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Begin with a dream

NAACP Image Awards 2012

Ask producers of an NAACP-nommed film about their dream project, and they’ll immediately point to that harsh but very real reality of finding the backing. Whether it’s dollars, pounds or euros, films are fueled by cash and not dreams alone. But they all begin with a dream. Here are a few from producers nominated for either best motion picture or best independent motion picture.

The dream project for “The Help” (DreamWorks/Participant/Touchstone) producer Michael Barnathan is to record Robert Kennedy’s 82-day presidential campaign, which ended with the New York senator’s assassination.

“In those 82 days, Bobby Kennedy found his own voice,” Barnathan says. “And he embraced the black community at a time when there was not necessarily great political value in it. This is one movie that would mean something to a lot of people.”

Based on the book “The Last Campaign,” film would be a period piece. “And period pieces are hard movies to get made,” Barnathan points out. “It’s not as an easy sell.”

But in those early days, Oscar-nommed “The Help” was not an easy sell either.

“It was difficult because it was period, and the subject matter wasn’t immediately compelling, unless you sat down and read the book,” he continues. “And it had a director, Tate Taylor, who people didn’t know.”

With the Kennedy project, the producer has a script, an actor, Bradley Cooper (who’s interested), but still no home for his baby.

David M. Thompson, producer of “The First Grader” (National Geographic), wants to make a coming-of-age love story about a math prodigy who falls in love for the first time.

“It has two young kids at its heart. But it’s very difficult in terms of casting,” says Thompson, who also produced “Billy Elliott” and “An Education.” “It’s a great project, but by definition its leads, because of their age, are not going to be very well-known actors. This is what we knew with ‘Billy Elliot.’ We knew people would love it, but it didn’t have major casting.”

Thompson recalls the early days of “An Education.”

“Nobody knew who Carey Mulligan was. But at that time they were prepared to take a punt on Carey. The question is would they take the same punt now with an unknown actress. It is harder now,” he says.

Alrick Brown, producer of the nommed “Kinyarwanda” (AFFRM), dreams big. He wants to bring a $100 million epic to the screen, one that takes place in West Northern Africa, and is a swashbuckling tale is in the vein of a “Conan the Barbarian.”

Brown, a former West Africa Peace Corps volunteer, delights in all that guy gladiator energy. “I’m a kid at heart,” he says. “I’ll take out a broom or an umbrella in a second, put on some music, and start play-fighting those scenes in my head.”

Idris Elba would play the lead in Brown’s multi-cultural diverse cast. “There’s so much choice of African-American actors out there,” he adds. “I just don’t think the industry has made good use of them. They’ve been objects rather than subjects.”

Tracey E. Edmonds, producer of “Jumping the Broom” (TriStar), dreams of producing a film that would someday be nommed for an Academy Award.

“Historically, most African-American films and comedies rarely get nommed for an Academy Award,” says Edmonds whose dream project is the story of civil-rights leader Marcus Garvey. “Most studios will not greenlight African-American dramas. And because this story is a drama, there are challenges in getting financing. Right now I’m out in the marketplace shopping what I think is a really brilliant script. But it looks like we may end up having to go the indie route.”

Jeff Robinson, exec producer of “Pariah” (Focus), wants to return to an era when there were major tales to tell.

“Stories that make you feel something, that develop in you a life time memory,” he says. “I can still look at ‘Lady Sings the Blues’ and ‘Imitation of Life’ and feel something. Nowadays the films are very cliche driven. It’s the aliens-taking-over-the-earth scenario, the action hero caught in a fuselage of bullets. I don’t think many people can identify with those films.”

“Pariah” exec producer Jeanine McLean concurs. “It seems like everything is done over and over. I’m very interested in time-based pieces. The Edwardian times, those types of pieces like ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ that make you visualize what it was like then.”

Danny Rodriguez, exec producer of “Mooz-lum” (Codeblack), will focus on producing and directing for projects that have Latino casts.

“It’s been a one-man show with what’s going on with Robert Rodriguez,” he begins. “One man can do just so much. Even if this guy is working as fast as he can, we’re still going to be averaging one film every other year from him.”

Rodriguez believes that the industry chooses one person to run with one project.

“You have either your Tyler Perry on the African-American side or Robert Rodriguez on the Latino side. I believe that there should be more than one Robert Rodriguez and more than one Tyler Perry.”

Other NAACP nominated pics include “Tower Heist” (Universal), for motion picture, and “I Will Follow” (AFFRM), for independent motion picture.

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