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May 23rd, 2001 David Walker | Movie Reviews & Stories
 

Reinventing the Wheel

Filmmaker Tim Reid talks about the need for self-distribution and building wealth.

     
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The guy on the phone is Tim Reid, who, contrary to popular belief, is not Venus Flytrap. Yeah, the resemblance may be uncanny. And complicating matters is the fact that, more than 20 years ago, Reid played a character named Venus Flytrap on the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati. But don't be confused, because that is most definitely not who was on the phone. The Tim Reid I was talking to is a maverick filmmaker--a writer, producer, director and distributor--who left Hollywood behind in 1997 to create his own destiny in the entertainment world.

For over three decades Reid has been a familiar face in Hollywood as an actor appearing on shows like The Richard Pryor Show and Simon & Simon. In the '80s, Reid moved into producing and directing. Along with his wife, Daphne Maxwell Reid, he produced such shows as Snoops and the sublime Frank's Place. Following the release of his critically acclaimed film Once Upon a Time...When We Were Colored, Reid formed New Millennium Studios--a full-service production studio. Based in Reid's home state of Virginia, NMS's first feature film was Asunder. Released in early 2000, Asunder, a thriller described as Fatal Attraction meets Waiting to Exhale, received a limited theatrical release in
more than 40 cities, but never played in Portland.

This weekend Tim and Daphne Reid will be in town for a special screening of Asunder, which they not only produced but also self-distributed. The screening is part of a fund-raiser for the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center.

Willamette Week: You're self-distributing Asunder, which in this day and age seems like a daunting--if not crazy--thing to do. What was the reason for this approach?

Tim Reid: The fact that most people think it is in some strange way better to turn over your distribution rights to someone else--rather than do them yourself--is not only dangerous thinking for wealth-building but certainly not following the pattern of the people we seem to always want to be like. For some reason, we are always so easy to give up our distribution rights and take the short-term gain of assured financial reward and very little risk. If you're going to go into the distribution business, then you know straight up that you're in the risk business. It has tremendous risks, and if you lose, you lose. If you win, it has tremendous upsides. But in order to create wealth for the community or wealth for a company, you must be in the distribution business. There's no two ways about it.

Oscar Michaeux, the godfather of black cinema, was self-distributing back in the '20s and '30s. So what you're doing isn't really anything new, especially in terms of black film.

We always hear folks of color complaining about "the system" and wanting to blame "the man" for this and "the man" for that. The bottom line is, we are our own blame, and we can't blame it on anybody but ourselves. If you want to be in the distribution business, you go into the distribution business. It ain't like it's no mystery. [laughs] It's just risk. Or you could go to the man and have him do it. If you go to the man and have him do it, shut up! Take the money and go home! And don't expect him to do it the way you would do it.

It sounds like what you're talking about has less to do with film and more to do with self-reliance.

We want it both ways--we don't want risk, but we want somebody to make us wealth. So we want to create--we want to have bragging rights, to say it's ours, it's about us--but we don't want to assume the risk of distributing it and controlling the title. And when it doesn't go our way, we want to blame a lot of folks. And I'm here to tell you that the community of people I come from and I'm a part of in this country--black Americans--are one of the largest economies in the world. If we can't support a distribution system, in any form of whatever it is--whether it's widgets or movies--then there's something tragically wrong. And what's wrong is that we just don't do it. We won't assume the risk. We won't get together. We won't do it. Because we are very much against self-reliance and taking risks.

How do filmmakers--or black people, or anyone looking to build wealth--do it?

There are wonderful opportunities. The times themselves trouble me, but the opportunities are not troubling at all. I think the opportunities are such that if you can weather the storm--the evil wind and all the stuff that's blowing across this country--then you really have an opportunity to prosper.

Start putting together a community-based constituency of support, whether it's the church or organization or fraternity. Look at that group and realize, this is not just a church, this is not just a fraternity--these are consumers. These are opinionated people. These are people who can be a support system for whatever your goals are--whether you have a grocery store or a movie studio. Start respecting them, and catering to them--you can build a distribution system. But you gotta know your constituents, and you gotta aim, and you gotta be willing to sacrifice. If we succeed, we should succeed by our own efforts and the efforts of community building. And if we succeed, we deserve reward. And if we don't, we will go away and try something else.

But at least you tried.

Oh, without doubt. I walk away with my head held high. We
did more than try--we cut the rope.


Gala VIP event at IFCC, 5340 N Interstate Ave., 6 pm Saturday, May 26. Tickets ($50) are available through Portland Cable Access, 2677 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 288-1515.




Asunder screens at 8 pm Saturday at McMenamins Kennedy School, 5637 NE 33rd Ave.; tickets $15 for screening only.




Asunder will be released on video in late 2001.
 
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