Jeff Clanagan works behind the scenes, but he has made a name for himself as founder and CEO of CodeBlack Entertainment. CodeBlack was created to promote positive representations of African Americans in film, and the independent film studio is doing just that. Jeff is a pioneer in the urban film market and he’s produced an impressive lineup of films throughout the years such as “Foolish,” “Lockdown” and Shaquille O’Neal’s “All Star Comedy Jam” series. Here, the entertainment veteran shares his path to becoming a Hollywood industrialist.
DELUX: What university did you attend?
Jeff Clanagan: I attended the University of Washington and I majored in Business and Marketing.
DELUX: Was being the CEO of a multimedia entertainment vehicle always your goal? What career moves did you make to get where you are?
JEFF: I actually had a company in high school. I was always working; I used to be a promoter. I promoted parties around the area in high school and I continued throughout my college years. That eventually transitioned into my era of promoting major hip hop artists and concerts. For seven years I promoted majors shows [for] Run DMC, LL Cool J, Ready for the World, and people like that. I honestly don’t know if [becoming] the CEO of my own company was a conscious decision. It just so happens that a lot of times in your career you’re just in the right place at the right time. Because I got in hip hop at the early stages, I ended up being one of the first movers in that market. At that time, the bigger promoters thought that it was just a fad, while I made a business out of it. That moved me into wanting my own company and [wanting to control] my destiny in terms of what I was doing from a professional standpoint. When I was promoting parties and concerts in college, that was not what I intended to pursue. It was just something I was good at. I was able to identify young talent before they were on the national scene. I did the first NWA tour and the first MC Hammer tour, just to name a few.
DELUX: It’s interesting to hear that you are where you are because you took a chance on yourself.
JEFF: Absolutely, that was it. I took advantage of an amazing opportunity. The entertainment industry is a very hard business to break into because a lot of the big guys—especially back then—are the ones controlling the market. But their ignorance and turning their noses up at hip hop left a wide open door for me and other guys to break into the industry.
DELUX: While attempting to build your brand/business, what were some of the most difficult obstacles you faced?
JEFF: The most challenging thing is being the CEO of your own company! In the beginning, it was just me and my partner promoting, and there was a natural flow. But as a company grows and you bring in more people, it changes the dynamic. [It changes] the way that you have to communicate, the way that you talk to people and your expectations of people coming in. Along with all those things, for me personally, budget management was a big thing I had to work on.
DELUX: Besides becoming the CEO of your own company, what would you define as a pivotal point in your career thus far?
JEFF: One of the things I can say about myself is: I am a visionary. I always look ahead. Being a part of the hip hop movement was very important for me. Doing that developed a very broad skillset. People always ask me how I broke into movies and I always tell them that being a promoter helped me out tremendously. You have to wear ten hats when you’re a promoter. I have to book the talent. I have to secure the building. I have to do the advertising. I have to do the marketing plan. [Those] are the same hats you have to wear when running your own company, especially when dealing with movies. The average person doesn’t know what a concert promoter does. They aren’t aware that all the “magic” that takes place on the scene is hard work behind the scenes.
DELUX: What advice helped you out the most in life?
JEFF: I consider myself a researcher. And I would [say] some of the things I’ve found out through my own research have helped me more than anything throughout my career. I still go to school and take classes and that’s important because the industry is constantly changing and there are always new things to learn. [My] staying on top of things and constantly researching information has helped me more than any advice anyone could ever give me.
DELUX: What advice would you give someone who wanted to break into the entertainment industry or become the CEO of a company one day?
JEFF: You have to do the research! Know exactly what it is you want to do. A lot of people don’t take the time to do the research. And the entertainment industry is huge, so you can’t go in to it with a broad idea. You have to do your research and know what you want to do.
DELUX: What is your everyday motivation?
JEFF: My everyday motivation is my kids. It’s not the business; it’s my kids.