Black Entertainment Television plans to invest $100 million to start a production company to produce black-themed feature films and telepics for the cable network, BET chairman Robert Johnson said Monday.
Johnson, who also founded BET, said the production company will “create a steady stream of content for our cable channels” which include “BET,” “BET on Jazz” and “BET Movies.”
Most of the initial capital investment of $100 million will be raised by BET, but part of the money will be put up by Tele-Communications Inc. affiliate Liberty Media, which is a significant shareholder in BET. Liberty and Johnson took BET private earlier this year.
Johnson said the new production venture aims to produce at least three low-budget features per year, at $3 million each, with the first planned for a year 2000 release. It will also make about 10 telepics a year, with the first slated to air in 1999.
Marketing will be handled by BET’s magazine publishing and television divisions.
The feature pics will target black middle-class and urban audiences, and will be distributed in high-volume urban multiplexes either by BET, major studios or independents, Johnson said.
“We don’t want to tell the stories that traditionally focus on guns and drugs and broken families,” Johnson said. “There are so many other black stories that are never told.”
BET will soon be soliciting scripts from not just black writers, but those that can tell black stories, Johnson said. No deals have yet been signed with filmmakers.
Johnson said the telepics will be black love stories adapted from romance novels published by Arabesque Publications, a pa-perback publisher BET recently acquired.
The company will be based in Los Angeles because “that’s where the talent is,” Johnson said.
The move comes at a time when black filmmakers are complaining that the predominately white studio system fails to understand their cultural context or demands of their audience.
Johnson said the company will not only be a way to support the creation of black-oriented content, but also serve as a way to scout new talent. “Good talent always starts someplace,” he said. “If we have to build this off of new talent, we’ll do it. You can make good films for $3 million. You just have to get filmmakers to buy into that.”