason they’re going towards that is because that’s where the international market is working in.  So for black cinema, if that’s what we’re going to call it, the opportunity is going to be in any home entertainment devices, not necessarily dvd.  Any digital area for home entertainment is where the opportunity is going be at.  To be able to make these films available on these devices and a transaction pronto so that it’s going to make money because obviously you don’t want to put it up for free and you can‘t make money.  You know at the end of the day, if you’re making a film, you have to be able to recoup the money but it’s going to be transactional on these home entertainment and mobile devices–specifically that web enabled tv.  That’s where the next five or ten years is going to be at.  That’s how your going to access your content.

Tambay:  Do you think we would ever see a studio that’s competing with the big six or seven?  Like a black own and operated studio that’s completely autonomous, that’s competing with the Disney’s and the Warner Brothers and such?

Jeff:  Good question.  I can’t.  Here’s the challenge or problem I see.  As a people as a whole, as a community, we are focused too much on the creative side and not the business side.  Question is…Where are the black executives?  There’s a black executive at Sony.  There’s a black executive at Universal.  I can count the black executives at studios on my hand.  If there’s only five black executives at studios,  where is that person that’s going to start that seed to create that kind of studio?  We are focused too much on the creative and the creative community is too dependent on the white Hollywood community to further their careers.  And what I mean by that is you have all these buffers between talent.  There’s enough power in Hollywood to build another Disney.  The problem is nobody is working together.  And the agents and managers, that represent the black talent who can probably make something like that happen, are not interested in it happening.  They’re just interested in taking their talent, getting them in a movie and getting their fee.  They are not going to push their talent to build a business.  And that is the real problem.  You can put something together in two years if you put the right people in a room.  Easily.  You put the right people in the room you can have something up and running like a studio to compete, at least at the Lionsgate level, in two years if you put the right people in the room and they would agree to work together.  Problem is you can’t get the right people in the room.

Tambay:  Right…And you can’t get them to work together.  We’ve been doing something similar on our end over here with this challenge that we have.  We’re not talking a lot of money but we’re just interested in short films because that’s all we can afford.  So the people who run the blog, we just put money together. So we’re doing a micro version of what is being done on a macro level.  So we just put our money together then we finance short films.  Then the hope is that over time, I believe that once people see something work they’ll want to be apart of it.  So over time we can attract bigger dollars.  Maybe, maybe not.  We don’t know, but that’s what we’re all thinking.  We’re not sure how that’s going to work.  But we’re not in it for the money.  We just want to do it and we think it is a good thing to do.  In closing, because I know we’re running out of time, is there anything you just want to say or add?  Is there anything you feel you left out or I didn‘t ask?

Jeff:  I would just reiterate, especially college students or even people coming out of film school or people really interested in film, we need to develop more executives.  We have enough filmmakers.  We have enough actors. We need more executives.  We need more  people who can understand distribution, people who can understand financing.  Executives who understand marketing.  More so, executives who can understand technology.  Now the thing about it is, a lot of kids right now in college, they’re growing up on social media.  They’re growing up with this stuff.  So they’re very well positioned to grasp this and take this and to apply this in a space.  But we need marketing executives because we got the filmmakers over here…If you’re doing shorts, you got to figure out how to get exposure for your short so what’s the best strategy?  What we need to develop are executives.  That’s what I was stressing.  That we really need to develop more executives and make sure filmmakers understand the business that they’re getting into.

Tambay:  And so the final question is how do we do that though?

Jeff:  I think with blogs like yours.  I mean I have a pretty aggressive internship program.  I’m bringing people in doing stuff.  We just have to start to voice…we have to lead the charge.  I mean I have a pretty good program myself I do for interns.  We got to start putting that out there to the universe a lot more.  I mean we’re talking about this.  How often do you read about more black executives?  Our black community is not necessarily advocating that.

Tambay:  Okay.

Jeff:  As a blog you’re good.  I like you guys writing and stuff. As a matte of fact, I wasn’t even aware of it.  So, I know the stuff you’re writing about and the way you guys are approaching it.  A lot of people will read it if they know about it.

