A24’s 'Sing Sing' Brings Innovation To Filmmaking Through Equity

Published on in Miscellaneous

This post was originally published on Greenslate

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Change can be, and is, disruptive. In filmmaking, change is often precipitated by innovation. Innovation in visual technology, sound design, editing, people management, equity, and more. 

Filmmakers are constantly finding ways to break new ground and innovate. 

Take Gareth Edwards’ science fiction action romp The Creator as a recent example. Edwards utilized new techniques, technologies, and shooting methods to make an $86 million dollar budget movie look like it cost $300 million

That’s an accomplishment. 

But there are other filmmaking accomplishments taking place that don’t get the same buzz a film like The Creator gets for its innovation.

The A24 acquired Sing Sing is one such film.

Sing Sing's remarkable innovation

In addition to the glowing reviews and accolades Sing Sing garnered during this year’s Toronto Film Festival, it is deserving of praise and recognition for how the movie was made in an equitable way as much as the exceptional final product that showed up on screen. 

Sing Sing tells the story of a theater group exercising creativity to stage a play, providing an escape from their real-life prison surroundings. The ensemble cast features actors who have actually experienced imprisonment in real life. 

Black Bear, the Marfa Peach Company, and Edith Productions collectively financed and produced Sing Sing. Greg Kwedar directed and produced with Clint Bentley and Monique Walton.

According to Deadline, the filmmakers “wanted to ensure that everyone involved in the film felt like an equal, and shared in the upside of the film’s success,” so they “deployed a community-based model, where every member of the film was treated equally and became a profit participant.”

Producer Monique Walton said, “Everybody got paid the same rate, be it cast or crew, based on the SAG scale rate. And then, everyone shared in a piece of the equity. I’d never heard of an equity model that invited everyone to fully participate.”

Lead actor Colman Domingo added, “There’s no money on the table for you. But there’s a sense of purpose, and that’s the sort of art you make time for. There’s an understanding that, at the heart of it, everyone involved is in it for the right reasons.”

This is innovation through equity.

Sing Sing isn’t the first film to employ this type of model. It has been tried before with other films such as Tadpole (2002), Pieces of April (2003), and Personal Velocity (2002)

Brian Newman, founder and writer of the Sub-genre newsletter said with this progressive way of filming, “You can make films in an equitable way, you just have to try. I’ve been on many Zooms lately where some version of this exact model was proposed as part of a solution for the future of film, and someone would always say – the agents won’t let it happen, or something similar. But apparently, new models are possible if you just give them a shot. You can escape your cages if you just try.”

“Escaping cages” is an apt analogy considering the “community based approach” Kwedar took in filming Sing Sing in the recently decommissioned Downstate Correctional Facility in which some of the actual cast had served prison time. 

Sing Sing Actor Clarence Maclin had served 20 years in prison and had participated in the actual Rehabilitation Through the Arts (RTA) program the film focuses on. 

In an interview with Collider Maclin said, “For me, there was a little apprehension going back into prison. I already served 20 years in prison, so I was a little apprehensive about going back. But going back in this time, I had a purpose; the purpose was to get this message of who we are out to the world, and what we can do, and how we can contribute to society. We needed to get that message out.”

Sing Sing is a great movie, with a great message, made with an equitable profit sharing model. 

This is what filmmaking is all about.

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