Tracey Edmonds: Staying Ahead Of The Curve As A Black Producer

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Coming up this week on Lifetime is the Original Movie, With This Ring, starring Regina Hall, Jill Scott, and Eve with Tracey Edmonds, Sheila Ducksworth (Soul Food) and Gabrielle Union (Being Mary Jane) serving as executive producers.

For Edmonds, who is CEO and President of Edmonds Entertainment and CEO and President of Alright TV, this serves as one of many projects she’s currently involved in. For nearly 20 years, the award-winning Los Angeles native has worn many hats in the entertainment industry. From producing the movie Soul Food and the subsequent series on Showtime to releasing Jumping The Broom as COO and President of Our Stories Films, Edmonds continues to thrive in an industry where there are few Black producers. Among her earlier projects was executive producing the reality show College Hill, the first African American reality program on BET and its spinoff College Hill Interns.

Edmonds recently joined the syndicated entertainment program EXTRA as a co-host with Mario Lopez andCharissa Thompson and currently executive produces and co-stars in Deion’s Family Playbook, the reality show featuring NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders and his family, which airs on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.

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Blackfilm.com recently caught with Edmonds as she discussed her involvement with several projects.

This week you have ‘With This Ring’ on Lifetime. How did you get involved with that as an executive producer?

Tracey Edmonds: Gabrielle Union found a book called ‘The Vow’ and so she brought it to me back in 2008. She wanted me to help her develop it into a film. I helped get the film set up over at Lifetime back in 2009. Then we attached Nzingha Stewart, who’s a writer and director, to write the script and direct the film. Then we thought we had a green light back in 2009. We thought we were going to be making the film then but the project called put on hold. The regime changed over at Lifetime. So we were on hold for a couple of years. Then I got a phone call from Tanya Lopez, who’s head of Lifetime Movies, last year where she asked me if I wanted to still make the film because she was ready to do it. Those are one of those amazing phone calls that you rarely get. It was a happy phone call to get.We were really happy to brush off the dust off the script and get it into production.

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Last summer was when we made the film. I went on location in Cleveland. We cast the film and just went into production and had an amazing time making the film. Our cast was really, really outstanding. Regina Hall, Jill Scott and Eve were really, really amazing to work with. Then the men that came onboard, Stephen Bishop, Jason George, Harold House Moore, and Deion Sanders really were the icing on the cake. Nzingha, as the director, is going to have a really phenomenal career ahead of her. She just did a really, really wonderful job as a director and so we’re excited.

Thinking back, 2009, why not take it to theaters as opposed to TV?

Edmonds: To be honest with you, we did try. When it went on pause I tried to set it up as a theatrical. We came close a couple times but really, with the dynamics of the marketplace, there are so few slots every year for urban films. It’s really, really challenging because you have maybe two to three urban films made a year. You’ve got hundreds and hundreds of projects vying for those couple valuable slots. So we kept coming close but never quite got it set up theatrically.

Nzingha Stewart and Tracey Edmonds

Lifetime seems to be doing well with a slew of movies featuring Black women. Is it better to go to TV for that genre?

Edmonds: I think it’s amazing that Lifetime has afforded all of us a platform now to tell African American and female driven stories. Because really, they’re the only network that is doing that. When you have limited opportunities available theatrically, it is a tremendous blessing that Lifetime is trailblazing and moving forward with allowing us to tell these types of stories. We hope that our film is an empowering film that will leave people feeling good, and feeling entertained. We really have a theme, a sisterhood theme running through our film, as well. We want to be uplifting to women as opposed to, unfortunately, the way that a lot of women are depicted on these reality shows where they’re tearing each other down instead of lifting each other up.

You put together ‘Jumping the Broom’ a few years ago and you’re still one of the few Black female producers able to get projects off the ground. What else do you have coming up? 

Extra group shot

Edmonds: I’m excited that I’m in business with Oprah’s network OWN and that we have ‘Deion’s Family Playbook’, which is going into its second season now. We’re shooting an additional eight episodes as we speak. So that is actually keeping me very busy cause I’m co-starring in that as well as producing that. Then with ‘Extra’, I’m on ‘Extra’ five days a week and so that keeps me pretty busy, too. But I would love to follow up ‘With This Ring’ and produce more things for Lifetime. I’m going to be exploring with them the potential of developing ‘With This Ring’ into a TV series. That would be a dream of mine. There’s also a couple of other scripts that I have that are in development but nothing that I can announced just yet.

Deion's Family Playbook

What changes did you make to Deion Family Playbook from Season 1?

Edmonds: I think we’ve dug even deeper into who we are as people. Like every family member, who you know you got a chance to know in the first season, we get a chance to get deeper into everyone’s life in the second season. The second season gets deeper into me and Deion’s relationship, the dynamics of our relationship, and the challenges of our relationship. There are geographically challenges in that I’m based in Los Angeles and he’s based in Dallas. How do we make that work? In this season, I’m now taking on a new job as the co-host of ‘Extra’ TV, which now requires me to be in Los Angeles Monday through Friday. That creates even bigger challenges for our relationship. We dive even deeper, or dig deeper, into all of those dynamics this season and see how we really make things work. Then, also, too, in this season, Deion faces further challenges with his charter school, Prime Prep Academy. We see a lot of the other issues that goes on in both households with Deion being a single parent dad and raising kids on his own and dealing with visitation issues with his ex. There’s just a lot of different dynamics going on this season.

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With the both of you having so much in your lives, how much of it are you holding back from audiences?

