18 Apr Episode 31: How to Excel in your Career with the Producer of Girls Trip and The Photograph, James Lopez
Full transcript available below.
Who is James Lopez?
James Lopez, the Head of Motion Pictures at Will Packer Production, opens up about his journey from call center representative to Producer of Girls Trip and Little. He discusses his time in the music industry working at Atlantic Records and his transition in to the film industry. James also shares how he re-branded himself from a marketer to a producer. In this interview, James shares his strategies to be successful and his advice to others looking to excel in their creative journey.
How Did James Lopez Become President of Will Packer Products?
JAMES F. LOPEZ is Head of Motion Pictures at Will Packer Productions. In this position he is responsible for developing and overseeing production on all film projects through the company’s first look deal with Universal Pictures.
He is an executive producer on the hit comedy Girls Trip starring Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Queen Latifah and Tiffany Haddish. The film opened to critical acclaim and has grossed over $140 million to date. He also executive produced Almost Christmas, starring Gabrielle Union and Danny Glover as well as the upcoming films Night School, starring Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish, and Jacob’s Ladder, a reimagining of the 1980’s thriller classic, starring Michael Ealy, Jesse Williams and Nicole Beharie. He is also producer on— Breaking In starring Gabrielle Union, What Men Want starring Taraji P. Henson, Little starring Issa Rae, Regina Hall & Marsai Martin, and The Photograph starring Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield.
Prior to joining Will Packer Productions, Lopez was Senior Vice President of Production at Screen Gems, a division of Sony Pictures Entertainment. During his tenure, Lopez oversaw some of the company’s top grossing and most anticipated projects. He was the production executive for the box office hit Think Like A Man. He also oversaw production on About Last Night, Think Like A Man Too, The Wedding Ringer, The Perfect Guy and When The Bough Breaks for the studio. He also produced and conceived the story for the acclaimed short film #AmeriCAN, directed by actor Nate Parker.
What Films Has James Lopez Produced?
Lopez’ films have grossed over $480 million at the box office.
Formerly Senior Vice President of Marketing for Atlantic Records before joining Screen Gems, Lopez played an instrumental role in developing and overseeing the marketing campaigns for several multi-platinum artists including T.I. during his award winning tenure in the music business. He also oversaw the soundtrack campaigns for numerous films including Hustle & Flow, P.S. I Love You, Step Up 2: The Streets, Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls, Meet The Browns, Why Did I Get Married? and Avatar. In addition to overseeing marketing for artists, Lopez has directed a series of television commercials for album campaigns and led efforts for film soundtracks and brand partnerships. His music video for T.I.’s “No Matter What“ from his double platinum album Paper Trail, was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award. Lopez also has a Grammy nomination for his producing of a long form video for the Nappy Roots.
Lopez holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Sam Houston State University. He is a member of The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and has been included on Ebony Magazine’s Power 100 list and Imagen Foundation’s Most Powerful & Influential Latinos in Entertainment.
Learn more at: https://willpackerprods.com/
Key Questions answered by James Lopez
- How James’s creative career began
- How James transitioned from Corporate America to Entertainment
- How James transition from Music to Film and how he knew it was the right now
- How to know if it’s the right move
- How James has been so successful and his advice to creatives
- James’s perspective on POC in the film space today
James Lopez Discusses:
- How to make moves
- Standing out from the competition
- Taking risks
- Following your dreams
- His career path and how he transitioned from one career to another
- Diversifying his creative talents by doing this one trick
- Advice to other creatives looking to make a a jump into entertainment
- Challenges James has faced as a person of color and how he overcomes them
- Importance of pivoting
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Full show notes:
Shereen Kassam 0:05
Are you an aspiring, creative in entertainment, business, fashion, design or the arts? Do you want to elevate your creative passion project to the next level? Then this show is for you. Whether you want a career in television, film, radio, literature, music, or beyond creative breakthrough will show you how to take your dreams and turn them into reality. This show will not only leave you feeling motivated and inspired, but also provide you real life tools to pursue the creative journey you have always wanted. I’m your host creative coach and chicken wing lover Shereen Kassam aka the Funny Brown Girl.
