Date of Interview: 07/18/2012
Roger M. Bobb is the President and CEO of Bobbcat Films. A six-time NAACP Image Award winner, he is also the former Executive Vice President of Tyler Perry Studios. To date, his various film projects have amassed over $500 million in box office receipts. His theatrical producing credits include: Diary Of A Mad Black Woman, Madea’s Family Reunion, Daddy’s Little Girls, Why Did I Get Married?, Meet The Browns, The Family that Preys, Madea Goes To Jail, I Can Do Bad All By Myself, Why Did I Get Married Too?, For Colored Girls and Madea’s Big Happy Family.
Roger M. Bobb marks his directorial debut with Raising Izzie, a GMC Network feature film, which also serves as the first film produced under his new film and television production company. In the midst of promotional support for Raising Izzie, Roger M. Bobb managed to squeeze some time out his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting upon the influence of Spike Lee, the founding of Bobbcat Films, and lessons learned working under Woody Allen and Tyler Perry.
Clayton Perry: Your directorial debut, Raising Izzie, revolves around the power and necessity of faith. Connect this theme and message to your professional pursuits, in particular the founding of Bobbcat Films.
Roger M. Bobb: As most people know, I came from Tyler Perry Studios where I served as executive vice president and I started my own company to create a diverse slate of programming. I am a Christian and I am not ashamed to say it. A piece of what I want to do is make films for the faith-based audience, which is what I have done in the past. Although I have worked on a lot of sitcoms in the past, this is my feature film debut as a director. And the fact that this film speaks to family, faith, love and forgiveness is a no-brainer for me. I got involved with this project after attending the American Black Film Festival. GMC hosted a screenplay competition and I remember hearing the screenplay being read by several actors since it was a finalist in the competition. And the whole time I thought to myself: “Hey, that’s a really good script.” And then the script ended up winning the completion, and a few months later the Vice-Chairman of GMC asked me to produce it, since he had seen me produce several other films. I said, “OK,” and told him to send me the script. The script resonated so much with me that I decided to produce the film but only if I was allowed to direct it. What really resonated with me the most is the fact that the hero couple is black and the kids are white. And obviously, one of the themes in the film is “love is where you find it” – regardless of race, ethnicity and social-economic status. However, as a film-goer, I am used to seeing the “great white hype” films – like The Blind Side – where you have a white family saving this black soul. And when I read the script, it was something different. Here, you have a black family basically opening up their hearts to these two little white girls. But fundamentally, what resonated with me is the fact that it was two separate families – one being these two little girls and the other being a married couple – that are going through trials and tribulations in their life and they find each other. That just spoke to me and that’s why I decided to do the film.
Clayton Perry: Towards the end of the film, actor Rockmond Dunbar states: “I’ll fully admit that I don’t understand how God moves. But I know He is real.” When you reflect upon the years and look back at your career, what do you consider to be the biggest obstacle that you had to overcome, and what key factors do you think have attributed to your success?
Roger M. Bobb: To be honest, I really work hard, and one should never underestimate the value of hard work. Quite frankly, there are more talented people, and there are people who have had longer careers, but I am a very hard worker and I am passionate about what I do. I love making film and television. And of course, luck plays into everything in life. I have had enough luck in my career that I was able to align myself with people who were able to take my career to a higher level. Certainly, meeting Tyler Perry. You know what? Let’s not call it luck. Let’s call it a blessing. My life has been filled with blessings and I have been able to capitalize upon the blessings that God has given me in life.
Clayton Perry: Born in London, but raised in Brooklyn, at what point did you discover your love of film as an art form? And taken further, at what point did you determine that filmmaking was the career that you were willing to pursue?
Roger M. Bobb: I moved to Brooklyn at a very early age. And growing up in Brooklyn, I always had an affinity for film and television. When I was younger, I took acting lessons and music lessons and things like that and I was always interested in the arts. But growing up in the mean streets of Brooklyn, it wasn’t until this young black brother from a neighborhood less than half a mile from where I lived named Spike Lee directed a film called She’s Gotta Have It (1986). I was about 18 or 19 at the time and it just totally blew me away. I could not believe that someone that looked like me and came from my neighborhood could achieve the level of success that he had achieved with this particular film. Now, yes, I loved the film and loved Spike Lee, but quite frankly I still thought that films were made in Hollywood far, far away. And so it was really a matter of me pursuing my goal and pursuing my dreams and realizing that I wanted to be a filmmaker because I was set and prepared to go to law school. But one night it just clicked and I realized that you only have one life to live and you have to at least try to pursue your inner passions. But it was really Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It that made me feel that I, as an African-American, could have a career in film. And this was also around the time that Robert Townsend came out with Hollywood Shuffle (1987) and several other independent filmmakers were getting their start.
Clayton Perry: Your career in film began in 1997 when you were accepted into the Director’s Guild of America’s prestigious Assistant Director Trainee program. Having worked as a First Assistant Director on over 50 films, what professional lessons from the first decade of your film career guided you into your second?
