Three influential women discuss film in the ATL
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After two issues of CinemATL, we asked ourselves, what could we do better for our third time out? There were several ideas that we've implemented in our current issue. In addition to those, we also wanted to do some catch up on our A-list profiles. There are so many talented local filmmakers to spotlight and not enough covers on which to do it. Also, we had yet to focus on a female subject. So we quickly made the decision to pursue not one, nor even two, but a trio of women—and genuine A-list talents—for our cover story.
Rather than a formal interview, we felt we'd all learn and benefit more if we just sat back and let them take the discussion wherever they might choose.
|Jen Kelley, Mary Kraft and Lisa Cunningham sit down to discuss filmmaking in the ATL. (photo: Eric Bomba-Ire)|
So, after forcing our patient and—thankfully—cooperative subjects outside on a windy and cold afternoon for a photo shoot, we (myself and CinemATL staffers Shun Jester and Lisa Ward) took them to a familiar—and much more comfortable—haunt, The Majestic Diner on Ponce de Leon where we sat down with them for a wide-ranging conversation about their worlds and their careers in film.
This issue's A-listers—director and cinematographer Lisa Cunningham, talent agent, writer and producer Jen Kelley (no relation to yours truly) and actor/writer Mary Kraft—treated us to a most interesting and informative conversation about the state of filmmaking in Atlanta and the South in general. Enjoy...!
CinemATL (MK): All right, what I want you to do first is introduce yourselves and tell us what you do in film and video in Atlanta.
Jen: I'm Jen Kelley, I work as a talent agent at the People Store; I previously was an agent in LA. I also produce and write. I write for a magazine called Artist's Expressions Magazine—my column is called "Acting Out." I also have a book called the Actor's Guide for Kids, which is a parent's guide for kids getting involved the business. And I have a sketch comedy show that I produce and I am head writer for, called Sketchworks. We just produced a new pilot we are trying to sell, and we've got another pilot coming up that's in front of TLC right now...so knock on wood. That's me!
Mary: I don't have that much to say! My name is Mary Kraft, and mostly I'm an actor/comedian: improv comedy, sketch comedy, some stand-up. I've done a little bit of writing—I write the sketch comedy that I do—and some film work. We've written some things for films in town for the Dailies Project, Push Push [Theater], and the 48-Hour Film Project.
Lisa: I'm Lisa Cunningham, native of Atlanta—one of the few—and I am in the wonderful world of music videos primarily. I started out as an assistant director, and now I'm directing. I've directed several music videos, and pitched a pilot that Robert Townsend picked up. So now I've got a TV show called The Envy Life that premieres on the Black Family Channel in March, and some other things brewing I can't talk about right now. But, yeah that's about me in a nutshell.
(photo: Primal Pi)
CinemATL (MK): Great. Let's talk about Atlanta real quick since we are doing this story for CinemATL. Are there very specific challenges working in Atlanta pertaining to your job?
Mary: I don't think I can say much about that, because I've only done this in Atlanta.
Jen: From an agent's point of view there are just different parts we cast for. We don't get as many opportunities for leads in features; we don't get as many national commercials—a lot more non union work, and usually the film work that comes, often the leads have already been cast out of LA or New York and they come here for the supporting parts which is sometimes great, because there are sometimes nice meaty supporting parts. But more often than not you're looking at day player or weekly type roles.
Jen: Yeah...Waiter Number 7. Still, there's a lot of independent films being done, so I do think there's still good opportunities for actors to do some meatier lead roles; but bigger budget projects tend to have smaller opportunities attached to them.
Mary: I guess that is one thing that I can comment on. Aside from there not being as many to audition for compared to LA or New York or whatever...I have a very conservative look, like. I'm mom a lot of the times for commercials— a nice neighborly look. But I'm not [like that] at all. At all!
Lisa: I wish you were my neighbor. You look like a nice neighbor (laughter).
Jen: I thought you were my mom (laughter)!
Mary: Maybe I am (laughing). But I do mostly real charactery things, and sometimes it's hard to reel that in. I don't know...it's not exactly what people are looking for at a first glance sometimes. That's a problem I run into.
Jen: And I think another drawback for actors is that often times you have to travel in order to really be committed to film—you have to be willing to travel. There's so much in New Orleans right now, or Wilmington...those are probably the two places that we're sending people to the most right now. And it's so hard to get actors to go even if it's a call back, if it's only like eight lines. That's like a full day and a half at least driving to that and possibly having to stay overnight. So you have to be really be committed to do that and hope that it pays off.
