Independent Filmmaker Andre Seewood on The State of African American Cinema
By Andrea Williams
2002 was a historical year in Black cinema since it was the first time that the Best Actor and Best Actress awards were both taken home by African Americans. In the wake of Denzel Washington and Halle Berry’s monumental victories, it would seem as though the American film industry would have opened its arms wide to African Americans; but, many, including the notoriously outspoken filmmaker Spike Lee, believe that things have actually gotten worse—except, perhaps, for a certain gun-packing grandma.
Detroit-based independent filmmaker Andre Seewood agrees, and TAP recently spoke with him about the entire filmmaking process, what he calls the “crisis” in African American cinema and the trouble with Tyler Perry.
Can you start by describing the filmmaking process?
For me, I’m inspired by various ideas that I’ve seen over the years in classic American or European films. Usually, I start with an idea from one of those films and then I encounter things in real life that are similar or contradictory. That’s how I come up with my stories. I start with the story first and then I start writing the screenplay. The most important thing, as the great American filmmaker Nicholas Ray said, is that you have to have a ‘what if?’ You need to think about ‘what if this happens?’ and ‘what would happen after that?’ You begin to come up with your screenplay and story once you start thinking along those lines.
Do you write the screenplay yourself or do you bring someone else in to do it?
I believe in writing and directing your own work, but that’s because I have had extensive experience as a writer from writing novels. But I know that after you write your story, you have to transpose that for the cinema because writing for the page and writing for the screen are two different things. I’m not opposed to directing someone else’s script, but I think that it’s a lot more interesting and you surprise yourself a lot more often with your own work.
After the screenplay is written, what is the next step in the process?
For me, the next step is usually finding money. You utilize the screenplay and script to find the financial resources to make the film. There’s also putting together the cast and crew – finding people who are eager to act and maybe a couple of good producers who can help you get the financial backing, or at least secure a location.
Why do you think it’s so hard for African American independent filmmakers to find financing?
I think it’s because the marketplace for African American films is so tight and the expectations are so low in terms of what you can produce. There’s also the issue of what investors think will reach an African American audience. If you come up with a weird or bizarre kind of scenario in your film and you’re an independent African American filmmaker, you’re going to have a hard time convincing investors and other producers that other African Americans, or any audience, will be interested in seeing that. It’s very difficult to get financing for ideas that people think that other African Americans won’t accept. But what I try to stress is that my films are not just for African Americans. They’re for anybody who wants to see them—international or interracial audiences. I think that once we break into that type of thinking [then] we’ll be able to have a wider array of films from African American filmmakers that won’t be just within one or two genres.