Into the Light
Post-Project Greenlight, a producer continues her push to widen the pool of talent.
The spotlight on Project Greenlight recently turned hotter than Effie Brown had expected.
"As a producer, I'm behind the scenes for a reason," says Brown, who earned a reputation for making the most of small budgets on indie films like Dear White People. Yet as the docuseries' fourth season on HBO chronicled the making of the film The Leisure Class, the focus often turned to the conflict between the strong-willed Brown and demanding first-time director Jason Mann.
"As time went on, I was noticing the camera more and more in my office," Brown recalls. "The dynamic between Jason and me was, let's just say, complicated, and even I was like, 'Well, I'd watch this.' If it wasn't me, I'd be like, 'This is going to be interesting.'"
That it was, as Brown clashed not just with Mann, but also with executive producer Matt Damon over diversity on both sides of the camera. The debate spilled over to Twitter and other social-media outlets, where Damon was accused of condescendingly "white-splaining" the issue to Brown.
"I didn't feel like I was being attacked," Brown says. "I felt like I was hearing an opposing viewpoint and had to gather my forces to explain my point of view. But I do have to give Matt credit. He recognized what he said, publicly apologized and is making amends. That's all a person can do. And as EP, he could've cut all of that out, but he didn't."
Brown says she received "overwhelming" support online for her positions, "and that gave me a lot of hope. But let me be real. There were quite a few people I blocked who were hateful and incendiary."
Still, she views Project Greenlight as a learning experience. "It was helpful to look back and say, 'You know what? I could've handled that better.' I cringe at some things I said, but they did not put words in my mouth. Overall, it was very accurate."
Besides, she took the gig as a way to break out of the often-limiting indie-film niche. "TV is the wave of the future," she says. "There's so much opportunity, and we get a better way to tell our stories. It's hard to get everything you want in 90 minutes, but it's great to do it in a limited series or a 13-episode arc."
She's getting to do just that as the new executive vice-president of production for television and film at Lee Daniels Entertainment.
"We get to pick diverse voices — people of color, women, LGBT — and develop content for television," says Brown, who's working on a Fox drama about a three-woman musical group for Daniels (executive producer of Fox's Empire), costarring Queen Latifah and Benjamin Bratt.
"We're not doing a small, one-off film. This is a godsend — it's a beautiful thing."