Shereen Kassam 0:44
Yes, I have an unhealthy obsession with chicken wings. Now get ready to flex your creative muscle.
Shereen Kassam 0:52
Today’s episode is brought to you by HoorayforCBD.com. I struggle at night falling asleep. Thousands of thoughts keep me awake. A funny joke, a new podcast topic, an idea for a TV script. And the list goes on. To help me someone recommended CBD and I’ve never slept better. Not only do I get a good night’s sleep now I also wake up more refreshed and energized to conquer the day. CBD has been a game changer for me from helping me sleep to calm me down when anxiety creeps up on me. If you want to learn more about how CBD can help you visit HoorayforCBD.com.
Shereen Kassam 1:30
Hey, welcome back to another episode of the creative breakthrough. I’m your host Shereen Kassam Hey, three quick announcements one Don’t forget there will be no creative breakthrough episodes for the next three weeks because I will be traveling through Kenya and South Africa talking about creativity and this podcast. How exciting is that? Thank you to the listeners for listening to this and making me popular in Africa. If you want to follow my trip adventures while I’m in Kenya and South Africa you can follow me on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter at FunnyBrownGirl. Also, as we approach summer there are tons of opportunities coming up in the creative space including casting, stand up comedy festivals and TV competition. So if you’re interested Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter. I’m going to be posting another newsletter on Monday of this coming week before I leave for Africa with all of these opportunities in there so make sure you subscribe go to FunnyBrownGirl.com/subscribe.
Shereen Kassam 2:22
Okay, so let’s get into it. This week I had the opportunity to speak to James Lopez the head of motion pictures at Will Packer Productions. In this episode James hits on a variety of strategies that he utilized in his career at Atlantic Records, Sony Pictures and now will Packer productions. from knowing when to pivot to transitioning into his dream role. James opens up about his journey. I’m honored and blessed James took the time out of his busy schedule to sit down and talk to me. James is an executive producer on the hit comedy girls trip starring Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah and Tiffany Haddish. He’s also the producer on breaking in starring Gabrielle Union, what men want starring Taraji P. Henson. And little starring Issa Rae, Regina Hall and Marci Martin. It’s out in theaters right now. So if you haven’t seen it I strongly urge you to see it. It is hilarious. Lopez’s films have grossed over 480 million at the box office. And this is not including what’s coming in for little. formerly Senior Vice President of Marketing for Atlantic Records before joining Screen Gems, Lopez played an instrumental role in developing and overseeing the marketing campaigns for several multi Platinum artists including TI during his award winning tenure in the music business. James is also a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures arts and sciences and has been included in Ebony magazine’s power 100 list and imagine foundations most powerful and influential Latinos entertainment. So what are we waiting for? Let’s get started.
James Lopez 3:58
Welcome to the guests, James.
Thank you for having me.
Shereen Kassam 4:02
So one of the questions I like to start with all our guests is starting from the beginning. I’d love to know how and when your creative journey started.
