Interview: Former WME Partner Charles King Tells S&A How MACRO Ventures Could Help Save Black Indie Films

charles_kingWe at Black Hollywood would love to be involved in this bold step forward. A step in the right direction.

Last week it was announced that Charles King, longtime agent and partner at William Morris Endeavor, would beleaving his post to found MACRO Ventures, a new media holding company that will target the “explosive multicultural content marketplace” and will bring “a unique focus to content creation, distribution and engagement for the radically under-served African-American, Latino and Multicultural audiences.”

Specifically, King has set out to do something that we’ve discussed on this site at length: create a funding pipeline for strong content for audiences of color. He made time to talk with Shadow And Act about his plans for MACRO Ventures, and how the company will work.

JAI TIGGETT: Congratulations on your launch. I understand that this is something you’ve wanted to do for a long time, even before becoming an agent.

CHARLES KING: That’s correct. I’ve had an interest in building an entertainment company from when I was at Howard law school. And I graduated in ’96.

I actually went back and looked at my commemorative book and it said in my 10-year plan to be at the helm of a diversified media company. I was shocked when I pulled it out of my stack of books at home. So I was a few years late, but better late than never.

JT: Now that you’ve made the leap from being an agent to running this company, can you tell me about how it will work? What does the entertainment industry need right now that MACRO Ventures will provide?

CK: My initial focus will be on the content – financing content across various platforms. I’ve been primarily a motion picture agent even though I’ve represented artists in every sector. And there’s definitely a need for access to capital for these content creators and artists from all backgrounds to tell their stories.

The idea of being able to marry capital with these uniquely positioned artists, and then co-financing with distributors or with other financiers, is going to be a big part of what I’ll do. There will be some movies similar to many of the projects that I’ve packaged and have been a part of since I’ve been an agent, whether they’re smaller independent features like “Fruitvale Station” or “Hustle & Flow” or “Dear White People,” there will be movies in that zone; then we’ll platform up to the mid-range movies, $7-15 million, like “Barbershop” and movies in that zone; and then ultimately building out a portfolio where there will be some larger budgeted movies as well.

But independent films will definitely be a strong fabric of what I’m involved in. I’ve worked with so many incredible filmmakers in that arena, and I’m just encouraged by the voices there. And of course with all of the new buyers in the television space, both in premium cable as well as digital distributors – the Netflix of the world, Hulu, Yahoo – there are so many great outlets now for storytellers, and so there will be a focus on developing and creating content for those outlets as well.

The other bucket of content we’ll be involved in will be short-form digital content, which is so exciting whether it’s content on YouTube, Vine, Vimeo, all the various platforms. I think there’s a unique play to do something special for this multicultural space that will link with strategy on the traditional content side as well. So that will be my initial focus.

Longer-term, there’s an interest in delving into other areas that are synergistic with tech platforms and consumer products – if you think about the incredible brilliance of what Jessica Alba has built with Honest Company, or the game-changing brand that Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine have created with Beats by Dre. So that’s going to be the next wave. But the original focus will be on the content.

JT: So you’ll concentrate on financing content. What about physical production?

CK: This is a company that is producer-friendly, where we want to partner with other producers. As an agent I’ve been working with not only incredibly talented artists, but all of my friends who are producers who’ve had the challenge of finding capital. So I want to work with all of them and help them bring capital to their projects. It’s not going to be MACRO doing only their projects; we’ll be working in conjunction with other great people.

JT: How much of MACRO’s content will come from relationships that you already have, and how much of the work will be seeking out new projects and new talent?

CK: It will definitely be a combination. There are already a number of people that we’re discussing projects to work on together, like Ryan Coogler and Craig Brewer. But so many people are represented by other companies that I have relationships with; I’m friendly with so many people that I don’t represent that I’d love to work with, and we’re able to come together now that I’m not just an agent.

The outpouring of love and the level of interest from that filmmaker artist base has frankly been beyond what I could have expected. It’s just been amazing in terms of the level of support and encouragement that I’ve received. So I want to work with people that we all know – elder states people who have blazed a trail, to these talented exciting voices that people are aware of now, to the next generation of people that we haven’t yet discovered. Every year there are always incredible new voices that I’ve shepherded and worked with. I’m excited by that, I think it’s important that we hear from new voices, and that’s what we intend to do with MACRO.

“I’m looking for strong, well-defined material with a high level of filmmaking and artistry. There’s got to be a level of quality and sophistication involved.”

JT: What can you tell me about the team that you’re working with, who’s on board now and who you might be looking to bring on?

CK: Day one, we’re starting out small with me and two other executives – one in film and one in digital and business development – as well as an assistant and an acting CFO. Then later on we’ll have other senior executives in film, television, and digital. We’re going to start out lean and will ramp up to eight or so before the end of the year. Between now and Sundance, hopefully we’ll be able to announce who some of the team will be. At Sundance we’ll be hosting a filmmaker reception with Blackhouse that first weekend, on Friday night.

JT: You’re developing and financing content for Black, Latino and multicultural audiences, and you’ve said that the only common denominator is that it will be “premium.” Tell me what you mean by that.

CK: Elevated. I mean quality content that’s well developed, that has universal themes that will resonate with all audiences. So for example a movie like “Fruitvale Station” which was made on a fairly small budget, but you look at the performances, look at the storytelling – it’s premium even though it was a smaller budgeted movie. There are other forms of content that may be in the same budget and may hit a target audience, but it goes direct to DVD; I’m not looking at that kind of content. I’m looking for strong, well-defined material with a high level of filmmaking and artistry. There’s got to be a level of quality and sophistication involved.

JT: Where are you seeking out and finding new projects?

CK: I’ve gotten love and support from every agency in town and every single one placed calls and acknowledged that there’s a need for a company like this, and said how can they help and what can they send me. So I’ve gone the traditional route from the agencies and management companies. But often what I’ve been able to do, even as an agent, is find unique voices outside of the system from online or just reading about people.

So I think it will be a combination of all of those – looking in places where others aren’t as well as hearing about talented people from representatives, from festivals, from labs, from incubators, from film schools. I may see incredibly talented people that aren’t represented yet. With Tyler [the Creator] years ago, he didn’t have an agent. I was introduced to him through a client of mine, Walter Latham who produced “Kings of Comedy.” So we’ll find talented people from many different places, and I think many of them are going to come from the digital landscape, people from Vine and not just the regular sources.

JT: You were the only black partner at WME and one of only a few black agents at major agencies in Hollywood. It’s hard to escape the thought that there’s a void being left there. Is there anyone coming up now that you’re excited about, who you anticipate taking up the torch?

CK: I’m encouraged. When I first became an agent there were only two other African Americans at the big agencies; now if we look around town there’s probably 10. So we’ve made some progress. There are definitely agents and managers around town that I’m very inspired by, some of whom have been doing it as long as I have, and then there are some younger managers that just have impeccable taste.

I look at what Jelani Johnson and a couple of other young managers are doing and I’m very excited for them. There’s a group of agents over at ICM, a group at WME, and even at UTA there’s a young brother that I think is going to be great. So there are people around town that I have no doubt will be the next generation and frankly will go beyond what I’ve done as an agent in terms of the impact that they’re going to have.

I feel good that I’ve helped open up the door and I’ve gotten to a certain place, but I really truly believe that for the artists that I’ve worked with for all these years, I can have more impact by making this transition than I can on the inside of an agency. It was time for the next stage. And I feel like there are enough people that will be able to take up the torch for sure.


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