Koran Dunbar: Blue Collar Filmmaking in Amish Country

Onyx Contributor Anthony R. Page of Blue Bistro Creative:

Our industry is often represented by a rose-colored reality filled with red carpets, silver screens and golden statues which are given out at black-tie events full of platinum promises, pink champagne and cappuccino flavored cubans, silhouetted against tangerine-tinted sunsets.  I could go on, but I think you guys get the picture.

Well let’s add another color to that creative cosmos.  How about…blue?  Yes, blue as in Blue Collar Filmmaking, the term coined by comedian/filmmaker Koran Dunbar.

Koran Dunbar’s adoption of this moniker centers on his present reality in this business and perhaps the reality for 99% of Indie artists in the creative universe.  To his credit, ambition and focus, he is certainly making his mark and can be seen next to legendary filmmaker Spike Lee.  He gets positive shout outs from Hollywood insiders like director John Putch (Cougar Town, Scrubs, Ugly Betty). He has won rave reviews, not to mention several awards, for his dramatic turn as a single father in the sleeper hit Greencastle.

But life for this blue collar brother is not quite that rose-colored reality.  The standup comedian, who has appeared on national TV shows as well as having done standup at some of the most popular comedy clubs in the country, has experienced some very low times.

But nothing has stopped him yet.

Our interview with Koran brings forth a new perspective — a rural perspective which is rare in the indie filmmaking world as many among us flock to larger cities.  But his choice is working for him; his insights are giving him an edge and his recent successes confirm his approach.  His film, Greencastle, is an off-beat story based on his own personal life experiences as an African American, single parent father living in a small town.

Before we begin, lets set a context for the interview by watching a few clips:

Greencastle (First Look — Behind the Scenes)

Greencastle (Official Trailer)

Page:  OK Koran, my first impressions of the film — this is not a typical film you would associate with filmmakers of color.

Dunbar:  It isn’t and that’s been part of the challenge for me.  It’s not overly religious and does not represent the gangsta life.  So, when I have shown it to various distributors they didn’t believe there was much of a market for it, and that is what can be so frustrating to me because diversity is not often accepted in this business from minorities.  There was even an impression that black people don’t live in rural America, but we do and I am one of them.  They don’t get it.

But from the start I made up my mind to build a portfolio of quality work.  Greencastle is a good film, not a Black film.  But because you have black and minority actors on the cover, that’s what people think it is.  There was a guy who looked at the cover and said, “ohhh that one of them thar Black films.”

Page:  And on the other hand, during our pre-interview you mentioned that within the “Black Film Festival world” that the movie wasn’t perhaps, “Black” enough?

Dunbar:  That was another shocker for me.  I submitted the film to a festival in Atlanta, and it didn’t get accepted.  You are not going to get accepted into every festival.  No big deal, but when I went down there to the festival, I got a chance to meet one of the screeners of my film and he said to me that the film was good, but it did not meet the profile of their audience.

Page:  So I read that as, it’s not “Black” enough?

Dunbar:  That’s what I kind of got out of it.  Someone even asked me, “why didn’t I put more black actors in the film?”  I auditioned a lot of talent and out of the 10 black actors who auditioned, 8 of them got roles.  I can’t cast who doesn’t show up.  But the bulk of the film is filled with good actors of all types.

Page:  That’s interesting, because there seems to be a cry among black audiences and especially actors for more divers films and when one comes along, it doesn’t get a good reception.

Dunbar:  Talking about actors, here’s another thing that really bothered me.  I put out audition notices in the major cities surrounding me, Philadelphia, Baltimore, etc.  When some of the black actors found out it was a black filmmaker making the film, they didn’t want to audition.  I found out later that they thought it wouldn’t be any good.  After the project was done, one of them actually contacted me online and told me that and I was like, wow.  Then he goes on to say, that if you have anything else come up, let me know.

Page:  Sometimes in this industry our peers are own worst enemy.  Believe it or not brother, I have seen and heard about that as well.  Race is often the biggest X-factor for us.  So much is connected to what it means to be Black in America, and not a lot of it is good.  This is a clear example.  This is why advocacy for our segment of the industry is so important.  I’m stepping off my soapbox now.  Done.

Let’s move on…how is the film doing overall?

Dunbar:  Last year I screened it at the Maryland Theater and we sold out 3000 tickets, so I am proud of that.  And a local TV station has given us air-time and has been showing it continually.

