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Shari Carpenter

Filmmaker Shari Carpenter was born on July 14, 1961 in Washington, D.C. She is one of the first African American script supervisors to join the film union Local 161. Her mother, Vivian Carpenter, was a homemaker and her father, Horace Carpenter, was an aspiring artist. As a child, Carpenter was a natural storyteller and wrote several short stories. The 1970s blaxploitation era films also inspired her. She received her diploma from McKinley High School in 1979 and her B.F.A. degree from New York University in 1984.

Carpenter’s career began in 1990 when she became the script supervisor on Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever. She has worked on most of his films since then including Malcolm X in 1992 and Inside Man in 2005. As a filmmaker she has written and directed several short films including The Assistant and Since Lisa, which won several awards including Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame and the Black American Cinema Society Awards. Her films were selected to appear on BET Jazz’s The Best Shorts. Carpenter’s debut feature film, Kali’s Vibe, won the Jury Award and the Audience Award for Best Feature in 2002 at the Denver Pan African Film Festival. It was also nominated for the first annual Gordon Parks Award and won the Martha’s Flavor Fest Screenplay Competition.

Carpenter has received grants from the Eastman Fund as well as the New York State Council for the Arts. She has appeared as a panelist on the Black Filmmakers in the Director’s Chair Africana.com Roundtable. She also teaches several seminars on directing actors, screenwriting and script supervision. In 2004, she won the Oregon Writers Colony fiction award for her short story, Ashes. Carpenter currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.

Shari Carpenter was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on January 31, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.037

Sex

Female

Interview Date

1/31/2007

Last Name

Carpenter

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

McKinley Technology High School

New York University

Jesse LaSalle Elementary School

LaSalle-Backus Education Center

Cedar Grove Preparatory Academy

Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Any

First Name

Shari

Birth City, State, Country

Washington

HM ID

CAR12

Speakers Bureau Preferred Audience

Any age with an interest in film and television production, script supervision, and screenwriting.

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes - 0 - $500

Favorite Season

Fall

Speaker Bureau Notes

Preferred Audience: Any age with an interest in film and television production, script supervision, and screenwriting.

State

District of Columbia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Greece

Favorite Quote

A Man's Reach Should Exceed His Grasp.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

7/14/1961

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

French Fries

Short Description

Filmmaker Shari Carpenter (1961 - ) was one of the first African American script supervisors to join the film union Local 161.

Employment

40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks

John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Favorite Color

Orange

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Shari Carpenter's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Shari Carpenter lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Shari Carpenter describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Shari Carpenter describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Shari Carpenter describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Shari Carpenter describes her neighborhood in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Shari Carpenter describes her father's involvement with the Nation of Islam

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Shari Carpenter recalls discrimination within her African American neighborhood

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Shari Carpenter describes St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Shari Carpenter remembers family holidays during her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Shari Carpenter recalls her early awareness of racial discrimination

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Shari Carpenter describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Shari Carpenter describes her parents' professions

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Shari Carpenter describes her experiences at Jessie LaSalle Elementary School

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Shari Carpenter recalls her influences in elementary school

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Shari Carpenter describes her experiences at Bertie Backus Junior High School

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Shari Carpenter describes her high schools in Dallas, Texas and Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Shari Carpenter remembers the movies that influenced her in high school

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Shari Carpenter describes her decision to attend New York University

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Shari Carpenter describes her experiences at New York University

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Shari Carpenter remembers the theater program at New York University

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Shari Carpenter describes her appearance while attending New York University

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Shari Carpenter describes her work at John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Shari Carpenter remembers how she came to work for Spike Lee

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Shari Carpenter recalls the impact of 'School Daze' on her career

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Shari Carpenter describes her first short film, 'Too Much Stuff'

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Shari Carpenter remembers working on Spike Lee's 'Do The Right Thing'

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Shari Carpenter describes her work on 'Mo' Better Blues,' pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Shari Carpenter describes her work on 'Mo' Better Blues,' pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Shari Carpenter reflects upon the portrayal of African Americans in film

