Photos by Louise Keeton
“I hope when people read our magazine or take in our shows or films they feel the love that we put into the work.”
It has been seven years since BK Fulton retired from his executive position in corporate America and began laying the foundation for the media and investment company Soulidifly Productions, officially established in 2017. As he has eloquently stated in various interviews throughout the years, “I spent the first fifty years of my life doing what I was trained to do, now I am doing what I was made to do.”
In the last year, Soulidifly has made an impact on Broadway. Its first investment in Broadway was Thoughts of a Colored Man, a powerful story of seven Black men and their perspectives on what it means to be Black men in the 21st century. It garnered critical acclaim, winning a GLAAD award for Outstanding Broadway Production and eligibility for a Tony. Thoughts of a Colored Man’s run was successful but due to covid restrictions, the play was forced to close prematurely. It was the number one new show on Broadway during its two month run. This fall, Soulidifly is back on Broadway with August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Piano Lesson, directed by LaTanya Richardson Jackson and starring Samuel L. Jackson, John David Washington, and Danielle Brooks. The Piano Lesson tells the story of the Charles family and their struggle to preserve their family legacy.
The company’s award-winning films helped BK earn membership in the prestigious Producers Guild of America on his first attempt. This year, Soulidlfiy has already had several major successes. Soulidifly’s latest release, A Day to Die, was Bruce Willis’ last film and has garnered a newfound appreciation for the acting chops of both Bruce and his co-star Leon. Soulidifly’s investment in MoviePass 2.0 had over 775,000 sign-ups to its beta launch waitlist. Looking ahead to next year, BK’s top priority is to double down on the company’s investments including a blockbuster cast for The Kill Room with Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman. For this interview, BK spoke with the co-founding editor of SoulVision Magazine, Nicholas Powell, about the future of Soulidifly Productions, the intentions behind the work, and his own personal reflections on life and success.
This year marks the fifth anniversary of Soulidifly Productions. What valuable lessons have you learned in those five years?
In the last five years, I’ve learned that consistency is critical to business success. Typically you see a 3-5 year arch in profitability for startups as they develop their footing. Part of our growth period was hit hard by a global pandemic that could have potentially wiped out years of effort. People weren’t going to the theaters, but fortunately we had online and digital properties that helped us weather the storm.
Because we started our business a few years before the pandemic, we were in a better position than other production companies that started later than we did. I think we had the blessing of good timing on our side. We were able to stay consistent and accordingly emerged on the backend of the pandemic as a stronger company by demonstrating high production values and showing modest revenue. I am grateful we were able to keep our team together.
“Our industry has become prolific at producing our tragedies. We have to be equally prolific about our triumphs too.”
Looking towards the future, are there any stories you would like to produce?
I would love to produce the Chevalier de Saint-Georges story. He was a great Black composer from the 1700s. This year at the Jackson Film Festival, we launched the Soulidifly Productions Blueprint Script & Media Prize, which awards up to $10,000 for the best script on Saint-Georges or Lewis Latimer, the famed scientist who helped Edison create the electric lightbulb. I also hope we get backing for our project Final Four: The Miracle Season about Coach V (Jim Valvano) and the 1983 NC State Wolfpack’s championship run. We also are pitching Asira Awakens, Malik Yoba’s directorial debut. I would love to see our collaboration with Lion Forge Animation on the Mr. Business animated series show up at a major streaming studio like Disney+, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, BET+ or Apple TV.
There is a popular Black history book that we may be able to wrap some stage magic around, and we are in talks to produce a Nina Simone play on Broadway that celebrates her talent and the many people she influenced.
There are a few documentaries I would like to produce—one in the civil rights space, one that highlights our impact on car racing, and another about scientific discovery and invention—all centering around people of color. These are the stories that are not getting told. We need to tell these stories. It is not only good for children who are so-called underrepresented minorities, but it is also good for everyone. Our industry has become prolific at producing our tragedies. We have to be equally prolific about our triumphs too.
When I look at textbooks, I think about my own training and journey. In my youth, I was not aware of any of the heroes and sheroes who happened to look like me. I think if I had been more aware, I would have gone into college with a different belief in myself. I would have done better in high school. I would have done better, period, because I wouldn’t have assumed that all of the great things I saw in the world were not for or from people like me. I lost a few years not including myself in the achievement narrative of humanity. Good stories and receiving better information helped to expand the mind. Stories of success fueled my rise in corporate America and sparked this half of my journey.
