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Filmmaker Ray Culpepper discusses today’s film industry and Black Film Fest ATL

Ray Culpepper (Photo by Cassidy S)

Ray Culpepper is an independent filmmaker and founder of Black Film Fest ATL, who is passionate about helping aspiring young filmmakers to succeed in today’s industry. He is an Atlanta native who attended Benjamin E. Mays High School and went on to attend two prestigious HBCUs: Howard University and North Carolina A & T University.

We spoke with Culpepper about the film industry and his film festival.

Where do you see the film industry today? 

I like where the industry is going now. The focus is getting away from the big screen and more towards TV and streaming services. That’s the big difference from the era when I did films probably 10 or 15 years ago with the greatest like Will Packer and Rob Hardy. We were the only independent filmmakers in Atlanta. Now we’ve got a new breed of people. Everybody’s now going toward streaming services. Getting a deal with Netflix is everybody’s goal.

What are the key skill sets that it takes to be a good independent filmmaker today?

Everybody needs just a breadth of knowledge. You need to read more and study more and look at what happened in the past. There’s a lot of new technology, and I would learn some of that. They need to learn everything from the development phase to the distribution phase. And you have to have great writing. 

What are your thoughts about the current trend of remaking classic films?

I like a lot of remakes. Some of the remakes I’m looking at are films that were probably Caucasian-based films that I can see with wicked Black characters and make a more interesting project. Coming 2 America, which is being shot here in Atlanta, I’m very excited about. It’s got a lot of great people. It’s been one of the most talked-about African American films of the time and people [have] been waiting on it, and it’s finally here and it’s being shot in ATL, which also excites me. It’s going to be a big splash next year.

Tell us about Black Film Fest ATL.

Black Film Fest ATL was an inspiration of mine. It’s going to be a smaller boutique style. Instead of all the movie screenings in various theaters around the area, I’m going to have them all in one location. All the panels, mixers and after-parties are going to be all in the same vicinity.

The difference between my film festival and others is my slogan, “A Filmmaker’s Festival.” What I don’t like about film festivals is that the community sees these great films. and then after it’s over they’re gone. I wanted to really work with filmmakers by trying to give them panels that they can benefit from and continue those relationships in networking, I’m helping them shop deals. In fact, there are two films in my festival that have been in contact with some streaming services about potential distribution. I’m really looking at my filmmakers benefiting. I’m only picking work that I like and that I see potential in to be a viable commodity out there in the film world.