With the help of one of the biggest names in media, Faraday Okoro recently achieved a feat most aspiring filmmakers can only dream about.
"Nigerian Prince," Okoro's cinematic labor of love, tells the story of a teenage boy sent to Nigeria by his mother against his will, but ends up teaming up with others to scam unsuspecting foreigners to buy a ticket back to America. After premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, the film debuted in wide release last month thanks in large part to a $1 million award Okoro won from AT&T.
"Working with AT&T was great. For the most part, they were not cooks in the kitchen," the 31-year old New York University graduate told CNBC recently. With AT&T's help, Okoro became the latest recipient in a class of independent film makers that are getting a boost from established media companies to promote their works.
"For a debut feature, that's invaluable," Okoro said. "You just get to make a film with your voice."
While the movie industry earns billions per year, those vast sums rarely — if ever — trickle down to independent features, which are largely starved for money and attention.
Within the last decade, only a rare club of independently-produced movies — including Weinstein Co's "Django Unchained", Lionsgate's "La La Land" and Fox Searchlight's "Slumdog Millionaire" — have attained critical acclaim and commercial viability, with only a few of those earning more than $100 million domestically, according to data from Exhibitor Relations. The ones that do take off usually have A-list talent at their disposal.
In 2017, AT&T teamed up with Tribeca Film Institute to create Untold Stories, a program that promotes diverse storytelling by providing funding, mentorship and distribution to filmmaking beginners each year. The winner's project also appears at the Tribeca Film Festival, and AT&T's video platforms across the U.S.