Kevin is joined by visionary producer and executive Roxanne Taylor and her husband, writer, director, and producer, Deon Taylor. Together, Roxanne and Deon have produced and directed Black and Blue, Fatale, Meet the Blacks, Meet the Blacks 2, The Intruder, Supremacy, and several others.
Roxanne Avent Taylor, Producer
Deon Taylor, Writer, Director, Producer
Roxanne and Deon co-founded the film company Hidden Empire Film Group, a multidimensional independent film company that has produced a strong slate of movies and TV shows. Through Hidden Empire Film Group, Roxanne and Deon find their projects, find the financing for the projects, create the marketing campaigns, and then distribute their own films.
Underrepresentation in Hollywood (4:08)
Roxanne and Deon discuss how they got their start in Hollywood. They both loved movies and wanted to make the kind of movies they wanted to see. One of their goals was to give opportunities to underrepresented communities in Hollywood, namely the African American community. Kevin Goetz touches on a project that he is bringing to historically black colleges and universities that aims to expose students in these communities to the business of market research in film and television.
The Cheat Code and making movies for a diverse audience(14:26)
Deon talks about audience testing and how he has come to believe it is like a cheat code for making a better movie. The discussion shifts to “the culture” and how the African American community was underserved by Hollywood in the past. The trio discusses how cultural shifts and trends cross racial barriers and how this affects filmmaking and audience testing in the wake of the MeToo Movement and the Black Lives Matter Movement.
The importance of allies (25:16)
Roxanne and Deon discuss the vision of Hidden Empire Film Group and their goal of making movies for everyone. They talk about the importance of allies and how striving to work with everyone allows them to create more opportunities for underrepresented people in Hollywood and makes good business sense.
The highs and lows of audience screen testing (37:49)
Deon tells the story of the audience test screening for The Intruder and touches on the range of emotions that filmmakers go through in the audience testing process. The trio discusses other audience testing experiences, including a film that tested great and one that didn’t test well.
Sage Advice (42:52)
Kevin asks Roxanne to offer a piece of sage advice to a young person who wants to get their start in film. Roxanne discusses the benefits of education and film school, but also how education differs from the real-life experience on a movie set.
Host: Kevin Goetz
Guests: Roxanne and Deon Taylor
Producer: Kari Campano
For more information about Roxanne and Deon's upcoming projects:
For more information about Kevin Goetz:
Audienceology Book: https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Audience-ology/Kevin-Goetz/9781982186678
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: @KevinGoetz360
Linked In @Kevin Goetz
Screen Engine/ASI Website: www.ScreenEngineASI.com
Podcast: Don't Kill the Messenger with Movie Research Expert Kevin Goetz
Guests: Producer Roxanne Avent Taylor and Writer/Director Deon Taylor
There's a little-known part of Hollywood that most people are not aware of known as the audience test preview. The recently released book, Audienceology, reveals this for the first time. Our podcast series, Don't Kill the Messenger, brings this book to life, taking a peek behind the curtain. And now, join author and entertainment research expert, Kevin Goetz.
Kevin Goetz (00:24):
My guests today embody the definition of independent filmmakers. They find their projects, they find the financing for the projects, they create the marketing campaigns, and then they distribute their own movies through their company, Hidden Empire. I'm talking of course about visionary producer and executive Roxanne Taylor and her husband, writer, director, and producer Deon Taylor. Together, they have worked on projects Black and Blue, Fatale, Meet the Blacks, Meet the Blacks 2, The Intruder, Supremacy, and several others. From the moment we met, we were kindred spirits. I was in Rockefeller Center in New York City walking from meeting to meeting, and it was the only place that was a central point where I could try to sneak in and find a quiet place to have this conference call with Roxanne and Deon. And I remember I was seeing the ice skaters, and the shoppers, and I found this little alcove. And the moment we got on the phone together, it was kismet. It was as if we just loved each other from the get-go. We shared this entrepreneurial spirit at our cores, and we also shared the same values of creating opportunities for people where opportunities didn't exist before. Please help me welcome Roxanne and Deon. I am thrilled to have you here today. How are you guys?
Roxanne Taylor (01:56):
What a great introduction. Is that us?
Deon Taylor (02:07):
Kevin Goetz (02:08):
That is you. So, I want to take you back to a phone call. A few years ago, our mutual friend, Damon Wolf, called me up and said, you have to meet this dynamic duo. The energy, the positivity, the talent of these two people you must know. We scheduled a call, and I was like, these people are my people. They're cut from the same cloth as I. And I wondered if you remember that phone call?
Deon Taylor (02:39):
I remember D setting up that call and, and going, what are we going to say on the call with him? <laugh>. And I also remember on that same phone call when we spoke to you, the first five, or I think I might have made a joke or something, the first five or six minutes was us just talking and laughing and we didn't even get into anything. So that was great. And guess what? You've been in our life ever since.
Kevin Goetz (03:00):
I know, right?
Roxanne Taylor (03:02):
Kevin Goetz (03:03):
You guys had your own way of wanting to do and conduct business. I so admired that. I thought it was just like so fresh and refreshing to hear. So, Roxanne, let me start with you and ask you, what is the mission of Hidden Empire Film Group?
Roxanne Taylor (03:25):
You know, I think it's evolved over the years. Initially there was no Hidden Empire Film Group. It was just us trying to make a movie, you know?
Kevin Goetz (03:37):
Which movie was your first?
Roxanne Taylor (03:38):
Seventy Five was our first movie.
Kevin Goetz (03:40):
It was called Seventy Five?
Roxanne Taylor (03:41):
It's called Seventy Five. They renamed it Dead Tone.
Kevin Goetz (03:44):
Did you meet, like, were you a couple before you started working together?
