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Black Filmmakers Are Returning to Hollywood, But Independent Film Is Where You Can Make Your Mark

Prominent African American directors will helm some major Hollywood blockbusters in the coming months. F. Gary Gray (Friday, The Negotiator) makes his return to feature films with the highly anticipated Law Abiding Citizen starring Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler. The apocalyptic science fiction thriller Book of Eli marks the Hughes Brothers’ (Menace II Society, Dead Presidents) first film in almost a decade. The mainstream black film audience was slowly being pigeonholed into two camps; those devoted fans of Tyler Perry’s romantic dramadies, and those who champion Spike Lee as the shining prince of black film. But every audience wants and deserves variety and for more and more fans of black film, that means looking outside of the mainstream.

Craig Ross, Jr. has directed some of the grittiest independent films in modern black cinema and has learned much over the years as an independent filmmaker. He specializes in noir, and has seen too many indie directors crash and burn out early because they haven’t made wise decisions in how to approach their craft. Ross’ latest film, The Mannsfield 12, is about inmates in a Massachusetts prison fighting to take back their humanity. He shot the film in 14 days.  “The advice I give to young filmmakers is go backwards,” says Ross. “Find out where your film is going to play before you make it. If you have money … that you need to [make] a return [on investment], figure out how that money is coming back before you actually make it.”

Dwayne “DL” Clark is a recording artist who financed, produced, and starred in his own independent feature, King of Paper Chasing. The story revolves around a drug dealer who has to confront the harsh realities of betrayal. Clark has received praise for the cerebral film and he encourages rookie filmmakers to be prepared and plan. “[Too many] of us are just picking up the camera and shooting without doing the proper research,” he says. “One of the biggest advantages I had with this film was aligning myself with people that are experienced and [knowledgeable] and versed in the field itself. A lot of independent filmmakers don’t do those things.”

“So many of us make the movie and feel like we’re making Gone With the Wind,” Ross reveals. “And [we think] someone is going to buy this for a million dollars. That is really not the case for many of us. A smart filmmaker — a rookie filmmaker in particular — will figure out how much you can probably make from wherever this is going and use that as a barometer for your budget. If you think “I know I can get $10,000 from this piece,” then make a $5,000 movie. Find out your financial means and work within that.”

Clark echoes that sentiment. “Incidentals, for lack of a better word, come up that you have to deal with and you just have to have a budget that can anticipate and be ready to deal with those things head on. Because once you start     shooting a film, you have to see it all the way through.  –todd williams