We're living in the age of the internet, where digital convergance has eclipsed the proverbial interpersonal cup of coffee, CD's are almost obsolete and you know your Twitter buddy living in Seoul, Korea better than you know your next door neighbor. An upside of this digital age is the ability to catch your favorite T.V. shows on the go, and the emergence of the 'web series.' Producers and filmmakers are taking to the web like never before to stretch their creative muscles, and make quality programming that you can only see on your CPU. Of course BET.com is ahead of the curve, in procuring the hottest series on the web, from arguable one of the hottest producers/actors, Al Thompson's Lenox Avenue.
Lenox Avenue is the story of three young men living in what Al Thompson likes to call, the "Obama Generation," in one the country's most iconic cultural hubs: Harlem. As Owen (Al Thompson), Sellars (Dorian Missick) and Vaughn (Ryan Vigilant) navigate the treacheries of relationships, build their careers, and begin to think about starting a families, we get to see the drama unfold against the back drop of of the place that Thompson actually grew up in.
Being in front of the camera for so long on movies like "Love Don't Cost a Thing," "A Walk to Remember" and voicing Walt on Fox's The Cleveland Show, gave him perspective on what works for actors, while being behind the camera gave him the wherewithal to know how to make it happen. With this wealth of knowledge just bubbling up inside of him, and the desire to see the untold stories of his peer group in Harlem shown, he had no choice but to follow a mission that he felt was his duty:
“This was kind of my mission with ValDean Entertainment. Really have that combination of bringing that combination old school, cool television that just doesn’t exist anymore, because we fulfill our guilty pleasure in reality television.”
Thompson grew up in Harlem, a New York City borough experiencing its cultural renaissance through young, up and coming artists like himself. Traveling through the neighborhoods of Harlem is like being granted a golden ticket into a festival of colorful murals, a symphony of talented jazz artists camped out on sidewalks, and a smorgasbord of soul food smells pleasantly accosting your nose. But the real magic is happening inside those sprawling brownstones and historic office buildings WHERE THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE WAS BLAH BLAH IN THE 1920s. SOME SAY IT'S HAPPENING ALL OVER AGAIN NOW . There, you'll find Al Thompson filming Lenox Avenue.
“I’m born and raised in Harlem and I’ve seen Harlem go through a lot of the changes, and for me I wanted to create a project that highlighted the young men living in Harlem today, that represent what Harlem truly is, and what people never really get to see [on T.V.] A lot of times Harlem is depicted certain ways, and there really is a different element now. Lenox Avenue follows three friends living in what I like to call “The Obama Generation.” LET'S GET TO THIS QUOTE SOONER
Like many film pioneers before him, Thompson came to a point where there developed in him the urgent need to fill a creative gap that was missing in the industry – an artistic platform in which actors could actually have a greater hand in the propriety of their work.UNCLEAR What better rogue medium than the internet? WAS HE TURNED OFF BY HIS EXPERIENCES AT MAJOR STUDIOS OR TV NETWORKS? IF SO WE SHOULD SAY.
There his research began. Thompson delved into the very core of what it meant to create a script, set a scene, and work without studio or corporate constraints on creativity – he took it back to the school house. Thompson reached out to friends in the NYU and Columbia graduate film community, where he acted in their productions, camped out in sweats and downed endless cups of Starbucks while creating their shorts, and produced some of their films. NYU and Columbia film schools house a bevy of artistic versions of Mark Zuckerburgs, getting their work out by any means necessary – pioneering the internet web series from the comfort of their 200 square foot dorm rooms. And while Thompson is a veteran actor, co-mingling the raw creativity that comes with youth with sage industry wisdom perhaps helped to birth his desire to create Lenox Avenue. IS THIS HIS FIRST WEB SERIES?
“For me it got to a point where I wanted to do different things, and control more of the words that were coming out of my mouth, as the talent. All of my friends and kind of my film family comes from the graduate film community. I've experienced a lot through them." THIS QUOTE DOES A LOT OF THE WORK FOR THE PREVIOUS GRAF. MAYBE WORK IT INTO THE GRAF AND TRIM DOWN THE EXPOSITION.
Realizing that waiting for time and someone else's creative mind to bring together his super friends rolodex for a project might not happen, he took to the books and started writing. Drawing from his own experience growing up in Harlem, and returning there as a young accomplished man himself, had the script practically wrote itself. It also helped that so many of his acting friends were experiencing a creative checkmate like himself, and were ready for a new experience.WE SHOULD TALK A BIT MORE ABOUT LENOX AVE ITSELF AS OPPOSED TO FOCUSING ON ITS CREATOR. REMEMBER THIS WILL BE THE FIRST STORY ABOUT THE SHOW. WE CAN GO DEEPER ON HIM IN ANOTHER PIECE.
"I've known so many actors who are super talented for so long, and we've never gotten to work together. It allowed me to be proactive, it allows me to control my future, and it also allows the web series and digital community to see who are the true hustlers and who are the people that are really going full force to make really cool, good quality content."
He's definitely lived for his art, before Thompson was lassoing the proverbial film slate on the web, he was grinding it out during L.A. pilot season on the couches of some of Tinsel Town's elite.NOT SURE WHAT THIS MEANS. DID HIS COUCH DAYS HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH LENOX AVE OR THAT'S MORE IN THE PAST?
“I’ve stayed on everybody’s couch. From Wilmer Valderama to Mandy Moore."
His auditions days with bad backs paid off, his resume is extensive, and he's got an entertainment network the size of a small company. After doing everything in the industry, the only logical step for him to take, was to move with the digital tides, and take his film art to the web.ALL THIS FEELS LIKE IT BELONGS EARLIER IN THE PIECE.
"I had great opportunities and I was blessed to work with a lot of talented directors and creators. A lot of it boils down to me having a lot of control over my career. I wanted to be a part of the creative process of the creation of the project and characters."KEY QUOTE!
Lenox Avenue's story of young, successful men in living in Harlem definitely got the attention of some high powered digital execs.AND BET SNAGGED IT IN A BIDDING WAR? You should look out for the web series to come to a popular entertainment website near you.AS IN BET.COM? Staying connected with people that Thompson met along his journey definitely served his creative purposes when it came to putting together a team for the show.
"People don't understand. Your network, is your net worth." GOOD QUOTE BUT I WOULDN'T END WITH IT. LET'S END ON SOMETHING THAT MAKES PEOPLE WANT TO WATCH THE SHOW. THE STRUCTURE OF THE PIECE SHOULD BE... 1. WEBISODES ARE HOT AND BET'S GOT THE HOTTEST ONE EVER 2. LENOX AVE IS BASED IN HARLEM AND THIS IS WHAT IT'S ABOUT. 3. THE GUY WHO CREATED IT IS FROM HARLEM TOO AND IN SOME SENSE THIS SHOW IS HIS STORY. 4. TELL ABOUT HIS STRUGGLE AS AN ACTOR AND FILM MAKER AND HIS CREATIVE CONTROL FRUSTRATIONS 5. IT ALL PAID OFF WHEN HE CALLED ON HIS NETWORK OF FRIENDS TO MAKE THE MAGIC HAPPEN BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY, MUCH LIKE THE YOUNG HUSTLING PROFESSIONALS IN LENOX AVE.