Roxanne Taylor (03:49):
Yeah, we hung out a bit.
Deon Taylor (03:51):
<laugh>. We were a couple.
Roxanne Taylor (03:54):
We were, I've known Deon, what, 31 years now? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.
Kevin Goetz (04:00):
Roxanne Taylor (04:00):
About 31 years now.
Kevin Goetz (04:01):
Wow. So, you both had a shared vision of doing what and, and out of that, I guess the company was born.
Roxanne Taylor (04:08):
Yeah, I think we just loved movies. We love watching movies, you know, all types of movies from action to horror, to drama, whatever it is. We just love movies, and we had our own kind of love for the movies. But I think ultimately it was really important for us to make, obviously whatever we wanted to, right, dope content, right, for the audience. Absolutely. But to also be able to give people opportunities in front of the camera and behind the camera that we weren't able to have or get in the beginning, you know?
Kevin Goetz (04:43):
And when you say that, you mean people of color?
Roxanne Taylor (04:44):
Yeah, people of color.
Kevin Goetz (04:45):
And African American in particular? Well, totally important and totally unrepresented. We're doing a program with historically black colleges to create a curriculum in the business schools, in the field of market research, and also in movies, in entertainment, specifically. In other words, marketing, and market research in films and film and television. Typically, not an area that a lot of candidates of color enter. They don't even know necessarily that it is a viable option. So, we're trying to change that narrative.
Roxanne Taylor (05:22):
That's right. That's amazing. I mean, access is everything, right?
Kevin Goetz (05:25):
It really is.
Roxanne Taylor (05:25):
Yeah. I mean, you know, I think we've obviously struggled with that a few times and we've found ourselves trying not to do that with people we hire. Although we are loyal to a team of people that we've worked with, so we always try to make it our mission to bring not only interns, but you know, people that just work hard and have a creative vision.
Kevin Goetz (05:52):
Deon, you have an infectious positivity. You happen to be one of my favorite human beings on the planet.
Deon Taylor (06:00):
Man, don't get in here and make me start crying this. No, no, don't do that to me.
And no, I'm, I'm very serious. And you know, it's not like I need anything from you now. Maybe a role. You can give me a role.
Yeah, I’ll give you a roll, a dinner roll.
Kevin Goetz (06:15):
But we're going to have to have that beeper going off now. I know this is going to devolve quickly. Is this PG 13? No, no, no. It's R, with me. It's impossible. But did you always have that spirit? Did you always have that kind of true north or that light that got people wanting to be on your team? Like, tell me about that. Because I'm so intrigued by you as a man.
Deon Taylor (06:46):
Yeah, and I think I've been very blessed to, to be a very positive spirit. But at the same time, being positive could also have negativity involved in it.
What do you mean by that?
I've been in worlds where people see your light and they want to dull it. I've been in worlds where a basketball coach sees that you're something different and wants to bench it, or someone at your school is like, I don't like him because he always is loud and laughing. And so, I've always had it, but I've always been able to understand later in life that you have to protect it. Do you know what I mean? The background, and I think I could speak for, for Roxanne and a whole lot of people, you know, I try not to get into this that much because I always feel like I'm like a broken record.
Deon Taylor (07:36):
I sometimes talk to my daughter, and we have to have numerous conversations with our daughter and be like, hey, let me just tell you what it really is. You know what I mean? Sometimes she be like, Dad, don't tell me no more. But I will say this when some people can say, oh yeah, I grew up in a very tough place, or I came from this, or came from that. When you really, really come from a place where you did not know if you were going to eat tomorrow...when you really come from a place where, I mean, this is factual what I'm telling you, when you come home and you don't have any power or lights for a week, and you have a parent that says it's going to be okay, and for some rhyme or reason, a week later, the lights are on. And for some rhyme or reason, the next day there is food. Then you adapt a positive energy way.
Kevin Goetz (08:36):
Deon Taylor (08:37):
Yeah. You have to believe in something, and you have to understand it’s going to be okay.
Kevin Goetz (08:42):
Malcolm Gladwell, I just read this last night. I couldn't sleep last night. I slept for like four hours and I got up. So, I was reading Brian Grazer's book, I think it's called Face to Face. It's a terrific book. And he talks about his friend Malcolm Gladwell, who says that with successful people, it's not something that is like huge talent that you have to have, or some huge gift. It's seizing the opportunity and undertaking that opportunity, I thought that was so fascinating. Because I feel like I've done that in my life, you know? Like I was bullied as a kid, like really bullied as being a gay man and growing up, I buried it, you know, as we've all buried our, a lot of our dark secrets and so forth. That energy had to go somewhere. So, Roxanne, how has your success, and financial success affected you today as a professional? Because it's hard to be successful when you didn't come from that background, right? It's hard because sometimes you don't feel deserving of it or whatever it might be. You ever mull that one over?
Roxanne Taylor (09:58):
Yeah. I mean, I'm always just in competition really with myself and just trying to be my best self. Because when you get wrapped up in trying to compare like, well, how come they got this and I've done this and I've done that, and they haven't, and they're over here and I'm over there. It's just like, what are you doing it for? You know what I mean? And I've always just wanted to be better. And so, when I get to that level where I'm thinking, oh, I just want to do this and I want to be here, when I get there, I'm still never satisfied. So, I just continue to create more goals and more dreams.
Kevin Goetz (10:37):
I’m giggling. I'm giggling a little because I know you and am in awe of you as a woman who can juggle the number of things you can and still be standing.
Roxanne Taylor (10:50):
Yeah. I mean…
Kevin Goetz (10:53):
I'm just in awe.
Roxanne Taylor (10:55):
I don't even know how I do it sometimes, you know? It's tough.
