*Atlanta-based producers Ceasar Richbow and Michael Robinson are two names to keep your eyes on as the city continues to emerge as a Black entertainment mecca.
The duo own the Atlanta-Based Film and TV Production Company Total Momentum Productions, through which they are creating jobs in the community and funding quality projects. The company “specializes in the development, financing, and production of a variety of independent film/television projects.”
Besides Tyler Perry Productions, Total Momentum is the only other black-owned film and TV production company in Atlanta that is able to fund and green light projects.
Robinson describes Atlanta as “a great talent pool” and a “great work-ready state.” Adding that it’s “very friendly to work with the state, as far as tax credits, and the crew is readily available for productions. A lot of great things are happening here and we want to be at the top of that wave as the summer rolls on.”
EUR/Electronic Urban Report caught up with Richbow and Robinson to discuss their mission to turn out “very relevant content and storytelling — projects that people really wanna have a great discussion about and really feel great when they see the project.”
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How do you acquire content? Are you focused on certain genres and exploring particular themes?
Michael: Right now we’re focused on family friendly films. Our distributors want that content and they’re very much hungry for it. So there is a niche market that we’re trying to feed. We’re also looking at action as well. So as we expand our network we’ll also be expanding the types of projects we’re involved with.
What makes Total Momentum unique from what Mr. Perry is doing?
Ceasar: A lot of Tyler’s projects, I think, are more of the self-funded variety. They’re projects that really have to do with his company and his productions. What makes us different is we actually fund and finance smaller productions. Some productions that might be very small to Tyler, to us, they won’t be. We fund smaller projects and we also take projects from other filmmakers and help them to make their ideas come to fruition, via television or via film. We tend to specialize in small to medium size companies that want to produce films and also we produce films of that variety ourselves. Our operations are on a nationwide level, for the most part. And I think those things make us different from Tyler. I think the ocean is big enough where we can all find our part of it, that really serves the people and audience that we want to reach. And I think that-that side of the ocean, we’re very unique.
Talk about your distribution model.
Michael: We have a good relationship with a local distributor here in Atlanta and we’re able to do a variety of things with a project. Either a theatrical release or we could approach different networks through our distributors such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon — even Walmart and Redbox. Our distributors are tied in across the marketplace. So depending on what type of project it is, will dictate exactly where we’ll try to channel it. Some are very good with action, some are good with comedy and some are very good with family films. So we kinda source out our distribution efforts to companies that have a range of understanding in this particular kind of movies.
For example, we just completed one movie called “Ernie & Cerbie,” which is a dog related movie. Kinda on the lines of “A Dog’s Purpose.” We have a distributor that just specializes in those kind of films, and that’s kinda what we do. Even with our director, what we hire, we try to make sure that we match them up with the kind of work that we’re doing. So we have an action film, we would not have the same person directing our action film that might direct a movie about a dog, that’s more family oriented. That’s the way we deal with distribution as well. We kinda source it out based on who has the most expertise on the project and also based on who has the level of transparency that we want because we always feel like we’re very transparent at Total Momentum and what we do. So we feel like anyone we deal with should have that same transparency. It shouldn’t be smoke and mirrors.
You have several projects in the pipeline, from features to episodic — and you don’t simply focus only the African-American narrative.
Ceasar: We started out thinking that we would really focus on family movies and those movies are not really aimed at any particular demographic in terms of ethnicity. They’re more aimed at, just the whole family environment. We will have movies that highlight African-Americans, and we really think that’s important because African-Americans have been underrepresented in the film industry. We really feel like we have the ability as African-Americans producers to make a film that really captures the African-American experience. But we don’t limit ourselves to that. For example, I do Kung Fu, and I have a very strong passion for action movies that have martial arts segments in them. That’s another aspect of what we do. We really like the action genre. We’re looking at titles where we might focus in on some female action figures. We have one project that we’re looking at right now that might involve a female lead that will actually be an MMA artist, and do some very strong fighting sequences. African-American is not our focus but we also know that because of our uniqueness in this industry, and the fact that we are African-American, that we probably have a good story to tell through African-American characters.
Do black filmmakers have any responsibility to culture? In other words, do you feel that being a creative person requires that you tell a particular story?
Michael: As black men, we definitely want to see that we’re represented in the films that we do. So for example, the film that we’re hoping is going to be a great theatrical release, “Ernie & Cerbie,” the director is Tammi Williams, a black female director. First time director of a theatrical film. So we gave a black woman an opportunity to see exactly what direction we would go. We spoke with her very heavily before she came onboard the project, and me and Ceasar felt very confident that her creative input was exactly what we needed for that project. This project is going to be a focal point where we can point to the fact that a black female was our director, and even two of the leads in the movie are black females.
So we’re going to give opportunities to anyone. We want to be known as a diverse company. But I will say that we will give extra attention and fill key positions with our people that we know are talented, intelligent, competent and people that we really trust because, at the end of the day, we’re spending the money — we’re cutting the check. So we want to make sure that we get the level of service and professionalism that we expect, no matter who we put into those positions.
Ceasar: We have an absolute responsibility. We have a responsibility to not only bring out the black experience through what we do but also, there are people that have not ever worked in this industry because of the color of their skin. I really strongly about that, and I really think that we have the ability to diversify this movie industry in a way that few companies have done in the past. So I believe when we hear the expression “I am my brother’s keeper,” we really are. And we really do owe a responsibility to Rosa Parks and all the people that speak to our culture and our advancement. So I do think we have a responsibility and I’m hoping that we can make a big difference.
If there is one or more element you think would make the film industry better, what would it be?
Michael: When me and Ceasar started Total Momentum, we had a focus that we wanted to give people opportunities in this business, and that started from the bottom to the top. Our crews that we work with are very diverse and great people to work with. We’ve been able to give out so much business to people in our community that it really empowers us and through the experience, I’ve grown a lot and been able to appreciate so many talented people in the business.
Ceasar: We are builders by nature, but here’s my thing, if you don’t like something then build something better. Don’t sit on the sidelines and just talk about it, make it better. We’ve seen the blaxploitation movies and we’ve seen how a lot of people, not just African-Americans, are portrayed in movies and movies basically becomes the socialization streams for so many people, where they think they learn and know about people from what they see on the movie screen. So they look at it and it looks real and they think this is how people are or how African-American people are in general. So our thought is this, we have a chance, not just to employ people and build something that really is a part of the fabric of American society, but we also can maybe give a more realistic view of people and show the world a more realistic account of what people are, who people are and let people know that there’s so much in common that we have with each other. Stereotypes don’t work and when you watch movies, they should be representative of people — not stereotypes.
I watch a lot of movies and I watch Netflix a lot and there’s a lot of poor content on Netflix and I really felt like we can build a better product. We can build something that would be more enjoyable, more watchable, more user-friendly. Something that people really could attach to. There’s a market of smaller producers and filmmakers that really need a leg up and we really felt like we could start with small projects with small producers and filmmakers and then do bigger ones.
Visit the official website to browse the catalogue for more upcoming titles from Total Momentum Productions.