Latin Business Today (LBT) chats with entrepreneur, producer and songwriter Cindy Cowan who co-founded Initial Entertainment Group (IEG) with Graham King in 1995, and it became the leading film production and foreign sales company. Her latest entity is Cindy Cowan Entertainment and Omni Cultural TV Fest. All photos property of Cindy Cowan.
LBT: Cindy please tell us a little about yourself, your background and family…Did they have an impact on your values and drive?
Our family was in the hotel business, The Diplomat, in South Florida. It was the home to many entertainers who would come and perform there throughout the years, such as Sammy Davis Jr., Liza Minnelli, Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, and Bob Hope to name a few.
Because so many celebrities were always around, and the hotel was taking center stage as a premiere destination spot in Miami/Hollywood, my family became adamant that my sister and I had our own spotlight in which to shine. So, we began riding horses at a very young age. By the time I was 10, I had won my first world championship.
I have been extremely driven ever since.
After graduating college, I came back to Florida to work at my father’s hotel for a bit. I quickly became restless, so I moved to Los Angeles as a songwriter. I wrote songs for the likes of Sinitta, Engelbert Humperdinck and Howard Hewitt from the group Shalamar before getting into the film business
My parents never really wanted me to get in the business, they had seen what fame had done to their friends, and they were very protective.
Having grown up with the biggest stars though, I certainly wasn’t star struck when I arrived in Hollywood. After going to my first film set, I knew I had found my calling.
The drive I had learned from my youth coupled with my blind ambition to succeed paved a path for my future.
Jay Leno who performed at our hotel, now lives behind me in Los Angeles.
LBT: Please share some prior business successes and failures which honed your expertise to become one of the most influential and successful female producers in the entertainment industry. What skills did you acquire in business that prepared you for becoming a producer?
I started out as a PA (production assistant) on a film set. I had no idea what I was doing, I just knew I wanted to be in the business. One day, the company I was working for sent me to a set in Canada.
It turned out the producers were stealing money from the budget and needed someone to take the fall if they got caught. Well, I was the one to catch their scheme.
I called the bond company to report what I had found and befriended all of the actors, assuring them I would get the film delivered on time for them without the set being shut down. Little did I realize I had just reported my employer.
The bond company ended up protecting me and I became a hero to the actors and crew. Those relationships carried on when I launched my own company a few years later.
Honing a vision through preparation
I studied Psychology in college. I truly think that this knowledge, along with my gift of running a set in difficult situations, has made me who I am today.
I also studied the film market place. While most of my friends were off doing their passion projects, I wanted to make what the audience wanted to see and what I knew I could sell.
I had a way of networking with talent while never overstepping my bounds. I had a knack of getting to know agents and managers who became eager to help put my projects together.
In the 5 years I had my last company, we had either bought, financed or produced over 25 films. It was a grueling schedule that I am not sure I would want to repeat, as it compromised my personal life at times, but it paid off in the end and I am extremely proud of what I have accomplished.
LBT: Has the entertainment industry made progress in the acceptance women and minorities? Please share any examples of progress as well as ongoing challenges to achieve success in the entertainment industry.
The entertainment industry has really come a long way in the past few years when it comes to women and minorities.
It is almost fashionable right now to hire both. The “MeToo” movement shed a light on a lot of things and certainly unlocked many doors…and then of course came Wonder Woman, never did Hollywood think that a female director or star could carry a film that would rival all the boys
We all saw Black Panther, which blew our minds and was a commercial success. Both of these films changed the argument that these types of movies would never be accepted or have overseas value.
Now the door is open. Hollywood is making films such as Blackklansman, one of Spike Lee’s best, and Green Book, which won the Oscar this year for my friend Peter Farrelly.
Look at Crazy Rich Asians–our world is finally expanding.
I never saw being female as that much of a challenge though. I knew that because I was a girl the doors would open, the trick was to be smart enough to stay in the room once you got there.
The difference now is…I am not the only girl in it.
LBT: Did you have a ‘trusted’ advisor, mentor or coach with whom you have worked, consulted or confided in? If so please share a few examples of how their input has been invaluable.
I actually didn’t. There weren’t many people I knew that were doing what I was doing back then. Most people couldn’t understand why I didn’t just become an actress or meet a man and call it quits. I learned under fire but looked up to various women–who I wish could have mentored me–like Sherry Lansing, who ran Paramount when I started out and Ruth Bader Ginsburg who I always admired for so many reasons. There was one man who changed my career though. His name was John Miller and he gave me a line of credit from a bank when I was just starting my old company, IEG.
He took me out to lunch one day and said he hadn’t started another company besides New Line or Miramax, but he thought there was something to what we were doing so he was going to back me and my partner, Graham. I am not sure where I would be without him giving us that LOC back then, so for many reasons I guess he was my angel at the time.
There was also a couple from the group The Fifth Dimension, Marilyn Mccoo and Billy Davis Jr. They gave me the courage to move to LA and follow my dreams when no one else believed I could. So, I guess, they count as my mentors, too!
Today I mentor anyone who needs my help. It is very important to me to leave a footprint.