James Lopez 4:10
I would say I mean, my first job in entertainment in the business was at Maverick Records in Los Angeles 1994. I, prior to that, actually, not I should back up I worked at a small record label in Austin, Texas, called Flashpoint and add that record label I met a gentleman who was one of my early mentors, and he was hired by Maverick Records to be the head of urban music, and that was a man named Ed Strickland. I was always inquisitive as an assistant and he remembered that when he moved to the west coast and a few months after he made the move, he gave me a call and asked if I would be interested moving to LA and absolutely I jumped at that chance. And and, you know, I moved out to LA with literally $500 in my pocket, a car full of clothes and a TV and no place to live. And that was in 1994. I crashed on a futon of entertainment attorney named Francis Jones, who I barely knew but was gracious enough to allow me to sleep on her futon in a in a spare room in her home until I found a place to live about three weeks later. But that was my first dive into entertainment. But I would say it started even before that my passion for entertainment and particularly music was always huge when I was like in high school going back to junior high. Like I was always interested in entertainment and music in particular. I wasn’t particularly talented in any way like I couldn’t really sing, I couldn’t dance. Well, I could dance a little. I shouldn’t say that I was I was pretty good dancer. I dabbled in DJ a little bit. But I was never going to be a performer and entertainer I knew that. But I was always interested in like the behind the scenes like I can remember in high school figuring out that new music was released on Tuesdays, you know, new music now is Fridays, but it used to be back in the day music was released on Tuesday. So I would visit my local record store on Tuesdays. And I would just always ask like was what was new that was out and this is back in the era of 12 inches, you know, rap samples. And I quickly started to notice that a lot of the rap records that I was loving were coming from off of the same record labels like sleeping bag records, profile, you know, cold chillin, Def Jam, all these great records, you know, fourth and Broadway. All these great records were coming off of the same record labels. So I started to buy records just based on you know, visual impact. Like if I saw 12 minutes that had the Def Jam logo on it, I would buy it and not even know the artists was and just discovered a lot of great music that way. I was also born in New York area raised in Texas so some summers I would go back to New York and I come back to Texas with mixtapes. Whether they be you know whether they were Kid Capri or Clue the mixes that were done on wpls. Or on kiss FM, you know, Red Alert. BLS I believe was Marley mall. I would bring these mixtapes back to Texas, you know, expose my inner circle of friends all this new great music. I can remember calling the Houston radio stations after I’d heard Eric B. & Rakim on a mixtape up in New York. And I call the radio station all that fall as I got back from visiting. And they wouldn’t play it. They didn’t know who it was. And I’m like, how could you like New York radio was playing it play this record and they didn’t have it. Months later, they started playing Eric B and Rakim for the first time. So I realized oh crap, I’m my school’s tastemaker like come on. So I would have the new dances First, I would you know, talk, you know, I would, I would know what the new fashions were first in my school. So you know, I’d be rockin FILA tracksuits.
Shereen Kassam 8:51
Oh, I remember those the ones that go swish, swish, swish.
James Lopez 8:54
That’d be rocking, FILA tracksuits. And hearing the new Eric B & Rakim. So that kind of became that guy from my school.
But in doing that, I also, you know, we just became intrigued about these independent record labels that were putting out this music. And I would read the liner notes. And then the guy at the record store said, you know, if you want to find out more about the music business, you should read this magazine called Billboard. So I would never buy it. But there would always be copies of Billboard at the record store. So I was sitting the record store and read it cover to cover. And then I’d leave. And I started to learn, you know about industry names and heads of record labels and production companies and producers and writers and just about the business, reading that industry trade. So when I was in college, I kept that up. When I got to school, I went to San Diego State University, I graduated in 1991, with a general business degree, being parents of immigrants, I mean, being a son of immigrants, and you know, blue collar, hard working people. First generation born American, the dream was to just get a white collar job, have benefits. And, you know, have a steady job. That’s it. That’s what was expected. And that was a step forward from the generation before us. I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to be stuck in a cubicle, which I was when I got to college, and you know, where my little white collared button down shirt, in my khakis, and working in a call center with a degree. And I was like, This can’t be it, I can’t do this. And I answered an ad for publicity job at a record label, independent record label didn’t get that job. But I was called back for an executive assistant position, got the job. Those people who called me in for the job started a new record label in Austin. And that’s where I met, you know, my first major influence as an executive at Strickland. And that brought me LA, like I said, to work for Maverick Records. So I was, you know, rap promotions at Maverick Records. And then, I quiickly realized I was horrible at it. I wasn’t good on calling on radio stations, begging them to play my records. What I realized when I was there is that I had a brain for like packaging, marketing, figuring out the total packaging of an artist and bringing them to the marketplace. So I enjoyed that in my next job at a small record label called Wild West records in LA. I got a chance to do that. But we were so small, we literally only had like, I think five employees. We were because we were so small, you got the opportunity to do everything. So sales, marketing, retail, retail marketing, video promotion, radio promotion, you know, Product Management, publicity, you had to do it all because we were so small. And that’s where I kind of developed my chops for total packaging of artists and marketing. My next job was was with delicious vinyl records working with the far side brand new heavies, the who riders, orange Americans. And I worked for Rick and Mike Ross, delicious vinyl was the home to Tone Lock, to young MC. So it had a rich early history in hip hop. It was a legendary LA record label on Sunset Boulevard. You know, I really came into my own there as a senior director of marketing. And they were distributed at the time by a company called Red Ant which was run by Al T, legendary music guy used to be at Columbia Records and MCA. And Randy Phillips, who managed Toni Braxton, and later ended up managing Usher and was actually involved in putting that last Michael Jackson tour together when Michael passed away. So I worked for those guys there for a brief moment, maybe a year and a half. And then from there. Atlantic Records came calling they were looking for Senior Director of Marketing. You know, they wanted me to move to the New York office. And my first conversation with Greg Kallman.
