Basketball Greats Help New Filmmakers

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99 Ways Entertainment Joins Forces with NBA Players Starting Second Career in Film, Then Pays it Forward, Hosting Five-City Tour to Teach Business to Young Directors

Troubled by the many young Black people with stories effectively shut out by the industry, 99 Ways Entertainment, a new film company telling urban stories, is working to break down barriers for young filmmakers. The firm will host a star-studded screening of its latest feature, MVP, an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival, at February’s NBA All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas. The screening is a kick-off of its “Make it Happen Tour,� which will bring panel discussions on filmmaking to five major cities across the U.S. in conjunction with VIBE Media Group. The panels will feature established filmmakers and producers.

MVP, a film by award-winning director-writer Harry Davis, was produced by a team including basketball greats Charles Oakley and Kevin Edwards who, in building their own second careers as producers, aim to build 99 Ways into the “Def Jam� of independent film companies.

To get its own stories distributed, 99 Ways has brought together a dynamic mix of music and film stars together with creative financing by NBA players, doing an end run around the traditional channel of seeking pick up by a separate film distribution company.

Its first feature-length docudrama, Gangstresses, starring singers Mary J. Blige and Lil’ Kim, was produced for $25,000. Released straight-to-video, it spent 12 weeks on Billboard’s Top 40 Video Sales, earning revenues in excess of $1 million and garnering the Independent Film Project (IFP) Best Directorial Debut award for Davis. Six years later the film, which was also featured in pop culture venues such as BET, VIBE Magazine and Interview Magazine, is still selling in the U.S. and internationally.

The film company grew out of their studio, The Reel Deal, which attracted an eclectic group of underground artists who were able to use their facilities for free. Mos Def, Lil' Kim and Talib Kweli are but a few of today’s artists who honed their skills in The Reel Deal's laboratory. Soon Davis and The Reel Deal embarked upon their true goal: using the artists it developed to create original work as its sole source of revenue. To that end, it released the documentary In Nataki's Name on PBS and, later, Gangstresses.

99 Ways, which pairs director Davis with writers-associate producers LaDonna Graham and Alan Alden Thomas, is also the creative force behind MVP and the forthcoming feature-length film, Black Butterfly. In addition to taking MVP to the Sundance Film Festival as an official selection, 99 Ways Entertainment earned an IFP Gordon Parks Award nomination for MVP. MVP stars Wood Harris, best known as elusive drug kingpin Avon Barksdale on the HBO drama The Wire. With a cast that includes Roger Guenveur Smith, N'Bushe Wright, Obba Babatundé, Jamie Hector (best known as the ruthless drug dealer Marlo on HBO’s The Wire), rapper Christian “Trick-Trick� Matthis, Melle Powers and Kevin Jackson, the film depicts the spectrum of black life in Detroit in a way that no other film has. Tony Smalls (Wood Harris), a public defender who grew up in the inner city, finds his aspirations of upward mobility threatened when he is brought to face with the world he has worked to overcome. Sucked into defending his sister's boyfriend Big Boy (Christian Mathis), the reputed leader of the notorious gang MVP, Tony is torn between loyalties—to his family roots and to the new privileged life he toiled to build. With its extraordinary screenplay by Davis, Alan Alden Thomas, and Greg Pak, MVP is a crime story that tweaks the genre by daring to question who really controls these dangerous streets.

Since MVP’s appearance at Sundance, there have been additional days of shooting and the filmmakers are preparing for a sneak preview of the film at the NBA’s 2007 All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas. In Las Vegas, the filmmakers will host a star-studded screening of the film on Friday, February 16, at the Brenden Theatres at the Palms. The screening is the kick off for 99 Ways’ Make It Happen Movie Tour. The five-city Tour, whose media partner is the VIBE Media Group, will feature screenings of MVP, coupled with workshops and panels on the film industry. The panels will be led by national and local figures involved in the film industry, and the workshops will cover topics such as entrepreneurial opportunities in film, film financing, writing, and directing. This year the Tour will travel to Detroit, where Davis is from and where MVP was shot; Cleveland where both former NBA players Edwards and Oakley are from; Chicago, Edward’s current home; as well as D.C. and Atlanta.

“With the advent of technology it’s more possible for new Black voices in cinema to tell their stories,� said Davis. “Our youth need to know that their dreams of filmmaking are within their reach. There are tools and knowledge to be had and we’re trying to do our part to clear the path.�

Edwards, who was interested in film as a second career, personally invested in the film and took on the task of attracting other NBA athletes as investors. He brought in Oakley, another former NBA player, as a financier. During the making of MVP Edwards gained an understanding of film production and now plays a major role in the day-to-day affairs of the film. He now wants to get more NBA players involved and produce a slate of films.

The Las Vegas screening will host NBA wives and friends selling the 2007 “Women Standing Tall through the Words of Wisdom" charity calendar, to benefit Lifelong AIDS Alliance, Aid for AIDS of Nevada, Justin Timberlake Foundation, and the Stay Strong Foundation.  The calendar consists of an array of NBA and sports wives, women in business, celebrity and celebrity mothers standing together to make a difference.  Participants include Monique Payton, wife of Miami Heat player Gary Payton; Shaunie O’Neal, wife of Miami’s Shaq O’Neal; Tracy Mourning, wife of Miami Heat player Alonzo Mourning; Siohvaugh Wade, wife of Miami’s Dwyane Wade; Liz Bonds, wife of San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds; Lynn Harless, mother of Justin Timberlake; Teresa Caldwell, mother of Bow Wow; and actress Regina King.

99 Ways Entertainment is a  film production company servicing the urban entertainment market. Anchored by director-writer Harry Davis and writers-associate producers LaDonna Graham and Alan Alden Thomas, 99 Ways is the creative force behind MVP and the forthcoming feature-length film Black Butterfly. The company has created the Make It Happen Movie Tour; the Tour will make new voices in African-American cinema possible by putting filmmaking tools and know-how within the reach of aspiring writers, directors and producers.


The VIBE Media Group is a leading music/lifestyle media company that publishes the award-winning VIBE magazine, the preeminent brand in urban and music culture, which was founded by Quincy Jones in 1993. Additional VIBE Media Group properties include VIBE VIXEN magazine, which was launched in 2005 and reaches over 4.5 million women;; VIBE video-on-demand channel; The VIBE Awards, the wireless content service mVibe and Vibe Books which published the New York Times bestseller Tupac Shakur.

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