“Our money is representative of us,” veteran producer says about her fund’s female- and minority-driven investors
Effie T. Brown got her start working in Hollywood as an intern in 1991’s “The Five Heartbeats,” directed and co-written and produced by Robert Townsend, one of black Hollywood’s preeminent figures.
Since then, Brown has spent her career helping to produce films and TV that she says simply spoke to her, gave her life and had something to say about her experience — films such as “But I’m a Cheerleader,” “Real Women Have Curves” and “Dear White People.”
As conversations in Hollywood increasingly steer toward issues of diversity and inclusion, however, Brown told TheWrap she felt there was more she could do than simply grind away as a producer trying to get things made. She recently joined the film and TV financing fund Gamechanger as its CEO, tweaking the mission from just focusing on funding projects from female filmmakers to include people of color, LGBTQ+ creators and those with disabilities.
Now that she’s in a seat of power, and with the backing of investors, Brown said she’s ready to start changing the face of Hollywood. The producer caught up with TheWrap to talk about diversity and inclusion in the industry and her plans to propel Gamechanger forward.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity).
So why did you decide to step into this role with Gamechanger?
My truth is that at the end of 2017, I hit a hardcore burnout. What I’m saying is the same for every independent producer that I know; it really became apparent to me that it was still a grind to try to get someone to pay attention and to get things financed, even though I had — humble brag — but I have the track record, like winning Sundance, and never losing money on a movie. Yet and still I was still running into the same thing, walking into a room and either people’s eyes kind of glass over, and they’re like, ‘Oh it’s going to be one of those things?’
I hit a moment where I was like, something’s gotta give, and I’ve always wanted to have a fund and to be able to work with a group of people, collaborators and strategic partners to actually get movies and television made. So at the top of 2018, I got a Cinereach grant, a $50,000 unrestricted grant, and it allowed me a moment that a lot of us don’t get a chance to have, which is just to sit down and not have to take a job and just sit down and actually formulate a plan.
And what is your plan?
I ran into Dan Cogan (one of the founders of Gamechanger) and he was like, “Would you ever run a fund?” I told him ‘Hell yeah, as long as it fit my mandate.” So we’re going to do films and content that will hopefully build cultural bridges.
So what’s the level of capital the fund is working with?
We have a fully monetized development fund, which is a $2 million revolving fund, in addition to our investor network that’s looking to do two to three films in the zero to $5 million range a year.
It’s been interesting to watch the shift from simply getting in the door to now putting money behind building new doors.
Exactly. And that is the next logical step of where we’re going. You can’t do a movie about us without us, you know? There are a lot of content creators, writers, directors, and producers that are still viewed as talent and still as a tool for the studio. They don’t really have any ownership unless they break [big] or something like that.
It’s good that we’re making strides, you know, within our writers’ rooms and all of this. But at the end of the day, if we were able to actually afford people access and the resources like for our development fund, we’re able to be the master of our own destiny a bit.
Do you get tired of every year having the same conversations about the progress we are and aren’t making?
I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted complaining and continuing to point to the same problem over and over again.
Why don’t more studios and production companies bring on young talented people of color, female and LGBTQ producers or filmmakers as executives?
Who are you talking to?! I mean that’s a question we’ve been asking, and I have to say — and this is where I may get into a little trouble — things are getting better, but systemic racism and misogyny is real. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people recently say we would love to hire them but they don’t have the experience. Well, they don’t have the experience because you don’t hire them. It’s the chicken and egg sort of thing. I find that if you give someone a chance, they will rise to the occasion, and if they don’t rise to the occasion, then you hug and release them like you would anybody else.
And I think that a lot of times, and I don’t want to name names, but there’s networks and companies that talk a good game about like, “We hire XYZ,” but then you’re like, “Really? Like, that’s great that you have an assistant that’s like that, but they don’t necessarily have decision-making capability.”
So what kind of noise are you hoping to make with Gamechanger?
I want to tell stories you haven’t seen before in a whole new fresh way that will be forward-facing, meaning commercial. I want to put asses in seats, as well. I can tell you what we’re not looking for, I’m not looking for what I call black poverty porn. Not interested. I don’t want to see it. I’m also tired of the tragic LGBTQ story. And from women, we’re rooting for a whole new kind of hero. Like let’s do something that like we haven’t necessarily seen that shows that we’re complicated, that can be controversial, and edgy.
Financially, the diversity of our content will be reflective of the diversity of our financing network. That’s what it’s about. We want people who believe, who are down with our mission and what we’re trying to do: Change the face of Hollywood; level it up. Also, we’re going to show that this is a sustainable business. And that we are also putting our money where our mouth is.
What’s that actually look like?
We have to come up off of money and resources ourselves, so that we can actually make real strides. So the financiers in our investor network are primarily women, and they are primarily people of color. Our money is representative of us. Now that’s not to say — and I will be clear about this — we definitely need allies. We’re not turning down money, but we are looking for like-minded people, and we are looking for allies, and allies who are able to go into rooms that I am not yet welcome in and be able to get more resources, so that we can do more.