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Pinky Promise Films CEO Isn’t Interested in Producing a ‘Hollow Version of Somebody Else’s Ideal’

Getty Images/Chris Smith for TheWrap

Pinky Promise Films founder and CEO Jessamine Burgum and president Kara Durrett forego a formula, recipe or expectations of the end result when they choose who to work with on their films.

Burgum founded the production company during the 2020 COVID pandemic and gravitated toward Durrett while working together as a financier and producer on 2021’s well-received indie, “Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul.” from director Adamma Ebo and starring Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown.

“Sometimes we can get hung up on this mystical idea of people’s mandates and ‘If you make the exact right thing that you think people are looking for, then it’s going to win the lottery,’” Burgum told TheWrap of indie filmmaking ahead of debuting their latest film “I Don’t Understand You” at SXSW. “But ultimately, people just have to make the things that they want to make.”

“If you’re always chasing what you think somebody else is after, you’re going to end up not making something that feels inauthentic to yourself, or it’s going to be a hollow version of somebody else’s ideal,” she added. “We’re working with filmmakers that have a really strong sense of vision and are set on making what they want to make.”

In a joint conversation with TheWrap, the duo shared their experience as am indie production company emphasizing bringing stories to life that are written by, for, and about underrepresented voices in entertainment; challenges and roadblocks they have faced along the way; and what they think the future holds.

What is one of the biggest setbacks or challenges you’ve faced working in independent film today?
Kara Durrett: We have Hanna Peterson, who made a movie called “The Graduates,” and it deals with gun control, it deals with family, with loss. That movie premiered at Tribeca last year. It came out at a time that I think was just honestly really hard for people to watch a movie that felt a little darker and a little sadder. That’s something that we’ve had to play into: How does it work in the marketplace? How does it work with audiences? And it doesn’t mean that that film isn’t good. It doesn’t mean that filmmakers aren’t incredible. It means that we’re hitting a really specific time for audiences that it just might not be the moment for it to release.

So we really tried to plan a strategy around, “Well, when is the moment? Who do we partner with?” We worked with [executive producer] Chloé Zhao on that movie, we’ve been working with [executive producer] Meena Harris with a lot of programs around gun violence and trying to build a bit of a presence in Washington so that the release feels very aligned with what the message of the of the movie is. That’s one example of a movie we’ve had a hard time with.

How do you go about selling projects that you feel fit your brand and feature a wide array of voices — specifically women and non-white creators?
Jessamine Burgum: Ultimately, good stuff prevails. It has to just be good. That maybe sounds overly simple, but our priority is making sure that it’s something that we would want to watch and that it’s really good. Then you have to hope that people feel the same way, do a lot of hustling behind the scenes. But ultimately, it’s just about making something that’s good and has that rewatchable, kind of life-affirming quality.

K.D.: It’s also about finding voices and people that have all of the creative talent within them and maybe have not had the chance. I think we’re really good about trying to find people who have incredible shorts or scripts or stories and not only recognizing their talent, but also asking, “What do you want to make and why do you want to make it? Wow do you want to tell it and how can we be the most supportive to tell those stories?” We always start from a place of asking questions and asking how we can be helpful and then building the team around what is the most helpful to that person.

J.B.: Always leading with curiosity, and then a deep love for doing the thing, yeah. We are always trying to really balance — it’s really important to us that we make these beautiful movies that also get seen. So we’re always working really closely with our filmmakers to make sure that these projects are something that feels like, even though it might seem really specific, it’s that age-old adage of the more specific something is, the more universal it becomes. It’s important to us that we’re going to reach a broad audience, even if they’re coming from a place of a really specific experience.

You are both women executives running your own production company. How do you feel the indie film space has change since your founding in 2020?
K.D.: I think it’s getting harder. I think 2020 was a real reckoning moment of a lot of people having these diversity programs, having these female led programs, and then I feel like in the last year, everyone’s like, “Oh, we’ve got to make budget cuts. Cut those programs.” There’s so many layoffs. I feel like all the people I know who are being laid off are women or POC people or people who [didn’t] necessarily come up through the agency world or have a different point of view.

It’s only gotten trickier. I mean, Jessie and I do so little in regards to the amount that our team does, and our team is six really brilliant women. They’re all so smart and come from different backgrounds and have different points of view. And we trust them implicitly. For us, I think it’s about how do we grow our team? How do we offer more opportunities? How do we hire more smart people, women or men, but people who want to be a part of it and grow something really big? But on top of it, notice around us that things are getting cut, and it’s not necessarily a good thing. I think it’ll also make us more special because we’re going to be the only people making that kind of content.

Tell me about the “four Ps” of your company.
J.B.: The goal for Pinky Promise is to be a sort of lighthouse for folks that haven’t always had the opportunity to be in the spotlight. We hope to continue to attract those types of creatives that we get to work with. We talk a lot internally about the four Ps.

The first most important being “progress.” We’re very much a mission-based company and we want people to look at our body of work, to be able to recognize that it’s important for us to work with incredible “partners,” another P. And then “prestige.” We’re trying to build projects that can have a big creative life and make that type of cultural impact.

And of course we want to make a “profit” so we can keep doing this for as long as we can. That’s a super integral part to how we approach all the projects that we’re looking at.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The post Pinky Promise Films CEO Isn’t Interested in Producing a ‘Hollow Version of Somebody Else’s Ideal’ appeared first on TheWrap.