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Friday, February 15, 2008

7 Questions...

Tambay Obenson is a modern day Renaissance man. He's a terrific blogger, an actor, a podcaster on Black Cinema, and a filmmaker. He knows the struggle of trying to put out quality Black film to the public at large. His insights are funny, intelligent, and oftentimes progressive. He took the time to answer a few questions for my blog--take note.

Q&A With Tambay Obenson

Question #1

You have your fingers in many pots; podcaster, blogger, filmmaker, writer, actor. Do you have a preference of one over the other? How do you keep your balance and what motivates you?

Filmmaker! That's what I went to school for and that's what I'd really like to be doing right now - making films. But circumstances led me down different paths. However, I'd like to think that there's a beneficial symbiotic relationship between everything that I do. How do I keep my balance? I can't :o) That's why I'm letting go of a few things, or at least reducing the amount of time spent on specific ventures and redirecting those valuable yet limited minutes to my preference - filmmaking. Something(s) had to give eventually.

Question #2

You made a feature film named "Beautiful Things". What were your greatest challenges on getting it made?

Money! Cash! Loot! Bank! The green stuff :o) The same old song and dance that just about every indie filmmaker has experienced, and still continues to experience. The film I ended up with isn't the film I started production with. Much of the script had to be essentially discarded due to money and time contraints, and I instead employed copious amounts of improvisation from the actors, which actually ended up working in my favor. The final product displays a certain realism that helped win audiences over. So, one could argue that there's actually some benefit to working with little to no money. It prevents you from getting lazy, and forces even more creativity out of you. But with a little more money, the production certainly wouldn't have been as challenging as it ended up being.

Question #3

A lot of my readers are filmmakers and future screenwriters. How were you able to fund your film? Any advice for those wanting to go the same route?

Me, myself and I. It was made for a paltry $5,000, a fraction of a percentage of the average studio-produced picture. Everyone worked for free, and digital video was my weapon of choice. I got all my equipment for free (both production and post-production tools) significantly reducing my costs. Renting cameras, lights, sound equipment, and an editing suite would have been quite a burden on my bank account, so I utilized the few connections I had to ensure that I didn't have to pay for much. My most consuming cost was food for the cast and crew. I did everything I could to keep my costs low. I used my apartment for most interior scenes, often doubling as a second apartment and also as an office. The script wasn't inundated with dialogue which can add significantly to overall cost... etc. So, for those wanting to go the same route, perform an inventory of your physical assets, as well as those of others you have access to for little to no money, and write a script around your findings. Keep your story simple, but interesting, obviously. A small cast of characters is always wise. There were 2 in mine (and I played one of them)... less mouths to feed, bodies to transport and to worry about in general. Limit exterior scenes, or scenes that take place in public locations where you have virtually zero control over the elements, unless of course you have the funds to shut down entire streets to stage a car chase scene. But if you did, you obviously wouldn't be reading this :o) A few people laughed when I said I was going to make a feature film with less than $5,000. I had no intention of spending years trying to raise some 6-figure sum to produce the film, as some of my comrades have done. Not only did I make it for next to nothing, I self-distributed it, and it screened in very limited release in 2 New York City theatres for a short period of time. And now it's available for sale via sites like; and thankfully more people continue to discover it.

Question #4

How does New York weigh in in the filmmaking world (contacts, networking, exposure) as opposed to being in the flux of things in Los Angeles?

I lived in L.A. for 3 months right before moving to New York. I can't say that there's a significant difference in terms of making contacts, networking, and exposure. The world is getting smaller every day, thanks in large part to mediums that connect us, like the Internet. I'm probably not the most qualified person to ask this question because I've always prided myself on existing on the outside of "the system." I was never one to "play the game," so to speak. I was really naive and quixotic upon entering the business 7 years ago, and I genuinely believed that I had the talent to "make it," and that would be sufficient. It didn't take long for my idealism to be challenged and tested, and I quickly learned "my place," on the outside, and I've been there since. But New York has traditionally been known as the artistic capital of cinema in America, while L.A. is it's capitalist pig of a step brother. I don't know if those distinctions still really mean anything, but I stopped paying attention.

