Socialite Spotlight: Doreen Spicer-Dannelly
By: Ra’Kenna Joseph
Wiles sat down with writer, producer, director phenom Doreen Spicer-Dannelly (Disney’s The Proud Family, Jump In!, The Wannabees) to discuss enduring conceptualization, diversity’s benefits to media and society, and how-to keep projects fresh and new in an overly saturated entertainment industry.
Spicer – Dannelly: I was introduced to the theatre at the age of seven and I love the idea of stirring emotion through storytelling whether on stage or on television. I thought entertainment wasn’t only a fun way to make a living but also ways to convey powerful messages. I remember thinking if television and film could shape perceptions and motivate people, I wanted to be a part that industry.
Wiles: What have you been up too since Proud Family?
Spicer – Dannelly: Since the Proud Family, I started my own production company [Spicerack Productions Inc.] where we’ll produce projects with a more fresh, colorful, and diverse perspective. My first project with Spicerack produced Disney Channel’s film, Jump In! The film featured my favorite childhood pastime [Double Dutch] and actually broke records with 8.2 million viewers! Variety deemed it “the highest MOW ever on cable.” Soon after the film aired I found a musical act, Savvy, at NAPTE (National Association of Television Program Executives) and created an organic show around them. Savvy was so [eager] and their dream was to become pop stars and make impacts of their own. So I created The Wannabes Starring Savvy. I say “organic” [because] the idea derived from Savvy’s mission and their colorful personalities. I had an incredible experience as showrunner and am proud to say that 26 episodes were distributed to over 100 countries before coming to the U.S. on Starz Kids & Family. After two years, it’s still the number one kid show on HBO Latin America. Currently, I am making my directorial debut on a short film called Playground Politix. I’ve had this idea for over 15 years and I’m finally getting it off the ground. It’s a musically driven film highlighting gender bullying. The film will star 20 all American girls and boys who will battle dance for space at the playground. These kids are professional dancers and they can get down! Chuck Maldonado (Step Up Revolution, Stomp the Yard) will choreograph. I am super excited about this piece because I thought it would be a great way to start a conversation about empowering kids as opposed to harping on the “anti-bullying” moniker. Instead of putting the spotlight on the bully, I’d rather highlight and encourage kids to stand up for themselves and for others. I believe it’s a more positive way to combat this adolescent social conflict. I am also working on another independent organic pilot, Super Popular Science Girl, for 11-year-old singer Aishlinn Kivlighn. I am also very excited about this [project] because this will be the first time you’ll see a middle school take on bullies from an intellectual stance with scientific data. Like Playground Politix, Super Popular Science Girl will be seeking distribution. If anyone is interested they can contact Spicerack Productions Inc. at info@SpicerackProductionsInc.com.
Spicer – Dannelly: Diversity can have a huge and infallible impact on society through television and film. We live in a colorful world with universal or not so universal stories from all races. The beauty of the digital age is that all artists of diverse backgrounds and all experiences have more capabilities and accessibility to share their stories. Currently, audiences that can’t find a reflection of themselves in the mainstream turn to online films, television and new media. Sometimes we look to the networks and studios in the U.S. to provide diversity [both] in front and behind the cameras. Oftentimes than not, it doesn’t happen. Some truly try and others just may not care to diversify. Ultimately, it’s about control, which is in turn about money. I believe if actors, writers, directors and producers of all races continue to produce independent quality entertainment, a balance can be achieved. Actually, NPR revealed a study showed that if television shows want to boost their ratings, they should diversify the cast. To me, that goes for businesses as well. If you want to increase profits, you must diversify your staff. It’s so imperative that we persistently work towards balance in all business and media. It’s good for society and just makes perfect sense — plain and simple.
Spicer – Dannelly: Ever heard that expression, “There’s nothing new under the sun”? Well, that may be true however there are stories that haven’t seen the light of day… yet. Even though Christopher Columbus is recorded to have discovered America, it wasn’t new to the Natives. Scientists are unearthing new things every day regarding our existence but it’s not new to God; it’s just new to us. The same thing applies to finding fresh ideas to bring to the screen. For example, Double Dutch existed historically for over 100 years but when I brought the idea to Disney they had no idea Double Dutch had taken off as an international competitive sport. My point is that there are still stories that haven’t been told. Many stories from a woman’s perspective with a woman directing or a person of color’s perspective, there are so many new stories waiting to be “discovered.” You might see the current entertainment industry reprising the same material because they want to repeat success or they’d rather not take a chance on something completely new. I think the audience would happily embrace fresh, qualitative stories that have universal appeal and I have a whole lot of them!
Spicer – Dannelly: When I have an idea that I truly feel passionate about, I mull it for a while. It could be weeks, even years before I put it to paper. There are different reasons for that. Ideas come a dime a dozen but it’s about that fresh twist, that thing that separates it from the rest that needs to be finessed over time in order to make a huge impact. It’s about waiting until the story feels organic and ripe for the time. Something magical happens during that time. That’s why after 15 years it’s finally the perfect time to produce Playground Politix. Writing and producing is a huge labor and if I am going to put my energy into something I want it to be revered as something special, classic even. Those kinds of ideas, they are not fly-by-night ideas. Those are the ones you nurture.
Spicer – Dannelly: This business is not like any other business in the world. Many jobs or careers come with instructions, bar exams and tests you have to pass, or tiers you have to climb before reaching the pinnacle. In this business, you are left to find your way and my advice to any future female producer (or even male producer) [would be to] first know yourself—your strengths and weaknesses, learn to be quiet and listen, hone your craft from every step, respect everyone else’s positions. Then, when you’re truly ready to make that leap, ask God for his blessing. Then be as proactive and productive as you can possibly be! Know your purpose and let that be your guide to success.
Doreen lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. with her family.
For more information about Doreen’s upcoming film Playground Politix and Spicerack Productions, Inc., visit the links below:
Twitter.com — @Playgroundpltx