Kevin Goetz (10:58):
But what I want to say about the three of us is that we have, and we knew from that first five minutes going back to this whole thing, we knew within that first five minutes there was a way that we connected. And I wanted to circle, but now I'm finding a neat way to get into what I really want to talk about now is this notion of shared experiences and getting away from this notion of identifying people in buckets. Like we, the three of us, have very different backgrounds, yet some issues that, you know, listen, your basketball was my dance, singing and dancing. You know, that was my haven, you know? And, Roxanne, did you have something that you threw yourself into?
Kevin Goetz (11:45):
As a kid?
Roxanne Taylor (11:47):
I mean, I loved soccer, you know what I mean? But I was a school fanatic.
Kevin Goetz (11:52):
You knew grades were going to get you out of whatever you were in. But this whole notion of who sees your movies, who sees your content. You know, I know that you have a concentration on the African American community and on making movies that principally focus on Black Americans. However, we know because you have, well, I know because I have an exit product that can tell you who actually shows up at your movies. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, They cross over more than a lot of the industry wants you to believe. And there's so many commonalities and ways that we come together that I think it got us thinking about how there's got to be a better way than bucketing all of Caucasians together, all of African Americans or Hispanics together, Asians together. You know that kind of bucketing? And it's not just about race and ethnicity, it's about age. It's about gender. It’s about finding the ways in which we are more alike than different, and then marketing towards that. And I think that's what we share in this new entity. Would you expand on that, or would you agree with that? I mean, I kind of know that you do agree with it, but what would you like to say about that Deon?
Deon Taylor (13:19):
Yeah, I think that…
Kevin Goetz (13:20):
It's a big question. You know, it's a big topic.
Deon Taylor (13:24):
When you really pull it back and you understand, and I try to explain this a lot to people that are upcoming filmmakers and people that are trying to get into the film business. See, we got in the film business and then realized it was the film business. We were just trying to make movies.
Kevin Goetz (13:42):
Deon Taylor (13:42):
Then we had to learn what this is like. You know what I mean? There are contracts and paperwork, and people are testing movies. And I didn't even know about testing until I think my third film. I was like, Wait, what are y'all doing? Y'all going to play it in front of the audience and just see what they think, right? And I didn't realize until I got to that.
Kevin Goetz (14:01):
That's a big part of the process.
Deon Taylor (14:02):
They handed me five pages and I was like, yo, what is this? And then I sat in the back and heard people be like, I hated it. Oh my God. What was that? And I was destroyed. Because I only made movies because I wanted to make a film that I liked. I liked it, you know what I mean? But I didn't realize someone's going to say, well what did you think when she said this? And I'm going to…
Kevin Goetz (14:20):
But if you have a company.
Deon Taylor (14:22):
Kevin Goetz (14:23):
So now you’ve got to start thinking outside of just what I like.
Deon Taylor (14:26):
Yeah. Right. So, that's why I said this is incredible with you because now we get to educate people like, hey man, there's a cheat code here where you could actually take your film, show it to people, and it's not a negativity thing, right? It's like, yo, somebody's going to tell you how you can make your movie better for wide audiences. What works. You know what I mean? Yeah. So, what I think is interesting now is the game field has changed, and I don't particularly think that the AA audience, the African American audience was ever served to in past experiences with Hollywood. So, what does that mean? When I was younger and I had the VHS tape of Predator with Carl Weathers and Arnold Schwarzenegger and right in that group, no one in in Hollywood was saying, I'm going to make that movie for a 14-year-old black kid that's living in the south side of Chicago.
Deon Taylor (15:23):
No one was like, okay, that's for him. No, they made that movie for a different audience. That's right. And then we captured it, and we grabbed it, and we pulled it in. And that goes for 48 Hours. Remember Eddie Murphy came from Saturday Night Live. Saturday Night Live was not an urban show. It was just a wide range, right, white show. He broke out of there; we grabbed him and then that turns into what it needs to be. But this strange thing called culture started happening and culture ends up becoming…
Kevin Goetz (16:00):
Deon Taylor (16:01):
Right, but culture goes when something goes outside of strategy. Yeah. Yes. When a group of people grab something.
Kevin Goetz (16:08):
Deon Taylor (16:09):
The zeitgeist. Right. They grab something that we say that no one could ever write on a piece of paper and understand. So, for instance, what's culture? Bill Clinton gets on a show called the Arsenio Hall Show, who's the whitest president in the world and he plays a saxophone. Yeah. And everyone going, ah, he's dope. And we say we love him. And then the next thing is him running with some McDonald's. And then we go, oh yeah, that's our guy. That's culture. No one in the White House said, man, if you go on there and play the saxophone, they going to love you. No, it just happened. And then we just grabbed him and then he just happened to go to McDonald’s, and we just happened to say, yo, we like McDonald's too, and culture happens.
Kevin Goetz (16:53):
I call them cultural cues.
Deon Taylor (16:54):
That's exactly right.
Kevin Goetz (16:56):
And those are important, but don't get me wrong, when I talk about not strictly going off demographics, what I mean is demographics still matter. But they shouldn't matter as the first and foremost area of entry.
Deon Taylor (17:07):
No, not anymore. And that's why I say this, that's why this is revolutionary. What we're doing is because what we're saying is what the old book used to say is wrong now. We’re now the way. We’re the future. This is what it's going to look like. People are blended, colors are blended, lines are blurred.
Kevin Goetz (17:27):
We will become a minority majority culture by 2043. That's right. Where there will be more minorities in this country than there are Caucasian people. It's already happened in the state of California, Hawaii, I believe Arizona, Texas, and DC.
