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Celebrities hope to give black films a fighting chance

It’s hard enough to get a black film made in Hollywood. But it’s even harder to get it distributed. Actors Will Smith, Duane Martin, and Blair Underwood have teamed up with producers Nia Hill and D’Angela Steed to change that.

In July, the group launched The Momentum Experience, a Hollywood-based theatrical distribution company designed to bring films, combined with live entertainment, to venues beyond the traditional multiplex such as playhouses and concert halls. “We route movies like many black plays, via the chittlin’ circuit,” says Hill, Momentum’s co-founder and CEO.

“Artists are thinking like entrepreneurs,” says Martin. “We realize artists can’t just be artists. When we try to get our projects made, we come to a dead end. This puts us in control.”

While Momentum is not disclosing how much its celebrity backers invested, Hill says the launch cost $2 million, and more than $1 million was spent on marketing for the first film, The Seat Filler, a romantic comedy starring Martin, singer Kelly Rowland, and Shemar Moore. This summer, the film consistently sold out with tickets priced at $18 to $25. The average gross per screening was about $43,253.

Whether Momentum’s novel approach to film distribution will work remains to be seen. “The success of Momentum will depend upon the caliber of films they elect to distribute, their pricing structure, and on whether they can convince audiences to come to a live stage venue to see a film,” says Lisa E. Davis, an industry attorney.

Besides distributing four to five films annually, Momentum is looking to other revenue generators. “There will be a television, music, and DVD component,” says Hill.

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