I really wasn’t interested in moving to New York. I just gotten married and had a small infant and I was like, I don’t want to uproot my family. Then about another six months passed, and Craig came to LA again, for some meetings and a longtime friend of mine, Mike Karen, who’s now is the head of worldwide a&r for Warner Brothers. Warner Music Group told me, you know, you should really sit down with Craig again, just hear what he’s got to say. So I sat down, and they flew me to New York, and I had a whirlwind day of meetings in New York, and they were in the process of signing Sinead O’Connor to a new record deal at Atlantic. And so there was like a party for her. So they took me to that. And I sat in a corner booth with Sinead O’Connor, Greg Kallman and the legendary Ahmet Ertegun and Ahmet, for your listeners who may not know who he is, um, it was the founder of Atlantic Records, bald man, glasses. You probably saw him in the movie Ray. Giving line reads to Ray when he was recording mess around. So Ahmet YIwas legendary, you know, signed Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin. And the list goes on and on just legendary music guy. And one of the pillars of the music business. And just sitting there talking to him, I, you know, I was like, I’m sold like, I want to join this legendary family. So I moved to New York, and this was in 2000. And I rose up pretty quickly, I worked directly for a man named Ronnie Johnson, who was, became a lifelong friend, and probably the biggest influence in my professional career mentor. So I worked for Ronnie. And we had an incredible run at Atlantic Records with multiple Platinum artists in great campaigns. And, you know, my biggest, I guess my biggest achievement, as a as a music executive was overseeing the career of TI. I met TIP, after his first album after he was finished his deal over there. He released one album that wasn’t successful. And he was shopping for a new deal. And my job, the day that we were trying to sign him was to keep him away from puffy and Jay Z, because they were also trying to sign so I was my first introduction to tip was, I was told, okay, we’re trying to sign this kid. And he needs to hang out with you all day long. And I’m like, What am I supposed to do with him? They’re like, just keep him busy. So took him shopping, went to eat, hung out, took them to a friend’s house, like, I had to keep them busy all day long. Until I got a call or at around midnight. say okay, it’s official, he signed. You know, we obviously had Missy Elliott. We had Sean Paul, we had Fat Joe Trick Daddy, Trina, twista, Fabulous, Brandi, we had, you know, we had a great urban roster at Atlantic during that period of time, in its heyday, and we just have one platinum hit after the next. So during that time, at Atlantic, I caught the film bug, I would say probably 2006 hanging around set of TI’s first album, soon the first film ATL. And just watching the process. Music Business is going through a little bit of turmoil at the time, because of digital music and trying to figure out what Apple Music was going to be an iTunes and selling singles for 99 cents an album sales were plummeting, and people were getting let go and mergers were happening. So there was a lot of consolidation in the music business starting to happen. And I just naturally said to myself, okay, what’s next,
