When OWN’s Black Love hit the airways, it was a breath of fresh air. The married couple behind the hit-series, Codie and Tommy Oliver, sat down with MADE for an honest conversation about the second season, what they’ve learned while working together and what’s next for them…
MADE: Codie, you had the idea for making a space for black love stories. Can you share the importance of having a partner when making your vision a reality?
Codie: Well it’s different for everyone. But for me funny enough, I certainly knew I wanted to get married when I met Tommy. When I met him, we were at a film festival and I knew he was a filmmaker and I did not want to date a filmmaker. Obviously now, that has paid off very well. (laughs) But, what I was interested in besides how cute he was, I had googled him and I saw that he studied business and digital media and I said, “Oh, he’s smart.” So we were getting to know each other and I mean the next 24 hours because we talked a lot over the next 24 hours, I just saw someone who was so smart, driven, committed to family and really growing a family because like me, he didn’t have the nuclear family he wanted or that was normal growing up. We talked about his desire to have that, which certainly matched mine. Those were the things I was looking for in a partner.
Also those same characteristics would also pay off in business because we’ve been able to create projects out of family and love and telling those stories, so I think I chose pretty well. I think it came together the way it was supposed to. I was working a full time job from the time we had the idea to the time we finally started shooting. I had a full time job and what Tommy added to my life in addition to all the things I mentioned, he was the one who was like you need to quit [your job]. You cannot pursue your vision on the side. It has to be a full time commitment so that was key. I would not have done it without him pushing me in that way. We met and fell in love before the business and partnerships.
Tommy: This show would not have been the same and possibly would not have existed if it had not come from us as a married couple. There’s a way that we shoot the show, it’s the two of us and the couple in the room. The thesis being that “Hey you’ve been in this game longer than we’ve been in this game, how can you help us get to where you are? How can you help us avoid the pitfalls of marriage and that’s what its always has been from the start and it’s evolved as we’ve moved along in our relationship?” But it wasn’t something that we were putting together from a business perspective. It wasn’t something that came from a network mandate. It was something born out of our needs and wants and desires as a young couple. So this thing may not have existed, especially in this form had we not done it together as a couple who was engaged and now we’re married. It was very much a pretty awesome mix of Codie and I in terms of what we both bought to the table and how we were able to get it done. It was our first baby because we created it together and it grew both in story and it grew in scale and it really just started as a little fetus.
MADE: Your team has expanded since Black Love first started. What are the roles you have added? What does the growing process look like?
Codie: What’s funny is that the Black Love’s core team for the show is exactly the same.
Tommy: Correct: So we’ve done 100+ interviews, and all of those interviews, the production crew has been Codie and I and that’s it.
Codie: We haven’t changed anything in the way that we shoot them.
Tommy: So when we got to season 2 we didn’t expanded to different equipment, more people, different process…it’s the exact same set up. Codie and I are the only two people in the room when we do the interview. And we’re the only two people there so it’s not like there are other people there setting up and leaving.
Codie: Tommy does the lighting, the camera setup, the sound and we have one editor and he’s been with us since the very beginning when we were editing at our dining room table all of season one. So he’s been there throughout. We have a very talented producer friend who helped us as a co-producer when we were delivering the show to OWN and now he works with us full time but really nothing else has changed. Our company has grown in large part due to Black Love, but the show and the way that we create it really hasn’t changed at all.
MADE: Tell us more about the growth of your company.
Tommy: It’s been good. Our company is a third scripted, a third unscripted and a third features. We have a lot of stuff going on and Black Love is one of the things as its core and we’re up to a good amount of people now and we’re continuing to expand and dig into the brand and continuing to do things that we’re proud of.
MADE: Black Love is the most watched docu-series on OWN. How would you describe how you felt the exact moment when you found out that OWN wanted to order more episodes?
Tommy: That’s a tricky answer (laughs) It was pretty awesome. OWN is a really great network partner. It’s a significant platform that has allowed Black Love to be amplified in the right way.
For them to continue to be in the Black Love business and continue to tell these stories it’s been a great thing. So to be able to more of that was awesome. It was awesome for us personally because of the impact the show has had since it was told to us first hand by a lot of people.
Codie: I agree. It’s just been amazing. And the reality is, we weren’t stopping. We just kept shooting. And when they said hey, we want more, we’re like cool, we have that. So yeah, we just keep shooting.
Tommy: So like now, there hasn’t been a season three pickup but we’re still shooting and we’re going to keep shooting. Whether they say they want season 3 or not, season 3 is going to exist.
MADE: That’s awesome. You guys are prepared for the opportunity before it even comes.
Tommy: I always say that luck is that the intersection of preparation and opportunity.