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Shari Carpenter describes her second short film, 'Since Lisa'

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Shari Carpenter describes her early work as script supervisor for Spike Lee

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Shari Carpenter remembers working on Spike Lee's 'Malcolm X'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Shari Carpenter describes her mentors in the film industry

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Shari Carpenter describes her short film, 'Since Lisa'

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Shari Carpenter describes her short film, 'Kali's Vibe'

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Shari Carpenter talks about black female film directors

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Shari Carpenter talks about her mentors in the film industry

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Shari Carpenter reflects upon her role on 'The Fort of Saint Washington'

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Shari Carpenter describes the different styles of filmmaking

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Shari Carpenter describes Spike Lee's film, 'Inside Man'

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Shari Carpenter talks about the ABC Writers Development Program

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Shari Carpenter describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Shari Carpenter talks about the black female directors she admires

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Shari Carpenter describes her hopes for the African American film community

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Shari Carpenter talks about her family's support

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Shari Carpenter reflects upon her life

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

5$8

DATitle
Shari Carpenter remembers how she came to work for Spike Lee
Shari Carpenter describes her short film, 'Kali's Vibe'
Transcript
It's 1985, you're writing short stories, trying to get a job at Conde Nast, what eventually becomes the job that puts you in the direction that you would, or puts you on the road?$$Well, it's not the job, it's the experience. Nineteen eighty-six [1986] I see a movie called 'She's Gotta Have It' and here is Nola Darling who's pretty much the same age as me, she lives in Brooklyn [New York], I live in Harlem [New York, New York] at the time probably, she looks sort of like me, we could be friends. They shot this movie in Brooklyn. I see this young black guy who I don't know, although, I should. I don't know him from NYU [New York University, New York, New York] but I should. And the first time I saw it, it just changed my life. It made me really think that you could actually live in New York [New York] and make films, I had never thought that or known that before. So I saw the film at least two times maybe three. And at that point, Spike [Spike Lee] was, you know, he's a marketing genius, he's standing outside the theater [Cinema Studio, New York, New York]. Its only playing at that theater that's not even there anymore where Barnes and Nobles [Barnes and Noble Booksellers, Inc.] is on 68th Street [sic. 66th Street] I think.$$(OFF CAMERA VOICE): Broadway.$$Used to be whatever that theater was, that's the only theater it's playing at. Lines are around the block constantly, and he's standing outside peddling tee shirts and buttons. And so I come outside one day and there he is and I buy a tee shirt and he gives me--he doesn't have any more buttons so he gives me the button off his jacket and he's like, "Are you still at NYU?" And I'm like, "No, I graduated." I mean, I couldn't believe he still remembered me or that he did remember me. And I got it in my head, I wanna work--no, he wrote a companion book of 'She's Gotta Have It' called, maybe the book is called 'She's Gotta Have It' [sic. 'Spike Lee's Gotta Have It: Inside Guerrilla Filmmaking,' Spike Lee], and it's a journal of his experiences trying to get the film made and then getting it made, and then it's success. And at that point in 1986, it's a great guide to an independent film makers career. And I read it and I loved it, and I decided I wanna work with this guy. I'm gonna find a way to work with this guy. And I wrote him a fan letter which is kind of what was--$$No, go ahead you wrote him a fan letter.$$I wrote him a fan letter, he has--$$What did the letter say?