I started losing my passion for the music a little bit and the lifestyle wasn’t conducive to being a family guy. So I thought, you know, I was always had a curiosity about film and television. And I thought that that would be the next natural step for me. So I started to study it from afar. I mean, I literally bought a couple of books, started reading the trades variety, hollywood reporter. And, you know, just started just to you know, try to make as many contacts in the film business as possible, I would volunteer my services to read scripts and give notes or or do coverage, even though I didn’t know what I was doing at first. But what I was doing was training myself to be a development exec and just had a thirst for the business. I’m like, this is what I want to do next. I didn’t know how quite I was, you know, I didn’t quite know how was how I was going to get there. You know, the, the the power base of the film business was in Los Angeles, I was living in the New York area. So there were a lot of, you know, obstacles. But the one thing I tell people, when they’re looking for a career change, is to utilize anything that is in your current field that you think may be applicable to what you want to do. So what I did was I looked around and I said, Look, I work at Atlantic Records, most people are going to pick up the phone from me, because I could just say, James Lopez from Atlanta Records, to get your foot in the door. And then another thing I utilize is video production as a way to train myself on physical production. So I started taking a larger role and producing music videos that we were putting out at Atlantic. And I also realize that being involved with soundtracks would hopefully help me make contacts at studios. So that’s what I did, I started to become more involved in soundtracks and, and doing video production. So through my involvement in music, and films, and soundtracks, it’s how I met my first boss in the film business, Clint Culpepper, who was the president of Screen Gems. And we did a film, we did a soundtrack for a film called Nick ignores infinite playlist, which was released through Screen Gems. And that’s how I first met him. And then this just so happened, the next project that ti was doing as an actor, was a phone call takers. And that was being released by Screen Gems Screen Gems was producing that film, and my relationship with will and Clint started because of takers. So I was really involved in a marketing of that film, through music, city and marketing meetings at Sony Pictures. And just kind of learning the language of the film business and studying it from afar. And the more and more I started talking to Clint, the more we found that we had a lot of things in common in terms of just music and our love for music in music, and film, and how to marry the two. And just do you know, just through conversations, it just come, you know, just came up, he just asked what I wanted to do next. And I said, I want to, I want to be a production executive. It was the spring of 2010. When he went to Michale Lynton, the chairman of Sony Pictures, entertainment. And I got a call into Michael’s office, June of 2010. We had a great meeting. And in that meeting, he said, Look, I see what Clint sees in you and we need people like you at the studio. Then I got a call from HR literally a week later. And they called me to back to Sony to the lot. And I knew it was going to go down then. And what I did not know was you know, I received my employee packet, my binder from HR with the offer letter and what the job title was, I didn’t open until I got to the parking lot. And I assumed that I was being hired in marketing CUT TO I’m in the parking lot at Sony Pictures. And I opened the binder and I’m thinking it’s a marketing job because that’s what people see me as a marketing person. And when I opened the binder, it said Senior Vice President of production. And I was floored, I was like, Oh, my God, they let me in. They let me in the door. And, you know, that was that’s how I started my film career. 2010, the first project I was assigned. When I got to Screen Gems, was development of the Think Like a Man script. You know, it’s 2018 now, and I believe I’m on my 14th film,
I believe 14th or 15th.
Which is incredible. When I look back on the fact that I’ve only been doing it eight years, and that many films I’ve been involved with.
