Nubia Rahim stands outside a public office building on a busy street in Los Angeles with a clipboard in her hand and a prepared short speech about her film, asking people for their email addresses so that she can build a large contact list that will enable her to notify them about her first feature film.
The film, “Pedal Power,” tells the story of a 16-year-old girl determined to let the world and her family know she’s not a lost cause.
Rahim says her bicycle actually inspired her to write about a young woman who decides to win her self-respect by doing the thing she does best. And now with script in hand, the real work begins for Rahim.
Joyce Fitzpatrick made her way to central Montana from L.A. so that she could research the life and times of Mary Fields, also known as ‘Stagecoach Mary.’ Fitzpatrick says she happened to read about Fields while thumbing through an old Ebony magazine.
Deeply inspired by Fields’ life, Fitzpatrick decided to produce a documentary about her search for the pioneer, feeling as though Fields’ spirit was driving her on. Little did she know she would eventually criss-cross the United States discovering Fields’, and the times she lived in.
With her documentary completed, and loaded with information, Fitzpatrick sat down and wrote a feature-length script dramatizing Fields’ fascinating life. But writing the documentary was a cakewalk compared to her challenges now.
Most Black female filmmakers write, direct, and co-produce their first films, be it shorts, or feature films. In this article, we’ll take a look at two up-and-coming filmmakers who have parlayed their work experience in television production into a feature film world that will challenge them every step of the way.
Desire, talent, persistence, and nerves of steel are at the forefront of creating a film, but make no mistake, an independent filmmaker is a small business owner. Sometimes the business aspect overshadows the filmmaking process, because financing a film and everything that goes with it, is a major issue.
Fitzpatrick says she refinanced her home in order to invest in her film. “How can I expect for others to invest in my vision, if I’m not willing to invest in it myself?”
Rahim, a successful television producer, who is originally from Atlanta, is currently fundraising for her film. She says she hears a lot of ‘no’s’–for every one yes, she’ll hear 10 no’s.
She is also doing a Facebook campaign, and one person she contacted told her Facebook is not the place to solicit funds and that she was not giving her anything. Rahim said her feelings were hurt, but she didn’t let that negativity stop her.
Even when she was outside the office building gathering emails, Rahim said after each no, she had to motivate herself to walk up to the next person to ask for their email. The young filmmaker says she’s learned not to take it personally; you just have to keep going, notes Rahim, who says she’s actually learning to enjoy the process, because it gets her one step closer to completing her film.
Fitzpatrick is accustomed to hearing the word ‘no’ as well. An L.A. resident is accustomed to seeing celebrities, either on the job or at social events, and because of her outgoing personality, Fitzpatrick says she can easily approach celebrities and engage them in conversation.
If she feels they are right for the lead role, using her networking skills, Fitzpatrick verbally introduces her film to them, sparks an interest and gets their contact information, be it personal or their agents. She excitedly ships her treatment off, and then she waits and waits, and waits. Phone calls are not returned, emails go unanswered. That’s the silent ‘no.’
The other ‘no’ that Fitzpatrick has experienced is more frustrating. The celebrity will love the role, and express interest in doing it, but when the agent steps in, the celeb is pressed to pass on the script. That’s happened to her on more than one occasion.
According to Rahim, filmmaking is like nonstop juggling. She says “you have to always be on point and be able to speak to people to tell them what you’re doing.” She believes that this is one of the most difficult parts of being a film producer.
Fitzpatrick, a former on-air promotions and program producer for television uses the networking skills she developed on her job to benefit her film. Case in point, she was told by a contact that Pam Grier was participating in a book signing at EsoWon Book Store in Leimert Park. Aware that they shared a common interest in Fields, with boldness and determination, Fitzpatrick approached Grier and the two held up the book signing line sharing information and experiences pertaining to Fields. Without question Grier is at the top of her list for a role in the film.
Fitzpatrick was also invited to discuss her movie on a radio show, after sharing her documentary and movie plans with a business acquaintance. The radio show, “Around the Barn,” focused on cowboys, horses and western-style living on the AM Hometown Station in Santa Clarita. Because her movie subject took place in the Old West, she able to share Fields’ story with eager listeners.
In an effort to get the word out about her film, and to scout talent, Rahim decided to volunteer for this year’s Pan African Film Festival. Her participation in this event introduced her to other filmmakers, and their work. Plus, networking was very instrumental in getting the word out about her project.
Most recently Rahim has held casting calls and successfully found actors to fill five supporting roles, hosted a table read of the shoot; completed a promo photography shoot of the film; completed monthly Youtube videos denoting her progress, and most recently launched a fundraising effort on kickstarter: http://kck.st/i7HRjF
To follow Fitzpatrick’s journey of bringing Fields (Stage Coach Mary) to the silver screen, visit her on Facebook under her name Joyce Fitzpatrick, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Black women filmmakers typically showcase their films at film festivals, and for many that is the best place to get a film noticed. These festivals take place around the country, and a number are solely dedicated to Black women.
Filmmaker Ava DuVernay, recognizing the importance of these festivals, founded a new organization, The African American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM) in order to get independently made films out to the public nationwide.
On a NPR radio show hosted by Michel Martin, DuVernay explained that AFFRM is an alliance of African American film festival organizations that have come together to release a film, theatrically, as a unit. DuVernay’s much-celebrated film “I Will Follow” is the first film to be released under the new organization.
And on Saturday, March 26, the 18th annual Sistas are Doin’ It for Themselves Film Festival will be held at 6 p.m. at Raleigh Studios. Organized by the Black Hollywood Education and Research Center (BHERC), the event features women from around the world convening at Raleigh Studios to showcase their films and participate in a question and answer session afterwards.