The Executive Producer, the Shot Caller, the Boss- a title by any other name is a Showrunner. In television, showrunners are the men and women behind-the-scenes responsible for overseeing a production from writing, managing the budget, directing, through to the show’s execution. They do it all. During the American Black Film Festival 2015, EGL had the opportunity to sit in on the panel discussion called, “The Life of a Showrunner.” We even captured a very candid one-on-one interview with Criminal Minds’ heavy-hitter Janine Sherman Barrois. The group discussion as well as the interview was truly insightful.
As the talented ensemble made their way to the stage, clips from each of the showrunners bodies of work were displayed on multiple monitors. First to enter the Hilton NYC Ballroom was gifted writer Janine Sherman Barrios following the moderator’s roll call of her writing credits for “ The Jamie Foxx Show,” “The PJ’s,” and “ER” amongst several others. Next up were husband and wife dynamic duo Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil. The two took center stage in the directors’ chairs after a powerful scene from their mega hit “Being Mary Jane” drew in the audience. The power couple is also responsible for creating and directing “The Game,” “Girlfriends,” Jumping the Broom and Sparkle just to name a few. Last but not least, funny man Chris Spencer took the final chair. Adding the humor to the group, onlookers could definitely understand his executive credit in connection with “The Real Husbands of Hollywood.” Not one to mince words, he kept the audience shocked and laughing.
The artistic cast wasn’t in the house to plug their shows. Rather they were present to shed light on the challenges they’ve faced in the business; as well the stamina needed to maintain their positions. Self-confidence and extreme drive were the key characteristics they all possessed.
The Job Path
Mara Brock Akil – “I wanted to control the story.”
Salim Akil – “I had a film that went to Sundance. From there Showtime asked to come on board as a writer.”
Chris Spencer – “Kennon Ivory Wayans told me to create my own way…to build my own empire.”
Janine Sherman Barrois – “I was in the Warner Brothers writing program. You have to have advocacy, mentors.”
Mara Brock Akil – “My Northwestern University background gave me the educational confidence. I was always writing. You have to be comfortable missing out. You have to be comfortable doing the work. My mentor Ralph Farquhar told me to be ready. You have to have scripts to sell yourself.”
Chris Spencer – “Be able to work with diverse crowds.”
Chris Spencer- “I was the 3am person. You have to be willing to give it your all, you have to hustle. Your attitude has to be ‘I’m not asking you for shit…I’m taking it! You have to be bold enough to take what’s yours.”
Janine Sherman Barrois – “I have to have a team of quick writers. You have to be a fierce story teller.”
Mara Brock Akil – “You are the steward of the story. Our stories deserve more quality.”
The showrunners finished off the event with a spirited question and answer session. ABFF 2015 attendees left with valuable information from the best of the best.
Check out EGL exclusive one-on-one with Showrunner Janine Sherman Barrios.
Written By: Tawana C. Coleman