Miami’s most successful and well-known filmmaking crew is about to kick things up a notch.
Billy Corben and Alfred Spellman, founders of the media studio rakontur, made their initial media splash in 2001, when their controversial documentary Raw Deal: A Question of Consent, an exploration of a purported rape, premiered at the Sundance International Film Festival and made the cover of the New York Post.
Then came Cocaine Cowboys in 2006, a recounting of the early-1980s South Florida drug wars that convincingly argued that the backbone of Miami’s infrastructure was built on the cocaine trade.
That film earned Corben and Spellman, whose headquarters are housed in South Beach, a devoted cult following that grew with each successive film (Limelight, Square Grouper, The U, Broke).
“The energy that they have is infectious, and it comes across in their movies,” says Connor Schell, vice president of production for ESPN Films, which aired The U and Broke. “Their style is so frenetic, and their movies have such an interesting pace that when Billy pitched us on how they wanted to do The U [originally titled Hurricane Season], we bought into it immediately. We’ve had a great relationship with them. Their style is very innovative, and we’re talking to them about collaborating on another documentary now.”
Brad Abramson, vice president of original programming for VH1, says he was impressed by Corben and Spellman when they lobbied to direct the four-part miniseries The Tanning of America: One Nation Under Hip-Hop, which aired in February.
“They knew an incredible amount about hip hop for a couple of white Jewish kids from Miami,” Abramson says. “They blew us away with their knowledge of all the details and their love of the culture. They are a boutique company: They work on one project at a time and give it their all. We were aware of them from the Cocaine Cowboys days. They are the kings of the hidden anecdote. They know how to find just the right nugget to bring out.”
“Filmmaking is like a band,” Spellman says. “Everyone has to play their own instrument and their own role in making a film. David has been editing our docs. Billy and I have a great partnership because we play off each other’s strengths. He directs, and I produce. When you look at other filmmaking teams, they all have a certain rapport. I think we’ve developed our own rhythm and style. We make a pretty formidable team.”