Two weeks ago, we were fortunate to converse with Ronnel Ricardo Parham. Originally from West Philadelphia, Ronnel relocated to Atlanta in 2021. Ronnel wears many hats within the Atlanta Film and TV community, having worked both in front and behind the camera as an Actor, Content Creator, Filmmaker, Writer, Director, and Producer. He's also a member of the Atlanta SAG-AFTRA Indie Outreach Committee and a Judge of the Daytime Emmys.
Ronnel desires to encourage indie filmmakers in the Atlanta Film and TV Community and wants them to know the importance of their stories and ideas. Ronnel shares how it is wise for indie filmmakers to become multi-talented and the importance of learning the business of entertainment. Lastly, Ronnel says filmmakers should consider learning things in front and behind the camera.
At the age of 20, Ronnel fell in love with acting when he took a commercial acting class, and shares,
I immediately fell in love with the process and became fascinated with seeing myself on camera and taking direction. It became a fascinating process for me to take what was written, make it into my own, see it on a camera, and make somebody feel something.
- Ronnel Ricardo Parham
Ronnel takes us on his journey, from how he started to where he is today.
I started by taking commercial classes. During that time, I took a semester off from college and began working. Which gave me time to see talent agents and take commercial classes. If I had not taken that semester off, I am not sure if things would have connected the way they did in terms of me finding acting or acting finding me. From there, I studied theater in undergrad. When I graduated, I moved to New York City. At the time, I was 22 years old with no money and fresh out of college, and had only been to New York once or twice. I remember being super excited to be an actor in New York and didn’t care where I lived! When I first moved to New York, I showed my mom, siblings, and best friend the room I was renting and they all questioned my decision. But, I knew becoming an actor was my destiny, and acting was what I was supposed to do. To them, it was still new. I had taken a few theater classes, and they thought I would eventually go into something else. I, however, knew this was where I needed to be, and I was going to make it happen.
I did about six or seven off-broadway plays in New York, studied theater, got into the trenches and in-depth with the craft of acting, and went on auditions around the city. That took me to California, and my career changed in 2017 when I began creating content when a buddy of mine ( a producing partner) came to me with a script he wrote and told me he needed me to be the producer. At the time, I didn’t know all the things producers do. After that, we produced the film he wrote and won a couple of awards – which changed my life because people were asking questions about the project.
From there, I’ve created my own content and have had streamers and much bigger producing partners reach out to me. Now I create stuff full time and expect to partner with a major studio.
Atlanta Film and TV: Upon leaving Westchester University and embarking on your professional career, were there any moments of fear or self-doubt you had to conquer. And, what were some of the obstacles you had to overcome as a black man operating in a space viewed primarily as a white artform?
Ronnel R. Parham: My earliest challenge doing theater was breaking out of my shell, learning acting and being in acting class. It was learning commercials and how to get up in front of a class full of people, an acting coach, theater professor. Or, when I performed, it was challenging to be in front of audience members. Or, performing in front of my family and friends. It took those early experiences and mental challenges I gave myself. I remember a couple of plays I was doing in New York and would subconsciously talk to myself repeatedly saying,'You can do this. These are your lines. You got this.' Then, we would do our first show, and I would say, 'Yeah. You got it.' I would have these inner dialogues with myself, and then the experience of doing those things added to the confidence I developed as a performer.
Navigating that as a black man in a predominantly white male-dominated industry, I’ve learned that just as important as it is to create and tell our stories, it is just as important to partner with people who don’t look like us. I’ve had almost everybody say to me, 'You should only be telling black stories!' This is how we got to the place where we are in the business in the first place, like white people being in leads. Or, the majority of cast members you see are white, with one Black person, a Spanish person, or an Asian person. It wouldn’t do me any good to make content and to only have it narrowly set on people who look like me. I understand if it's an idea you have a story you created, is of all black people - great! But, this agenda pushing things that we’re seeing now where people say, 'we have to have a cast that’s mainly this or that.' That isn’t real life! I don’t think me coming in with a mentality thinking, 'oh! I should do everything a certain way or, with these types of people.' For one, it stops me creatively, from telling and doing things authentically. Secondly, it fuels the fire of the separation we see in the business. I am fully into collaborations and telling stories.
