Interview: Producer Effie Brown 'Inherits' Greatness
For those who like the finer things from their films, Producer Effie Brown has got you covered. A thoughtful champion of interesting and original work, Brown has carved out a successful career thus far by backing some of the most inventive movies to hit the screen. From early work with female based stories like "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her" and "Real Women Have Curves" to Jane Campion’s departure from period pieces "In The Cut" and even the breakout indie darling "Rocket Science" (five star stuff!) which launched the career of future Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick, Brown has a knack for choosing the unique. Her latest project "THE INHERITANCE" (hitting DVD and Blu-ray on April 12 from Image Entertainment) is no different – it’s a historical horror flick that combines the taboo subject of slavery with an old fashioned pact with the devil. (Now that’s original!) Starpulse got a chance to sit and chat with the lively Brown about working on "The Inheritance," her past projects and a look at what she’s got coming up! Here's...
Producer EFFIE BROWN!
How did you become interested in "The Inheritance?"
Effie Brown: I’m a huge horror movie fan and sci-fi fan. Somehow there’s a teenage boy trapped inside me - I don’t know what to do about that! But I love those types of movies. What’s funny is I do either indie quirky movies or "Real Women Have Curves" that are very women 'rah, rah' and the Director Robert O’Hara is a pretty big playwright that does very serious works off Broadway and we bonded over our love of horror movies. Plus we never get to see black folks in a good horror movie. It’s kind of a stereotype, but it’s really kind of true that in a horror movie the black person dies literally in the first fifteen minutes or something happens to them – it’s like wearing a red shirt in a "Star Trek" movie! You know that you’re going down! I remember talking about the type of horror movie that we’d like to see – and I’m not politically correct – and we didn't want to see them doing drugs and being 'gang' and being stereotypical. People say black film or a horror comedy sort of thing, but we wanted to do something that was obviously entertaining and had funny bits, but something that was about an upper middle class to wealthy black family that had some legacy behind it. Also we talked about our love of Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger and Jason and we couldn’t come up with when was the last time you saw a black one? All we thought of was "Candyman" and I love Tony Todd and "Candyman," but that was eighties or early nineties and we haven’t had anything like that for a while.
With many layers in the story the film is much more than just a horror flick – how would you describe the film?
EB: I think we might be doing it a disservice to be calling it a horror film because it’s not wet gore and we don't go for the 'what’s around the corner.' If anything I would call it a supernatural thriller, but it definitely is in the horror genre. Especially the second one because we’re franchising it - we want to make more of these. But it really is about family, it’s about a cult, it’s about faith.
There is a unique balance in the film of historical atrocities mixed with old school genre horror – how important was it to have both in the film?
EB: It was really important because nobody talks about slavery and if they do it’s in that "Roots" sort of way. We were like I think it’s time that we can talk about it in this way, where it’s really about this is when a deity came to you and you made a deal with the devil – that sort of packaging. We thought that would be a brilliant way. When you have a group of people that are being oppressed by another group of people, that’s ripe to make a deal. I would make that deal. I don’t know if I’d make that deal right now, but if I were in that situation, I would.
The blood and gore effects in the film are used sporadically, which makes them so much more grim and effective when they do reveal themselves – is this something you and Robert talked about early on?
EB: We did and the reason is because we made this for such a small amount of money. Coming up as a producer, I’ve worked on twenty million dollar movies to little tiny movies and you’ve got to put your money where it’s most effective. A lot of times what Robert and I really agreed on is the things that you don't see and it’s the things that are most scary. I find as a horror audience we’re a little desensitized. We’ve seen everything so much, so many times, so we wanted to use it purposefully – it was a financial decision, but also a creative decision.
You’ve got quite an impressive cast including the amazing Keith David, "24" alum D.B. Woodside and the ever sexy Rochelle Aytes among others – how did you go about assembling such an eclectic gang?
EB: I find that horror movies, the really scary ones, you have to have good actors. We didn't want to do one of these pretty people say the lines horror movies and so we knew we had to go after our anchor and so the first person we went after hard was Keith David. He’s brilliant from doing "The Thing" all the way to doing "The Princess and the Frog" – he’s a veteran actor. And once we got him we were able to get Tony award winner Adriane Lenox who won a Tony for "Doubt," Novella Nelson, we got Andre De Shields who’s a huge Broadway theater actor veteran. So once we secured the older actors, we got a whole different caliber of young actors – and they were able to bring it.
With two major producing awards under your belt for both "Stranger Inside" and "Real Women Have Curves," you’re obviously a producer who has a keen eye for a great story – what do you look for in a project?
EB: I’m drawn to things that I haven’t really seen before – I have a big love for extraordinary stories about ordinary people. That’s my thing, that’s what I love. I mean "Rocket Science" was about a stutterer who goes into the world of high school debate, so I look for things that aren’t too precious. I like the little ugly bits of life – I call them 'f*cked up little ditties.'
Casting is always key in a great indie film – such is the case with the amazing film "Rocket Science" and especially the casting a young future Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick. Did you sense making that film that she was destined to become big?
EB: I have to give it to Jeff Blitz the director – he really spotted it first. He was like, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa,' and then we looked again and were like, 'Wow, you’re right!' I have to say I’m blessed with this because it’s the same thing with America Ferrera for "Real Women Have Curves." She did that role, it was a breakout role, then from there "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" and she also did "Ugly Betty" – "Real Women Have Curves" was her first real film. And even though Anna Kendrick did another movie that actually did well called "Camp," sometimes when you see something what’s great about indie films is you can take more of a chance. You don't have to go with the flavor of the week and that’s the good thing about independent filmmaking. But Anna Kendrick is fierce, like now we couldn’t probably get her – I’d have to call in a lot of favors! (Laughs) Do you remember when, before you were with George Clooney?!
"In the Cut" was a definite departure for both Jane Campion and Meg Ryan – what was your experience working on that film?
EB: It was a great experience – it was also a very challenging experience. Primarily I work with first time or second time directors. Jane Campion is a vet and I was blessed just to be picked as part of the team - I’m making no bones about that. Working with Meg Ryan in this way there was a lot of trust involved, she really had to trust Jane, Jane had to trust her producing team, Laurie Parker. Because we were doing something, we were breaking away from the stereotypes and the norms that people thought that we were going to be able to do. The film was very hyper-sexualized and it was a feminist story about being in contact with a serial killer. Mark Ruffalo is genius and working with Meg she was a total class act. It was so brave her really taking on that role and I just remember it was really disheartening to see that people did not like to see people try something new – they came at her hard, really hard.
So, what’s next for you?
EB: The next movie I’m doing is with Keith David as the director - it’s his first time directing. He really impressed me on the set of "The Inheritance," so I went to him and I was saying when are you gonna start directing? Like it’s time! (Laughs) It’s time for you to exercise that muscle! So we are doing another film called "Killer Instinct" and it’s basically Othello set in the world of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts.)
Wow – can’t wait!
"THE INHERITANCE" hits DVD and Blu-ray on April 12.