It’s been a blessing. And I you know,
I take none of it for granted. I’ll say to your listeners, as a word of advice. Like I said, before, you got you have to visualize what your next step is in your career development. Just because you’re in accounting or marketing or some other area, and you aspire to be an a different area in your company. You have to do the job before someone pays you to do the job. So what I mean by that is, when I was in a music business, my home office was stacked with scripts that I was reading at night and weekends. After my day job. No one was paying me to do that. No one was paying me to go hang out on set and observe. I was basically putting myself through an apprenticeship, I was putting in the research and the time, and visualizing and studying what I want it to be, I get approached by so many people saying nobody will give me a chance or how can I do this? or How can I do that? And when I asked them, What steps are you taking to achieve your goal, and I get this blank stare. And I’m like, Oh, you just want somebody to put you on. Work that know that. I’m sorry. But I’m not that generous. I take pride in giving people you know, whether it be job recommendations, or or leg up or an opportunity throughout my career, there are a lot of people out there that I’ve helped that they don’t know that I helped them just by me putting in a call or whatever. But I see that they’re that they’re working hard towards their goal. They want it for someone to just want it and not actually be doing anything to actually work towards that. That person doesn’t want it bad enough, apparently. So if you want to write, and you’ve only written one script, and you’ve worked on that one script for two or three years of your life, that’s great. That’s a great accomplishment that you finish the script. But then you move on to the next one, you always have to constantly be writing, your first script is not going to be the best one that you write, you’re going to get better every time you do it. So you have to constantly do that. If you want to direct and you haven’t even attempted to shoot a short, then how are you going to direct? You know, if you want to act, and I get approached by would be actors all the time. And I asked him a simple question. Have you done any stage play work? Are you doing any community theater? Is there like a local production? troupe? Is there an improv class? You know, are you are you in some friends just trying to put together something in front of the camera? You know, like, what are you doing locally? And they just look at you. I’m like, so let me get this straight. You want to be cast in a Hollywood film? But you’ve done nothing where you live? Not one? How is that how you going to take that leap. And you know, with today’s technology in YouTube, and cameras, camera phones, you know, there’s nothing stopping you from creating, there’s nothing stopping people from getting their passions out. And whether the world sees him or not, is another thing, you have to be confident enough to put it out there. But at least for yourself, at least to put in the time. You have to do something about it. You can’t just wait on the hookup. So that is my advice to your listeners. And something that I’ve always practice in my career is I’m always looking forward and trying to figure out how am I going to get to my next goal? How am I going to what steps Am I going to take hard? Am I going to work? How much time am I going to put in to get to there?
And sometimes you have to do you have to practice what you want to before someone pays you to do it. I had a young lady I spoke at on the lot at Sony one time. And I gave some advice to someone who was I believe there were an HR. And they came up to me and said, You know what, I really have great marketing ideas. And I feel like my path would be to be in theatrical marketing, like I want to help market films, how do I do that? And I said, Well, you actually work at Sony Pictures you are here. So you have an advantage over people on the outside who can’t get through the gates. So I said just reach out to someone in marketing. And just really asked if it would be okay for you to observe a marketing meeting one day for you to just be a fly on the wall. So that you can learn the process he did, you can learn how they do things. Tell them that you wish to join their group and that you want to be in their division one day, and then put together what you feel would be an effective marketing plan for that film. You don’t have to actually necessarily show it to them. But go through the exercise. And if you have a close relationship with someone in marketing, slip it to them and show them say, look, this is what I put together for this movie. And that person may give you notes, they may say, Wow, this is great. This is amazing. You should work in this group. Or we don’t do things like that, you know, this is the way it’s been done. But at least it shows initiative. Like don’t wait for someone to pay you to do it. Just do it for yourself. Figure out if you have the chops to do that particular job. And that way, eventually, you will start preparing yourself to segway into that division. That’s what I did with film, I spent from the from the time that I decided, I think I want to do this. Next after I’m done with music. That was in 2006, I didn’t get my first film job until 2010. So four years of just like studying reading scripts, like when I walked through those Sony gates, my first day, I’ve read over 300 scripts, that four year period. And you know, when I started doing a job, I realized I didn’t know half of what I thought I did. It came by experience. And I’m always constantly learning, but at least I set a foundation for myself before I got the job. So that’s the biggest piece of advice I would give in terms of career development and career advancement is to study the field that you aspire to be in, even before someone pays you to do that.
Shereen Kassam 30:52
Talk a little bit about your highs and your wins, like working with ti and moving out of marketing into production with what are some of the challenges that you faced on your creative journey?
James Lopez 31:04
I guess just being underestimated.
