New Urban Crime Drama ‘Dope Fiend’ Was Mobbed When Tested Before A Live Audience. Now You Can Watch It On Demand

Written by Dana Sanchez

A group of young black filmmakers and entrepreneurs who sold their urban crime drama to Hollywood power player Byron Allen, will get to see their work distributed tomorrow on video-on-demand streaming platforms everywhere.

Allen’s Entertainment Studios acquired North American rights to “Dope Fiend,” the story of three warring families trying to survive in the gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford–Stuyvesant. “Dope Fiend” debuts on VOD through Freestyle Digital Media.

Debuting on video on demand, “Dope Fiend” gets to be part of an empowering distribution network for people historically underrepresented in Hollywood.

Allen’s company is “a constant game changer in distribution,” said “Dope Fiend” producer Ephraim “Fetti” Benton in a Moguldom interview.

“The video-on-demand tech route … puts us directly into consumers’ homes or at their fingertips through mobile devices worldwide,” Benton told Moguldom.

Even before “Dope Fiend” was completed, it attracted buzz when it won Best Feature Film at the Newark International Film Festival in 2016.

Benton is an actor, producer and director, community leader, entrepreneur and father who has appeared in award-winning and critically noteworthy films such as “Precious,” “Gun Hill Road”, “The Place Beyond The Pines” and Lisa France’s “Anne B. Real.” He was the lead in Rik Cordero’s “Inside A Change” as Chris Price.

Written and directed by Ron Elliot, “Dope Fiend” features a cast that includes Andra Fuller (as Profit), Malik Yoba (as Velo), Hisham Tawfiq (as Prince), Tobias Truvillion (as Big G), and Marquise Jackson (as Lil Bam).

Shawn ‘OG Turtle’ Lindsey, Andra Fuller, Malik Yoba, and Ephraim Benton. Photo: Skeemaholic Society

 

It’s the story of crooked business developers with plans to take over Bed-Stuy through gentrification. Money, drugs, and violence are used to manipulate the lives of three families, forcing them to address their problems or face destruction. Each person’s decision affects the lives of the community at large, illustrating how we all contribute to each others survival or destruction, according to a Freestyle Digital Media press release.

Benton, who is constantly developing his own projects, has already produced, executive produced, written, directed and starred in multiple films including “Brown Paper Bags,” and “3 Quarters of Face Value.”

In addition to creating Daddy Daughter Publishing with his young daughter, Benton has used his life experience to give back to the Bedford-Stuyvesant community with the annual Daddy Children’s Day, The Bed-Stuy Community Youth & Cultural Fair, and the Chillin On Da Corner & Beyond Film Series.

Benton spoke to Moguldom about why this is one of the greatest times to be a black filmmaker.

Ephraim Benton, producer of “Dope Fiend” Photo: Skeemaholic Society

 

Moguldom: You’re an actor, producer, writer and director of your own and other people’s work in film. How does your diversity of skills in front of — and behind — the camera help chip away at Hollywoood’s diversity problem?

Ephraim Benton: It definitely helps a lot being well rounded in this business. I’ve been in this business for 23 years as an actor and blessed to be able to make the transition behind the camera. This is one of the greatest times to be a black filmmaker and tell our stories with our unique voices. The best time was back in the 90s. It was much harder and super expensive (back then) to make a film, but in this digital space it’s much easier to pick up a camera and hopefully produce a good quality project with a low budget. With the help of my team, we can literally create real characters and true stories that are a reflection of the community that are generally touched on or stereotyped.

Moguldom: With so many ways to tell the stories you care about, why did you choose drug issues as the filter through which to tell the story about gentrification in a Brooklyn neighborhood?

Ephraim Benton: Actually the story was originally based on the life of my very good friend Executive Producer Shawn “OG Turtle” Lindsey. (It was originally) about how he came up in an era where dope was prevalent in his life and tied into him and his siblings being raised by their grandmother. It wasn’t until the director and writer Ron Elliot (conversed more with Lindsey that they) decided to add multiple layers to the story. There was a deeper message to convey about the dark side of gentrification going on in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. A ploy where crooked business developers used drugs and dealers to gentrify the neighborhood. There’s also a modernized tale of the ancient Egyptian story of Isis and Osiris infused in amongst others. It’s a dope story that leaves you fiending for more. Whether it’s money, sex, drugs, power, technology or social media… it can become an addiction where that itch needs to be scratched.

Moguldom: Moguldom.com is about promoting, inspiring and informing diversity in tech. How does your work and the work of your team speak to that?

Ephraim Benton: Well this is an independent film that was envisioned, self-funded and executed by young black men. It’s a big risk to go to theaters and it can be costly, so we decided to go the video-on-demand tech route that puts us directly into consumers’ homes or at their fingertips through mobile devices worldwide. When Freestyle Releasing came knocking at our door, it was a no brainer, especially with our film being acquired by one of the biggest and most powerful independent producers in Hollywood. It’s an honor to be under Byron Allen’s company film slate. (He)’s a constant game changer in distribution.

Moguldom: What should everyone know about “Dope Fiend” that other news media haven’t covered?

Ephraim Benton: When we won the Newark International Film Festival last year, “Dope Fiend” was only 80 percent completed. It was a rough pre-final cut that we used to get feedback and test a live audience. In one night we sold out two 350-seat theaters at the same time with standing room only. It caused a fire hazard with people sitting on the floors and aisles. No one expected to see what they saw and were blown away. We drop a lot of knowledge in this film and know people will love it. It also felt good being able to tap into our resources and employ over 40 plus actors and 15-plus crew with an opportunity to shine. Our film and subject matter is as diverse as it gets and speaks on deep issues within other cultures as well. Thank you to everyone that made this film possible.

Moguldom: What’s your wish list for “Dope Fiend” once it’s released on video on demand? What would constitute a success? What would knock it out of the ballpark?

Ephraim Benton: We want to do numbers that make people at least pay attention and catch the eye of executives. We believe this film will gain a cult following and become an instant classic. “Dope Fiend” is already set up to play out as the first American hood trilogy of its kind or as the pilot episode for a hit TV series. It’s definitely a film that executives from HBO, Netflix, A&E, Showtime, Epix, FX, Apple, etc. should check out.

Moguldom: What’s next after “Dope Fiend?”

Ephraim Benton: Well right now I have four projects in the very early stages of being put together or written. Two are TV show ideas and the other two are web series. But it’s way too early to talk about. We’re prepping the next installments for “Dope Fiend.” I’m also the East Coast executive producer of Production for Purple Squirrel Agency. That’s a company where my little brother Lex Lewter produces videos for today’s top music artists through Luti Media. Currently his video he produced for Migos’ “Bad & Bougie” is nominated for an MTV Music Award.

Moguldom: Add anything you’d like to add?

Ephraim Benton: This business is about staying consistent and relevant through all the highs and lows. All it takes is one project that can change your life, but you have to be in the game and ready for when you get called up to bat. That also means reinventing yourself many times over.

You can watch the trailer of “Dope Fiend” here.

“Dope Fiend” director and writer Ron Elliot, Hisham Tawfiq, Andra Fuller and producer Ephraim Benton. Photo: Skeemaholic Society

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