Roland Martin talks with some of the women behind the movies in television series you love to watch. They are two-time Emmy-nominated motion picture and television producer Debra Martin Chase, reality show veteran D’Angela Proctor, my high school classmate — yes, Jack Yates, Houston, Texas, Class of ’87; and filmmaker and director Ava Duvernay.
MR. MARTIN: Welcome back.
We continue our conversation about the inner workings of Hollywood with some of the women behind the movies in television series you love to watch. They are two-time Emmy-nominated motion picture and television producer Debra Martin Chase, rockin’ the cobalt blue; reality show veteran D’Angela Proctor, my high school classmate – yes, Jack Yates, Houston, Texas, Class of ’87; and filmmaker and director Ava Duvernay.
Hey, folks! What’s hap’nin’?
OFF CAMERA: How ya doin’?
MR. MARTIN: Welcome to “Washington Watch.”
OFF CAMERA: Hey.
MR. MARTIN: All right, then. Let’s get right to it.
People see folks on the screen in terms of the actor – folks along those lines – but they have no idea what your job is behind the scenes. Y’all got to deal with all these crazy people.
OFF CAMERA: Um-hum.
MR. MARTIN: And so what is it like having to be the producer, or the director, and you’re trying to corral the talent. You’re trying to deal with the studio, or the network, and you basically are the person walking around with pain medication all day because of all the headaches you[’ve] got to deal with?
MS. DEBRA MARTIN CHASE: It takes a lot of patience. A lot of patience. And it’s all about negotiating. You’re constantly negotiating to get what you want. You –
MR. MARTIN: So, you’re the last person who can fly off the handle.
MS. CHASE: Oh, yeah. If I fly off the handle, then everything goes to pot. But it’s – you know, I have a vision for something. You know, we all have a vision for something, and we’re the captain. It kind of starts with us, usually, and we’re pulling everybody in to share the vision, to get it done in the right way, to keep them happy so they do their best work – you know.
MR. MARTIN: Egos.
OFF CAMERA: Absolutely.
MS. CHASE: Egos – and politics.
MR. MARTIN: Yep.
MS. D’ANGELA PROCTOR: Well, the pressure is twofold. … in independent filmmaking, you have investors you have to answer to. And then when you –
MR. MARTIN: Who don’t really all understand Hollywood.
MS. PROCTOR: — oh, no. Not at all. Not at all. They just want to know that it’s getting done and that their money isn’t being wasted. So, you have to deal with the money factor. You have to deal with the talent factor; and you have to, at the end of the day, come out with a great product.
MR. MARTIN: Ava, you’re operating in a different space in terms of, obviously, directing and producing; but also, you created this distribution arm as well. And so you’ve got all kind[s] of stuff happening that’s a lot different than some other directors.
MS. AVA DUVERNAY: Yeah. I mean I think this is a really incredible panel, because you get a bit of all the different side[s] of the industry: D’Angela, who’s prolific in television; and Debra, who’s, you know, a legend in film – especially on the studio side. My world is independent film, and so I find it to be very autonomous and very kind of free – where I, as the artist, can create models and shapes and work in the way that I want.
And so, you know, I don’t know if I would thrive in these environments – and vice versa. It’s all kind of specialized to the person and what they do best in. But, yeah, certainly there’re new ways to do things.
MR. MARTIN: As women in dealing with this, I mean like it or not, [as in] so many industries across this country, you’re dealing with a male-dominated industry. So, surely, you’re having to deal with folks who are looking at you in a different way. And I’m sure you’re sitting there, going, “Okay. Let me show this fool I know” –
MR. MARTIN: — “Let me just set them straight.” I mean, surely, you’ve had to confront that in some way –
MS. CHASE: Of course.
MR. MARTIN: — or the other.
MS. CHASE: Of course. I mean, you know, I’ve been doing this a long time, so less so now because people know who I am. But in the beginning, it was that you walk in the room; and people, you know, thought you were the assistant, or – you know. They had no idea that you were coming in, you know, carrying some ammunition.
But you gently let them know and make your point and keep rollin’ forward.
MS. PROCTOR: Or not so gently.
MS. CHASE: Or not so –
MS. DUVERNAY: [Crosstalk] – me –
MS. CHASE: — gently.
MS. PROCTOR: Or not so gently.
MR. MARTIN: So, y’all just go –
MS. PROCTOR: Yeah.
MR. MARTIN: — Django, huh? Y’all just –
MR. MARTIN: [Chuckles.]
MS. PROCTOR: Well, I wouldn’t go that far.
OFF CAMERA: No, definitely not/
MS. PROCTOR: I wouldn’t go that far –
MR. MARTIN: I gotcha, though.
MS. DUVERNAY: No.
MS. PROCTOR: — but you definitely have to let people know. I was shooting a series in Africa, and – you know, sexism over there in some of the countries is really high, and I had say, “Listen, I know that you don’t know who we are, but I write your check, and I’m going to need you to do what I say do.” ’Cause he would look to the P.A.s, who were men –
MS. CHASE: You know, I –
MS. PROCTOR: — to get validation for what I’m telling him to do.
MS. CHASE: — I had that –
MS. PROCTOR: But that happens here, too.
MS. CHASE: — I had that in Barcelona. The guy just could- — he could not accept that he was working for a black woman. It just was not in his consciousness.
