Onika Craven aspires to do what Tyler Perry is doing already. Perry learned quickly that Hollywood remains slow in opening doors to Blacks as producers and directors, so he started his own production company, and then his own studio as well.
Craven, a Minneapolis Northside native, doesn’t want to become a “female Tyler Perry,” but she does hope to follow his business model.
“The production company basically is the financial backing of any movie, plays, or anything like that,” she explains. “A lot of artists, actors and actresses make their own production companies so that they can have more control of their own careers.
“They’ll write a script, or take movie scripts that come in to them, and they will put the financial backing on it,” Craven explains. “In that way, when they go to a studio, it is a lot easier for somebody to bring money to the table and give them the opportunity to do the kind of work they want to do.”
A 1990 Washburn graduate who earned a sociology degree from University of Minnesota-Morris in 1995, Craven recalls, “I always have been interested in theater and movies. But because I was in athletics [Craven was an all-city basketball player in high school], I wasn’t able to do both. But once I graduated from college, there was…this feeling that I had inside of me, this passion and desire.
“I started talking to people, saying that I thought I wanted to be an actor,” she continues. A friend told her that his sister was a casting agent in Los Angeles, and Craven eventually moved out west in 1998. “I did my first commercial with her, and it grew from there.”
For the next five years, Craven worked in various TV and movie projects and music videos, including working as an extra in The West Wing. “I did some small independent films,” she adds, including a role in a little-seen film starring George Clooney and in the movie Hot Chicks.
She says she learned the most from Clooney. “Here’s this $20 million man making movies, and I was making, like, $1,500 a day, but he treated me as an equal even though I was only an extra. I saw that and said, ‘If this man can treat me as an equal, then that’s the way I should be able to treat people around me, no matter what the pay scale is.’”
Although Craven returned to Minnesota in 2002, her passion and drive only intensified. “The more I was able to get on TV shows and movie sets, I thought, ‘This is where I believe me and my God-given talent is supposed to be.’
“This is what I really want to do, so I began taking it upon myself that in order to really do it and become a ‘triple threat’ — director, actor and producer — you have to do this stuff on your own.”
Craven now owns and operates Genesis Productions, Inc. along with Mark Pauly, a 15-year entrepreneur. She met Pauly at his church, Seek the Truth Ministries in Bloomington, where she was working as an assistant director for a church member there who was producing several plays.
“I told him that I wanted to run my own production company,” says Craven. “Then he said that he wanted me to help him do a commercial for his business. I wrote the script, got the actors, and we filmed and edited it here and got it out there.”
With her enthusiasm and working knowledge and his longtime business expertise, Craven and Pauly later joined forces as partners. “He said, ‘If you really want to do this, this is how I can help you,’” she recalled. Pauly also helped her establish a website, www.genesisproductions.biz.
“She is a go-getter,” Pauly says of his partner.
“We have been in business for about a year,” she further explains. “With Mark owning his own business, he is able to direct me on how to set up your own business and the things that you need in order to run a business. With him being able to financially support the business as well, I am able to do my stuff.”
“I know nothing about the movie business,” admits a smiling Pauly. “I am a terrible actor, but I do know how to start up businesses and how to make them successful.”
“I am writing movie scripts for myself, and we are starting to look at people to come in as editors and photographers,” says Craven. She hopes to have a screenplay based on a true story ready for viewing sometime next year.
“Right now locally we are just getting a staff of people together.”
Craven says she is proud to be a Black female business owner. “If I can do it, and make a path for others, then anybody can do it. That is my idea of being successful — if I fail, I fail for a whole generation.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or read his blog: www.chall man.wordpress.com.