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The heart of BLP Film Studios = A heart for creatives in Memphis

BLP Film Studios executives Carolyn Henry and Cecilia Barnes want to put Memphis on the film “production” map. 

It is how they want to express their love for Memphis and its creative community.

BLP Film Studios is promoted to have the potential to be the second largest African-American owned film studio in the United States, second only to Tyler Perry Studios. 

But these women are more than just Jason Farmer’s, business partners. They are the heart of BLP Film Studios. Farmer is the former Marine and business executive who has been working to launch BLP.

During a conversation about the project, both Henry and Barnes expressed their love for Memphis and the creative community.

They have a vision to the put Memphis on the film “production” map by providing sound stages, music recording and film studios: Simply put, a space to create. 

“I have a love for young people, especially in the creative space,” said Henry. 

Carolyn Henry (right) and Cecilia Barnes with Jason Farmer. (Courtesy photo)

Henry, chief financial officer for BLP Film Studios, cultivated a robust career in finance and accounting in Memphis after leaving her hometown of Clarksville, Mississippi.

Yet, she appreciates people who operate via the creative (right) side of the brain, having managed artists and served as a producer on several series and even a movie. 

“I manage a hip hop/pop artist, a classical jazz singer and I was part of the “City of Crosses,” a 13-episode drama released worldwide in 2021, and (I) have producer’s credit for the movie “Hidden Orchards.”

From Henry’s point of view, BLP Film Studios is giving Memphis creatives a space to hone their craft, one where they can learn and grow in music, film, acting and more. 

“The problem is our people have to leave to find opportunities…going to L.A. (Los Angeles), New York, Atlanta,” said Henry.

She continued, “Between Memphis’ rich musical heritage and other creative outlets, BLP will allow creatives to stay here, providing them a space where they can follow their passion and have doors opened to them.”

And that mindset goes beyond local doors. BLP Film Studios plans to put Memphis on the map, nationally and internationally, with a tagline “Memphis-based, global reach.”  

“The best way to facilitate growth in Memphis is to allow its art to reach worldwide,” said Cecilia Barnes, chief legal counsel for BLP. “That’s what we plan to do for Memphis creatives.” 

A rendering of BLP studios.

Barnes, recently named a Super Woman in Business by the Memphis Business Journal, is a native of Gulfport, Mississippi, and 20-plus year friend of Henry. 

When Farmer and Henry approached her, she was excited about the company’s business plan and saw the effort as an opportunity to create a new industry in Memphis.

“We will have a studio campus in this beautiful, unsung city, where multiple production companies can come to create, and where people of color can find a home,” said Barnes.

Barnes made Memphis her home after finishing law school at Vanderbilt. Memphis was the place that gave her a chance.

“This is one way I’m giving back to Memphis, a city that has given me so much,” Barnes said. 

BLP originally hoped to break ground last fall on the $300-500 million project in Whitehaven, company executives still are working to finalize public and private funding, while planning to soon start the daunting task of clearing 65 acres of trees on the 100-acre property.

“There is still so much to be done, and a lot of moving parts, but the hope is to start construction by fall of this year,” said Henry.

“Studio spaces will be built to spec,” added Barnes. “We are actively reaching out to production companies to gauge their needs and desires, and depending on what they want, the timeline hinges on who we bring in and how quickly we can get those deals going.” 

The goal is to officially open 18-24 months after starting construction, barring extenuating circumstances.

The BLP team. (Courtesy photo)

While the core team (Farmer, Henry and Barnes) is busy behind the scenes, laying the foundation for BLP Film Studios, they also have begun engaging the creative community. 

“We are working with the legendary David Porter (from STAX) to create a catalogue, accessible to people on our campus and worldwide, with royalties. We will give people an opportunity to present their music to filmmakers, or even create something right on our campus for films,” said Henry. 

Filmmaker and documentarian, LaKethen Mason, supports the work BLP Film Studios is doing. 

“I am excited and encouraged when members of our community realize the need for physical infrastructure, intellectual property education and protection, and a space to create,” said Mason. 

“Their work will elevate the work we’re doing at Memphis Film Works to train and develop emerging filmmakers and is the next critical step to ensuring Memphis can accommodate the motion picture industry. I just want to make sure we’re cultivating film crews of color to support the work in these spaces.” 

Creatives interested in engaging with BLP can start the conversation by completing the contact form on BLP Film Studios website (https://blpfilmstudios.com/). Tracee Roderick Comfort, a Memphis-native, filmmaker and VP of Content for BLP, will follow-up with prospects. 

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