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Sweet Home Chicago Series for Juneteenth: Video Interview with Filmmaker Mark Harris

On the day scheduled for this Black Writers Week interview with independent filmmaker Mark Harris, publisher Chaz Ebert lost her voice due to laryngitis and was unable to conduct the interview—about an hour before she asked me to sit in for her. As it turns out, I had recently watched one of his movies, “No Regrets.” It’s one of those fun, feel good movies with an all-Black cast about love, friendship and family that I often look for when I’m not sure what to watch. The cast feels familiar, like they could easily be my real friend group. “No Regrets” stars Monica Calhoun and Amin Joseph, who is a rising star and also in the cast of the popular Hulu show, "Snowfall." The film also stars Loretta Devine, Brian White, BernNadette Stanis and Elise Neal

Mark was warm, personable and open to sharing how he got to where he is today in his career. He has made over 20 movies to date with no plans of stopping any time soon. His recipe for distribution has grown from pressing his own DVDs and selling them out of the trunk of his car to today, where you can find his movies across multiple networks and streaming platforms at any given time. Mark plans to build a film studio in Belize where he filmed his upcoming movie, “Let Us Make Eve,” which will air on ALLBLK and BET in mid-August. Mark shares sound advice for emerging filmmakers and shares a little about how he overcame his recent writer's block.

In the exclusive video interview embedded below, Harris speaks with me about how he made his first film for $500, taught himself the process of filmmaking, has never taken advantage of the Illinois tax credit, and writes poetry and much more.

Mark Harris Bio:

Filmmaker Mark Harris never set out to make movies. But from an early age he knew two things for sure: he wanted to be his own boss and he loved to write. Now, with over 20 film projects distributed worldwide, this self-taught mogul in the making is just getting started leaving his mark on the entertainment industry...his way.

Mark grew up in Englewood on Chicago’s South Side. Like many youth from his neighborhood, sports was a positive outlet in an environment that was filled with loving families, and riddled with drugs, gangs and violence. Harris would eventually earn a football scholarship to the University of Wisconsin River Falls and study English. Then in late 1992, already being a lifelong lover of films, Harris experienced Spike Lee’s iconic “Malcolm X”, and would never be the same. Soon thereafter, he returned to his hometown and after working a few stints at various jobs, he landed a position as a sales rep at a popular furniture store where, unbeknownst to him, he would meet the first serious supporters of his film career. In 1997, Mark decided to try his hand at writing a screenplay of his own. 

Fiercely independent with a “do for self” motto, he studied as many books on the art form as possible then got started. He wrote over 10 screenplays before finally pitching a project entitled “Zombies in the Hood” to various studios, including ActorProducer Tim Reid’s New Millennium Studios. This eventually led to a number of industry insider introductions, mentorship and an opportunity to write spec scripts. Then in 2005, after writing several spec scripts and waiting for one of them to be produced, Harris realized, “if I want to see my work done, I’m going to have to make the film myself.” He was known among his furniture store colleagues to talk nonstop about his love of movies. 

So when he announced that he was going to make his first film, “Why Men Cheat”, and finance it with his own salary, within the week two co-workers handed over $2,000 in cash to invest in the film. With that push, his production company, 1555filmworks, was born. Since then, in addition to producing films, Mark has created an online marketing company, Black Films Rock LLC, and in 2010, cofounded the Englewood International Film Festival to bring a celebration of film and positive entertainment to the community that raised him. In May 2021, Harris partnered with Vertical Entertainment to release “White People Money”. The film, starring Drew Sidora ("Step Up") and Barton Fitzpatrick ("The Chi"), enjoyed a limited theatrical release in nearly 40 theaters across the U.S. Several of Mark’s works are also available on Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming platforms. His directorial efforts include “Black Coffee,” “Hyde Park” and the upcoming “Let Us Make Eve.”

Sonia Smith-Evans Bio:

Sonia is currently SVP of Development and Production for The Ebert Company. She previously served as Supervising Producer on the television show, "Ebert Presents: At the Movies" that aired on PBS stations nationally. Sonia also served as a Producer on the 2017 Whitney Houston documentary, "Whitney: Can I Be Me," and worked as VP of Development and Production for Spicerack Productions, overseeing family-focused content. 

Sonia began her production career as a production associate for ABC Studios in Burbank, California. She received her B.A. from the University of Illinois at Chicago and currently serves on the boards of  The Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation, Writers Theatre in Glencoe, IL  and the Black Perspectives committee of the Chicago International Film Festival.

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