Lisa: In my arena, which is more on the music side of things, I found that when I first started out interning and PAing years and years ago, there were a lot of projects that would come here on the music side, because we had LaFace Records or So So Def was buzzing at that time. And then it went through a lull period and now there seems to be a resurgence of Atlanta being hot.
|Jen Kelley and Mary Kraft listen up. (photo: Eric Bomba-Ire)|
Artists are moving here from New York [and elsewhere]. We have people like Faith Evans, who is a New York native, moving down here and have been here for a little while now. And so what I think that's done is it makes it a much cooler place on the music side for people who just want to come and shoot.
So you would never before hear of "Hey, R. Kelly wants do a video in Atlanta," when there's no other artists associated with it, you know, from Atlanta. That's happening a lot more now, so there's more opportunities because of it. And then there are a lot of the labels that are trying to branch out to other media, starting little off-shoot film companies. Andre 3000 of OutKast has started one. Dallas Austin started one. Jermaine Dupri started one. So all of that is gonna to translate into MTV Films and different things actually being shot in Atlanta.
Mary: Andre started a production company?
Lisa: Yes! A film company. So I do believe that that's gonna translate on our side for some work outside the music videos.
Mary: That's awesome.
CinemATL (MK): As a director what kind of projects—I know you work a lot in music videos—but what kind of other projects are you attracted to, and what would you maybe aspire to as a director?
Lisa: Well, even in music video land, the ones that I've directed and will continue to direct, I'm more of a concept type person. I have a joke about I didn't wait all this time to do "parking lot videos." On the urban side, you can still click on BET any day and see some Bentleys and some girls, you know, and I'm like, "That will never be me." Lisa Ward can attest to that.
And I will just take a similar approach to anything that I am involved in...which right now is The Envy Life, which is the reality TV show that I'm involved in. Same thing—it's just about raising the bar, or working in a creative way with my resources and stuff so that when I look on the screen I'm just proud of it instead of, you know, it's just some crap just because it was a job.
Another thing that I'm more interested in instead of building a reel, which is what a lot of directors do, is...because I have a promotion and marketing background too, I consider the bigger picture. Because I feel like if I do something that's really good for this label, or this artist, or this network or this whatever, it leads to opportunities for cross promotion.
I did a video where Nestle gave me 2,000 push-up pops and, you know, Apple sponsored me, and just stuff you would never do on a $40,000-$50,000 video, because people don't think to go there. Those are just the things I'll always be interested in, you know, cross promoting...just stepping the game up on a whole 'nother level. And my world is just so [far below] the under belly that anything is a step up.
CinemATL (MK): Right, Right. Maybe you can talk a little bit about the climate for women in the industry today and what has been your experience with the industry, and being a woman in the industry.
CinemATL (LW): We'll, I mean its different definitely in Atlanta than it is in other cities, I'm sure. I don't know if it's better or worse, because you're fighting for a smaller breadcrumb, or because it is different, you can kinda call the shots.
Jen: I find that Atlanta has more opportunities for people just starting out. That's one of the things I like the most about Atlanta. It's a much smaller pond [in Atlanta] and there's a willingness and a growth that's happening here that you can kind of get in on the ground floor whereas out [in LA] you kinda have to know someone, or it's hard to start something up from scratch out there. I haven't really felt, for the things I've tried to do, that I've been stopped because of my gender. I think it's just a matter of being determined and going for it and making something happen, and not sitting back and waiting for something to happen. In Atlanta you have to make something happen.
Continue to Part 2 >>
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photo by Merrill Brady/Primal Pi
The Envy Life (producer/director)
Music Videos (director):
Gucci Mane "Icy"
Marc DecCoca "J's At My Door"
Edubb featuring Jazze Pha "Push Up"
Taurus "Taurus Here"
Recharging the Batteries (writer/producer)
Sketchworks comedy troupe (co-producer)
Stomp! Shout! Scream! (actress)
Aqua Teen Hunger Force (voiceover)
Return of the Jackalope (actress)
Aliens Among Us (writer/actress)
Learn More About our 3 Leading Ladies:
Lisa Cunningham's company, The Swat Team, which she runs with her business partner Valentino, is a production resource network comprised of businesses and talent. Lisa's show The Envy Life will now air in April on the Black Family Channel. More info can be found at theenvylife.com and theswatteamonline.com.
More information on Jen Kelley can be found at the Sketchworks website, where she is a co-producer and writer: sketchworkscomedy.com. Jen is also an agent with the People Store: peoplestore.net
Check out information on Mary Kraft's latest film Stomp! Shout! Scream! at stompshoutscream.com or check her out on stage at Dad's Garage in "Get Downsized"
Cover Story: Triple Threat
Establishing Shot: Kirkwood
The Insider's Scoop: D.P.
On Set Reports: