Friday, Jeff 1964(?)–
Jeff Friday 1964(?)–
Film company executive
Even before Jeff Friday was named president of UniWorld Films in 1999, he was known throughout the business world as a skilled marketer and successful entrepreneur. His passion for films and filmmaking led him to the UniWorld Group, the nation’s largest minority-owned and operated advertising and communications company in 1997. As executive director and producer of the Acapulco Black Film Festival, co-sponsored by UniWorld, Friday helped launch an annual, week-long celebration of black cinema that is getting worldwide recognition after only a few years. In 1999 the company began UniWorld Films, a division designed to market and promote black films as well as assisting filmmakers and movie studios in designing promotional campaigns targeted to African Americans.
Friday’s marketing career followed impressive educational pursuits which included graduating cum laude from Howard University and earning his MBA from the Leonard Stern School of Business at New York University in 1987. From there Friday went to work at Bristol Myers International where he developed new markets in Latin America and the Caribbean. It was Friday’s next job that showcased his talent for recognizing the kinds of marketing strategies that spoke to the values and desires of African American consumers.
In 1989 Friday joined Schiefflin & Sommerset, the importers of such fine wines and spirits as Moet & Chandon, Tanqueray, and Dom Perignon. It was Friday who developed promotions which increased demand by black consumers. “The key things are understanding the audience, their sensitivities, their intricacies, their dynamics and their purchasing button,” Friday explained to Jason Elias of Upscale, about his skill in pinpointing his audience. He later used those skills on behalf of the Mingo Group as Vice President of Promotions and Event Marketing in directing new product initiatives for Tyco Toys.
In 1996 Byron Lewis, chairman of the UniWorld Group, decided to create a black film festival in response to the complaints that, as he told Caryl Lewis of the Newark Star-Ledger, “Hollywood doesn’t make movies that show a balanced view of the black life experience.” That notion coupled with the fact that the Acapulco Convention and Tourist Board was encouraging African American dollars to seek their way to the resort town, initiated the Acapulco Black Film Festival. Lewis recruited Friday to executive produce and Warrington Hudlin, founder and executive director of the Black Filmmakers Foundation, to co-sponsor with the UniWorld Group.
The UniWorld Group first achieved recognition three decades earlier by pioneering the marketing of feature films and soundtracks to black audiences beginning with the soundtrack to Shaft by Isaac Hayes in 1972. Other film projects included Glory, Boyz N the Hood, Malcolm X, Dead Presidents and Amistad. Additionally,
At a Glance…
Career: Developed new markets in Latin America and the Caribbean for Bristol Myers International, c. 1987; joined Schiefflin & Sommerset, importers of fine wines and spirits, 1989; joined Mingo Group as Vice President of Promotions and Event Marketing in directing new product initiatives for Tyco Toys, c. 1990s; appointed executive director and producer of the Acapulco Black Film Festival, 1997-; named president of UniWorld Films in 1999; initiated BlackFilmFestAmerica 2000, a national tour of independent black films.
Addresses: Office — UniWorld Films, 100 Sixth Avenue, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10013.
UniWorld markets consumer goods to African Americans for a host of clients which include AT&T, Burger King, Colgate-Palmolive, Pepsi-Cola, Pfizer and others.
The first Acapulco Black Film Festival took place in July of 1997 and screened nine films, held panel discussions and culminated in what would be the highlight of that and future festivals, the awards ceremony. Thirty black film professionals were nominated in five categories and special artistic achievement awards went to actor and director Bill Duke and the actress, Halle Berry. “This is a dream come true,” Friday told Caryl Lucas of the Newark Star-Ledger. “There’s a huge sense of satisfaction that an idea which started less than a year ago had come into fruition.”
The success of the first and subsequent film festivals prompted the UniWorld Group to become more involved in everyday world of marketing black films. To that end, they initiated a new division, UniWorld Films and installed Friday at the president.
“This division will allow us to focus our energies to impact the film community in a variety of ways,” Friday told Business Wire. “From providing alternative venues for independent Black films, to creating opportunities for industry professionals to network, to encouraging African Americans to make movies, UniWorld Films will seek to bridge the gaps that exist between the Black creative community and the film industry.”
Byron Lewis told Business Wire “This new arm of UniWorld will provide [Jeff] the room and resources to effectively realize the goals we’ve set and elevate our involvement in the film industry to new levels.” Friday echoed Lewis, telling Jason Elias of Upscale, “My expertise is in marketing as well as filmmaking,” Friday explained to Jason Elias of Upscale. “So, not only do we have an understanding of black consumers, but we also understand the film business. When we combine these two strengths, we’re a unique force in the business…. I was excited about this position because it’s a chance for me to create some opportunities and to be a trailblazer.”
In addition to the film festival, Friday has initiated other programs to promote black films. One is BlackFilmFestAmerica 2000, a national tour designed to bring independent films to a larger audience. Another is the Black Cinema Café, a monthly event in New York City which spotlights emerging filmmakers. “The overall goal of the Café is to…build the commercial market for black independent films,” Friday told K.D. Shirkani of Daily Variety. This event, initiated by Friday and Reggie Scott, started small but has grown in popularity.
“The first time we screened a film,” Friday reminisced to Brett Kelly of New York, “we invited nine people over and had cocktails and talked about the movie and had a really good time. But by the third one, we had 37 people in my house, and I looked at Reggie and said, “This is ridiculous!’” The screenings were then moved to a SoHo coffeehouse and in January of 2000 the Black Cinema Café began residence as part of the Cinematek program at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
“It’s combining the best elements of a test screening and a cocktail party,” Friday told Kelly. “We just want to build a commercial market. It’s very experimental. It may not work. Maybe America doesn’t want to see independent black films, but I’m not satisfied that anyone has explored it enough to answer that question yet. And we’re committed to answering the question.”
“Over the next five to ten years, I’d like UniWorld Films to be a couple of things,” Friday told Elias of Upscale. “I’d like us to be a one-stop shop for anyone interested in marketing a film to ethnic audiences. Not that our expertise is limited to ethnic audience, but that’s our specialty. I’d also like the Acapulco Black Film Festival to be the pre-eminent international film festival for black filmmakers around the world; I don’t mean African Americans, but blacks from all countries and continents.”
Black Enterprise, February 28, 1999, p. 28.
Business Wire, November 30, 1998; June 18, 1999.
Daily Variety, January 6, 2000.
Michigan Citizen, December 26, 1998, p. B-2.
New York, January 17, 2000, p. 60.
New York Times, January 9, 2000, p. XIV-14.
Sister 2 Sister, October 1999, p.6.
Source, July 1999, p. 116.
Star-Ledger (Newark), July 6, 1997.
Tennessee Tribune, December 16, 1998, p. 4-B.
Upscale, May 1999, p. 28.
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