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So What Do You Do, Tracey Edmonds, Award-Winning TV and Film Producer?

'When you put your name on something, you've really got to take time with quality control'

- May 1, 2013

Not every business epiphany is the fruit of some disastrous encounter. Hollywood producer Tracey Edmonds gleaned her greatest piece of wisdom about being CEO of a major media company by watching her professional idol, Berry Gordy.

From the Motown founder, Edmonds says she learned to be hands on, which is especially important as she develops content for her new venture, the family- and faith-oriented Web network, Alright TV. "I look at every edit of every show that comes in. I'm very involved in the creation of logos and casting, even approving production design for our sets. When you put your name on something, you've really got to take time with quality control," she told us.

Partnering with fellow mogul Bob Johnson of BET fame, Edmonds is anxious to prove that there is a market for feel-good programming, even as she recently signed on for a big-screen version of scandalized reality show Basketball Wives. Here, she tells how she broke into Hollywood and built her own brand.

Name: Tracey Edmonds
Position: Film/TV producer, president and CEO of Alright TV
Resume: Started as waterfront real estate specialist. Co-founded Edmonds Entertainment Group with then-husband Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds. Managed Yab Yum music publishing and record label and Edmonds Management, overseeing celebrity clients. With a $7 million budget, produced first feature film, Soul Food, which grossed over $43 million at the box office and spawned a popular Showtime TV series. In 2006, named president and COO of Our Stories Films, a studio created by BET founder Bob Johnson and The Weinstein Company. Produced reality shows for BET and TV One. Launched Alright TV in March 2013.
Birthdate: February 18
Hometown: Los Angeles
Education: Bachelor's degree in psychobiology from Stanford
Marital status: Divorced
Favorite TV shows: Scandal and The Real Housewives of Atlanta "because I know some of the cast members"
Guilty pleasure: Travel
Media idol: Berry Gordy
Last book read: Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch
Twitter handle: @traceyeedmonds

You started your career in real estate. What made you want to jump into entertainment?
I grew up in a middle-class African-American neighborhood where we were kind of programmed like, 'If you want to be successful, you've got to be a doctor or a lawyer.' I went to college pre-med, and, after I graduated, I was trying to figure out what I really wanted to do. Did I want to go to medical school? What did I really want to do with my career? So, I took some time off and I got into real estate, which was a way to make some money in the meantime. I got my broker's license, opened up an office and started selling homes as a waterfront specialist. From the age 20 until, like, 23, I put some money in the bank but I didn't have a passion for real estate. It didn't feel like something I was really meant to do. I remember telling my mom, who was my partner at the time, 'I really want to move up to L.A.' Literally the weekend I moved, I met Kenny Edmonds, who became my husband. I segued from real estate into entertainment and the rest is history.

"I was really blessed. I had freshman success and sophomore's luck."

Tell us about the first real hurdle you encountered as a filmmaker or producer and how you overcame it.
You know what? I was really blessed. I had freshman success and sophomore's luck. When I was in my mid-20s, I had been doing music and I had a record label, but I wanted to get into producing films. I found the script for Soul Food and it became my first film. We had tremendous box office success. When you do that for your first time, you don't realize how hard it is to duplicate. Then you get a reality check. My second film was called Light It Up with Usher, Rosario Dawson and Forest Whittaker. It had a really great cast but really bad timing. It was about a group of kids protesting the conditions of a poorly run, inner-city high school. As timing would have it, right as the film was about to be released, the incident at Columbine [High School] happened. It was a horrific nationwide news story. Instead of holding onto it and releasing it later, the studio decided to release it but not put any marketing dollars behind it. When you produce films, there are so many variables that are out of your control: for example, picking the release date. That's something the studio does. So, we ended up having a horrific box office weekend. I went from that first success to a box office disaster. I was still young and that was one of the hardest things that I went through in my career. I felt like I let everybody down. But, the older you get, you just realize that that's just the business.

You've produced several hit films, like Soul Food and Jumping the Broom. Do you think gender is still a considerable factor in who gets the backing to make certain films? If not, what's holding more women back from being behind the camera, not just in front of it?
I don't think it's gender. I think the biggest problem is still the issue of color. There are still only a few slots on the entire release schedule for African-Americans. If you look at the release schedule for the year, you're only going to see maybe eight African-American films out of all of the movies being released that year. Tyler Perry has maybe three films in that block, and that leaves the rest of us to kind of vie for those other spots.