MADE: What attributes should someone bring to the table if they want to have a successful production like yours?
Codie: I would say first and foremost is the mentality that it never stops. It meaning anything. The editing, every aspect of bringing your vision to life, it just doesn’t stop. It can be 24 hours at times. So just being committed to that.
Tommy: One of the things for me is that there’s no job that’s too small. And I’ve produced movies that have done 60 million dollars in the box office yet I have no problem carrying bags. I have no problem doing whatever I need to do to get the job done and the fact that I’ve done those things previously, it’s all contributing to us operating the way that we do for this production. We could hire more people to work on the shoots, but it wouldn’t help the end result. It wouldn’t help the vulnerability and intimacy of our interviews. So having done all of those things, it’s paid off. Back to the idea that luck being at the intersection of preparation and opportunity—the more you do, the better you’ll be able to get stuff done. And it doesn’t matter if you think you’re working on a project that isn’t going anywhere, your skill set will pay off in a big way if you just keep on moving forward. So it’s just getting your hands dirty and just working hard and continuing to push and not waiting for permission from anybody to move forward. If you want to do something, figure out how to get it done.
MADE: The journey of being newlyweds, parents of a beautiful toddler and creators of a highly rated docu-series, I’m sure its been challenging yet fulfilling. Can you both highlight one of your most rewarding moments and one of your most challenging?
Codie: I don’t remember the moment—it was probably two of them, but it was one of the most difficult things about all of what you just mentioned is that as husband and wife, working together, I don’t want to say tension gets high, but maybe stress gets high, tension gets high and you’re at the end of the day or what could be the end of the day and you just want to go home to the one you love. But the one you love is also the one who is stressing you out. And the reason I said the moment is because I can’t remember what was going on but I remember sitting and being like “I just wanna go home to my boo.” And we were just having a really tough work day and that’s really challenging.
Tommy: She loves her husband, and sometimes hates her producer. (laughs)
MADE: What would be the highlight of working together?
Codie: The highlight is working and doing all of this together and having our own schedule and having our kid come to the office pretty much every day, around the late afternoon when things start to slow down or whenever we want.
Tommy: But that’s a little bit inaccurate in that it’s not slower but you choose to make the time work so I think that’s the benefit.
Codie: For me it’s over the hump of the morning and before the crunch of the afternoon.
Tommy: The freedom to be able to do whatever you want without being beholden to anyone else’s schedule or anyone else’s demands. We get to do things together and we get to incorporate our family in ways that we wouldn’t be able to otherwise and we need to work on something fortunately is positive and has been impactful.
MADE: You’ve have the opportunity to talk to some amazing couples and I’m sure you’ve gotten some great advice. What has been your biggest takeaway from the show?
Codie: Something that Tommy has been saying that applies to him is that—I’m gonna let him say it and then I’m going to put a little spin on it.
Tommy: Marriage is hard as shit and you go into knowing that and it makes it a little bit better. So without the understanding of what you’re getting into and without things being normalized and in a way that if you’re not around it or if you don’t have people who are in the thick of it, you’re going to be in for a pretty wicked surprise. But I will set up what Codie wanted me to say: One of the things that I’ve taken to understanding about marriage, especially from a guy’s perspective is that you can be right or you can be happy—which is a very tough pill to swallow for me.
Codie: He’s been mentioning this lately and it made me think of a lesson a couple taught us early on that is sorta the same coin as what Tommy said and it’s that , “It doesn’t have to make sense, it just has to make peace.” So when Tommy says you can be right or you can be happy from the man’s perspective but I think that it doesn’t have to make sense it just has to make peace can really speak to both parties because a lot of times we want things to happen in a way that makes sense to us. When every conversation or argument to be like no, what you’re saying doesn’t make sense. Or that’s not the right way to do it. Or at the end of the day none of that matters, what matters is what’s going to make peace in your relationship and in your home. So I would say that those two lessons are kind of in line.
MADE: Did you guys always envision yourself where you are now?
Codie: I think we both always planned to create things that we loved and that would be meaningful to people I think that was important to both of us individually before we met each other and something that we wanted for our lives and worked toward in our lives. I will say the thing that has been a surprise for myself and I think it’s true for Tommy I certainly never expected to be in documentary or docuseries. I did not expect that.
MADE: What’s next outside of Black Love?
Tommy: We have a lot of stuff but not much we can disclose just yet. We had a movie at SXSW which was a really special movie and won a special Journey Award our company executive produced it and we got some other cool stuff coming up and hopefully we’ll be able to announce soon. Limited TV series to other docu-series and a couple pretty big films as well.
Keep up with Black Love on their new digital platform, BlackLove.com.