Risin' to the Top: These Professionals Are among the Cream of the Crop of New Talent in the Entertainment Industry

Article excerpt

There are a host of strong contenders awaiting the passing of the entertainment industry torch. Almost overnight, the advent of multimedia technology, the repositioning of the recording industry, the expansion of cable television, the continuing success of African Americans in the film industry and the high demand for quality television programming have allowed many talented African Americans to take the lead.

Like Spike Lee, Suzanne de Passe and Andre Harrell, the new head of Motown Records (see "Familiar Face on Old Label," Newspoints, this issue), who were among last year's BE Top 50 Entertainment Powerbrokers, these 16 mavericks possess the talent and perseverance to become part of the new generation of entertainment mavens.

Some of those making the list green light projects for well-known entertainment companies. Several are entrepreneurs making their mark through independent enterprises. A couple make key decisions on the sets of some of today's hottest television shows, while others create intriguing films and photography. A few share decision-making responsibility at big-name Hollywood movie studios. The youngest on the list crafts "platinum record" music and another inks lucrative legal contracts.

Though these young men and women have not yet reached the zenith of their careers, they stand poised to maneuver around any obstacles in this revolutionizing industry. At the least, they are certainly people to watch.

JAC BENSON II Getting a job at a company known for quick-edited music montages was a perfect match for the one-time shutterbug kid. Today, as one of MTV-Music Television's most promising producers, Jac Benson II is responsible for a $300,000 budget and the total production of the weekly hip-hop and R&B show, Yo! MTV Raps.

Benson says he enjoys television because projects go from conception to airing almost immediately. "There is always the chance to develop and create something new for people to see," says the 27-year-old Paterson, N.J., native.

He also helped create two new MTV shows, Reggae SoundSystem and Fabulous Stories, which will feature musical artists in "music video-style" film shorts. Benson also produced the MTV Presents Music 4 Life Concert that aired in October. Proceeds from the two-hour concert, hosted by rap diva Queen Latifah and featuring Mary J. Blige and Salt & Pepa, among others, went to benefit AIDS research and needy inner-city communities.

With the launch of Blacjac, his own production company, last year, Benson has done numerous freelance film projects, such as the BET television concert, Jodeci Live at The Apollo as well as videos for rap stars The Notorious B.I.G. and Ed Lover and Doctor Dre.

The former Hampton University finance student learned film and television production while snapping photos for independent short films and music videos in college. A year after graduating cum laude, a networking contract plugged Benson into MTV. Since then, he's steadily moved up from associate producer to coordinating producer to producer. Over the next five years, Benson plans to produce short films, commercials and television specials.

JOCELYN COOPER-GILSTRAP began riding the wave of music publishing in 1993 with her company, Midnight Songs. Her in-house co-venture project with PolyGram Music Publishing and Mercury Records makes her one of the few African American women in this arena.

The 29-year-old president and CEO says striking the deal was the biggest decision of her career because, "I became the target person with all the responsibility." Hard work is nothing new for Cooper-Gilstrap, who started as a receptionist for a small New York recording studio in 1987. She later took a job as an assistant in PolyGram Records' urban promotion department. Her experience tracking song airtimes and distributing promotional material on artists gave her the foundation she needed to start her own company.

Midnight Songs boasts a catalog of 300 works by songwriters such as Brian McKnight, Tim Christian of Tony Toni Tone and D'Angelo, whose single "U Will Know" from the Jason's Lyric movie sound track sold over half a million copies. …