But I actually you know what, I don’t see it as a challenge to be honest with you. Um, you know, I find it to be an advantage when you walk into a room and expectations are low. And because it allows me to like, I feel like I’m working with now with a knowledge advantage that that other person doesn’t have because, you know, they’re not expecting certain results. You know, it’s, it’s, I have to say, I haven’t had that many obstacles in terms of look as a man of color. And just, you know, in corporate America and dealing with big budgets and all that I mean, sometimes you you don’t get the same type of budgets that other productions get. You know, sometimes you hear Oh, well, you know, the majority of the cast is African or people of color African American. So you’re not going to get the same type of budget because we can’t sell foreign. So therefore, the budget number comes down, therefore, you have to make the movie for less money than you would like to because they feel they can’t do foreign box office. Like that is frustrating. That part of the business, there still needs to be a lot of work done in that area. Obviously, Black Panther broke down a lot of doors internationally. But you know, I don’t want to say that’s an anomaly, but it is a Marvel superhero character. So we have more work to do. But that’s just one another break that’s been knocked off the wall to try to get us over an issue that really sticks in my craw because I came from music, where artists traveled the world and sold albums all over the world. And their music was enjoyed all over the world. And they would sell out arenas, in the very same markets where sometimes we can’t get enough screens to get the movie out. So that’s, that’s frustrating. But I would say that’s the number one issue. I think for me, as a person of color in the film business is way in which the films that we work on are treated internationally. But I would say obstacles hurdles for people of color, particularly black folks in the film business as a whole. That is the number one issue for all of us collectively, is that we are not marketed, we are not promoted, we are not treated equally in terms of the International box office, regarding our films. And we still have more work to do. And it’s you know, it’s it’s one film at a time, I think those barriers were starting to come down. You know, getting getting the foreign marketplace, used to seeing us or used to us being marketed in a certain way.
Unknown Speaker 34:20
I want to go back to something you said earlier that you rose up really quickly at Atlantic Records. You are on the Academy of Motion Pictures arts and sciences and you’re also in a most powerful and influential Latino in entertainment. You’ve talked a little bit about that you’ve given us some good advice on how you’ve navigated the space. But I’m curious, like what would you say is like your top one or two traits that has gotten you on the map and has allowed you to be so successful, so successful in the industry.
James Lopez 34:50
Um, I figured out work hard, like, you know, I, you know, there were a lot of people earlier on in my careers and music that I saw rise a lot faster than me, a lot of my peers rose a lot faster than I did that bigger jobs, more money. But I also saw a lot of people taking shortcuts, not working as hard and more worried about shining and balling out of control, but not really putting in the work. And also not preparing themselves for for the, you know, the fact that the music business could, that it changed on a dime. And there’s a lot of people now who I came up with in the music business who are out of entertainment completely, because I didn’t prepare. So I pride myself on always trying to think of the next always being prepared, studying, working hard, being respectful, definitely not stepping on people on the way up, given a hand when I can feel that I’m you know, I’m pretty humble. And you know, I just try to conduct myself a certain way respectful in. And I think I also, you know, operate from a place of fear. You know, I’m fearful of being out one day, you know, I’m fearful of not not being able to do what I love to do. So I just try to stay as humble as I can work as hard as I can and try to be as reliable as I can. And that has taken me a long way. I’ve never been the guy to try to take the shortcut. Because I always feel like if I do, it’s not going to work out for me. So I just don’t do it.
Shereen Kassam 36:38
Do you think in your role, now it will Packer and even being on being a member, you’ll have some you’ll be able to influence that at all? Or do you think there’s a movement right now in Hollywood to influence that?
James Lopez 36:53
I think there’s a movement, I think I think it’s a great time for people of color in Hollywood, you know, there’s a lot of there’s still a lot of work to do in terms of diversity and the executive suites and the decision making and financing and distribution, that that will woefully behind in those areas. But as I tell people, we’re in the business, they’re not, nobody’s gonna do it for us. We just have to figure out a mechanism No, like, we got enough powerful people in this business to build institutions on our own.
So but as far as creative, as far as the creators, it’s a golden era. I think right Now, you’ve got so many talented people, creating not only amazing content, but opportunities for others to come up underneath them. You know, you’ve got the Issa Rae’s, Donald Glover’s, you’ve got Eva, you know, who hires female directors on every single episode of Queen sugar for the last three years. Now those a lot of female directors were told no by studios or networks before, but they got the opportunity with Eva. And now they’re going on to direct other things. Because they’re being discovered through their work on Queen sugar. It takes people like that to create opportunity, it takes people like my partner will, you know, who has put a lot of people to work in front and behind the camera. So I think it’s the golden era for that. We still don’t control the purse strings. And we still don’t control the distribution mechanism. But we’ll get there in time.
