The way Bryan Smiley sees it, making films has never been so difficult. This is how you do it.
It’s a story in itself. Smiley worked his way to the top of Sony Pictures – and then left everything to run the production company of his dreams. Why?
First, to work with Kevin Hart. Second, he wanted to see that more stories on screen haven’t been seen yet.
With Hart’s comedic take on a heartwarming, true story of a single black father, fatherhood does just that.
The film premieres this Father’s Day weekend and will be one of the first films in the huge multi-production deal between Netflix and HartBeat Productions.
What does it take to get here?
Smiley took the time to film with Hart on location in Budapest to talk to No Film School about the business side of filmmaking, working with Hart, and advice to filmmakers on finding a studio to bring their story to the big screen bring to.
Not a film school: You were vice president of production at Sony Pictures and then basically decided to go rogue and join Kevin Hart to run HartBeat Productions. What made you do it?
Smiley: If you’re at Sony or any other studio in the room, there is a very short list of talent, whether actors or filmmakers, who can actually get the go-ahead for a movie. Kevin Hart was at the top of that shortlist.
Making films today has never been so difficult, I don’t think. You need so many items, so many boxes to tick, especially for movies. So this was an opportunity to work with someone who could get movies and television going. Kevin and I met a few times before I officially agreed to come over. He’s just a really great person. You heard this from people. I had heard that from people in town. But seeing it for yourself and sitting with him for hours at dinner and breakfast and visiting him on set was almost a piece of cake. I have to say I haven’t looked back since. All of my former colleagues always say how lucky I am, how jealous they are. It really is the greatest job I’ve ever had.
NFS: how does it work? fatherhood fit with HartBeat Production’s goals in terms of the content of the story?
Smiley: A few things. I think we are determined and determined to make films for a wide audience. Comedy will always be the soul of these films, be it an overt type of physical comedy or something more subtle. fatherhoodI think has a lot of very strong comedic moments.
Then I think the other part of it is having strong depictions of people of color on the big and small screens. Certainly, I think there aren’t enough depictions of strong, positive, black fathers that I’ve seen. I can think back to the fathers on some TV series and maybe a few movies over time. But mostly it’s a rare thing.
I think part of our mission and mandate is a mixture of that. We support People of Color, all People of Color, filmmakers, women in front of the camera, behind the camera and more. fatherhood check all boxes. We can be smart in the way we write, develop, and cast these films.
NFS: So what is the strategy as President of Film and Television at HartBeat Productions to be a good partner and at the same time achieve these bigger goals of bringing different people and narratives into the landscape?
Smiley: I think the nice thing about our Netflix deal, which is pretty new – we signed it in early January – is that they supported us from day one. They were cooperative in the way we would approach the film side of our business. We have found a complete alignment. If we hadn’t done that, I don’t think we would have moved our deal from Universal to Netflix.
Honestly, as far as the business partners go, they are extremely and encouragingly supportive of this and go out of their way to ensure we know about projects and meet talent behind the camera, in front of the camera that they think is great for HartBeat movies could be. I think with any partnership you want to make sure that you are on an equal footing to begin with.
they say how you start is how you finish
NFS: As Kevin Hart’s production partner, how did you learn to be a good employee?
Smiley: It’s easy with Kevin. I am very vocal about the fact that I have had many therapies in my life as a grown man. One thing I’ve learned in my therapy years is communication. The reality is, we talk all the time, no matter where he is in the world or where I am in the world. We probably touch the base no less than twice a day. It is through this exchange and communication that we find what feels right.
For him it is ultimately his name that is on the door every day. We could only find out through a little trial and error what we thought best represented their brand and the HartBeat name.
NFS: To have this dream of starting something like HartBeat Productions and then making it a reality is so big. Do you have any tips for filmmakers on what it takes?
Smiley: I have to say I was very happy and blessed. When I came to HartBeat, the company was up and running. It’s been around for many years, but it really started when they signed their first big deal with Universal. When I came into the company, maybe a year and a half after that deal, a lot of things were ironed out from a corporate structure perspective and a lot of great seeds were sown that I just nurtured. Then when I came to the company, it was really about growing the company quickly and figuring out our future.
I think for young filmmakers it’s really just about having a really clear view of what you’re trying to say. You spend so much time developing and ultimately doing projects. They cost so much money and you have to get other people to invest large sums of money to make them happen.
I think you just have to have a really strong voice, vision, point of view and a really undeniable mind. It takes a lot of pressure, a lot of courage and a lot of energy to make films. And it takes time.
The more you do it, the better you get at it. I’ve found that I’m mostly drawn to filmmakers who have a clear idea of what they want to say. This type of energy is transcendent. People can feel it and they support it.
NFS: One fatherhood, which is coming out this Father’s Day weekend, what were the challenges in making this film from your point of view as Executive Producer?
Smiley: The biggest challenge I saw was more of a business perspective. it’s common knowledge that fatherhood was developed and manufactured by Sony for distribution. And then COVID-19 happened and the cinemas closed. That delayed the film for a long time. A decision has been made for which I am very grateful [Tom Rothman] at Sony and of course Scott Zuber and his team at Netflix, who saw a way to bring the movie to the widest possible audience in the midst of this global pandemic, when so many cinemas are not yet open.
It was a big decision because obviously Sony believed in the film. They believed in the film deep enough to be theatrical about it. They want to get the movie out, however, and we wanted to make sure it got a decent release with the widest possible reach. So we were excited because our big deal at Netflix and Sony are great Netflix partners, and we did it. That was a lot of work, but I’m glad it is now being published on a global platform with hundreds of millions of eyeballs to see all over the world.
NFS: What is your advice to filmmakers reading this who have different backgrounds and different stories that are off-screen but want to change that? And what do you think it takes to see more of these stories that are being adopted by the industry?
Smiley: I think the hug is happening now. That being said, I tell people that any movie can be made … for the right price. We are talking to these amazing filmmakers today, Asian American brothers who have a personal story and it is a type of film that we can do well and tell their amazing story for $ 5 million. Part of my job as a producer is to reconcile the creative drive and goal of my filmmaking partners with what I know will be the business rationale that will flow into any distribution or platform that decides to make a film .
So I’d just say any story is possible, but be budget conscious when developing your story. Find out because that will be a huge hurdle for you if the cost is too high. I think there are some stories that could be very cultural, but also very extensive and still great stories. Then I think it’s really about as a filmmaker understanding how the film can play and function globally so that distributors can make an investment.
The big studios and platforms are no longer afraid of these films as they used to be. But they still need a little help understanding how they’re going to make their money. I don’t tell anyone not to be ambitious. If you have a science fiction set in the jungles of Brazil and it has a deeply ancient story in its heart, that’s fine. But be ready to go through the business side as well, because of course that will be a big, big part of the decision to go with the studio.
NFS: Is there anything else people should know when they are watching? fatherhood?
Smiley: I think it’s a deeply passionate story for Kevin who now has four children. Much of this authenticity can be seen in his performance. I would just say people should watch it with their family. It’s a great movie to watch on Father’s Day weekend. Hopefully people enjoy it as much as I do.