Alright has some big stars on its initial line-up, like Deion Sanders and Issa Rae of "Awkward Black Girl" fame. How did you develop the ideas for each of the shows and get each star on board? Were you pitched or did you pitch them?
Each one varied. Some of the content was developed with people I've had different relationships with. I don't know if you know this, but Deion [Sanders] is the man in my life. We were working on a couple of reality shows together, and he and another company called 1820 Productions had the idea for Sports Dads. They were already working on the concept, which I loved. Issa Rae, I'm really excited to be working with her. She's already had tremendous success with the show that she did on the Web called Awkward Black Girl. I was a huge fan of that show. So, Issa kind of reached out to us and said, 'Hey, I've got something that would be right up your alley, and so she pitched us this idea of a Web comedy called "The Choir." I have a health show called "Pure Health" because my lifestyle -- I practice what's called natural health, so I try to keep antibiotics and prescription drugs out of my system. We've got live streaming of church services on Sunday and a series called "Preach On, Teach On," which is about 15 different vloggers addressing different issues to keep people going through situations in life that people are really dealing with.

Reality TV is flourishing with tales of exes, wives and former girlfriends of celebrities. Having actually been a Hollywood wife yourself, what side of that lifestyle do you think is missing from these shows? What are they not telling about the real life of a celebrity wife?
I haven't watched all of them, but I saw a couple of episodes of Hollywood Exes, and I was really happy to see them show a more positive side of these women and their goals and careers. I really want to see more empowerment in these shows: women doing their own thing and having their own careers and raising children and juggling motherhood and generating their own income. I really hope to see more of that as opposed to women fighting each other and talking about each other behind their backs and all of that nonsense that networks push producers to show.

If you could speak to your younger self, the woman who first had a dream of making it in Hollywood, what one piece of advice would you give her?
I encourage young women to be empowered and independent and not rely on other people to fulfill their dreams. You've got to be prepared for people to reject you, to put you down, to hold you back, but you've got to be strong and just keep going at it. I really encourage women to create their own paths and not depend on men to take care of them. The fairy tale is beautiful. I love love and I love being in love. With any relationship that any of us get into, we always hope for the best. We want it to be everlasting, but we have to protect ourselves in case the fairy tale ends. We don't want to just have the rug pulled out from under us and not have a game plan. That's the main message that I want to get out to young women.

"I really encourage women to create their own paths and not depend on men to take care of them."

How can film producers or people with Web TV ideas get their content added to Alright's lineup? What's your pitch/submission process?
We have a couple of development executives who listen to things first. And, if they like something, they'll pass it on to me. Amy Ficken is one of our development executives and you can reach her at AMY at ALRIGHTTV dot COM. That's kind of the first step. We're going for high entertainment value that has positive messaging. That's the formula and the directive that we're asking people to look for when they submit content to us.

You're partnering with YouTube for Alright TV, but half the battle online is getting people to actually find and watch your content. What is your strategy for getting viewers?
The strategy is to follow the viewers. I look at it all as entertainment, and viewers are becoming more and more powerful in having a say in what they want to watch and how and when they want to watch programs... Promotion of Alright TV has been amazing and we continue to grow daily in our viewership. I'm very active through my social networks, and I tweet inspirational messages each morning. I initially had no idea how much those inspirational messages helped people, and received so much feedback. It was all very uplifting and inspired me to keep going, and, before I knew it, I had gone from zero followers to more than 150,000 followers who I call my Twitter family. Alright TV was born from my social media network, and the daily exchange of positive, inspiring and uplifting messages that I have through my social network. Viewers are hungry for faith-friendly and inspiration programming, and Alright TV has grown mostly through word of mouth, our online followers and within the faith community. We launched on Easter Sunday and already have over half a million views online.

NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Janice Min, Editorial Director of The Hollywood Reporter?

Janelle Harris resides in Washington, D.C., frequents Twitter and lives on Facebook.

© WebMediaBrands Inc. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.

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