Still Standing premieres on Thursday, May 3, with a screening at the Landmark Midtown Arts Cinemas at 7:00 PM (931 Monroe Dr NE # C212).
CL Why did you feel it was important to make this vein of film?
Lamar: We just saw a tremendous need. It came out of the website and we really just wanted to something we were passionate about, something we'd want to do five years from now we'd still want to do it and that was relationships - more specifically, the idea of marriage and how it was received in general culture, which are always negative. You know in TV shows and movies, the situations are always negative, especially towards men. So we said, lets promote a positive image about marriage specifically in the African American community because we know there are other happily married couples out there and no one is telling their stories. So we put the site up and immediately it took off. People were just hungry for this kind of information.
How do you find your couples - the subjects in your films?
Lamar: Well its because of the website and the kind of things that we do. We've been able to connect with marriage professionals; psychologist and people in the healthy marriage community which we didn't even know existed before we started the site [blackandmarriedwithkids.com] but they've pretty much embraced us so their healthy marriage initiatives, their marriage ministries we've been able to come in contact with those people. So when we're looking for couples we start with the people we know and they recommend couples which we like.
CL Oh, why is that?
Ronnie: We try to keep it within one degree of separation, because we want someone to be held accountable for the stuff they're saying. It's something you don't have to worry about in a regular film because we have a Facebook page with over 100,000 people so we can easily put out a call saying "hey we are looking for great stories for this movie" but we don't want a couple on there talking about how much they love each other and we get an email with pictures of them not being who they said they were. You never know what goes on behind closed doors in someone's marriage but we try to make sure somebody can say "I know this couple and I know their story."
How long does it take to produce a segment, I'd imagine you would have to follow them for a while.
Lamar: Actually we turn projects around very quickly. We come from the Web side of things. We don't have that Hollywood mentality we work with a web mentality which is do it fast, do it cheap and do it lone wolf style. So we shot the bulk of the film in four days, with the exception of Speech and Yolanda since they were on a world tour. We shot in January and two months later we were premiering in D.C.
Ronnie: Packaged and in hand [laughs].
How did you two meet?
Ronnie: Through a mutual friend. He used to work with a girl friend I grew up with and I flew in o town to hang with her and she had some people over and we met that way. And he had his line for me [laughs]. He said he had a travelling job and when he comes to my town lets go out, and I said, "Okay."
Lamar: ... And she's been stalking me ever since! [laughs]
How do you find a happy medium being both married and co-directors?
Ronnie: Its definitely communication and we have a healthy respect for one another. So there are times when we disagree but we both we go off and think about it, so we'll come back and either I've changed or he has - its basically compromise. So we'll disagree and I'll say, "go ahead have it your way" and he had already changed it.
So when you look at this genre [healthy marriage] did you think you'd have the market you have today?
Lamar: Not on the film side of it because before we made the first film, we didn't own a video camera. We had no inspiration to be filmmakers. But its been a ride, but we appreciate it - we appreciate the growth with each project. We used to fill up a theater back in the day, but now we're selling out in every city and adding additional shows which we never had to do before. Each year it grows and I appreciate it so much.
You have over 100,000 fans on your Facebook page, how has social media played in the promotion and growth of your films?
Lamar: Its huge. Most cities we go to we don't advertise on the radio. We advertise through social media. We reach out to other bloggers, tweet about it and announce it on our Facebook page.
You mentioned stories about us - African American, but this really is about healthy marriages. Do you think the stories are universal or are they unique to African American couples?
Lamar: I think 80 to 90 percent of it is universal, but there is that 10 to 20 percent that has that cultural uniqueness and that's what our audience appreciates. [For example] In one of our previous films there was a woman who explained how she had to change a couple of things in her mind. Her mother raised her to be independent, to make a way out of no way and to "make a dollar out of 15 cents." So whenever thats heard in an African American audience they're cracking up and the woman say, "yeah girl - tell 'em!" But when that plays to a white audience its just quiet, people look around and don't get it. So the lessons definitely can transcend any audience but it still has this bit of seasoning that African Americans can relate to.
Ronnie: And i think the African American community has just been hungry for these images and the state of marriage in our community, they want to sit there and listen to other people and hear their stories. And I don't think other cultures want to hear about other people's married life.
Because of the subject matter, do people look at you as marriage counselors?
Ronnie: They do, but I always tell them we're not. I take that very seriously and don't want to tell somebody the wrong thing. I know when you're in the spotlight, people want to give you those labels, but we want to be examples and pass on anything we've learned. We've taken marriage education classes and we're taking another training so we're certified to do some things like that.
I can only imagine your panels after the screenings are full of questions with people asking for help. How do you filter this in that situation?
Lamar: In the screenings its not that hard, because its not that deep since they are with their spouse in a public place. But we always bring it back to you have to get help. In our community, theres a stigma around it, so we tell them you need to talk to a psychologist or go to some marriage education classes. Usually the common denominator is this couples won't get help and keep going through the issues over and over hoping something will change.
Ronnie: Right, in this age there's no excuse anymore. There's videos, websites so there's ways to get help if you really want to put the work in.
There's a negative connotation about seeking help, even going to see a film like this. Why do you think this fear permeates in the community, especially amongst men?
Lamar: I think its male ego. Men think, "I can figure this out on my own." You hear the same stuff: I don't need to tell people my business. They don't know what going on with my relationship. A lot of times men are afraid that the professional with side with the wife. If that happens it forces you [men] to take some action and reflect on yourself.
Ronnie: I think people in general are afraid that they might have to make some changes.
You're self-taught, independent filmmakers, what are some of the lessons you learned along the way.
Lamar: We're definitely better storytellers. I mean, the production values is better but that would come anyway. Now we know how to say what we want and cut through to the point. We know what we want from each project - this is the story we want to tell and how we want to tell it. In the beginning, we had people who don't necessarily fit in the film but we had them in there anyway [laughs].
Ronnie: You know we felt since they took the time to do it [interviews], we can't not use it.
That entire process has changed. We did pre-interviews and pre-screenings and let them know just because we talked to you doesn't mean you'll be in the film. We know what we want to come out in the films so we're better at asking stories and technically too. But when you know better you do better.
Lonnie: And we learned about marketing too - marketing to our audience. Because the internet and social media, the middle man has been removed. A lot of independent filmmakers the hollywood mentality model is I spend my money and someone else's money to make this film and I pray someone will pick it up for distribution. Our model is we make the best product we can and get it to the people because we know they are waiting on it. So we've been redefining our own distribution strategy and getting better using social media to put the message out and how to do these screenings. We definitely take it to the people, but its been a learning experience.
How did you learn to become filmmakers?
Lamar: Well it took a long time, I got 30 years of TV watching experience [laughs], so I'm an old pro in the film game - I got a lot of hours logged. But the films that inspired me the most were the "Black List" series that ran on HBO. It showed me great stories, but simplistic and very engaging. So we followed that template to a degree.
Whats next for you two?
Ronnie: More movies. We're looking to put another film out and considering two topics: singles and blended families. Every time we have a screening, there's always a single person that stands up and asks, when are we going to talk about singles. But we need to do our research so we don't push anybody over the edge [laughs].
When you look back on your career, how do you think people will see your legacy?
Lamar: I think specifically we'll be looked on as people who provided a positive image in the African American community. I mean, its something so basic, but so needed right now. Because everything you see through mass media is really the contrast of that, and these are two people that built us [African Americans] up.