It started with a father wanting to help his son achieve his career dreams. Now, it’s a multimillion-dollar project bringing national and international attention to Memphis.
Jason Farmer, founder and CEO of Black Lens Productions Film Studios
(BLP), said it took a decade to get to this point—a unanimous go-ahead from the Memphis Land Use Control Board
and successful negotiations with production and distribution partners.
Black Lens Productions Film Studios founder and CEO Jason A. Farmer and son Jason A. Farmer II. (submitted)
Farmer’s son, also named Jason, is the reason the BLP team is turning a 100-acre plot of land in Whitehaven into a production, film, and television complex with 12 sound stages, an administrative office building, editing suites, and post-production facilities.
“He started to express that he wanted to be a filmmaker when he was in middle school,” said Farmer. “As he continued on, we began to take it seriously and look at the business argument for if this career path was viable."
Jason is now a junior at Atlanta’s Morehouse College, studying film and communications. The elder Farmer wanted to make it possible for Jason to build his career right in his hometown.
Retaining talent and honoring Memphis history
Carolyn Henry, chief financial officer at BLP, hopes Memphis will become a hub where homegrown creatives can thrive long-term.
“We have some talent here, and a lot of them have had to relocate or go somewhere else to follow their passion and their dreams. They have to go to L.A. or they have to go to Atlanta,” she said.
“We're hoping to take all of that rich heritage and all of that amazing talent that we have here and create the second largest film studio for people of color in North America.”
Heritage is also what motivates Farmer, whose family lived in the Foote Homes public housing project
until he was 10 years old.
“My family represented about six or seven generations of poverty and living in these various housing developments across the city,” he said.
The Whitehaven High School graduate sees the studio as an opportunity to advance Martin Luther King Jr.'s work towards equality in the city where he was assassinated in 1968.
“A lot of my neighbors were the sanitation workers who participated in the ‘I Am A Man’ movement,” said Farmer.
“If you've been here in the last 54 years, you would not have thought that Memphis was going to ever reach this potential.”
Whitehaven residents are on board
Rendering of the proposed lot layout for Black Lens Productions Film Studios. (submitted)
The BLP groundbreaking is scheduled for later this year at Elvis Presley Blvd. near Holmes Rd. An important part of planning for the development was getting buy-in from area residents. Their main concerns were traffic routes and maintaining privacy.
“There's a housing subdivision immediately to our west and immediately to our south. Those homeowners have been there for decades,” Farmer said. “They currently enjoy 30- and 40-foot trees in their backyards.”
“They wanted assurances that we weren't going to build right up to their property lines, and we're not. The proposed site plans ensure that we don't infringe upon their property lines and their sight lines as well.”
Cecilia Barnes joined the team full-time as general counsel in 2020 after seeing the work BLP had put into business, financial, and neighborhood planning.
“You're going to have a number of productions on an annual basis,” said Barnes. “I look forward to the rest of the country and the rest of the world seeing the jewel that we have here in Memphis, and the talent we have here in Memphis.”
Memphis-based with a global reach
Production teams in California, New York, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi have expressed interest in the project, according to Farmer.
Widening the scope beyond the United States, Prince Kwame Kludjeson of Ghana approached BLP to discuss opportunities when he visited Memphis in November of 2021
“We met with him and had some discussions around how a studio of this caliber can be replicated in Ghana, and [how to] further facilitate student exchange and also intellectual property exchange,” Farmer said.
Farmer believes the recognition and impact for the city will increase around the world as the project moves forward.
“One of our tag lines is ‘Memphis-based with a global reach,’” he said. “To be a part of that transformative movement that's going to shift us into high gear and help propel Memphis to that place where we should have been some time ago. I guess, as they say, ‘All things in due time.’”