If you haven’t heard the name Roxanne Avent, prepare to hear Roxanne’s name and see her more often — Roxanne recently secured a partnership with Lionsgate and Codeblack Films, manufacturing a deal with the studios to distribute her upcoming project in April.
She also has an impressive slate of films due for release this year which includes the following:
- “Traffik” starring Paula Patton & Omar Epps; worldwide release on April 27, 2018
- “Motivated Seller” starring Dennis Quaid, Michael Ealy & Meagan Good
- “Meet the Blacks 2” starring Mike Epps and Katt Williams
Coming from a background working for the Directors Guild of America and the music label Taylor Made Muzik, Roxanne started Hidden Empire Film Group in 2000. At HEFG, Roxanne oversees the creation, development, packaging, finance, and production on a broad array of films for wide theatrical release.
BGN had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Roxanne about her latest projects and how she manages sustainability in Hollywood.
Jamie Broadnax: Excellent. Well, thank you, Roxanne, for talking with Black Girl Nerds, really excited to chat with you and learn a little bit more about you and the work that you do. While doing some reading about you, before you co-founded Hidden Empire Film Group, you worked for the Directors Guild of America. Can you tell us a little bit about your role there?
Roxanne Avent: Yeah, it’s a funny story because when I actually got the job, it was not too long after I decided to break away…I was installing hardware and software for the Senate and Assembly in the computer science software specialist world. I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore, so I moved to LA nevertheless, started all over from scratch by using my business experience to gain employment, so starting at the bottom as a receptionist. It was just a random fluke that I got an interview there and I had no idea what the DGA was, what it was about or anything.
I was turning 21 years old and it was on my birthday and I actually just was applying for jobs because I wanted to just see what you need to know, the questions they’re asked, that kind of thing. Anyway, I go to the interview and they hired me for the interview to be the assistant to the national executive-in-charge of theater awards administration and facilities management for the New York and LA office. So, I was doing everything to assisting with the DGA awards, to the day-to-day booking of the theaters for both facilities, doing the production with the catering and crew to get those screenings setup, so that was my role there, working for a very aggressive boss, I’ll just say. Yeah, that was my experience there.
So, is it safe to say that you grew into the film industry or were you interested in the entertainment and film industry prior to going to DGA?
Roxanne Avent: Oh, yeah, totally, that’s why I moved to LA because I was interested in being in the industry. I always thought of maybe being an actress and all of that and then, my dreams were shattered because I’m not very well at getting in front of a crowd and having people, so, I said, “Well, why don’t I try behind-the-scenes.” So, that’s where I started to come in, in the background, just to film my way in and see what it’s about. I never had the wildest dreams that I’d be doing what I’m doing right now, but I was taught to get to where I’m at, from picking up trash to making runs or whatever it took. I just kept grinding and grinding. Then, when Deon had an idea, which is all it started as, we partnered up, made this movie, our first movie. Then, from there, we just fell in love with it and said, “We’re gonna keep doing this and create an empire.”
Literally, that’s what you have with Hidden Empire Film Group. Currently, you have a new film scheduled for release in April called Traffik, starring Paula Patton and Omar Epps. The story sounds really interesting. Can you tell our readers what the story is about and what led you to acquire this specific project?
Roxanne Avent: Yeah, I would love to. Traffik is a passion project for me just because, one, I have a daughter and there’s a lot of activity going around in where we live as far as the subject surrounding human trafficking, and what they’re doing, and how they’re targeting different girls these days. So, I fell in love with the story because it was just the organic kind of love story of a journalist and a mechanic who found love. She had been hurt prior to, so she was a little reluctant, and is taking her on a weekend vacation to propose to her. So, he rents this beautiful house and they go up for the weekend. On their way there, they stop at a gas station and she witnesses and experience something pretty incredible. Then, it just takes you through the ride of her being subject to this world of human trafficking.
You don’t realize the things that are always happening right under your nose if you’re not directly affected by it. So, it’s an honor to be able to bring awareness just to the subject matter and how easily and quickly things can change.
You’ve been running Hidden Empire Film Group since 2000 and this business and industry is hyper-competitive and incredibly difficult to get into. So, how have you personally maintained sustainability in Hollywood?
Roxanne Avent: Well, I think the key is we’ve been operating outside of Hollywood for so long and that’s due to the fact, obviously, of Robert Smith, our partner, our financier, believing in us and betting on us and our vision to do what we wanna do.
So, we create, write, produce, direct, finance, and put out all of our projects, so we’ve been very blessed to be able to have that flexibility. It’s taken us 12, 13 years to get to this point to where we can be validated to operate in Hollywood, that’s how I feel.
So, now, we’re here and it’s the same adversities with any other job or any other platform. Being a woman and being a Black woman, it’s always very difficult. You already have two strikes against you and you always have to work that much harder and prove yourself, if you will, of your value or your worth.
When, oftentimes, in different playing fields, you don’t have to do that as much and I’m happy to be able to feel confident that I’m the top of my game and the top of my world as a film producer on these budget levels.