Deon Taylor (17:43):
Kevin Goetz (17:44):
And it’s just a fact. That’s the point. We’ve got to embrace that.
Deon Taylor (17:47):
Yeah. And you have to now learn how to test for people that are just like that movie versus color. You know what I mean? So, we have to get out of, oh yeah, this is for AA audience, and this is for a white, like No, I know. Because the same white kid that you think is just a normal white kid is now the biggest Jay-Z fan on the planet. And also is one of the newest Nike dumps.
Kevin Goetz (18:13):
Absolutely. And that's been happening for the last 15 years.
Deon Taylor (18:16):
Yes. But there's slow to understand that, and vice versa. I've met young black kids that are into punk and don't listen to rap but loves Japanese animation. Sure. Kanye is a Japanese animation guy. So how do you service him?
Kevin Goetz (18:35):
I'm loving what you're saying on a lot of levels because what it does for me is
Deon Taylor (18:41):
That’s why the name of the show is Hitting Levels.
Kevin Goetz (18:43):
<laugh> What it, what
Deon Taylor (18:45):
You call it that if you want.
Kevin Goetz (18:46):
What it says to me though is that we are finally turning a corner. Finally. Yes. And I have to say, I think it's the MeToo movement. I think it's the Black Lives Matter movement. It's all this stuff. I think what's happened, and I think it's honestly, and I'm not a big fan of the gross sort of exaggeration often of the cancel culture, because I think often it's…but that has made people responsible for what comes out of their mouths. You know, people are Yeah, I agree. I don't like people living in fear. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> At the same time, a lot of us have lived in fear who were underrepresented for a long time. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And it's about, I'm finally seeing in, because I travel every day of my life, or every week I'm traveling the country, I'm seeing what's going on in cities all around this country. I'm finally seeing an acceptance. I mean, Universal…I'm working on a movie called Bros. It's a gay romantic comedy. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> with gay actors with full on romance and sex scenes.
Deon Taylor (19:52):
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, It took all of that to get here.
Kevin Goetz (19:53):
And I don't mean gratuitous, I mean the same that would be shown in a When Harry Met Sally or whatever it might be. You know? Yeah. I remember 35 years ago seeing a black and white kiss and still getting snickering in the audience in certain parts of the country.
Deon Taylor (20:13):
Roxanne Taylor (20:14):
Sure. I mean, it wasn't even allowed on screen at one point.
Kevin Goetz (20:16):
But I'm talking 35 years ago it was still, it was 19, you know…
Roxanne Taylor (20:20):
Yeah. I mean, it still exists
Kevin Goetz (20:21):
88 or 89.
Roxanne Taylor (20:22):
But we are, we are growing.
Kevin Goetz (20:26):
I don't want to be Pollyanna about it, but I'm saying now, now. So that then became 10 years ago, men on men kissing, women and women kissing was more accepted, but men on men kissing was, and it's still a little bit in certain parts of the country, but I'm just saying that I feel like for the first time in my life I'm seeing an absolute change in perception and acceptance in a way that I'd never seen it before. I mean, we can go on and on about this. I just find, I hope our listeners find this as interesting as I'm finding it.
Deon Taylor (20:59):
Yeah, but I think that this, this right here…
Kevin Goetz (21:02):
That's a mobile phone.
Deon Taylor (21:04):
This changed the narrative of the world we live in. And some good and some bad. And the reality is you often have to completely tear the building down and rebuild the foundation for things to…and so the last five or six years arguably has been the world that we have known and loved has been destroyed. And it is now, it is still being destroyed, but it is going to be rebuilt in a new way. And the rebuilding has been some of these atrocities that we've dealt with from the Me-Too Movement. I remember when that first started, I was like, man, this is crazy. Like, hearing all the stories of how Hollywood operated behind this veil. People talked to women and what they did and brought them rooms and you was like, man, that's crazy. And for a long time, mum was the word. Yeah. Right. No one could say anything. Right. You best not say nothing because you won't work. You best not speak against that. So now that veil broke, and then when you mention the Black Lives Matter Movement, by the way, Black Lives Matter. We're not talking about an organization. Let me just be clear with that. We're talking about a movement. We're talking about a movement. We were screaming Black Lives Matter because our lives matter. Now a company that's set up an LLC, but that's another…
Kevin Goetz (22:25):
I don't think anyone listening to this podcast…
Deon Taylor (22:28):
<laugh> No, but…
Kevin Goetz (22:29):
Has any question about…
Deon Taylor (22:31):
No, I’ve got to make sure because that's something that's dear to me. So now you set that up. Yeah. And then you see the world, you see a George Floyd, and then the world responds. Right? So now you have all these young kids, black, white, brown coming together, truly understanding, listen, for one great cause. And I'll tell you what's crazy about it. And that is this…this could be very controversial, but it's okay because this is what we have conversations about. I think that for me, as an African American man or as a black American man, I feel like for the first time ever years ago, we had this thing that was like the Million Man March. I remember, and I remember Spike Lee made a movie called Get on the Bus. And it was about a group of black men going to the Million Man March. And the Million Man March was all set up and built around black men and women and people coming together, all together to say, hey, enough is enough. We're tired of all this stuff that's going on with racism. We're fed up, just with everything. We're just fed up.
Kevin Goetz (23:44):
Deon Taylor (23:45):
Here's the issue that we learned 30 years, 25 years later, right? It's not about us no more. It's not about us having a conversation. It's not me and Roxanne having the conversation about racism no more. It's about us having a conversation with you about racism. And what I think this last movement did for us was very simple. My dad was in the Vietnam War, two terms. If he goes and gets shot on the battlefield and he's laying out there bleeding and he dies…you've seen the cool war movies where you can't go out there because a sniper shoots you, right?