Question #5

What projects do you have coming up in the future?

I'm writing the screenplay for my second feature-length film which I'm hoping to produce this summer. It's been 3 years since I picked up a camera and I'm anxious to do it all over again. I learned so much from my first experience that I'm ever more confident about my abilities, going into my second effort.

Question #6

A subject that comes up here quite often is the dissatisfaction with what "The Hollywood Machine" is producing in the way of Black Cinema. What, in your opinion, can the public at large do to change things?

Oh boy... chuckle, chuckle... it's all been said before. I could write volumes on this, addressing all connections - social, economical, psychological, historical and even spiritual! In a nutshell, (and you've heard me say this before), less talk, more action. The desire for change seems apparent and prevalent. Sites like yours wouldn't exist if that wasn't the case. Yet, there seems to be an unwillingness to step onto the next prong on the ladder. It's as if we've plateaued, or are waiting for something magical/mystical to happen that will get us over the proverbial hump. I attended a tribute for St Claire Bourne over the weekend, with a few recognizable names present, sharing their memories of the recently deceased African American documentarian/activist. Melvin Van Peebles was one of them, seated a few rows behind me actually. The overall discussion started to turn into what I would call a "whiny-fest" as audience members questioned and complained about the state of things, and sought a replacement for the likes of St Claire Bourne amongst those of us who are left, calling for new leadership, etc... For most of the 2 hours, Melvin was the silent observer. But during the last 30 minutes, brotherman unleashed some appropos venom onto the audience. He got up from his seat, and literally started yelling at the audience and the panelists... not uncontrolled nonsensical rants, but rather righteous calls to action, challenging every single person sitting in the auditorium to become the change that they say they want to see, instead of looking or waiting for someone else to show them the way. Essentially - if you're truly serious about wanting change, then shut up, go out there and do something about it. Maybe it's really not THAT simple... but then again, maybe it just is, and we're making it more complicated than it really needs to be.

Question #7

Any thoughts you would like to relay to the readers?

Don't do drugs!

I'm joking... but seriously, don't do drugs :o)

Other than that... we should all focus less on what is, and more on what could be. I think that's how we engender change. We need more idealists I think. But we live in an oppressive world that makes it difficult for us to invest time and energy in anything other than our basic survival. I understand that. But once you've been made aware of the dealings behind the curtain, you really have no choice but to act on that newfound knowledge. You can't put your head back into the sand and pretend that the truth you saw or heard suddenly no longer exists. And what's at stake here is bigger than black cinema... our collective consciousness, sanity, will and power. No, we're not a monolith. There are an estimated 1 billion people of African descent in this world - about 40 million of them in this country (America). Imagine if we all decided to act on something of importance to us, whether positively or negatively. We could literally change this country and the world in a matter of seconds!


The Obenson Report said...

Whoa! Thanks for ALL the love I.W.

Much appreciated :o)

I'll certainly spread the word.


Kayos said...

He has truly been on the grind.

I need to see his work. I love film.

I wish him luck on future endeavors and hope that he keeps that focus!

focusedpurpose said...

thank you for a well-written, insightful, encouraging piece. i especially like his call to focus less on what is and more on what could be.

i will check out his work for sure. thank you for helping me to know more.


Invisible Woman said...

@TAO: You deserve it!

@kayos--see if you can order it from Amazon--at least you know you'll be directly contributing to a new view. Good to see you :-)

@focusedpurpose: hello there...thanks for your comment. I hope you get a chance to see his work as well.

Nicole said...

If he can make Beautiful Things that entertaining on a tight budget, imagine if he had Hollywood cash. He makes me feel like a slacker, too. said...

Tambay: Do the damned thing.

Invisible Woman said...

@nicole: that's why I started doing these posts; to encourage those who are stuck from fear and not knowing. If he can do it, you can do it too!

@TBA: Okay? He's the man.

aulelia said...

this is a great post. thanks

Invisible Woman said...

Thanks for saying so Aulelia :-)