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you share with us about your production company 5R Productions?
Ronnel R. Parham: 5R Productions derives from my siblings and me because my mother had five kids, and all of our names begin with ‘R.’ My dad had absolutely nothing to do with it, because it was all my mom. I remember asking her what was it about the letter R? She never gave a specific answer, but she just went with it. I am a family-oriented and loyal person, and everything I do is pretty much for my family. I figured it would be a cool name, and wanted to use this unique thing within our family and form a production company.
Our focus and tagline is telling stories that represent the underrepresented. The first project I created under 5R Productions was a web series (now a television series) called Odd Man Out The Series, which is loosely, but closely based on my life and experiences growing up in the adult form.
I started coming up with a bunch of ideas and realized that instead of outsourcing them and finding things to write about, I thought, ‘why don’t I keep things original to me? Why don’t I write about things that happened in my life and the people I know? ' I started looking at everything in my life. People I’ve worked with and things I’ve gone through. I thought to myself, ‘none of these people are on tv!’ Or, there are so few of us on tv. When I started forming 5R Productions, I knew it was my moment to decide what direction we were going in and what stories we would tell.
5R Productions has done multiple web series and a tv movie/pilot that will soon be released. Odd Man Out The Series started as a Web Series. Now, it is a television series picked up by Peacock. We have done a bunch of short films and plan to transition into the feature world and currently have a few things in development. As the saying goes, I truly started from the bottom and continue to level up!
Atlanta Film and TV: You were recently appointed as an official member of the SAG-AFTRA Indie Committee. Can you share with us about that, and how you plan to push changes within the industry?
Ronnel R. Parham I applied to become an official member of the SAG-AFTRA Indie Committee, when I first moved to Atlanta last year. There was a small window of time to apply. I wasn’t expecting to hear anything back. I did, however, hear back until six to seven months later. When they reached out, they let me know that I was an official committee member. I thought at the time it was uniquely tied into where I was in my life, and my career, because I had just moved down here. SAG-AFTRA messaged me back, and said they’d like to welcome me in. Our initial meeting was via ZOOM with about twelve other creatives who were all committee members. During this meeting we had conversations about what we can do to continue to educate people on the benefits of self-producing, and creating your own content. At the time, we were in the midst of COVID and couldn’t really do anything. We talked about hosting events here in Atlanta, which would be sponsored by SAG-AFTRA. We discussed hosting online or in-person workshops, to educate people through the process of going through contracts and hiring actors, and crew. Getting locations, and having a SAG rep attached to all of that - and the benefits of doing that in terms of protecting your production, and yourself by having insurance. On top of that, having SAG behind your production gives you more validation when you’re producing.
Click here to watch our full conversation
The goal for committee members, fellow filmmakers, and content creators is to share our experiences with the do's and don’ts of filmmaking. We want to educate other filmmakers on the benefits of producing your own content. I have produced many of my indie projects under SAG contracts, and I will full-heartedly say it was very beneficial as opposed to doing it non-union. I honestly get why people do things non-union. But, as you continue to create get higher budgets, shoot at expensive locations, and work with people who are expensive to work with, you learn that doing things by the book and with SAG behind you is the best way to go about it.
Ronnel shares a few relocation tips with those looking to relocate to the Atlanta market for film and television.
A general relocation tip for anyone looking to relocate is to have a job lined up. Think first about your finances and taking care of and providing for yourself. It would help if you’re with a job and go from location to location because when you move to a new state, you will need to apply for new health insurance. When you sign up for new health insurance, it can take up to thirty days to have it. Secondly, be sure to have whatever you need in place and think a few months ahead about the things you’ll need.
