Stephanie Allain has spent her entire professional life with one goal in mind: to tell great stories. After obtaining a degree in Creative Writing, the New Orleans native began her career as a script reader for some of the biggest talent agencies in Hollywood. Moving on to Columbia Pictures—where she kick-started the careers of John Singleton, Darnell Martin and Robert Rodriquez—she rose up through the ranks to become Senior V.P. of Production and in the process became the first African-American woman to make a major studio motion picture.
Later, as the President of Muppet creator Jim Henson Production, Allain added producing to her repertoire, working on films like Muppets from Outer Space, The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland and Rat, before venturing out on her own as an independent producer.
Allain has flourished as an independent filmmaker with an output of well-received films that includes Biker Boyz, Hustle & Flow, Something New, Peeple, and the soon to be released dramedy, Dear White People.
Tapped in 2012 to lead the prestigious Los Angeles Film Festival, Allain’s career has come full-circle as she now takes on the role of preparing the next generation of storytellers begin their careers. ESSENCE.com recently spoke to this cinema vanguard to talk about her career, plus get a sneak peak on all the action at the LA Film Fest.
ESSENCE: How have you successfully managed to navigate such a varied career in entertainment?
I’ll start by saying that I’ve always loved stories. I’ve always loved reading and always loved the movies. Storytelling is one of the oldest of human endeavors and they give us our understanding of the world and our place in it. When I discovered that there were people who professionally were involved in the creation of stories it was game over – I knew what I wanted to do it. That passion has taken me to a lot of different places — from CAA to the studios. For a decade I had the joy of being able to identify a story and play a role in taking it out to the world. I truly believe in the value that stories have in being able to elevate humanity and make the world a better place.
ESSENCE: You are known for making some pretty bold moves in Hollywood? Where does that come from?
I come from a long line of strong and confident women out of New Orleans. My grandmother and great-grandmother were women who ran their homes and were leaders in their communities. I was never taught that there was anything that I couldn’t do and I believed that. Growing up I learned that if you are passionate about something that you can move mountains. Passion is more precious than gold and it’s a currency that everyone craves. It’s something that’s hard to fake and when it’s real, everyone wants to be on that train. It’s about giving people something that they can believe.
ESSENCE: What can we expect from the 2014 edition of the Los Angeles Film Festival?
The Los Angeles Film Festival offers something that no other film festival in the world can compete with and that’s an elevated film experience. Los Angeles is the capitol of entertainment, so part of what we’re offering is an opportunity to achieve the dream. No other city can offer the depth of crew, executives, creative people and talent like we can, so what we’ll be offering is an experience that will take our audience behind the scene of what goes into creating the magic of the movies – both in front and behind the camera. Half of the festival is traditional and the other half is an embodiment of the work that we do in terms of artist development. This year is our 20th anniversary and we are dedicated to executing a concept that will provide our audience with much more about the process of being the masters of their craft as artists.
ESSENCE: The question of diversity in the entertainment industry continues to confound reason. What do you think is the solution?
An article came out recently that looked at a thousand TV shows and movies and the results show that projects with diverse leads and show runners made the most money. People are tuning in to see real lives that represent what we know in America today. This is the new norm. Advertisers have to get on board if they want to appeal to these consumers. At Film Independent and the LA Film Festival we are conscious of this fact, which is why I surround myself with curators who get it. LA is one of the most diverse cities in the world and my team reflects that with our offerings. Through our programs Film Independent supports diverse film makers and content creators beginning at the high school level. We align them with industry people, and track them to the next level. We also align people with mentors to give them the training that they will need to succeed.
ESSENCE: What personal attribute do you count as being essential to your success?
I have come to rely on my three P’s: Passion – If you don’t have it, then you are just lost. Persistent: people are going to say no all the time, so your job is to figure out how to get beyond that. Patience: To make it in this business takes a lot a lot of endurance, tolerance and fortitude. Reaching your dreams is not going to happen overnight. Finally, you must know your authentic self – the things that make you, you. It’s important to keep a since of humor and believe that you have the confidence to move beyond any kind of situation.
The Los Angeles Film Festival runs from June 1 – 19.
Gil Robertson IV is an award-winning journalist, bestselling author and president of the African-American Film Critics Association.