MS. PROCTOR: I told them – I said, “Hey, you guys think apartheid’s bad? You wait until these women learn their rights.”
MR. MARTIN: Ava –
MS. DUVERNAY: Wow.
MR. MARTIN: — dealing with independents, same thing for you?
MS. DUVERNAY: Yeah, I mean it happens more on the directorial side, because on the producerial side, I’m actually dictating who’s around me –
MR. MARTIN: Right.
MS. DUVERNAY: — so I’m able to actually say, you know, if you’re, you know, not cool, then you’re not going to be around. But I was just directing – I’m directing a documentary for ESPN, and just the other day I was interviewing a high-profile subject, and he continued to look at the producer that I had hired to do the work – the line producer – to ask him questions, even though I’d been introduced as the director and was standing right there.
So, by the end of the interview, “Oh, my gosh. You’re amazing. This is the best interview I’ve ever had.”
But, you know, those immediate things that happen – we just have to roll with the punches.
MR. MARTIN: Now, you talk about independent.
You talk about television you’ve done.
Big studio and stuff.
But when it comes to – especially for black audiences – trying to get folks to understand that we receive movies and TV shows differently, and so when you’re talking about the marketing aspect and trying to get it out there, what kind of educating do you have to do as well? I use the story of Magic Johnson when he opened his movie theater. He asked Lowe’s – he said, “Hey, how many hot dogs ‘n’ nachos [do] you guys normally sell on an opening weekend?”
And they told him.
He said, “I think you probably need to get some more.”
And they said, “Well, Magic,” you know, “we do movies.” You know, “We got this.”
He said, “Okay.”
So, when the movie theater opened – the one here in L.A. – they sold out of hot dogs and nachos on Friday night.
OFF CAMERA: Uh-huh.
MR. MARTIN: He said, “White people go to dinner and the movies.”
MR. MARTIN: “Black people do dinner at the movies.”
MR. MARTIN: He said, “I know you guys do movies” –
OFF CAMERA: Right.
MR. MARTIN: — “but I do black people.”
OFF CAMERA: Right.
MR. MARTIN: And so [there’s] a difference when you try to understand cultures. And so for you, in trying to do your films, are you trying to get people to understand, “Hey, you may” – “We’re going to market this a little bit differently”?
MS. CHASE: Yeah, it’s a constant dialogue. I mean, you know, studios have their way of doing things. Obviously, money’s always an issue. That’s why social media has been great – because it opens up other avenues. But there is a constant conversation about, “We think we should be doing this.”
“How much is it going to cost?”
“This will be worth it.”
You know, it’s tough. It’s tough.
MS. PROCTOR: It’s particularly tough when you do independent films, because I’ve done multiple independent films that I flipped – meaning I make the film, and then I sell them to the studio. And what ends up happening is when you have this great property, and you turn it over to someone, and they’re not marketing it properly, but you’ve already recouped your money, it’s like you – it’s helpless. It’s helpless, so social media is great.
MR. MARTIN: And, Ava, we know social media really helped you out with “I Will Follow.” Folks like me were really tweeting it –
MS. DUVERNAY: Yeah.
MR. MARTIN: — and, again, that made a huge difference when it came to how you were distributing the film.
MS. DUVERNAY: Yeah. I mean in independent space, we’re looking right now towards, you know, a hybrid approach to the way that we’re doing things: traditional media, traditional press; but also, you know, endorsements, social media – and social media going way beyond Twitter and Facebook.
MR. MARTIN: Right.
MS. DUVERNAY: I mean actual, deep integration; localized, customized, regional outreach. And then also, there’s nothing that works better than word of mouth and boots on the ground. So –
OFF CAMERA: Right.
MS. DUVERNAY: — with the AFFRM, we create this whole kind of army of mavericks who are, you know, on fire for black, independent cinema. I think there’re a lot of ways to do things, and certainly being a studio publicist for so many years, you can get in a trap in the studio world of it being very cookie-cutter; we do the same thing for every movie. When it comes to black folk, we aren’t the same.
MR. MARTIN: All right. We’re out of time, but we always plug stuff. Whatcha got comin’ up?
MS. CHASE: I have a musical on ABC Family coming out in April, called “Lovestruck.”
MR. MARTIN: Okay. All right.
MS. PROCTOR: I have multiple projects in development, and I have a TV series airing right now on another network, called “Vindicated.”
MR. MARTIN: What’s the name of it?
MS. PROCTOR: Oh, “Vindicated” –
MR. MARTIN: The network!
MS. PROCTOR: — is the show – on BET.
MR. MARTIN: Okay. We ain’t scared to say “BET.” BET might be scared to say “TV One,” but I ain’t scared to say “BET.”
MR. MARTIN: Ava?
MS. DUVERNAY: I’ve got a documentary that I did for ESPN on Venus, called “Venus VS” – Venus Williams – and just shot a short film for Prada that’ll be out by the time this airs.
MR. MARTIN: Cool. All right. I appreciate it. Thanks a bunch.
MS. CHASE: Thank you.
MS. PROCTOR: Thank you.
MR. MARTIN: Debra, D’Angela, Eva, thanks. We had a good time. We’ll see you next time.
MS. CHASE: Sounds good.
MS. PROCTOR: Thank you.