Edmonds: We do show a lot and the challenges that we show in our relationship. We have kept that pretty real in that it is very hard for both of us. One of the things that scared me the most about even taking on the new job at ‘Extra’ was the fact that I wouldn’t be able to spend as much time with Deion and the fact that I would have less freedom to travel out to Dallas. We kept all of that very, very real and allowed viewers to see that and see our challenges as a couple. There are some things that don’t show everything; but we have at least kept the issues in our relationship pretty real.

Tracey Edmonds pic

What’s the most challenging aspect for you to be on ‘Extra’, besides being away from Deion?

Edmonds: Well, for me, it’s an entirely new chapter in my career. Because, prior to doing Deion’s show I had historically said I would never go on camera. I was very, very comfortable being behind the scenes. And anybody that knew me knew that my kryptonite was going on camera. I always shied away from going on camera. So any time one of my friends or somebody was making a film, they would offer me a role, or ask me to go on camera, or say, ‘Oh, can you play so and so’s girlfriend? Or so and so’s wife?,’ I would always shy away because that scared me.

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And so being offered now this co-hosting position where I have to be on camera Monday through Friday that was like confronting one of my biggest fears or confronting one of my biggest phobias. That was the biggest challenge for me. I had to learn on camera skills and when you look in the camera, when you look at your person you’re talking to, and all of that. I’ve been very honest and being like, ‘Hey, the first couple months I’ve never done this before. I have to go through a learning curve and learn on camera technique and stuff.’ Now, here it is, I think I’m past month three and now it starts getting fun every day. You don’t have to worry so much and now you’re in a groove. Now I can just go to work every day and just really have a good time with my co-hosts and the people that I’m interviewing and stuff. It’s been great. Just to see the process and I’m learning the production of how these shows work. It’s been great to reconnect with actors and actresses that I’ve known in the industry and bring them on the show and also give some diversity to the show; to profile more ethnic diversity on ‘Extra’ TV and showcase some of the urban shows that are on television. To bring in our African American films and directors and producers and actor and actresses. So it’s been great for me. It’s been a great opportunity.

Tracey Edmonds Mario Lopez Charissa Thompson

Was there anybody that you went to get you prepared for TV?

Edmonds: I actually just really relied mostly on my co-hosts, Mario (Lopez) and Charissa (Thompson), who have been on TV and on camera and hosting and interviewing for so many years. I was the new kid joining ‘Extra’ that had no experience whatsoever. So every day I’d come to work and I’d have Mario and Charissa and I’d have a chance to say, ‘Hey, okay, guys. So do I look at you now? Should I be looking at the camera now? How are we doing this?’ And they really helped guide me every day until I became comfortable and learned everything.

Soul Food Film and TV

With the numbers that are coming in for ‘How to Get Away With Murder’, ‘Empire’, and ‘Blackish’, and it’s showing that there is a huge Black audience watching TV, how is this different from when you had ‘Soul Food’ back in the day?

Edmonds: I think that there’s always been a Black audience hungry for great programming. I think the networks were blind or a little slow in taking action and granting us the slots so that we could provide some great programming for urban audiences. And so, historically, the networks have been a little shy about giving us opportunities to give them great content. When I did the TV show ‘Soul Food’, we shopped ‘Soul Food’ to all of the major networks and we were turned down. We ended up, being blessed that, Showtime gave us a slot for ‘Soul Food’. We ended up being one of their highest rated series for six years in a row. I think that’s a testimony that audiences are hungry but networks just need to give us more chances and more opportunities.

Between being on TV five days a week, being on Deion’s show for OWN, producing a movie here and there, what keeps you grounded? 

tracey edmonds and son

Edmonds:  I’m still, you know, first and foremost, I’m a mom. That is the most important thing in my life, raising my two boys who are teenagers now. On the surface I might look like I really lead this fast paced crazy, crazy life. But, in reality, the cool thing now about me being on ‘Extra’ TV is that my day working at ‘Extra’ really ends at about three o’clock in the afternoon. I’m able to reset and go home if I want to and be with my kids. I’m able to be home when they come home and help with homework and make sure everybody’s doing what they need to be doing. Right now we’re doing college applications for my oldest, who’s a senior in high school. We’re doing high school applications for my eighth grader. We’ve been spending a lot of time on that. I just took the boys to London and Scotland for the holidays. We also met up with Deion and his family in Orlando, Florida for a week. If I’m not working I’m all about my family and spending time with Deion; and really those things just keep me grounded and normal.

Tracey Edmonds GG

For anybody who has been following your background, what is the secret to staying relevant?

Edmonds: I think creating opportunities for yourself and also not putting all of your eggs in one basket; and believing in yourself. A lot of people sit around and they’ll wait for an agent to find the script for them. Or a manager to find the script for them. Or someone to come to them with an idea. And my career, historically, has been, I’m the type that I’m rolling my sleeves up and I’m going out there and trying to think of ideas myself. And trying to create projects for myself. And not putting all of my eggs in one basket. I’ve always had a multiplatform career where I’ve always simultaneously had film projects and TV projects. Then I’ve done theatrical plays and I’ve done albums in the music industry. I’ve managed careers and stuff. I’ve always diversified myself because I believe if you pigeonhole yourself into only sticking with one thing it’s going to be tough to pay your bills. I’ve always had a whole bunch of things working at one time cause it takes ten projects to get one to go.

With This Ring will premiere on Saturday, January 24, 2015, at 8pm ET/PT on Lifetime TV.

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