LBT: Cindy please tell us about your business and how it’s unique. What was your motivation or inspiration behind establishing your business?
Just when I thought I was going to come back with a baby toe in the water, to see if I still liked producing, my company took-off with a vengeance.
For those that don’t know, I had retired for about 6 years before starting this new entity Cindy Cowan Entertainment.
I announced a true-life horror film with Sony and will have another announcement coming soon from the same studio. I am doing a music-based road-trip film with Lance Bass from ‘NSync.
I am going to India at the end of the year to film a political thriller with director Gary Fleder and shooting a small indie film in September with director Jeff T. Thomas. I am also developing a huge action film for another studio, not announced yet so I can’t say.
I also have two bio pics in the works; one in the faith-based world centering on Eric McElvenny who became the fastest amputee to ever run the Iron Man after losing his leg in Afghanistan, and the other on Jackie Mitchell, the only female to ever strike out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
I am about to get into TV with a project based on Ellis Island that is very near and dear to my heart for many reasons. We are also developing a mini-series with a well-known music group.
What makes my company different is that we make many different kinds of films, I don’t just stick to one genre. I do what I believe in, and that I know will resonate with an audience. I also have to like the people that are working on it with me.
Once I come on board a project, I am very tenacious and won’t stop until I get it made.
What motivated me to start CCE was the realization that there was still a need for good films and TV outside of the superhero universe.
I’m inspired every day to tell and watch good stories that both teach and entertain.
LBT: Balancing professional and personal lives is a continual challenge for entrepreneurs, how do you handle it?
This has been a challenge for me and is one of the reasons I retired for over 6 years from the business. When I was in the midst of my last company, my fiancé at the time, gave me an ultimatum: it was either him or my company.
After 3 years together, we broke up. I quit the business shortly after, selling my company, to become a girl again. I am southern and was raised to be the girl behind the man…I just always wanted to be the girl next to him instead.
It is still a challenge as our hours in this business can be very long, and my job takes me out of town for months at a time.
The one thing I will say though, is that this time in coming back, it very important for me to have a balance. Weekends are my own and my personal life comes first.
LBT: Cindy what drew you to the Omni Cultural TV Fest?
In a word…Kiki.
When Kiki first told me about her idea of creating this festival, I was in. We have been friends for decades and to me this was her best idea yet. Creators of TV have a very hard time getting in front of the proper people there are a ton of film festivals where you can network, but TV has been much more of a closed-door community.
Hopefully festivals such as OCTVF will change that.
LBT: What are you hoping to find at the Omni Cultural TV Fest that you might consider that developing at your production Company?
I am not sure, and that is what makes this so exciting. Discovering a new voice is very intriguing and since my company is open to doing so many different things, we will really have our eyes open for a new creator.
LBT: Cindy this is an excellent opportunity to introduce emerging producers. Do you have any expectations for the Omni Cultural Tv Fest moving forward?
My expectation for this festival is to become a destination for emerging talent across the board. This is only the beginning, a spring board so that one day your projects can be brought to fruition and be exhibited at a TV market such as Napte.
LBT: What does it take to sell a project and get it green lit?
A very strong voice to start. A passion to see it through.
A solid treatment, screenplay, look book, or if possible, reel to show your vision. The more you can do to drive your project forward the better.
If you are connected and can get to a show runner or talent that is viable in today’s market, by all means add that too. A good package will put your project on the front of a pile.
Then, have faith that the right people will love it as much as much as you do
LBT: Are there any exciting updates coming on May 1st?
Women In Film just joined us and became a partner.
We also have a lot of announcements to make in terms of our panels and the people that will be speaking on them.
How can everyone get involved with the Omni Cultural Tv Fest?
Visit our website: Omni Cultural Tv Fest
Submit your projects, volunteer, buy a ticket, visit a panel. We are open to all who have a passion for this medium.
LBT: Cindy what are the rewards you value most from starting and owning your own business?
There have been numerous rewards.
To start a company and have it recognized with so many awards and accolades has been amazing. Also, to be one of the first female trailblazers in my field has always left me with an incredible sense of accomplishment.
Couple that with doing what you love, getting the opportunity to travel all around the world, learning and creating the most fascinating stories, while meeting some of the most interesting people, and all I can say is, I feel blessed every day.
Likewise, I love to give back, sharing my ups and downs with people starting out in the business, mentoring them as they climb the ranks, and feeling proud to watch them succeed.
LBT: Any future plan for your business?
My business is on fire right now with all of the projects I mentioned before, as well as some I cannot talk about.
This year will see more studio based films, more television, and a cross promotion in music.
I also want to do more bio pics, where I get a chance to highlight the stories of some individuals that need to be told. In this crazy political climate, I think it is important to show films and TV shows where basic humanity was and is emphasized in a way that makes us reflect on our own lives in a positive manner.
It is really great to be able to share stories right now, I just hope that once again I can trailblaze into this new path and make a difference.
LBT: Thank you for spending some time us Cindy and best of luck with the Omni Cultural TV Fest and your many projects.