Deon Taylor (24:23):
Does he care what color that person is that's running out there to drag his goddamn body back over there to help him? Is he going, no, send the black dude? Oh, it doesn’t matter what you do, send a black dude. Like, no, you dead on the battlefield. Like you get shot…Asian, Arabic, Mexican, I don't care what you are, come get me. And I felt like that is a very good analogy of like black people in America right now. We're like, yo, we are laying on the field. We’re here like, yo black people come…no, we need everybody to help. That's right. We need everybody with a uniform on to jump in and help. Because guess what?
Kevin Goetz (24:58):
That's why allies are so important.
Deon Taylor (25:00):
It’s one team it, look ally, look, and I'm going to take it over here. It’s that much important for film in Hollywood? For black people.
Kevin Goetz (25:08):
I know our little, I want to, I like to say our little, what do we do in our little circle of the world.
Deon Taylor (25:14):
Kevin Goetz (25:15):
What can we do?
Deon Taylor (25:16):
Exactly this. But we're doing it. And that's why I'm saying, look at this. And look, it would be very easy for us to be like, man, we just go make our own movies and we going to be black and we going to make sure everything is black. And no, our job is to create allies. Get in the sandbox with everybody else. Work with everyone else to create more opportunity. And then inside those great opportunities bring up more people. Because I can't make a movie with just…oh, it's got to be just everybody. Like yeah, that's great. That sounds great. Exactly. But we live in a world, man, where when I walk out the door, everybody is a different color. So, we need to make…that's why our films reflect that.
Kevin Goetz (25:53):
I was just going to ask you, Roxanne, when you get…how many pitches do you guys get? Like a week? Do you get a ton of pitches?
Roxanne Taylor (26:03):
There's…you can't count.
Kevin Goetz (26:04):
You can't count. So how do you get to the place of choosing a project? How does it work?
Roxanne Taylor (26:10):
Kevin Goetz (26:12):
<laugh> did you rehearse that? Cause that's a hard one, right?
Roxanne Taylor (26:17):
I mean, I think so far we've just, again, it's the film business and we have been learning the business, right? And not just trying to figure out what movies we're going to make. Because we always, as Deon said, make the movies we want to make.
Kevin Goetz (26:34):
Someone listening wants to say, I love these people, I want to be in business with them. I want to pitch a project. What do they do to get the pitch heard?
Roxanne Taylor (26:45):
I hate to say this now because I thought I never will, reach out to our agent and manager.
Kevin Goetz (26:53):
Reach out to your agent. Omar, go call Omar who's sitting in the back, by the way. Oh, I don't know what he's actually, I think he got up to have a refreshment break or something.
Roxanne Taylor (27:05):
Listen, you can access us.
Roxanne Taylor (27:08):
You know, know what I mean?
Kevin Goetz (27:10):
But it's really assuming they can get through the barrage and entourage of folks that you have helping you. What about once you get the project and what are you looking for? Like, what turns you on? I interviewed yesterday, Sean Bailey, who's president of Disney, and I said, Sean, what is it that gets you to a green light? He says, someone will call me up, a major producer and say, I want the rights to Sleeping Beauty or Snow White. And we're not giving them, what I want to hear is, what's your take on it? I want to know the exact way you're going to undertake it. Well, he says they do, they're in development with maybe two different versions of the same project in full on development to see which one resonates the strongest. And I think that's sort of brilliant.
Roxanne Taylor (27:59):
You do have to have a new take if you're remaking. Right? No one wants to see the same Cinderella movie over and over and over. Right?
Kevin Goetz (28:07):
But you don't have a lot of intellectual property. You're creating your own.
Roxanne Taylor (28:12):
I mean, I love original content personally. I mean, it changes all the time. Right? But I really love inspirational stories. You know, I love social impact stories.
Kevin Goetz (28:23):
Okay. That becomes much more specific then.
Roxanne Taylor (28:26):
Yeah. I love action. You know what I mean? Anything where you go to the movies for an hour and a half, where you forget every single thing that's going on in your life and you are in that movie.
Kevin Goetz (28:38):
That's interesting. I also want to say that you have tremendous social reach that you certainly aided, if not were responsible for, like 850,000 black voters registering in the last election. That has weight, you know, that has gravitas mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I guess my question is does that mean you wouldn't do a documentary? Something like that?
Roxanne Taylor (29:05):
Yeah. We'll do anything, you know, we'll do…
Kevin Goetz (29:08):
That would be fall under the inspirational potentially area.
Roxanne Taylor (29:12):
Yeah. Education, you know, I think more because with the Be Woke Vote initiative, you know, outside of how we personally feel mm-hmm. <affirmative>, that was really just to educate the youth on the importance of voting. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> not who you're voting for, but why it's important. And it starts locally, obviously, you know, the presidential level is not the only voting mechanism, right? No, it is not. And where you see the most results are locally. So that's what we push on. And that's what leads up to who's selecting ultimately our president.
Kevin Goetz (29:48):
Do you ever develop your own projects from your own heads, or are you pretty reliant on spec scripts or ideas that come to you?
Deon Taylor (29:58):
Roxanne Taylor (29:58):
Everything has been developed from this brain in his head over here. Yeah. That bobble head over there. Like everything has been original from Deon.
Deon Taylor (30:09):
So, I think, I think the question you're asking us is in reverse. I'll answer it in reverse. Where most production companies would start and say, all right, we're open for business, we're looking for scripts and ideas, and we want to actually get out there and go make this stuff. We, unfortunately, were not able to do it that way. Our business started from ideas that I had. Every movie that we have ever made is my movie. Every film you've ever seen has been me and her or me going, man, this is dope. And then it evolves into something.