$$The letter says, "I read your--I saw your movie, I read your book, you know, I just thought it was amazing. I know everybody and their mother must be coming out of the woodwork to wanna work with you and be a production assistant but I really, really would love to be a production assistant on any of your projects." And I knew he had a company in Brooklyn but I could not for the life of me find out the address for 40 Acres [40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, Brooklyn, New York]. And somewhere in 'She's Gotta Have It,' he mentions his father's [Bill Lee] name. So I looked his father's name up in the Brooklyn phone book and I mailed the letter to him care of his father. And time passes and Spike does--'School Daze' comes out, Spike does a book-signing at a bookstore for 'School Daze' the book ['Uplift the Race: The Construction of School Daze,' Spike Lee] that goes with 'School Daze' and I went to that. And I went up to him afterwards to get him to sign my book and I said, "I wrote you a fan letter, did you get it?" And he said, "No, where'd you send it to?" "Oh, I sent it to your father's address." He said, "Where did you get my father's address?" I said, "I looked it up in the phone book." And he got this look on his face. Spike likes ingenuity in a certain way and I think he thought it was interesting that I had gone that path. He said, "I didn't get the letter, go talk to Monty [Monty Ross], he'll tell you the address of the office." So they gave me the address of the office. I resent the letter, this time with a little picture in it so he'd remember me. And maybe a month or two after sending the letter, they called me and asked me did I wanna come work on a music video. And that was sort of the--that was the beginning.$After 'Since Lisa,' your next professional break in your own work comes, is it in 2002?$$In my own work? Let's see, in 1995 I wrote a script called 'Kali's Vibe' and it did well for me, I eventually shot it in 1999. But there used to be down at Nuyorican Poets Cafe [New York, New York], they used to do a screenplay reading series called, I believe, First Tuesdays [ph.]. And they would bring in--they would have a script reading, they would bring in professional actors and they would bring in a lot of independent New York [New York] film industry folks to come in and listen and possibly get attached. And that's sort of what happened for 'Kali's Vibe' for a little while. There was a company called Seneca Falls [Seneca Falls Productions], two white women producers [Kelley Forsyth and Sarah Vogel] who were interested and for a year we tried to get this (laughter) film off the ground with varying degrees of success. I mean, one of the things I think that I was influenced by then and I probably still am to some degree was what Spike [Spike Lee] had done, which was to find all these new black actors to work. And I always liked that and that's what I had originally envisioned 'Kali's Vibe' being, an opportunity to find new actors and give them jobs. But then when I got with these producers of course they're trying to, you know, raise money so then we--$$They're attaching names.$$That's what they wanna do. So, at one point we're having conversations, we find, we get connected to ICSM [ph.], the independent arm of ICM [ICM Partners] in California, and they have connections to Janet Jackson, Jada Pinkett [Jada Pinkett Smith], and someone else who's, Halle Berry. This is in the mid-'90s [1990s] before all these women are, Halle hasn't won an Academy Award [Oscar] yet so she's kind of trying make her way. So they're like, "Okay, Shari [HistoryMaker Shari Carpenter], well, this is how it goes. You can't approach all three of them at the same, you have to approach one at a time. So who's your favorite?" And I'm thinking, none of them (laughter), but I have to decide who do I want them to take my script to. And my script has a lesbian bent to it, so now we've got black actresses who are not notoriously great at wanting to do gay subject matter. And these are big name women who are not necessarily gonna wanna do gay subject matter. It was just--it was exciting for a minute because it looked like, okay, if one of these people says, yes, this movie will go. But it didn't work out and it was a lot of back and forth like that. At one point I saw an article about Lisa Bonet in a magazine and she was heavy into yoga and she looked beautiful and she had these long locks. She looked very much like my main character so I wanted to go after her. Well, Lisa Bonet wants to do bigger films, she doesn't wanna be the lead in independent films. She wants to be a supporting actress in a Will Smith film. MC Lyte wanted to be an actress so we went with her for a while. It just was all this back and forth of going with names and ultimately what we ended up doing was what I had originally wanted, was very grassroots, you know, penny-pinching here and there and everywhere and a crop of young actors from New York who were wonderful but it was a very, very crazy shoot. So--$$But that film is the one that then went to Denver?$$That film has gone all over the world.$$But it's received a certain number of--$$It won awards at Denver Pan African Film Festival, it won the Audience Award and the Jury Award at Denver Pan African, it won a Vision Award at the Los Angeles [California] Pan African [Pan African Film and Arts Festival]. It was under consideration for an Independent Spirit Award but I think the downside--the reason it didn't get an Independent Spirit Award nomination is because the films have to be theatrically release and it was not theatrically released. Yeah, I got some grant money for that, I mean, it's been certainly the most successful thing I've done.$$And you've made how many?$$I've made two features and four or five shorts.