Roger M. Bobb: I was fortunate to work on a film called Celebrity with Woody Allen. The people and opportunities that come into your life always give you the chance to learn something new. And very early on, I learned from him the value of knowing what you want. He doesn’t spend a lot of time in pre-production. He doesn’t even spend a lot of time shooting. His shooting hours aren’t that long. He knows exactly what he wants and he is able to communicate that to his crew. That is a real skill. Working with Tyler [Perry] was the same way. Our film shoots weren’t long. We don’t shoot a tremendous amount of days. We don’t have huge budgets – but he knew exactly what he wanted. And I can say that is something that I have really learned from those two directors.
Clayton Perry: Is there a particular project, or series of projects, during the early years that you consider to be transformative in your approach to filmmaking?
Roger M. Bobb: I was fortunate to work on New York Undercover, a television show with Malik Yoba and Michael DeLorenzo. That was my first experience with a multi-cultural crew. The films that I had worked on beforehand were 90 to 95 percent white. And so that was the first time that I was able to experience key people in key positions who were African-American. And through that experience, I was able to see that it wasn’t just me – and that there were other people like me – that liked to make films and wanted a career in the film and television industry. One of the things that I admire about Spike and Tyler – not only for their success in front of the camera – but they have been really able to help so many careers behind the camera. That’s something that I don’t think either one of them gets enough credit for.
Clayton Perry: Considering the fact that New York Undercover was your first multi-cultural experience in Hollywood, when you examine the fifteen years or so that you have been in the business, what external progress are you most proud to have witnessed, and what internal obstacles still need to be overcome?
Roger M. Bobb: Certainly, when you look at African-American films, there was a time – and I may be wrong with the year, it may have been 1999 – there were 21 black films. I remember because I had a shirt that listed every single film. But now when you flash-forward to twenty-twelve, we maybe have five or six films being released. So I would certainly like to see that improve. And you know how that happens? We have to support the films that we like. We can’t just wait for them to come out on DVD. We have to show our support at the box office. What has happened on the flip-side: television improved – with regards to cable networks – specifically the sitcoms. When House of Payne came out in 2005, there were only about 2 to 3 black sitcoms on the air. And now, this year alone, we are going to have about 7 or 8. So while I am saddened that our output in terms of film has declined, because of how much it costs to make a film relative to the cost it takes to make a sitcom, I feel that our television projects have increased. So hopefully, that will continue to happen. On the whole, I would just like to see more diverse African-American programming. We are not one monolithic culture. We have different experiences. We have different thoughts. Take music for example. Everyone doesn’t love hip-hop. Everyone doesn’t love jazz. Everyone doesn’t love Gospel. Here, we have three different types of music, and –quite frankly – three different types of lifestyles that African-American live. And for that reason, I am a strong advocate for diverse programming that reflects the diversity of African-Americans within the United States.
Clayton Perry: To date, you have won six NAACP Image Awards for your film and television projects. As one of Hollywood’s most-successful producers, what responsibilities do you knowingly – and perhaps unconsciously – place upon yourself when taking on a film or television project?
Roger M. Bobb: I am currently producing The Rickey Smiley Show starring Rickey Smiley [for TV One]. And while we were shooting, I was talking with the writers and other producers about how white shows can simply be funny. When you are producing black content, you feel a certain level of responsibility not only to be funny but also to be responsible with the jokes that you tell and the characters that you portray. If you have a negative character, for example, then you feel compelled to have a positive character to balance out and counter-act that negative character. White content creators just have the freedom to be creative and to be funny – especially when it comes to sitcoms. When you look at Good Times and The Jeffersons, they always dealt with social issues as opposed to just being funny. Jerry Seinfeld: I am not sure he dealt with one serious social issue on his show, but he certainly was funny. Being an African-American content provider, this is one of the crosses that you have to bear – if you are a responsible one.
Clayton Perry: You are one of the principle investors in The Green Room Acting Lounge based in Atlanta, Georgia. Discuss the origins – as well as your attachment to – this community-driven business venture.
Roger M. Bobb: The Green Room is a coffee shop and acting studio partnered with Terri J. Vaughn. She is an actress that many people know from Meet the Browns and The Steve Harvey Show – and she has moved to Atlanta. What she found – as far as ways in getting materials to actors – Atlanta does not have them. If you are an actor or actress or interested in acting, then you can go to the Green Room and get a cup of coffee, free Internet, and more importantly literature on acting, film and theatre. We also offer acting lessons during the day and on the weekends. We also have special workshops: Jasmine Guy (A Different World) has come through there, along with Kim Fields (Living Single). And quite often, when actors are filming a project, they come by and speak to people – writers, producers and directors. It has been a really great way for us to give back to the community and show people that there are people in the arts that really do care about fostering the arts in Atlanta.
For more information on Roger M. Bobb and Bobbcat Studios, visit the company’s official website: http://www.bobbcatfilms.com