Kevin Goetz (30:49):
And then you'll bring writers on, let's say.
Deon Taylor (30:52):
Bring a writer on or bring…
Kevin Goetz (30:53):
Because you write as well.
Deon Taylor (30:54):
Yes. So everything has been us building that way. Now here's what's crazy. This looks cool now <laugh>, you know what I mean? Like, it looks cool, Roxanne with the white thing and we in here and I got this polo on and it's like, man, that did that. But the reality is, when we first started, because we are film fans, because we are people that live really in the culture, we really bought tickets and really went to the movies. Like, this is not like, oh, I went to film school and now I'm going to be a director because I know how to shoot a cup of tea. Well, you know what I mean?
Did you go to film school?
No, I'm self-taught, but I'm self-taught because I love cinema.
Kevin Goetz (31:35):
So, how did you learn how to do such a great job with actors, for example?
Deon Taylor (31:38):
But I'm, I'm gonna tell, I'm gonna tell you, let me just tell you this, those movies that we make when we first started…
Kevin Goetz (31:44):
Were master's degrees.
Deon Taylor (31:46):
It was everything, but…
Roxanne Taylor (31:48):
That was our film school.
Deon Taylor (31:49):
But part of why people did not want to deal with us is because I have been told early on, like, you need to focus on one particular movie that you're trying to make. Who are you, what are you as a filmmaker? So, we came out the gate with a horror movie. The reason we made a horror movie early on was…That's Seventy Five. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But the reason we made the horror movie early on was because number one, we were horror fans. But number two, when we looked at making a horror film, business wise, it was the right decision based on the fact that what Kevin? In a horror movie, you don't need stars. Your killer is the star. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So, I could put a guy with a plastic bag on his head and that is now the movie. Okay. So, if you're thinking creatively, you go, oh wow. Like I can get away with it? You don't know anyone in Halloween. Now you do <laugh>. You know what I mean? Yeah. So that was the initial idea. But then when you jump from making Seventy Five and Chain Letter in the earlier movies we do, and then you go to Supremacy.
Kevin Goetz (32:51):
<affirmative> mm-hmm. <affirmative> mm-hmm. <affirmative>,
Deon Taylor (32:52):
Who would've ever let me have a script like that? Right. So, when you get to now a drama with Mahershala Ali, Danny Glover, Joe Anderson, Don Olivier…a true story about a white supremacist out of the Bay Area that stops a car and kills a police officer on the road and takes a hostage. That is so far away from Seventy Five. Right. But then if you look at our body of work, we've been able to jump genres. And part of the thing that we love saying that we are doing is I've modeled my career after Stephen Spielberg. I've always felt like…
Kevin Goetz (33:25):
You're not pigeonholed in a genre. That's what Roxanne was just saying and nothing I like, there’s a theme and I think you'd find Stephen saying the same thing. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> inspirational stories, stories that move, stories that change the narrative
Deon Taylor (33:38):
And ours is adversity.
Kevin Goetz (33:39):
Getting, overcoming. Sorry. Is the right?
Deon Taylor (33:44):
Every movie that we’ve ever made is overcoming adversity from horror to drama
Kevin Goetz (33:49):
you go to crazy next-door neighbor
Deon Taylor (33:51):
Meet the Blacks is about family and adversity.
Kevin Goetz (33:55):
Yeah. And that is so interesting, again, in Brian Gray's book yesterday.
Deon Taylor (33:59):
Tell Brian I said what's happening.
Kevin Goetz (34:00):
Deon Taylor (34:01):
Tell Brian I said I'm free.
Kevin Goetz (34:04):
I will. But you know, Brian, he talked about how he was pitching, what was that mermaid movie he initially did? Splash. And he couldn't get, anyway, he said he was pitching it for five years, whatever it was. And same way, like the definition of insanity, expecting a different result by pitching it the same. Finally, he realized this is about something else than a mermaid. It is. And so, he got the essence, and he went in, and he sold it to Disney. Like, because he, everyone was, it was about a guy who just wanted love in his life.
Deon Taylor (34:38):
Change the pitch, man, that's right.
Kevin Goetz (34:38):
And changed the narrative, Slight adjusting, went in there and sold the picture. And so, since then he has done that his whole career. And I would say arguably one of the five most successful producers in the business. And so, it sounds like you approach it the same way. You're finding the essence of what makes this a common thread. You know? We're going to take a break and when we come back, we'll pick it up.
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Kevin Goetz (35:40):
We're back and so excited to continue our conversation. So, moving on to when you finally make a movie, now you're screening it for an audience and I get involved, or my company gets involved and you're testing it. What have you learned from the process? Oh, you're shaking your head.
Deon Taylor (36:01):
No, I was saying it was, it was…
Kevin Goetz (36:03):
The first time you said it was painful.
Roxanne Taylor (36:06):
Yeah. Well actually the first time we didn't do that. We would screen it for friends and family thinking this is our test screening. We didn't even, you know what I mean?
Kevin Goetz (36:16):
When you're being scrappy, sometimes that's what you do, you know.
Roxanne Taylor (36:19):
Yes, go ahead.
Kevin Goetz (36:20):
But you’ve got to think that friends and family are not always going to be…
Roxanne Taylor (36:23):
Deon Taylor (36:24):
Yeah. I mean this world, you know, the Screen Engine world and what that represents and that like, opened up so much for me as an independent filmmaker. It really allows you to understand how people perceive your material. And sometimes what I learned is sometimes even what you write on the paper does not translate to what's happening in the theater.