Shereen Kassam 38:27
So last question, before we go to lightning round, what is your final piece of advice that you would give to creatives of color on their journey.
James Lopez 38:34
Always create and do not let anyone tell you or stop you from creating. There are no excuses. Like there’s too much technology out there that allows you to put something on camera. There’s nothing stopping you from sitting in front of a computer and writing a script. And then writing another one. There’s nothing to stop you from being creative. There are gatekeepers to having your stuff, expose on level. But you have to keep at it, you have to keep at it until you hit that breakthrough. So keep creating no matter what. stop, do not look for excuses. And do not wait for someone to put you on. Issa Rae did not wait on anybody to put her on. She took awkward black roll out to the internet. And that ended up becoming insecure. years later. She decided she had a story to tell she was funny. And she decided I’m going to put this on the internet. And people want to consume it. And people did and she was found they sought her out because she had an audience. So I would say that that is my parting words for creatives is don’t let anybody stop you from putting out your art.
Just work on your art and put it out yourself.
And if it’s good
it’ll go viral. It’ll spread people will talk about it people will discover if it goes nowhere, then that might be telling you something that you may have to start over or come up with a new idea. But there’s nothing stopping you from putting it out. So put it out.
Unknown Speaker 40:15
Good advice. So we’ll go on to the lightning round lightning round. I’m going to ask you five rapid fire questions and just tell me the first thing that comes to your mind. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Shereen Kassam 40:26
The smartestperson in the room is the one that does the one that realizes what they don’t know.
Unknown Speaker 40:32
What is a I mean, and you’ve done a lot of reading so this may be this may be hard for you to pick one but what is a written or verbal resource you would recommend creatives on their journey to read or listen to
James Lopez 40:43
like I love reading about moguls. So like Ronnie Brynn Brillstein autobiography, Michael ovitz, David Geffen, Quincy Jones, Sidney Portier, all these people I’ve read books on. And I’m always I’ve always been fascinated with just the culture of entertainment business and how people reach the heights that they that they did. I just I’m just fascinated by reading about their journeys.
Shereen Kassam 41:18
Well, that’s the next question who inspires you and why?
James Lopez 41:21
I would say there’s two people early on in their careers. That, that inspired me when I was first coming into the game and music is Russell Simmons and
Rick Rubin, and how they started Def Jam out of a dorm room. And how they hustled that work ethic, the luck, the craziness that they went through, but it was such a creative time and new frontier for all those independent labels in the 80s. So I would say Russell and Rick
Shereen Kassam 41:59
What is a habit that’s helped you on your journey.
James Lopez 42:03
It’s not really a habit, but it’s something that I I have an inner conversation with myself to never get too big for your britches. Like, I’m just always had this inner conversation with myself that I’m not as dope as, as people say you are. So keep working.
Shereen Kassam 42:26
And last question, what do you want your legacy to be?
James Lopez 42:30
It’s real simple. It’s like, you know, I want people to say that I was a good person, that I was extremely creative, and that was helpful. And then I did good work and was respectful and doing and achieving everything that I achieve. Like I don’t want. I don’t want I don’t want there ever to be someone that feels like I did them wrong. Or I stepped over them or I did dirty business. Like I try to pride myself on being good standing and good character when it comes to business. So I love that to be my legacy. Like that guy was always an upstanding guy.
So James, if our listeners wanted to follow your journey, where can they find you online?
I’m on Instagram. I am James f as in Fernando Lopez.
On Facebook. I don’t post too often. But that is the best place to find me.
Shereen Kassam 43:32
Cool. Well, thank you so much for joining us today.
James Lopez 43:35
Thank you for having me.
Unknown Speaker 43:38
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