The Urban Entrepreneurs Series….
Cameras, and 4 Men With A Dream
The Urban Entrepreneurs Series....
Smoke Screen Productions: Lights,
Cameras, and 4 Men With A Dream
By Gary G. Toms
On any given day, you may walk around Rockaway and notice a number of things happening. Over the last several months, many film crews have found their way into the peninsula to shoot large-scale films, commercials and public service announcements. While most of them are backed with financing from enormous film production studios, such as New Line Cinema and Paramount Pictures, Smoke Screen Productions, a local film and video production company with offices in Far Rockaway and Brooklyn, is making enormous strides in effort to compete with their renowned counterparts in the future.
The company, founded in June of 2002, was formed when four friends who attended the same college decided to use their talents collectively. Jamaal McPhee, 24, is a screenwriter and director; Omar Saleem, 26, specializes in cinematography and directing; Roy Nowlin, Jr., 35, is well known as a cinematographer and photographer; and Shane Howard, 23, CEO of Smoke Screen Productions, works his magic in editing and camera techniques.
Upon meeting the four, who have spent time living in the Rockaways and Brooklyn, you automatically get the sense that there is more than just a working relationship here. These men shared an undeniable bond as friends.
"We basically came together because we all have unique talents. We saw so many people, who do what we do, struggling for many years to get work with film companies. We also watched people that were affiliated with major film companies struggle. The four of us made the decision that we weren't going to wait for anyone to give us a chance to prove ourselves. So we started our own company to do our own thing," said Nowlin.
Utilizing state of the art equipment, consisting of 16 and 35 millimeter formats (coupled with a top of the line editing system) the team, and its crewmembers, have shot projects ranging from feature films and documentaries to music videos.
"We worked together in college, so we had a pretty good idea of what the other could bring to the table with this company. We have everything that MTV has equipment-wise," stated CEO Shane Howard.
"We didn't have any funding to start the company. The company is being supported by money we each earn from the full time jobs we have.
Howard continued by noting that he started the company because a number of people were taking a major interest in his work as a film and video editor. He gained prominence after producing several 20-minute documentaries on domestic violence and drag racing. His latest project is sure to get a debate going among many people in America.
"I'm in the process of completing a public service announcement (PSA) that addresses an Email that is circulating worldwide. You may have seen it. It's entitled "Blacks Don't Read," said Howard.
The editor's face becomes very tense as he proceeds to outline the contents of the Email, which is viewed by many, black and white, as insulting and derogatory on the subject of black intellect.
"The things in the Email are so damaging to black people, and those who are not armed with the facts may fall victim to it. I've shot a film that will prove that many of the stereotypes cited in the Email are not true and simply without merit."
The team plans to shop the film to BET or HBO for distribution.
The business partners stress that one of the things they are trying to accomplish with their company is break old stereotypes about blacks, particularly those involving black youth.
"We're four people who have a vision, and we're going for it. We want to show kids that there are alternatives to drugs, guns, gangbanging, and crime," said Omar.
"You can have anything you want in life if you believe it, but you have to have the will to succeed," he continued.
Nowlin offered his views on success by stating, "Kids have to realize that you can obtain skills long before you enter college. It starts in the early stages of education. Too many kids miss that point. We want to encourage kids to pursue their dreams."
The group also stressed that without the proper motivation and support of family, they would not have gotten to the point where they are now.
'Our families are behind us one hundred percent, and that makes a tremendous difference," said Shane.
Their dedication to the company, and its success, is illustrated through the fact that the budding entrepreneurs are all single.
"Running the company requires most of our time, so it's hard to meet the ladies. It's all good though," noted Roy.
Smoke Screen Productions will be accepting headshots, resumes and scripts in the coming months, and they encourage members of the Rockaway community to submit material. If you would like to obtain more information about the company, or submissions, you can send Email to Rocstarz@hotmail.com.
"Our company is interested in doing feature films, visual media and photography. We don't do just one thing in particular. That is what will help make the company grow," stated Jamaal.