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A Conversation with Producer of Realm Pictures International, Stephen Blake

Updated: May 9, 2022

Chief Executive Chief Executive Officer, and Producer of Realm Pictures International, Stephen Blake

A few weeks ago, we were fortunate to connect and have a conversation with Stephen Blake, Chief Executive Officer, and Producer of Realm Pictures International. Realm is creating spectacular, diverse blockbuster entertainment, while breaking brilliant, undiscovered talent and financially endowing the nation’s HBCUs. Stephen is also the producer of the high concept, character driven drama, Steal Away.

Atlanta Film and TV: Could you give us some background about who you are and how you got your start in the film industry?

Stephen Blake: When I was eight or nine years old, an uncle gave me a super eight movie camera. I looked at this thing and had no experience with filming. I immediately began making small films and casting my friends in the neighborhood and my sisters as characters. I somehow crudely figured out how to edit. I did animation on my own and saw all the possibilities there were in the camera. My mother enrolled me in a community film workshop called the Pasadena Art Workshop. It turned out there was a great animator and filmmaker, John Matthews, who mentored and trained me in filmmaking. I soon then began working with William Moffit, who is a great documentarian.

By the time I was in the tenth grade, I was permitted to leave campus at lunchtime and drive to Hollywood, where I interned on the KTLA lot in Los Angeles, where I interned with a prominent producer named Arnold Shapiro. This internship with him led to me doing a lot of commercials as a production assistant. I worked very hard, and my name spread because I was the guy who would hustle. When I first got involved, I said I would scrub toilets. I will do anything you need me to do. I even said I don’t even have to get paid. But, it turned out, I always did get paid! All of this launched my career as a production assistant.

When I was 19, I began directing segments for a show called Hollywood Closeup for ABC Television. At the same time, I remember I was on a shoot for Pioneer Stereo, and I met Jordan Cronenweth, who I would say is one of the five greatest cinematographers ever. He's shot the original Blade Runner and Altered States. Working with him is when I realized I wanted to be a cinematographer, and I immediately began volunteering to shoot student films, anything I could get my hands on so I could hone my craft in lighting and composition. After a while, I got my first low-budget movie called Deadly Prey, as a cinematographer, which began a chain of films. Around this time, Robert Townsend and the late Carl Craig contacted me about Hollywood Shuffle because they were involved with it for about a year. They would shoot it in pieces and run out of money, save up and shoot some more. During that time, I was one of three cinematographers who shot Hollywood Shuffle. This began a string of doing a lot of motion pictures, which were mostly genre films - Horror, Action, and War Films, where you have to work fast. The scripts were never anything to ride home about, but they gave us a chance as cinematographers and crew members to look as good as we could.

One day, a friend of mine named Ron Devoe, was making an EPK (Electronic Press Kit) for an artist named Johnny Gill. Ron asked me to do the lighting and sound for an interview. I went to West Los Angeles where Ron was shooting, and afterwards at a payphone I bumped into a producer named Sabrina Gray. She was on the payphone next to me, and I could hear her calling off a shoot, and telling all the crew members not to show up. We began talking, and Sabrina asked what I did. To which I told her that I am a film cinematographer. She told me ‘that’s interesting. Because the owner of the production company, and director, Lionel Martin wants more of a feature film look for the video.’ I gave her my card, and didn’t think anything of it. Sure enough, she called me, and let me know, the shoot that we were canceling, we’re rescheduling now, and Lionel Martin would love for you to shoot this music video. I had no designs or thoughts about shooting music videos. That music video was ‘Do Me’ for Bel Biv Devoe. This video became a huge hit, and launched what became a rather large music video sector of my life and career.

Atlanta Film and TV: Growing up, did your parents recognize your gift of the arts, and if so how did they nourish your gift to facilitate growth?

Stephen Blake: I was raised by a single mom, and no one could foresee my uncle giving me a movie camera. Once I took an interest, my mom was very active and drove me repeatedly to the community filmmaking center. She would drop me off at my mentor’s home. My mentor and his wife lived at a church parsonage, and he would drive me into West Los Angeles to do documentaries with him. My mom was very active and nurtured me in every way possible. When I needed film, and when I needed to get it developed, she gave me money. She was a thousand percent supportive. I was also proactive, and once I got the fever for film, you couldn’t stop me! My mom had to stay out of my way a little, but she was accommodating!

Atlanta Film and TV: Do you have any advice for upcoming cinematographers and directors?

Stephen Blake: It’s always good to learn the “rules.” If you’re a filmmaker, get familiar with movies of all genres. Understand the foundationally credible past and current history of film in all of its aspects. Learn why most films are divided into three acts? What typifies a three-act film? Once you’ve learned all the rules, throw them away, and let the story you want to bring to life find its own life. Permit yourself to break all the rules because you’re not living life as an artist to fill someone else’s mold. Nurture your gifts and creativity and feel free to make mistakes. Even if everyone is looking at what you’ve created (script or a rough edit of your film) and they say it doesn’t work, listen to what they have to say because maybe there are a few good points. But, be true to who you are. The most extraordinary filmmakers break the rules. They set new rules, which should then be broken themselves. Learn the language and all the facets, and then break all the rules. Then let us know what filmmaking is in a way that we’ve never known before.

Atlanta Film and TV: For our viewers who may not know, could you share the backstory of the Steal Away movie?

Stephen Blake: Steal Away is the true story of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a sensational choir of young former slaves fighting the KKK’s reign of terror against their schools. Including the fledgling new HBCUs. They weren’t fighting back with bullets and bombs but their sensational songs of faith and freedom. Steal Away follows their titanic rise, from the darkness of slavery to the glittering ballrooms and thronerooms of Europe, as they conquer the world.