Kevin Goetz (37:00):
Oh my God. Well, you're absolutely repeating back, parroting back what Ron Howard says. He says, I get to choose my script. I get to develop it with the writer. I get to cast it, I get to shoot it my way. I get to edit it my way, and then I show it to an audience. And guess what? What I've communicated to the audience may not be what the audience is getting. And I’ve got to listen. As I like to tell people, if someone honks at you on the freeway, you know, they're an asshole. They're a jerk. If five people honk at you.
Deon Taylor (37:35):
Kevin Goetz (37:35):
You're the asshole.
Deon Taylor (37:37):
You're the jerk. Yeah. That's, that's exactly right.
Kevin Goetz (37:39):
So, you need to listen.
Roxanne Taylor (37:40):
Kevin Goetz (37:41):
And not just be defensive and say, okay, how can I? So, what was the biggest change that ever happened in a screening for you guys?
Deon Taylor (37:49):
I'll tell you, that's what I was getting ready to tell you. So, Damon Wolf takes The Intruder, and they go set up a test screening for this movie. Now the movie is playing crazy already. Like it's just our edit. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it's just our movie. And we've been playing it for people and people are like, oh man, this is crazy. Right? Like, people screaming. Two people in the theater like, yo, this is amazing. So, Sony comes and says, yo, we want to, like, we are really interested in buying the movie. So, I'm like, all right, well great. Let's have them buy it. What's the deal? So, then they say, well no, hold up. Time out. We’re gonna go test it. And that's when the first, I was like, wait, y'all gonna do what? Like, cause now I'm going like, oh no. Because I don't know what the test is going to be.
Deon Taylor (38:32):
So, they set up this test and I remember I was like, yo, I'm not going to fly. I was like, no, I'm not gonna fly out there. I'm not gonna go to the test because I don't want to be in the room. Because I had a bad experience in the room the last time. So a few people I know go to the test. Damon Wolf is on speed dial with me. And I have three other people in that room that they have no idea is talking to me every beat of the night. I mean, every five minutes to this is what just happened. They laughed at this scene. So, the movie comes on, and as the movie comes on, it is playing, and I know all of the beats of the film. I know when they're supposed to laugh.
Deon Taylor (39:10):
I know because I have been screening my own movie. So, they're going, so they're going, oh man, it's working, it's working. Omar's in the crowd. He said, oh man, that part worked. So when he gets to the 30 minute mark and he texts me, we have the first hit. And it goes, I know people are supposed to go, oh hell no, because something happens at the 30-minute mark, which is the man comes, Dennis Quaid knocks on the door and asks to come in the house. And she basically lets him in. And I said, and he said, he said no. And he says, the whole theater said, no, don't you do it. Now here’s what happens. The end of that film, I'm getting a text like I can't even hear. People are talking over the screen, talking over the thing. So, I'm going, oh, it's a rap.
Deon Taylor (39:52):
So now when that movie finishes, Sony is in that theater, they're texting me now going, let's get the deal closed. There are no results yet, but what they, what they seen was, it was an interactive experience for obvious is they were through the roof. Now we got the results back from the test. It didn’t test well. Yeah. It tested cool. But it was like a low, no, it was not great, but the experience. They were going, what happened in here? Maybe we had the wrong audience, but whatever it is, that was it. So, we made that. They never ever tested that film again. They bought that movie and that was the cut we took out. Now my other experience is this with testing, which I'm a fan of it now.
Kevin Goetz (40:39):
How about a change you made?
Deon Taylor (40:40):
Yeah. Black and Blue. My director's cut, we tested it, tested a 98. That's the movie they put out. There was one adjustment in the screening test.
Kevin Goetz (40:53):
As a result of the screening results.
Deon Taylor (40:55):
Yeah. It was one thing. It was one thing was they was like, hey, when Naomi Harris looks at the little girl you cut away. I wanted to see her look at her. And I went, oh, that's easy. We could do that. Yeah. Done. Yeah.
Kevin Goetz (41:07):
But really that was the only adjustment.
Deon Taylor (41:08):
That was two slam dunks.
Deon Taylor (41:11):
That was two slam dunks versus the atrocity that we had with Chain Letter.
Kevin Goetz (41:19):
I know Chain Letter.
Deon Taylor (41:21):
I made this movie Chain Letter. They test the movie. And I thought…
Kevin Goetz (41:25):
Deon Taylor (41:26):
I thought when I went outside, they were going to kill me.
Kevin Goetz (41:29):
Was it a DNA problem? It would've been a DNA problem.
Deon Taylor (41:33):
Kevin Goetz (41:34):
Roxanne Taylor (41:34):
Everything. That's what I…
Kevin Goetz (41:34):
It's, it's in the, it's in the makeup
Roxanne Taylor (41:37):
Fabric of what it was
Kevin Goetz (41:38):
Yeah. So it was a misstep. You knew it going in. I bet you. Yeah. Hold on. Am I right or wrong?
Deon Taylor (41:42):
I knew a hundred percent.
Kevin Goetz (41:44):
You knew, You knew that script was not ready to go.
Deon Taylor (41:45):
Yeah. That's why I shoot the way I shoot now.
Kevin Goetz (41:48):
Deon Taylor (41:49):
I shoot the way I shoot now because I shoot off the page. So, in other words, I'll write the script, have the script mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But then I'm also bandaiding in the, I'm like, oh shoot this extra...
Roxanne Taylor (41:59):
He's editing as he goes.
Kevin Goetz (42:00):
I love it. So you're doing all things too when you're shooting.
Deon Taylor (42:03):
Do it all.
Kevin Goetz (42:04):
I love it. I love it.
Deon Taylor (42:07):
Three endings. Two different beginnings. Yeah.
