Starring Texas

Texas A&M's Greg Carter brings filmmaking back to H-Town with multiple movies & reality shows

Texas A&M's Greg Carter brings filmmaking back to H-Town with multiple movies & reality shows

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Back when Greg Carter was studying engineering at Texas A&M, he happened to take a course from Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Charles Gordone. The result was sort of like what happens when you pull the spring-loaded lever in an old pin ball machine. You let it go and the ball flies straight at your goal, then suddenly PING! it bounces off something and heads in an entirely unplanned direction.

And just like that, everything changes.

Almost-engineer-turned-writer-turned-filmmaker-turned TV producer Carter seems to specialize in morphing. He has so many new productions in the works it was hard to keep them straight during our phone interview. Not a problem, though. We can get clear on his dizzying array of projects when he’s in Houston for two events hosted by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH).

  “There will always be people who hate your movie,” Carter says, “but if you put your heart into it, there will be people who respond to your material.” 

He and mega producer Elizabeth Avellán, co-founder of Troublemaker Studios (From Dusk Til Dawn, Spy Kids) will participate in a discussion after a screening of the blacktino Friday evening and then talk about their careers and advise high school students Saturday morning at the Glassell School of Art. The pair met while they were both film students at Rice.

Born in Arkansas, Carter grew up in Houston and attended Milby High. He graduated from Texas A&M but after that serendipitous class with the famed playwright he redirected himself towards writing for the big screen and obtained his MFA in Filmmaking Studies from Rice University.

His own screenplay, Fifth Ward, became his first film which he also directed, produced and edited — out of necessity, not desire. He couldn’t find anyone else to do it.

Once more, circumstances became life-changing. Fifth Ward won Best Feature at the New Orleans Black Film Festival (1997) and both Best Feature and Best Director at the 30th Parallel Film Festival in Austin (1998). That same year it became an official selection at SXSW in Austin. It was the tipping point.

Fifth Ward was picked up by York/Maverick Entertainment and released nationwide in 2000 to Blockbuster and Hollywood Videos and ran on Pay-Per-View channel BET Action and on Black Starz Encore.

Greg Carter, the full-fledged filmmaker had launched.

 “Film school is no guarantee," Carter says. "Some people come out of film school but they have nothing to say. You need to experience life to have stories to tell.” 

Since that first release, he’s been the writer, director, or producer (and sometimes all three) of 19 features and documentaries. He knows his audience, the young, hip hop, Black, Latino or Asian. His latest film, Dysfunctional Friends, just premiered in Los Angeles and stars Meagan Good, Stacy Dash, Tatyana Ali and former NFL player Terrell Owens.

Stacy Keibler, of the golden dress and on George Clooney’s arm at the Oscars Sunday, plays a professional sports groupie.

Many of Carter's films have been award-winners including Resurrection: The J.R. Richard Story, starring David Ramsey (Con Air, Pay It Forward) which took home a Gold Remi from WorldFest Houston International Film Festival (2005) and Waters Rising, the Best Docu-Drama at the San Diego Black Film Festival (2007).

Over the last four years, Carter has been transitioning from Houston to Los Angeles but still spends a lot of time in town each month (his two teenage kids live here). This summer, he plans to bring three romantic comedy productions to H-Town — two have small budgets, with local directors Joe Elmore and Cliff McDean attached. One will be a much bigger film, with a heftier budget, that Carter will direct himself.

He’ll announce more details of these productions while at the MFAH’s blacktino screening Friday evening.

True to the Fifth Ward

Carter has always been one to give back to the community and sees this as an opportunity to reach out to Houston and Texas’ film industry. These productions will hire lots of locals for crew as well as talent.

When time permits, Carter also teaches filmmaking. He founded Houston’s Fifth Ward Young Filmmaker’s Project and instructed more than a hundred students from 1992-1995 and was recognized at that time by then-Mayor Bob Lanier for his service and contributions to the Fifth Ward community. He’s also taught filmmaking at Project Row Houses, opening the eyes of underprivileged youngsters to the craft and art of storytelling through film.

Education is vitally important to Carter and his advice to aspiring filmmakers is firmly, “Get an education, PERIOD.” There have been times in his life when it was a struggle to pay rent but he always had his education to fall back on. It doesn’t have to be film school either, he admits.

“Film school is no guarantee," Carter says. "Some people come out of film school but they have nothing to say. You need to experience life to have stories to tell.”

The late Stanley Kubrick (The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey) is Carter’s favorite filmmaker and Kubrick once expressed his regret that he didn’t make more movies.

“Every film he made was such a major big deal," Carter says. Carter warns against waiting until everything is perfect, “If you have a chance to make a movie, take it, grab it. Don’t wait. How long are we going to be on this planet? How many movies can we make in that time?”

Fear of failure is often what delays filmmakers. “There will always be people who hate your movie,” Carter says, “but if you put your heart into it, there will be people who respond to your material.”

Recently, Carter has begun producing reality shows for television. He was in San Antonio this week to shoot episodes for Coast to Coast Cheerleaders and another series Exotic Dancers of Houston is currently in post-production. (Hmmm, that one begs for a future article.) A third he’s producing is Project Street Light, a contest between young filmmakers who are given a micro budget and followed with cameras as they make their movies.

Carter is well-respected by his hometown film community for his accessibility, talent and his giving nature. I ask how one knows if he has become a good filmmaker?

He laughs and says, “If someone gives you more money to make another one!”