Who are ‘Brown Paper Dolls’? How and why was it created?
Brown Paper Dolls is made up of three ladies Asha Kamali May, Dana Gills and Jeanette McDuffie. We are a production company, all Chicago, IL natives now living in Los Angeles, that began to work together three years ago on our first project, Milk + Honey. Our goal is to tell and celebrate untold universal stories from unique perspectives. We were all at a point where we were seeking opportunities in our individual careers and felt that it was time to do what we wanted to do individually and tell the stories that we, and our audiences, wanted to see.
Can you tell us a little bit about your projects such as the Milk + Honey series? Any exclusive information on what's next?
We are working on a number of projects. Milk + Honey is our tent-pole project–it is a scripted series we have created for TV & the web. We envision it as content that will live on multiple platforms. As you might know, to take projects from page to screen is a process and we are currently in talks with distribution companies to bring Milk + Honey to screen soon! Brown Paper Dolls has a slate of upcoming projects, including documentaries, films and web series.
How did the UK's very own Idris Elba get involved in the project?
As producers, we've thought intensely about who we wanted to partner with. Idris Elba has always been at the top of the list, as we are big fans of his work, his brand and his talent. His brand and audience lines up with our creative direction for Milk + Honey and as our executive producer, he brings a unique, global perspective that allows a great synergy between us.
How do you source new talent for your projects?
We pay attention to everyone who has a role in anything. We are also fortunate to live in LA where there are a lot of actors, many of whom are part of our social circle. We love fresh faces and also feel privileged to work with experienced actors who have created a huge magnitude with their fan base. We work with our casting director to find the right actors for the right roles. We try our best to keep a pulse on who is next by monitoring who is doing what, and always look for that "it" factor.
There is the argument that shows get commissioned based on their potential to produce ratings and be commercially viable. What do you say to the argument that it will be difficult for programmes, like Milk + Honey, to compete on this commercial basis with the extreme and controversial shows that can be seen on networks such as BET or VH1?
There is definitely truth to that statement– a lot of networks are looking for content that is proven and that will produce ratings. We set out to prove that our Milk + Honey audience is just as viable and it has been a challenging journey to get people at different networks to see the value, but we stay hopeful with the recent increase of scripted shows on cable that target an audience similar to ours. We constantly hear the cry for more projects like Milk + Honey and we believe that when audiences are able to access them, they will watch. The re-launch of The Game on BET is a great example.
In relation to the previous question, what are the challenges to devising programmes that are not controversial or have that shocking/extreme factor?
We believe in telling good stories and some may have controversial or shocking storylines, but the key is to truly engage your audience by telling stories that they can relate to and are entertained by. You have to tell a very good story, with really engrossing characters. In the end, it goes back to what is on the page.
What do you think needs to be done in the industry as a whole to get more varied perspectives seen on the screen?
We think people should continue to broaden their perspective of ‘the screen’. To us, there are multiples screens–TV, film, internet and mobile, all of which are valuable and some are easier to initially access. We, as storytellers and filmmakers, must embrace these screens and use resources that we can access to tell the stories that we want to tell. We can connect with our audience and share our various perspectives.
Assuming “the industry” means major studios and networks, we think the industry must first decide that varied perspectives should be a part of its business strategy. Right now, most companies are working with the goal to create big budget movies that everyone across the globe will see. Oddly, from their perspective, this can be achieved by making products with very homogenized casts. When indie filmmakers, whose stories do not fall under the current studio mandate, figure out ways to make wildly successful films and shows using creative business models, we may start to see a change.
Any plans for a UK visit any time soon? We just had the Images of Black Women Festival not too long ago and there is a great call for programming that offers different perspectives.
We would love to visit! The UK is definitely on the list, can't wait -we will keep you posted. We would love to broaden our audience in the UK and although we haven’t made any plans yet, traveling to the UK is definitely a goal of ours.
Finally, what does diversity mean to you?
Many times people think diversity means plugging a couple of people of color into supporting roles in film and TV. Real diversity starts behind the scenes. For us, diversity is not just about casting people of different races and ethnicities in different roles. It is more about hiring people from different ethnicities, races, socio-economic backgrounds, and geographic locations to work as executives, directors, producers, department heads, casting directors, etc. It is about hiring directors that boast a range of points of view.
Diversity is important to our growth as human beings and who we will become as a human race in future years. In this global world, we benefit from being able to experience life through each other’s eyes. Diversity is recognizing, embracing and celebrating our differences, those special nuances that actually make us interesting people. The differences could be cultural, ethnic or whatever, but through this process of acknowledging diversity, we realize that we, as humans, have more in common than not. In our industry, it is so important to see and hear different stories and points of view because it makes our life experience that much more rich and rewarding.
A big thank you to Asha, Dana and Jeanette for speaking to SceneTV. For more images/screen shots, visit the Scene Profiles gallery.
Finally, look out for more of the SCENE PROFILES series to hear from a variety of people within the television and film industry, find out how the digital space has had an impact on their work and what ‘diversity’ means to them. For regular news about television, diversity and the evolving online space as well as updates about SceneTV, click here.