Kevin Goetz (42:09):
I want to ask you something before we break, because we could talk for hours. And I knew this was going to be the downfall, but this was a deep interview. This was a usually not the fluff of what do you, what do you value as the…
Deon Taylor (42:24):
Did you like our interview? Did you like it?
Kevin Goetz (42:25):
Oh lord. I'm loving this interview. I don't want to end it. I think you're going to have to come back down. But what I want to ask you is this. So you got a young person listening to this podcast. Cause a lot of students listen to this. Had he asked that question?
Roxanne Taylor (42:40):
<laugh>? No, No.
Roxanne Taylor (42:42):
He is doing, I'm just laughing at him.
Kevin Goetz (42:44):
At him. He knows the answer.
Roxanne Taylor (42:46):
He knows all the answers? No, I don't. He is doing the podcast.
Deon Taylor (42:50):
You doing the podcast.
Kevin Goetz (42:52):
I was about to say, do you bring this into the bedroom too, <laugh>? Or is it, does it end? <laugh>. Okay. All right. So, alright. Let me ask you this though. Young filmmaker, maybe in film school, maybe not. They really like you, they really love film. They want to get into the business. Give me the sage piece of advice to them.
Deon Taylor (43:19):
Roxanne, give it to them. She does this well.
Roxanne Taylor (43:19):
I mean I do this. Well, I mean, I do think education is important. I mean, I think you learn a lot in school.
Kevin Goetz (43:28):
What does that mean though?
Kevin Goetz (43:29):
What does education mean to you?
Roxanne Taylor (43:32):
I mean, education is everything.
Kevin Goetz (43:33):
Roxanne Taylor (43:34):
Well, if we're talking about film, right? Film school can be important. I don't ever want to detour anyone from what they think is the best route for themself, because you can learn a lot in film school and there's a bunch of exercises that they take you through. But for me, the fundamentals of film, and they'll teach you movie magic depending on what you know, they'll teach you the software and all of the things that you would need to have to prepare yourself. But I didn't go to film school either, and there's no better experience than on the job experience because…
Kevin Goetz (44:15):
Did you go to college?
Roxanne Taylor (44:16):
I did, but I was, I was a computer science major.
Kevin Goetz (44:19):
But do you think one needs to go to college?
Roxanne Taylor (44:23):
Yeah. I do.
Kevin Goetz (44:24):
Roxanne Taylor (44:25):
Or some vocational, you know, school.
Kevin Goetz (44:29):
I'm with you because of, if nothing else, today at least, it's the evolution of the growth of just evolving as a human being. You know, especially if you're writing.
Roxanne Taylor (44:45):
I mean, all of those layers…
Kevin Goetz (44:46):
Understand what the world is about.
Roxanne Taylor (44:48):
For sure. I mean, you're growing. I mean, I think the whole education process from elementary to junior high to high school to college really prepares you for the world.
Kevin Goetz (44:58):
Any of your kids…how many kids do you have?
Roxanne Taylor (45:00):
Kevin Goetz (45:02):
A girl and two boys?
Roxanne Taylor (45:02):
Five, eight and 17. Two boys and a girl. Yeah.
Kevin Goetz (45:05):
And any of them want to be in the film business?
Roxanne Taylor (45:10):
Um, they're intrigued. My daughter loves fashion. She's super creative. I don't know if it's going to be specifically like a designer, maybe photography, you know, those writing, creating. But, you know, there's people in school, this business is very unique, and you have to have thick skin and you have to constantly motivate yourself, you know? And so if you go to school and learn these fundamentals, it does not prepare you for being on set. It's a totally different beast. And so it could either make you or it could break you.
Kevin Goetz (45:48):
And you started your own distribution company to once again, do things your way, control your story, your narrative, which I so admire. I can't express to you. I work with people all the time, and there was a time when I first said to you in that first conversation, branding is really important to stick with a genre or that area. And you all didn't buy into that notion. <laugh>, I think I'm right when it comes to most people who don't have your vision or your independent financing, which you've been lucky enough to…lucky when opportunity meets preparation mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Yeah, to have aligned yourself with folks who can, you know, finance your movies, and give you that autonomy. But I have a mantra that I'd like to share with you and just as a final, get your comment on this, every movie, and I mean every movie if made and marketed for the right price should make money. Every single movie.
Roxanne Taylor (46:56):
I agree with you. Yes.
Kevin Goetz (46:59):
Most people don't understand what they have, so they overspend mm-hmm. <affirmative> and they certainly overpay for marketing. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And they just don't get it. So I think that's a great way to tease the audience on a potential sequel for you guys to come back.
Roxanne Taylor (47:16):
Let's do it.
Kevin Goetz (47:17):
I just can't thank you enough.
Roxanne Taylor (47:24):
Can't thank you enough.
Kevin Goetz (47:25):
I have to say truly and utterly, I love you guys. I think you are extraordinary human beings, talented and extraordinary filmmakers, and I'm honored to be in your inner circle.
Roxanne Taylor (47:38):
Thank you for allowing us to be in your circle.
Kevin Goetz (47:41):
To our listeners, I hope you enjoyed today's interview. Deon and Roxanne are very active on social media, and I encourage you to follow them. Also, to learn more about their upcoming projects, check out their website at HiddenEmpireFilmGroup.com. For other stories like this one, please check out my book, Audienceology at Amazon or wherever books are sold, or through my website at KevinGoetz360.com. You can also follow me on my social media @KevinGoetz360. Next time on Don't Kill the Messenger, we will welcome the enormously successful producer, Neil Moritz. Until then, I'm Kevin Goetz, and to you, our listeners, I appreciate you being a part of the movie making process. Your opinions matter.
Host: Kevin Goetz
Guests: Producer Roxanne Avent Taylor and Writer/Director Deon Taylor
Producer: Kari Campano