Ever since Ive been in the music business Ive always felt that the movie and book publishing business were its first cousin. For every group of 20 demos Ive heard, at least 1 screenplay or manuscript has never been far behind.
My plunge into the movie business came in 1996 when I had the privilege of being Method Mans agent of record for the movie Copland, starring Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone. I will never forget those long hours on the movie set. You know, the top of the building scene. For the legions of you who are now going to race out and rent Copland or watch it on cable (its on Encore this month) I wont spoil the outcome.
What I learned from that experience was the culture of the movie business. The etiquette of being on a set, the power that a director and studio wields and the discipline and punctuality (not a strong suit of the rap world recording sessions, photo shoots, or videos) that is required to gain a reputation as someone people want to work with in the business.
Around this time, as opportunities poured in, Meth, Mook (President of Wu Tang Management) and myself had a meeting with Lyor Cohen at Def Jam. He repeatedly warned us about how forgiving the movie business was and that the habits and customs of the music business simply would not work in the film industry.
To his credit, Method Man was excellent. He was committed, a student of the craft, and his people skills were incredible. He also wasnt afraid to shed his rap street image and try new things. It is these traits more than the fame that rap gave him that made him an acting success.
Not a week goes by now that I dont hear of someone in Hip-Hop making a move (or strongly considering) to film and broadcasting. The motivation is usually clear opportunities in the music business are closing down rapidly and people are being forced to make a change just in order to maintain their lifestyle and income. This is fine, as entrepreneurship by necessity is how most businesses get started, and in a recession too.
And the rap to film switch is logical as much of the investment in equipment and talent can cross over well. Obviously, for example, one can see why a person who has made rap videos for years would like to produce or direct shows, documentaries and movies. And sure, a rapper is acting while in a music video, doing shows, and even in interviews.
But I wonder if everyone who is contemplating the move from music to movies is respecting the game (the movie industry) for what it is.
As a business economist, I can see changes in the world of intellectual property, broadcasting platforms, content, advertising and subscription (pay-per-view) models that are affecting the winners and losers in the new environment of creative content and it is not hard to see that only the strong will survive.
In order to get a nice introduction on this and weave it into the Hip-Hoppreneur worldview, I reached out to my closest advisor on all things Film and TV related Eric Canada. What makes Eric unique is that he understands both worlds music and movies having been a major player in advising record labels, artists, DJs, and retail store owners, in the last decade on how to read how the streets were impacting the music people liked and why units were moving or not.
His promotion skills were some of the very best in the business, and on a personal note he was the co-executive producer with me of The Streets Are Political mixtape, which The Source magazine made Mixtape of the Month in 2004 (to this day he and I insist we introduced the executive producer tag on mixtapes!)
As successful as he was in music, Erics real passion and area of expertise is in Film and TV. He has worked on the set of more reality shows, music videos, movies and documentaries than I can count. Hes also consulted on and produced some nice short films. This Summer Eric successfully completed the prestigious UCLA Film School Producers Program (http://www.tft.ucla.edu/) and his finger is on the pulse of the latest trends, including the the Internets impact on Film and TV.
To get to the bottom of the question of whether the film game is the new rap game we recently had a building session:
Cedric Muhammad: What is the main difference between the rap game and the film game?
Eric Canada: The Main difference between The Rap Game and The Film Game is Demographics. When a Rapper is stepping into the booth 90 percent of the time theyre thinking to themselves that theyre either doing this song for the radio or for the streets. When you are making a film there are so many different genres to consider - from action films all the way to comedies and then once youve passed that stage you still have to break it down even more, in terms of whether this a comedy for men or women? Or is this a romantic comedy or is it a family comedy, etc.
Cedric Muhammad: Do you think that cats in the music industry and on the streets (rappers, video producers and the old street DVD/documentary makers) who are putting music down, to move into film-making are prepared for the transition?
Eric Canada: I dont think that a lot of people transitioning into the film world respect it for what it truly is. Film-making is an art and science and if you are going to be successful at it you have to study and respect the art and science. Ive heard up and coming rappers on street DVDs Freestyling and battling, whose rhymes were mind blowing but at the same time, that rapper might not be able to make a hit record because they may not be able to count bars or they may not know how to write a hook. And they definitely couldnt make a good album. The same goes for Film-makers. You can be the greatest Hip-Hop or R&B video director in the world and make a horrible film because you dont know how to properly write a script or how to cast for film as opposed to casting for a video.