Recently, Soulidifly invested in August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson, starring Samuel L. Jackson, John David Washington, and Danielle Brooks. What inspired you to be a part of this production?
August Wilson is one of my favorites. He is Broadway royalty. There is an unreleased story about early August Wilson that I would love to see come to life. I have a friend who is a former corporate executive like myself who wrote a story about her mom who took care of August and became connected with him for a while. This was before August Wilson was the man he would become. He sat in her diner creating what would become some of his greatest work while she nourished him with her food and love. It is a beautiful love story that took place at the dawn of the civil rights movement. It’s him writing his stories of common folk and their trials and tribulations. This was an ordinary sister in a diner who saw a brother struggling and helped him to work it out. He wrote love letters to her and her daughter has the letters Wilson wrote to her mother. These heartfelt letters are beautiful and all end with “From August, With Love.”
“Much like earning a college degree, the rewards in the film and media business are often delayed.”
Beautiful. When you look at your work thus far, what is the message you want people to get from your work?
As I think about our magazine and the work we do in our community, love is at the center. There is a brilliant gentleman I met recently on Martha’s Vineyard. His name is Richard Hunt, a preeminent African American sculptor of our time. He was the first African American sculptor to have an exhibit at MoMA in New York. I found out he had a sculpture in my community in Newport News, Virginia where I was baptized as a kid. This blew my mind! He is now a cherished friend.
Not enough people know his story. Now in his 80s, Richard Hunt is a national treasure. I would love for stories about people like Richard to see the light of day. Richard is someone who cares so much for his fellow man that his life’s work of sculpture is about helping human beings to appreciate each other. There is a lot of love in that sentiment and I hope when people read our magazine or take in our shows or films, they feel the love that we put into the work.
What advice would you give to the next generation of filmmakers?
The young talent I like to work with have a healthy respect for the past but are looking toward the future. I hope they don’t quit too easily when they encounter obstacles because in this business, there are a lot of disappointments. People sometimes don’t do what they say they are going to do. Some of the projects are expensive and if you don’t have the capital, you can’t quite create on the scale you may have hoped for. Tomorrow’s media makers can’t let these realities of the business discourage them from creating great art. I want young creatives to keep going.
We live in the real world and in the real world there are many compelling interests. Somebody likes painting. Somebody likes music. Somebody likes movies. In these spaces, our young people can achieve and exceed what prior generations have done. However, patience will be required.
I often find with young adults that they want all their wins right now and they want fame to happen really fast. Delayed gratification appears to be a punishment to them as opposed to the reward at the end of a long journey.
Much like earning a college degree, the rewards in the film and media business are often delayed. Not everybody gets an Oscar with their first movie. That rarely happens for any movie. If young creatives love this powerful medium however, they will have to crawl before they walk and walk before they run. As they build momentum, build skills, build their portfolios and build their network, then they will likely have more success and one day accept their Oscar, Emmy, Tony or Image award.
We are five years into this with two Broadway shows, 15 books, and 18 films that have been released or are in the works. We’ve learned a lot, won some awards and we are getting better. So I tell the next generation, don’t give up; stay the course. There is a long road to success in this business and they should lean in and enjoy the ride.
What’s up next?
We have a fun sci-fi project with Wes Miller called Future’s Past that will release in the film festival circuit soon. Freedom’s Path should be acquired or released in early 2023. The Kill Room also will come out in 2023. It’s our largest project to-date. Uma Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson reunite in this art world-meets-underworld comedic thriller. Fans have not seen Sam and Uma together since the iconic Pulp Fiction. We will release a few more books next year including 2 novels. I’d like to bring back Thoughts of a Colored Man for travel shows and streaming. I almost forgot to mention our film with Kelly Rowland called 3 Mile Inn. It’s a fun thriller we hope to start shooting this year or early next year. We are going to have a powerful cast co-starring alongside her. A Day to Die did well, so we are looking for actors of Bruce Willis’ and Leon’s caliber to join us in the fun. We are building a production studio in Mississippi that should be operational before the end of the year. The state provides a great tax credit and hopefully, other states will provide additional incentives as well. Finally, we are putting the finishing touches on MediaU.com. It’s our online film school with real university credits and transcripts. We will train the next million media makers and help them build their careers.
A flexible and well-run media company can adjust quickly. We know great stories. We know how to tell them and have assembled an expert team that can package them. We will keep on doing what we are doing and amplify what works and cut what doesn’t. Most of all, I hope to keep enjoying the process of making impactful art. Our fans deserve the very best we can offer.
BK Fulton on film and finances