Al Thompson is arguably one of the most prominent independent digital producers out there. The man is always hard at work trying to surface top urban-themed programming from talented writers and filmmakers and help them find distribution and online. The multi-threat is also a gifted writer and director in his own right, having most recently created and launched “Lenox Avenue,” a soap opera-style story about three best friends from Harlem. For this week’s “5Qs with…” we spoke with Thompson about “Lenox Avenue,” his company ValDean Entertainment, and several issues top-of-mind among indie creators today. Check it out, and follow the man on Twitter and Instagram: @AlThompsonInc.
What drove you to launch ValDean Entertainment?
I was fortunate to be a part of great films like “A Walk to Remember” and “The Royal Tenenbaums” and over time developed great relationships in entertainment with film professionals. After viewing the success of my favorite digital series “We Need Girlfriends,” I was sold that scripted digital content had a future and I needed to reach out to the pool of film pros. I wanted to create high quality digital content with my NYU grad producing partner Brian Rolling and “Lenox Avenue” lead writer Jorge Rivera. ValDean Entertainment was the gateway to start this journey in scripted digital material.
The season finale for “Lenox Avenue” is approaching. You’ve launched an Indiegogo campaign to help fund that episode. What sort of response have you seen from fans of the show? Is crowdfunding something you’re going to increasingly look at for future projects?
The response was good and for sure crowdfunding is no joke at all. Our Harlem hustle and grind was strong but missed our main goal. We do have private funds that are still passing us funds. Our best highlight was receiving a large sum of funding from celebrity Duane Martin (“Above the Rim”, Will Smith’s “All of Us”). Not sure if we would do it again but we connected with future great money people for sure. It’s a full time job… unless you’re Zach Braff [laughs].
Do you expect to expand more into long-form content (beyond the season finale of “Lenox Avenue”), or will you continue to focus on short-form programming?
We would love to make the content longer, and the appetite is there, but the funding required to make it happen is not. Once you’re over the 12- to 15-minute range, you’re in TV territory. Make the content short to survive another day to make the next episode (and you keep the fans wanting more). We are in talks with producer/casting director Dani Super about possibly greenlighting a feature film in 2014.
What other projects are you currently working on or eyeing for the future?
We have a drama series about female DJs that we would love to greenlight. It stars Hassan Johnson (“The Wire,” “Brooklyn’s Finest”). We also have a comedy series titled “Tilt-A-World,” for which we are seeking digital distribution.
As an independent producer and filmmaker, where do you feel the industry is right now in terms of providing you the opportunities to produce the projects you love? Is it easier than it was a year ago? What would you like to see happen in the coming year?
It has become easier and the companies/financiers are now more hip. I have even received executive job offers from multiple companies! We are in a great place, especially after landmark deals such as the one WIGS signed with Fox, or AwesomenessTV getting acquired by DreamWorks. I would love for the industry to continue to grow and more awesome content to float to the top. I would like more indie digital content creators to have their voice heard and series seen by the masses. It would also be great to see more brands take more risk to get behind some of these stellar new series.