Tambay:  Yeah, we’ve only been around a year or so.  It’s grown quit a bit.  A lot of people are becoming more familiar with it.  We’re just trying to take maybe a somewhat  more critical approach without being too critical or being too academic…or didactic about it.  So we’re trying to sort of be in the middle.  So we’re trying to sort of pull everybody in to have these conversations.   We’re interested in black cinema and we want to get the word out.  We want to see more black films.   More black people in films I should say.  We want to see more black people working so that’s what it’s about.  Alright Jeff, I really appreciate the time.  I know you’re a busy guy.

Jeff:  Okay great, no problem.

23 comments to Exclusive Interview With Jeff Clanagan, CEO Of CodeBlack Entertainment

  • russell

    a lot of insight and information in this interview. it adds much-needed perspective to the process. good work.

  • Great work Tambay. Nice interview

  • Zeus

    Very interesting. I like his idea about going straight to the UK and SA. Getting to theater chains DIRECTLY is the key. Especially in the international market.

  • Nice interview.

    He never answered your question about Medicine For Melancholy and A Good Day to Be Black and Sexy. He probably feel the same way I do about those films.

    He explained the studio’s reasoning behind giving low budgets to black films, which is influenced by the international market. He nailed it there.

    • Actually he did answer that question. Essentially, with a general statement saying that studios create their mini “black film” divisions and outbid companies like CodeBlack for films like these, because they’re trying to buy market share.

      Whereas in a case like “Legacy,” they were able to bypass the sales agent, and deal directly with the filmmaker and the star (Idris Elba), and were able to convince them of their plans and strategy. So, in that case, it wasn’t entirely about the money.

  • Nice work. It was an interesting read. I definitely agree that the future is in multiple distribution platforms abetted by digital technology.

  • Very important interview about distro here. I typed a long response but it was lost in submission. Will recap here.

    Jeff mentioned having a relationship with prodcos and distributors. It’s tough to do because there’s so much redtape between us. If we don’t have agents or peope that slip through the cracks then we don’t get in to see the execs. You either have to have a smash hit at the fests or you catch a break with a filmmaker (a la Craig Brewer with Singleton and Stephanie Allain). Therefore filmmakers take it upon themselves to run and shoot. We know the story that we need to tell but we often sacrifice due to budget.

    Cast makes things more noticeable for distributors but that’s not always a win either. I see pleny by Forrest Whitaker and Samuel L. Jackson that go directly to DVD. I think that the project has to have a combination of things to fall into place. Dynamic marketing, a few dollars spent on promo, a decent script, and a story that isn’t typical.

    As for Tyler Perry, we don’t have to like his work to know that he’s doing something special. His work with LionsGate has had a great effect. It doesn’t help all indies because not enough of us are taking that initiative or have the funds to do what he’s done. However, people should take note. Don’t follow his content, follow his acumen.

    Tieuel Legacy! aka the Devil’s Devil’s Advocate

  • Ken

    Excellent interview. Extremely informative and loaded with useful information for the filmmaker.

  • George P.

    Nice interview! Glad to hear some update on the Lynn Whitfield-Ciara film “Mama, I Want To Sing!” finally.

  • Quite enlightening/educational. There can never be enough literature about just how important it is for filmmakers in particular to understand how Marketing/Distribution works; however, I think that it would behoove companies such as CODEBLACK to do a little more leg work in regards to discovering these “indie gems”, or rather be a part of the movement to illuminate them–not an overwhelming slate of risky indies but rather a “Medicine for Melancholy” sprinkled amongst the atrocious films like “SOMETHING LIKE A BUSINESS” (i had the unfortunate opportunity to watch this while high, drink and sedated simultaneously)

    It seemed like Jeff was barely familiar with “Medicine for Melancholy, Night Catches Us, et.al” Essentially he was saying that he “went after those films soft” because he didn’t think that the asking prices for those films would recoup profit, which possibly could have been true, but then again I hope that CODEBLACK takes more of a leap every now and then because I know that I, for one, am sick of variations of TD JAKES/TYLER PERRY films

    I’m glad LEGACY made it through the gates (well deserved) but would it take top tier talent (and let’s be real Idriss is A-level even by white standards) to distract companies such as CODEBLACK from the presumed much too “art house indie” burden that so many of us adventurous black filmmakers have to carry?