Thirdly, be sure to research apartments. It helps if you move here with roommates or know people already living here. Research areas where you want to live. Come to Atlanta a few times. Get a layout of what it means to live inside or outside the perimeter. Research the cost of rent, and if you’re looking for a house consider looking at homes in the suburbs and reach out to a realtor a few months beforehand. Lastly, get your feet grounded first instead of jumping right in and finding a talent agent, etc. Make sure you’re first okay because this business can be up and down.
Once you’ve done all that, do the necessary things to get into the industry here in Atlanta. Get your materials together. Have links to your work. Don’t have reels that are too long. Start emailing people and find talent agents. I recommend people to sign up for an IMDb Pro account and start researching the top agents and managers in Atlanta.
Atlanta Film and TV: How important is networking to you?
Ronnel R. Parham: Networking is huge in this business but do it correctly. Issa Rae has a quote where she says, 'network across, don’t network up.’ Network with the people around you. Find people who are just as hungry or hungrier than you, and who understand the business. I think Issa was referring to the many times we want to hit a homerun, and we want to send our stuff to somebody and want them to say, ‘come and meet the execs!’ The chances of that happening are slim to none. Continue networking with people on your level. What that will do is it will keep leveling you up. Hopefully, that will get you to an area where someone like Tyler Perry will ask to meet with you!
Someone once told me content is king. If you’re going to continue networking and meeting people, have as much content in your bag as you can, because then you’ll have things to talk about. So, when you’re networking, network across and do it with things to talk about. As you continue in the business and doing things, conversations will open when you have more things to talk about. This goes back to always be working on something. As an actor, constantly work on something.
Atlanta Film and TV: There’s a lot of talk on Facebook about how it's not necessary for someone to go to school in order to become an actor. In your opinion, is this statement true, and what would be a piece of advice for a high school senior looking to pursue a career in acting?
Ronnel R. Parham: Part of me wants to say it is one-hundred percent true. But, as a person who minored in theater, the experience I had in my early days of acting and being on campus was great. However, be sure to look at the cost of acting schools as opposed to acting programs. There are three-month and six-month acting classes in New York and acting conservatories. There are alternatives, as opposed to a four year program to learn acting. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, but I would not go to acting school (or any school for that matter) and go into debt. There are many options to taking courses now and getting on payment plans,working with people, and getting them to work with you. If your heart is telling you to go to college, a conservatory or audition to get into Juilliard, then do it!
But, for me I learned ninety percent of what I know acting and filmmaking wise, when I was in New York or LA out of school. I taught myself how to create things. I worked with different people, and taught myself how to screenwrite. I went through trial and error on set being a producer and director, and now I have these experiences that I can share with people. Following your heart would be my best advice. I followed mine, and my heart told me to go to school for theater. I also was asked to join conservatories, but didn’t see the need for that. I wanted to study theater, and got with a theater company and said ‘this is how I’m going to learn.
Atlanta Film and TV: What would be a piece of advice you would have for aspiring filmmakers?
Ronnel R. Parham: Become multi-talented as a filmmaker. For example, don’t stop making your film because you ran out of money to pay someone to do something. Teach yourself screenwriting. Learn how to direct, produce, and edit. Figure how to get your stuff done and to get your stories told.
Atlanta Film and TV: Do you have any final thoughts or G.E.M.S., you would like to share?
Ronnel R. Parham: We’re more powerful united. Meaning when we come together, we can begin to create more outlets. We no longer have to go the studio route, nor do we have to fight to get our stuff read by the top three streaming platforms. But, what we can do is create our own audience base.
You can reach Ronnel on his website at ronnelrparham.com, or his production website at 5R-Productions.com He can also be reached on Instagram @ronnelsgram5 or @5RProduction. He’s also on Facebook, and Twitter.
Ronnel R. Parham: I am always interested in ideas, pitches, and collaborations. Remember, network across and not up. If you’re going to reach out to me, be just as hungry or hungrier. And, I only want people around me that are just as passionate about changing the landscape of this business, because that’s what I do and plan to continue doing.