I’ve been able to bump my head, be told no, be broke, no money. I’m a mother of three and just still pushing forward about the bigger picture. It’s not about the money, it’s about your legacy, and community, and teaching, and giving other people opportunities that would never normally have these because that’s who I stand for as a woman because that’s what I represent, so that’s where I get all that from.
Do you recommend that people start that way when they’re trying to get into this industry? If they’re wanting to do what you’re doing with Empire, Hidden Empire Film Group, create their own production company? Should they start going outside of the Hollywood ecosystem and then, build their way up to be as successful as you are now?
Roxanne Avent: Everybody’s story’s different. Different things work for different people. I think there’s definitely value in learning from the traditional Hollywood, if you will, way. It’s a proven format that has been happening for years and years and years. Although the landscape is changing a bit, I think it doesn’t hurt to have that knowledge, and expertise and relationships to understand how things are done, but I do think whatever your passion is, whether it’s this business or something else, you can’t sit around and wait for somebody to help you, or refer you, or take a meeting for you, or hold your hand through anything. You should just always be looking out for you and how to progress what you believe in and what you wanna accomplish and having the flexibility of doing it on your own — you make your own decisions, right?
Roxanne Avent: That gives you a whole different playing field when you create your own lane. You decide who you’re gonna deal with, what you’re gonna do, and how you’re gonna move, so it can work either way, but doing it independently is no easy task. So, you have to be willing to fight and cry. Listen, I’ve been running to just get to the starting point, full-on race, a marathon to get just to the race. Now, I’m in the race and I gotta race even harder, so it’s a lot of pros and cons to different situations. I would just say that don’t let anybody steal your joy or change your way of thinking, just go get what you want.
Absolutely, you mentioned that the landscape is changing right now and, speaking of which, the Oscars are right around the corner. The topic of #OscarsSoWhite is coming up again and the landscape does seem like it’s changing a little bit, but I’m curious to know what your thoughts and opinions are on this year’s roundup of Oscar nominees. Has the award ceremony gotten better or is there still more work to do?
Roxanne Avent: Well, listen, I don’t know all the ins and outs of all of that, but there’s always gonna be work to do. There’s always gonna be different monuments and things that happen to change people’s way of thinking because, again, it’s still the old traditional way. So, I’m just excited and embrace everybody who has been nominated, where we’ve gotten this far, and I can just hope for the best. We gotta just focus on ourselves and our journey, not be validated by any system that’s set up to discourage you.
I’m really geeked about the projects that are coming out of Hidden Empire Film Group. We’ve got Traffik, we’ve got Motivated Seller, Meet the Blacks 2. I take it that you’re someone that’s into nerdy and geeky things and we, here at Black Girl Nerds, always embrace those things. So, can you tell us what’s some nerdier geeky things that you fan out about?
Roxanne Avent: Well, I feel like the technology has definitely changed to where, before, when I was in that space, I was always often referenced as a nerd. Now, it’s taken off, but I’m very proficient in that kind of world, if you will. I still love the traditional reading books, talking on a regular phone kind of thing, just the old school traditions. Yeah, I guess, I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about that, I’m very conservative, very conservative person. Good question.
Well, it sounds like you’re a bookworm.
Roxanne Avent: Yeah, I like educational books. You move into what you read, and how you start, and how things transition, but I love the stories of just people changing their life around, and motivators, and that kind of thing. It’s very inspiring.
Final question, what are some words of advice that you would give to a budding filmmaker or somebody that’s interested in producing, especially, specifically, for young Black women, who we need to see more of in these roles behind the camera? What advice would you give to them on how to get started?
Roxanne Avent: Well, I think if you don’t have any experience or knowledge, you’ve gotta team up or get with a partner of some sort where you could grow and learn. In this business, a lot of people are not in the business in helping, or empowering, or introducing because they’re all about themselves. So, really finding genuine people that will support you and will make decisions with integrity and just to follow your heart because you always have those feelings when things are good, or bad, or not how they should be, or whatnot, so just following your heart and staying true to yourself, remembering where you came from, where you wanna go, and not making any sacrifices to get there. No shortcuts.
Well, thank you so much. You are a major player in Hollywood and it’s great to see that a woman of color is at the helm of all this. Congratulations on your partnership with Lionsgate and Codeblack Films and I look forward to seeing Traffik, and Motivated Seller, and Meet the Blacks 2 this year and really excited for what you guys have next. Is there anything that you guys have next?
Roxanne Avent: Well, we have a lot, not only do we have those projects, we’re gonna be going into production here in the next month on a film entitled .38. We have some really great partnerships that we’re gonna announce here shortly, which they’re gonna be game changers.
After this interview, it was announced that Deon Taylor (Roxanne’s husband and producing partner) launched the new label, Dark Circus, a production shingle solely dedicated to producing elevated urban / pop culture comedy and horror films and TV series. The debut project for the Dark Circus label will be a collaboration with Snoop Dogg to produce “The Thrill” – a horror anthology TV series.
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online publication and multimedia space for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association and executive producer of the Black Girl Nerds Podcast.