By Darlene Donloe
When Sgt. Major Keith L. Craig was working as an Army intelligence and logistics non-commissioned officer in 2012, he had no idea that one day his skillset would catch the eye of an executive at Disney who would later offer him a high-profile position in distribution and sales at the company.
That was a life-changing job that, in 2013, led to him becoming an entertainment producer.
A 32-year Army veteran, Craig has led an honorable, fulfilling and accomplished life.
“I’m very fortunate,” said Craig, who spent 25 years of his career headquartered in Wiesbaden, Germany. “I’ve been through every combat and peacekeeping mission and every natural disaster in the last three decades. Then Hollywood called me. I’ve done a lot.”
The retired Army veteran continues to have an infectious smile and easygoing nature after everything he’s seen and experienced. He also lays claim to being a former professional football player, a decorated combat veteran, restaurateur, author and philanthropist.
To the three-time Bronze Star and Legion of Merit recipient, “It’s a good start.”
“I have a lot more life to live,” said Craig, whose book, “Serving to Lead,” came out in May 2020. “I feel like I have so much more to accomplish.”
Craig, who owns five restaurants in L.A. as part of the Granville Fine Food investment group, has been called a media mogul and a Hollywood whisperer because he buys and sells television and feature films.
At Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, he helped bring in a record $3.7 billion as a theatrical sales and distribution manager on blockbuster films like “Black Panther,” “Lion King” and Academy Award-winner “Coco.”
He also lent his expertise to Lucas Films’ “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Captain Marvel,” “The Avengers,” “Captain America Winter Soldier” and “Thor Ragnarok.”
He was so proficient that in 2021, Craig joined forces with Jeff Porter to form Porter + Craig Film and Media Distribution, a Beverly Hills-based worldwide film and television sales company specializing in the financing, production and distribution of commercial feature films.
Today, the company has about 50 new titles to be released across digital platforms, including Amazon, Google Play, Apple, Vudu, Roku and in select theaters.
Craig, who recently attended the Cannes Film Festival in France, grew up in Mobile, Alabama, and was raised by a single mother.
At one time he, his sister, and his mother were homeless.
Those humble beginnings made him determined to become successful.
“I learned early on that being a fierce leader was a mode of survival,” said Craig, who describes himself as “a small-town country boy.” “Through my formative years, I developed the mental agility to drive physical strength, dedication and determination to build my confidence and develop my future visions.”
I recently caught up with Craig to talk about his life in the military and as a Hollywood insider.
DD: Thank you for your service. Why did you stay in the Army for 32 years?
KC: It was not my goal. The goal was to take care of my education. Every three years, I re-upped. It never seemed like a job to me.
DD: You dealt with post traumatic stress disorder. How did you get through it?
KC: Yes, I went on six combat tours. You don’t get through it, you manage it. I am a wounded warrior. I did two tours in Iraq, one in Afghanistan, one in Kuwait, and eight months in Bosnia. They were Operation Joint Endeavor, the Invasion of Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Unified Response, and Operation Enduring Freedom.
DD: You had a front seat to all of those wars.
KC: I’ve been through every combat and peacekeeping mission and every natural disaster in the last three decades. I was there in real time. I was willing to give my life for my country. That’s just who I am. I didn’t want to die in the hood I came from, but I didn’t mind dying for my country. That’s an honorable way to go.
DD: Why are you called a media mogul?
KC: I don’t know the answer to that question. I’ve been around successful films. It’s just because I know people and how this machine works. I know people at every level. I assist at every level.
DD: Why are you called the Hollywood Whisperer?
KC: There are over 1,000 independent films made each year worldwide. We have access to all these doors — that’s why I’m a whisperer. You need someone to whisper, “Come this way.”
DD: Describe what you do.
KC: Distribution. We give people access to a partner with morals and ethics and integrity that has the ability to help them find a safe home for their film or intellectual property.
DD: Talk about the light bulb moment you had while in the Army — regarding entertainment, producing and film distribution.
KC: I spent 25 years of my career headquartered in Wiesbaden, Germany, in the Frankfurt area. Organizations would bring over entertainment for the troops. But nine times out of 10, there was never anything for the diverse population. As a senior leader, I took the liberty to start my own entertainment company, and through a Hollywood connection, I brought in more diverse acts for my troops because I didn’t see a lot of people who were brown. That was my ah-ha moment.
DD: Talk about the moment that changed your life.
KC: My headquarters was contacted, and we were advised that Disney wanted to bring a film over to show the troops while in the combat zone, Iraq, Afghanistan, United Arab Emirates or Kuwait. I agreed to take on that mission because I knew how much it would mean to my soldiers, so I flew to Dubai to meet up with the Disney executive and escorted him to Afghanistan for the first screening. He later relayed that my actions of bringing everyone together and synchronizing the presentation were like a “Hollywood producer,” which, upon reflection, I took to heart.
DD: You were the only African American distribution executive on the team that worked on “Black Panther.”
KC: “Black Panther” was the first of its kind. I was part of a team. We take every component and break it down. The strategy all matters. It has to all make sense.
DD: Why is supporting independent filmmakers important to you?
KC: I believe independent films are at a disadvantage in terms of finding someone to look out for their best interest. You are in a minority category whether you know it or not.
DD: Talk about your new company Porter + Craig Film and Media Distribution.
KC: We wanted to set out to be a trailblazer in this space known for doing good business and having a good reach and being transparent. When our filmmakers partner with us, they walk away knowing more than when they walked in.
DD: Who are some of your clients?
KC: My clients are filmmakers, HBO, Starz, Showtime and the theater circuits that include AMC, Regal, and Cinemark.
DD: What does your future look like?
KC: At our current pace, I want to see our company continue to grow and I want our partners to be happy. We want to have multiple films on networks while simultaneously doing six to eight theatrical releases in movie theaters.
DD: You’re going to be busy.
KC: Busy is good.
“The Q&A” is a feature of Wave Newspapers asking provocative or engaging questions of some of L.A.’s most engaging newsmakers or celebrities.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at email@example.com.