May '00 : Trailblazer of the month
Laron Batchelor

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Trailblazer of the month

By Sekou
As African Americans involved in film there are so many people we owe our current artistic freedom to. If it weren't for people like Oscar Micheaux, Spike Lee and the many pioneers in between, we would still have countless barriers to break down before we got a solid foothold on the film world. As you'll see by keeping up with this column, Trailblazers come in all kinds of packages: directors, actors, producers, hairdressers, dreamers and some folk you'd never even imagine. We're even gonna make some educated guesses about the people we think are gonna be the next generation's trailblazers. Stay tuned.

Name: Laron Batchelor
Age: 30
Occupation: Partner, Starpower, a multimedia production company. Clients: The Source Magazine, The Metropolitan Teaching & Learning (publisher of multicultural educational books), The Heritage Collection (African American greeting card company), The Shooting Gallery (independent film company)
Salary range: Equity
Duties: "Many hats." Marketing, production, capital raising, agenting… Education: Williams College. Major: History & Political Science. Minor: Women's Studies

Background:

Like we've always been told, school is a place where you learn how to think-- how to analyze information and make decisions-- and what better place to come and test that out than New York City? Based upon the opportunities that came my way I tried to figure out where I could add value and find my passion. When I first came to NY, I worked for Seagram's, then as a manager for a beer distributor, then a manufacturer overseeing distributors. The best part of all that was it was an opportunity to understand how products-- regardless if it's food, clothes or whatever-- get into stores; how they reach shelves where you and I can buy them. I was learning how to market a brand to a target audience. After that, I did a melange of things including product placement for entertainment events and controlling the add space of the big TV screen in Times Square. I created Starpower a couple years ago as a way to help brands create effective messages to reach their target audiences, specifically youth. In short, Starpower is a "venture catalyst." We help people jumpstart their companies and go in different directions-- whatever that company might be. It's about leveraging brand power.

What is your motivation?

Have the initiative to go after your dreams. To do that, you have to make sure you find your passion in life. Find something that will make you happy everyday. Life is very long when you're doing something you don't enjoy.

Upcoming projects:

Laurence Fishburne's directorial debut, Once in the Life, which is based on a play that Fishburne wrote and performed in with Heavy D called "Riff Raff." It deals with betrayal, brotherhood, and community. Gregory Hines co-stars as well. It's slated to come out in April. Fishburne is serving as writer, director, and star.

Goals for Starpower:

To be the next youth-based CMGI with a splash of CAA. CMGI is an incubator of a number of different websites. It nurtures them, helps develop them, and provides financial and human capital to launch web-based brands. CAA is a Hollywood talent agency. By "youth" I mean age eighteen to thirty-four.

What was your very first film experience?

This is my first film experience. I'm an experienced marketer, in terms of marketing things to the youth. Film for me is just another brand to market.

How or why did you select film as a career?

One of the biggest reasons I'm excited about what I'm doing is that you always hear that it's difficult to market "urban" movies. And, more importantly, you hear that these movies don't do well overseas. That's bull. In Tokyo, kids have dreadlocks, kids have 'fros, kids are rocking Enyce, FUBU, Mecca, and Karl Kani. Our culture has presence there. If you can't market movies over there, then you can't market at all. So if Starpower does a credible job helping market a lot of these urban movies throughout Europe and Asia, we'll prove that it can be done… and that'll encourage the movie studios to invest in more urban content. So, I got into film to prove that there in nothing wrong with the urban movies, there's been something wrong with the marketing of those movies.

Hardest part of the job?

Feeling like you can do better… because you're dealing with people's lives and dreams. We're doing a great job, but you always think you can do better. Especially for someone like Laurence Fishburne who is practically an institution-- a twenty-seven year institution. I wish I could make an international holiday for people to appreciate the institution. Laurence Fishburne day!

In what way would you consider yourself to be a trailblazer in the film industry?

By redefining the marketing of urban film, which will give us, as well as other filmmakers, the opportunity to produce the independent, compelling films that we've always wanted to make.

What would be your message to the next trailblazer?

Believe in yourself. Find your passion. Don't be afraid of failure. It's true what they say, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. So, be man or woman of character.

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