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VOL. 133 | NO. 84 | Thursday, April 26, 2018

Calling Our Bluff

Local Film Producer Banks on Memphis Stories

Melinda Lejman, Special to The Daily News

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Marie Pizano believes everyone has a story, and she is building her business on telling it. The founder and CEO of MVP3 Entertainment Group, Pizano is producing films based on Memphis history.

On April 19, Pizano was in Washington, D.C., getting footage for her latest film, “Journey4Justice: The Abigail Noel Story.” Noel, a native Memphian and psychic/medium, claims there is more to be known regarding music icon Prince’s death. Noel is leading the movement #JusticeforPrince, which aims to press President Donald Trump to order a new investigation into the artist’s 2016 death.

“This is not a documentary about Prince,” says Pizano. “It’s following the life of Abigail Noel. Is she crazy? As filmmakers, we personally cannot agree either way. I have to be neutral and give the audience something to think about and decide for themselves.”

Marie Pizano, CEO and founder of MVP3 Entertainment Group. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

Noel has also been involved in the Lorenzen Wright case, according to Pizano, reaching out to authorities regarding the athlete’s 2010 murder.

Among her other work, Pizano also produced “Shannon Street: Echoes Under a Blood Red Moon,” which chronicles the 1983 kidnapping and murder of a white Memphis police officer by purported African-American cult members, and the police stand-off that ensued. For Pizano, the narrative is still relevant decades later as cities nationwide struggle with relations between communities of color and law enforcement.

“It’s something we all have to look at,” she says. “How do we keep police and communities safe?”

The documentary is currently traveling across the country and includes screenings in Washington D.C., New York, Chicago and Hollywood, California, where it will be screened at Universal Studios.

MVP3 Entertainment Group is an umbrella organization for what Pizano calls the trifecta of film production, music publishing and talent management, and includes the music and publishing company UROC; talent agency Zazu & Valentina; and JND Films LLC. A native of Chicago, Pizano has called the Bluff City home since 1999, and is determined to put Memphis on the map with her films, despite roadblocks such as lack of tax incentives and competition among production companies.

One of Pizano’s current projects, the movie “Purple Church,” will begin production later this year, with the majority of it being filmed in Clarksdale, Mississippi, to take advantage of tax incentives. Based on the novel by the same name, “Purple Church” is a Christian-based drama about the relationship between a widowed pastor and a young stripper.

“We are locking ourselves in Tennessee to (do) only positive things that showcase our city,” Pizano said. “Ok, I try to defeat that. I’m taking Memphis stories, Memphis authors, and I’m making the movies, whether I make them here or not.”

MVP3 investor Milton Smith, president and CEO of First National Bank in Arkansas, is convinced of Pizano’s abilities.

“She has taken her vision and created a multifaceted entertainment company that has potential for many revenue streams,” Smith said. “Her company has shown the capability to produce return on investments in the projects she has taken on.”

Pizano’s movie “Shattered” was just released on Amazon and is currently bringing in domestic and foreign sales, she said. The story takes place in Clarksdale and follows a family whose adopted son suffers from mental illness.

In addition to sales, many of Pizano’s films and documentaries give back to the community.

“A lot of the documentaries I take on, there’s a meaning behind it – it gives back or brings awareness to a charitable cause,” Pizano said. “Shattered” highlighted NAMI Memphis (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and the documentary “Shannon Street” won the award for NAMI TN, with a percentage of sales going back to NAMI and law enforcement agencies.

In July, Pizano will film a proclamation at John Gray House, a historical site in Germantown built by African-American slave Joseph “Free Joe” Harris. Spearheaded by Germantown Mayor Mike Palazzolo, the proclamation will act as announcement of another Pizano documentary, “Free Joe,” inspired by the true story and book written by local author Earnest Lacey, who is the great-great-grandson of Free Joe.

One of Pizano’s strategies for revenue streams includes doing documentaries followed by movies.

“I will bring as many film productions in this area that I can to create economic growth, especially when they are based on true stories from Memphis,” Pizano said. “I’ve built a viable structure, and so far, these films have been selling, so I’m on the right track for success.”

In addition to films, Pizano is an author, speaker and host of the upcoming iHeartRadio Show, “Finding My Yes,” which will premier in May and feature people who work in the film, music and sports industries sharing stories about why they love Memphis.

PROPERTY SALES 23 23 1,365
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BUILDING PERMITS 117 117 3,173