    Very very necessary reading; nonetheless and great questions from Tambay.

  • ?

    The Codeblack CEO complained about something akin to brain drain: most of the all around solid feature films by black filmmakers get scooped up by white Distribution companies…

    based on the slate I see for CODEBLACK i doubt that PARIAH, GUN HILL ROAD…would be up their alley anywho.

  • Momma

    Whatever happened to “Mama I Wanna Sing” ? Get it together CODEBLACK !!

  • “Cast makes things more noticeable for distributors but that’s not always a win either. I see pleny by Forrest Whitaker and Samuel L. Jackson that go directly to DVD.”

    I’ve had this conversation with a number of working screenwriters/filmmakers and the direct to DVD market doesn’t have the same stigma it used to. The money is lower without a theatrical release, but its a very viable market these days. And for many filmmakers with dreams of a theatrical release, its can be totally overlooked.

  • JMac

    Good commentary and confirmation on the state of black movie executives. The power is there and has been there but no one wants to collaborate or get into the business side. Hopefully, that will change. And kudos for actively pursuing the digital film distribution pipeline. It’s just a matter of time when you can stream opening film releases from your computer to your large flat screen hd tv without going to the theater.

  • Shannon

    Best post yet. So much valuable info, and I appreciated his openness and honesty. It could have used some editing, but overall, you did an amazing job on the interview.

  • Laura

    Best thing I read in a while. Very informative. Educational. These are things that as a burgeoning filmmaker I want to know. I want to be able to monetize my work. However it seems to be something that only the initiates of a secret society can know. Outside of the learning the art, craft and techniques of film making. I have Ted Hope’s HOPE FOR FILM blog bookmarked. I also recently purchase the book “Thinking Outside the Box Office” by Jon Reiss. Can anyone tell me of any other literature (periodicals, newsletters, magazines, books), organization and/or workshop that deals with the business side of the filmmaking. Something beyond individual wheeling and dealing. I am talking more about the mechanics of the film business from pre-production to optimum financial exploitation. I would like to do that “2-hours a day read”

  • Shannon: “BEST POST YET!”

    Nikyatu: “Quite enlightening/educational”

    Ken: “Excellent interview”

    Tieuel Legacy: “Very important interview about distro here”

    Rodney: “Nice work”

    Screamwriter: “Great read!”

    CareyCarey: SAY IT LOUD! Say it plain. This was the sh*t. It was sweet – it was bad – it was – THE REAL THANG.

    But check this; they say behind a good man is a great woman. Well, my… “I AM NOT WORTHY” goes out to Cynthia. Without her taking care of all of the transcription and the editing, we would not be sitting here drinking cool-aid – in our homes – while reading this marvelous conversation.

    When Tambay “said” this was a one hour conversation, I thought… ” there was no way in hell I was going to read the comversation of two people kicking the bo-bo. then I thought… “Damn, po Cynthia not only had to listen & listen & listen, she had to put in some work”. So I moved away from my lazy ways, and stuck and stayed. *WAVING TO CYNTHIA. YOU DID GOOD*

    Then, when I settled down, kicked off my shoes, in preparation for 2 hour read ( I’m a slow reader) I hit the jack pot. It was like the sweet science of boxing: Two men in the center of the ring, neither using “writers talk” nor pretentious panderings, getting ready for the real thing. They shook hands in the middle of the ring and then went to their respective corners (everybody has an agenda).

    Kid “CODE BLACK” Clanagan held the belt, and Tambay respected that, but like a true – died & fried – man with the mic, on a mission, he didn’t bow down. He wasn’t relentless but he didn’t relent – he held his own. He asked pointed questions, coming back for the double-up when it appeared that CODE BLACK might have slipped a punch.

    Yes sir, this was not the Rumble In The Jungle nor the Thrilla In Manila, but it was one of the best posts of S & A’s short life, in my – not so – humble opinion.

  • Excellent interview! Great questions and informative answers.