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August 2007
An Interview with Producer Effie Brown

An Interview with Producer Effie Brown

By Wilson Morales

August 6, 2007
With all the films that come out, it’s such a rarity of seeing a female director behind them. The number is staggering low when it comes to seeing an African-American woman producer in the credits. Effie Brown hopes to change that. Ms. Brown has worked up the ladder in the producing circles. According to her bio, after graduating with a degree in Film production from Loyola Marymount University, Effie worked her way up the indie ranks. She was Director of Development for Tim Burton Productions and served as line producer on several features including DESERT BLUE, BUT I’M A CHEERLEADER and THINGS YOU CAN TELL JUST BY LOOKING AT HER More recently, Effie was a Producer on Cheryl Dunye’s HBO film, STRANGER INSIDE, which was nominated for three IFP Spirit Awards. She produced Patricia Cardosa’s REAL WOMAN HAVE CURVES, winner of two Sundance Film festival awards. Effie was Executive Producer for Jane Campion’s IN THE CUT and recently produced Jim McKay’s latest film, EVERYDAY PEOPLE which premiered this year at Sundance. Effie received the Motorola Producer Award at the 2003 IFP West Independent Spirit Awards.

In 2001, Brown launched her own production company, Duly Noted Inc., where she continues to produce original film projects by emerging and established filmmakers. Demonstrating a continued commitment to championing challenging independent work, Duly Noted Inc. has seven new feature films in development and production, with producing partners that include HBO Films.

Coming up is her latest project, ‘Rocket Science’, which won a Director Award for Jeffrey Blitz at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. In the film, Hal Hefner is an average sophomore at Plainsboro High School in New Jersey. He stutters and suffers the daily indignities of a typical teenager. With only a little encouragement, Hal falls in love with the star of the debate team, Ginny Ryerson and finds himself suddenly immersed in her ultra competitive world of high school debating, with its players, its politics and its own set of rules. In speaking to blackfilm.com, Ms. Brown talks about producing her latest film, working with Mos Def for her next two films, and being a female producer in the business.

How did the project come about for you to produce?

Effie Brown: Basically, I had a deal with HBO and my company, Duly Noted, Inc.. Mod Madler put me together with the director Jeff Blitz. We were both up for (Independent) Spirit Awards. That’s how we got together. At the time, we were supposed to write a spelling bee movie but wasn’t quite working out and then he told the story of, because he’s a stutterer, when he was in high school it was a disaster but he managed to pull through it; and that’s the story that he wind up writing. We just moved on from there.

With independent films, there are always challenges. What sort of challenges did you go through with ‘Rocket Science’?

EB: Shooting in Baltimore during the dead of summer, that’s a challenge. We had some weather challenges, but our biggest one was we had a hard time finding our lead actor. We actually had to push about 6 weeks before we began shooting because we could not find the right kid. Then when we found him we had to go through visa, because he’s from Canada; so it was a little hairy. We push the shoot longer than it should have been.

You took the film to Sundance where it won the Director Award. What was that feeling like?

EB: That was fantastic, but I always love going to Sundance. I’m actually going there soon to be a part of the producers’ conference. Sundance is a great place to platform your films. I produced ‘Real Women Have Curves’, that also won an award at Sundance. We won the jury award as well as ensemble acting. So it’s good to go back there and be appreciated.

What’s the appeal of seeing ‘Rocket Science’?

EB: It’s a really remarkable film and it’s a completely universal story and pretty funny.

What did Jeffrey Blitz bring to this movie as a director?

EB: He has such a wicked sense of humor; and that’s something that people don’t nail. His humor is smart and not malicious, but it’s definitely a bit self-effacing. That’s what drew me to him. His film, ‘Spellbound’, completely had me riveted. I was trying to spell words ad I was so rooting for all those kids. Jeffrey is so talented.

With your company, Duly Noted, Inc. I read that you are going to produced two films with Mos Def. Can you talk about them?

EB: I’m doing a film called ‘Bury Me Standing’. The director is a woman named Caran Hartsfield. She’s a young African-American woman, who actually had a couple of shorts at Sundance and her short film won a Cannes and this script, ‘Bury Me Standing’, has won a bunch of awards and we are hopefully going to start shooting in September, which means start prepping in Philly in August. I don’t know why I like going to places in the heat of the summer. Besides Mos Def, we have Alfre Woodard and Kerry Washington.

What part does Kerry play?

EB: Kerry plays the role of Mod. Alfre is the mother Gloria, who is mourning her son. She’s the one who makes a deal to Kerry Washington’s character to take her unborn baby in exchange for her house. It’s like a backdoor baby-dealing.

What’s the other film, ‘Bobby Zero’ about?

EB: ‘Bobby Zero’ is a sarcastic romantic comedy about a stand-up comic, a street performer who has to get a real job. He realizes he has to work in a advertising company in real life and he becomes a cog in the machine. I would described this like when you realize when you are thirty and you don’t have a job and you’re just an artist, but when you’re not paying the bills. It’s no longer cute. You gotta go out there in the real world. That’s what Bobby Zero has to do.

Is there anyone else in the film?

EB: We’re actually casting right now.

What are the highs and lows of being in this business as a producer, especially an African-American female producer? For someone who’s worked up the ladder, one would think that you have legions of contacts to help you get films made.

EB: I’ve worked my way up through the ranks, which has helped me. I came up a PA, and then worked through coordinating and line producing to producing, so I’ve seen all facets of it, but it’s a struggle for everybody. White men have also hard as a time of pulling together a project. The challenge is that the powers that be, without being vague, being that films that have black actors and quality black actors and talent behind them, don’t get the type of budget and financing that lesser actors who maybe not ethnically specifically get. That’s the thing that I’m running up against and I’m a little surprised at that. I really thought that we were beyond that. I’m doing okay, but it’s still surprising.

For more on Rocket Science, click here



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