Cedric Muhammad: Where do you see the Internet fitting into all of this?
Eric Canada: I think a lot of people downplay the power of the internet. The internet is a form of worldwide marketing and distribution. No other media source offers you what the internet offers you. The internet is so big at this point that you have youtube videos that have more views then TV shows.
Cedric Muhammad: Could you break down the place of the major cities in the Film and TV world? I hear Atlanta making noise of late - where do they fit in? And what about New York and L.A.? Is there a shift away from Hollywood?
Eric Canada: Right now I would have to say Atlanta is going to be the next big thing when it comes to film-making. A lot of people are moving to Atlanta for its way of life and there is a great creative energy in Atlanta. In 2010 Atlanta reminds me of the Harlem renaissance in its early stages. I think we will see some big things come out of Atlanta in the future. New York will always be a big city for film-making just because the scenery in NY is like no place else in the world. As far as Hollywood I dont believe anyplace will ever take the place of Hollywood. Just the word Hollywood alone makes you think of A-list actors, Big name celebrities and Big budget films.
Cedric Muhammad: What rapper has had the best career in Hollywood (in front of and behind the camera)?
Eric Canada: Hands down Will Smith has changed the game when it comes to the transition from rapper to actor. You can easily say that he is the biggest movie star there is right now. Another rapper that made the transition but never had a chance to live up to his full potential was Tupac. I dont think Tupac would be on Will Smiths level as far as image but I could have seen Tupac being nominated for an oscar at some point in his career. As far as raps new generation I would have to say Nicki Minaj would be my pick to be the next big thing if she ever decided to make that transition from rapper to actor.
Behind the camera, I think its F. Gary Gray.
Cedric Muhammad: What do you think of 50 Cents moves so far?
Eric Canada: I look at what 50 has done in such a short period of time with his rap career and you can obviously see how talented a business man he is. I believe once he has learned to master the film game the way he mastered the rap game then he will become a powerful force in Hollywood. I think the key to 50s success in Hollywood is for him to put the guns away on screen. The one thing about film compared to rap music is film is not about keeping it real, matter of fact the further from reality the better. People pay $10 for a movie to escape reality. Seeing 50 Cent on the screen holding a gun no matter if hes a soldier or a cop or a hitman is too close to the realities of his music. I think people need to see 50 in a whole new light when it comes to film. He needs to take on roles in films like a romantic comedy or something along those lines.
Cedric Muhammad: What do you think of RZAs moves so far and the recent LA Times article on him (RZAs New Rap: Filmmaker - http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jan/03/entertainment/la-ca-rza3-2010jan03)?
Eric Canada: Through hip hop and the Wu-Tang, RZA has already shown the world his creative genius and I believe through film the RZA can show a whole new level of creativity. RZA has studied film-making from some of the best teachers that Hollywood has to offer. He has shared the screen with everyone from Denzel to Adam Sandler and he has also worked closely with Quentin Tarantino. I believe similar to 50 Cent, that The RZA needs to shed his hip hop persona and do a total 180 degree change. He needs to show his hip hop fans something new and something different then what theyre use to hearing in his music and seeing in his videos. This is an opportunity to take his fans on a whole new ride while gaining new fans along the way.
I hope that everyone investing their hopes, money, time and energy on a new career in film will take heed to what Eric is saying. It could make for success or failure. I think it wouldnt hurt to have an Independent Film Producer and Consultant like him on your team.
I wish I could help you, but I have to keep it one hundred percent real with you - my film career ended with Method Man on the roof of that building.
Those who would like to go further with their acting, script-writing, and film producing and directing can contact Eric directly at: moviebiz101(at)gmail.com.
So, is the rap game the new film game?
Its still too early to tell.
But a lot of folks sure think so.
Cedric Muhammad is a business consultant, political strategist, and monetary economist. He is also a former GM of Wu-Tang Management and a Member of the African Unions First Congress of African Economists. He is author of the book, The Entrepreneurial Secret (http://theEsecret.com/). His talk show, The Cedric Muhammad and Black Coffee Program can be viewed every Wednesday from 12 to 5 PM EST (USA) at: http://www.cedricmuhammad.com/media/. He can be contacted via e-mail at: cedric(at)cmcap.com