I live in a small town, in Pennsylvania’s Amish country, and it’s funny because everyone sees the success we’ve had with Greencastle, and then they see me walking into the post office wearing my t-shirt and jeans.  People think that I’m some megastar and wonder why I’m still in Greencastle…all because my name is on the film.  But that’s just the start; the harder part is keeping it moving.

Page:  Let’s talk about getting the film made and how you kept it moving.  What was that experience like for you and what are some of the lessons learned?

Dunbar:  Let me first start off by saying that everything requires balance.  And it’s needed because of the various roles I play in my life:  I’m a father, a partner, a CEO, a friend, a writer, an actor, a director…the list goes on.  And because my role at home is first and foremost, I had to give home priority.  But I still go out every day and earn a living in an office — an office that has nothing to do with filmmaking.

When it actually comes down to making a film, I learned a few difficult lessons.  Number one, don’t pre-cast your friends.  In building excitement and getting support for the film, I made commitments to people I knew, to play certain roles.  But after the auditions were over, I found in quite a few areas, that there were actors who were a better fit for the role, so I went in that direction.  Some of the people who were replaced haven’t spoken to me since.

Another lesson is not to do too much.  I was acting, directing, & producing.  I was exhausted.  Here I was working behind the scenes making things happen and then I have to step in front of the camera and give a fresh performance.  It was just too much.  I do want to continue to act, direct, & produce; but not all at the same time.

Overall, one of the hardest parts about being a filmmaker is that the project demands so much of you.  So, a good support system [at home] is key.  Once you have that in place, you’re halfway there.  But then the project, at least for me, has to be worthy.

Page:  So what are you working on now?

Dunbar:  Well I had a small role in House of Cards for their upcoming season.  It’s a good role, but I actually hope it doesn’t make the cut because if it doesn’t, I have a chance at getting a bigger role in their next season.

Also, we [Rags2 Riches Productions (Koran Production Company)] really struck gold with Greencastle, which is a romantic drama.  And as great as people told us they thought it was, we couldn’t rest on our laurels.  So we’re currently working on our second film called The Ephesian, which is a totally different type of film.  Whereas Greencastle had humor, romance, & drama; The Ephesian tackles forgiveness, redemption — not the simplest of subject matters.  We went darker with this one, not to follow some trend in filmmaking, but because we want each of our projects to reflect the human experience.  Life is complex, funny, simple, disturbing, redeeming, perplexing, and with a lot of emotional baggage.  We want to explore them all.

Page:  Let’s talk about your conversation with Spike Lee.  From what you were telling me, it was almost like a one-on-one Masterclass.

Dunbar:  Yeah, Spike definitely knows how this business works.  So, I asked him what are some of the things he does to get his projects made.  And he told me straight.  He said, “you have to think like the mafia.”  He said you have to build a good team around you with people who can get things done; people as he says, “can take care of things for you.  And you are out front so you can’t let them down.”  I was looking for him to respond in a different way, so I kept probing and kept saying logically speaking and he kept saying “no, no, no…when you are going after a goal, you can’t use logic.”  There was a time when things got tough for me, and I actually had to sleep in my car, and I told him that and he responded, “There is no logic in that.  If you are homeless, how can you even think about making a film?  There is no logic in that.  Homeless people don’t make films.”  So, he said again, “think like the mafia and forget about logic when you are going after a goal.”  He also said some other things that made sense to me, “When people find out that you have been homeless, they don’t care, they are intrigued but they don’t care.  Yeah, it’s a part of your story, but when it comes down to it, just make a good film.”

After he said it enough, I go it.  I understood what he was telling me.  Logic doesn’t apply in the same ways for us, as it may for people in other industries.  Here’s a clear example.  As I mentioned earlier, I live in the middle of nowhere.  But I was able to raise $18,000 through crowdsourcing for Greencastle…and there’s no logic in that.  So I have decided I am not going play it safe.  In fact, the opposite is true:  I welcome tough challenges now.  The tougher the challenge, the greater the reward — if you survive it.

I have put together a good team of people and we’re just blue collar filmmakers trying to make a difference on a cinematic level…and we will.

We can make a difference by offering our support.  Keep up with Koran on his website:

www.korandunbar.com

Keep up with us and “Like” our page on African-American-Indie-Film-TV-and-Theater at

www.facebook.com/AfricanAmericanIndieFilmTVandTheater

Anthony R. Page
Actor, Director, Writer, Producer
www.facebook.com/AnthonyRPageActorDirectorWriterProducer

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