I was standing in an empty café in Baltimore. A musician friend had asked me to write the treatment for his first music video, which would then be handed off to a fledgling photographer who was looking to build his name as a video director. The café was the set, and I was simply there to observe.
The location had a time limit. Actors still didn’t know what to do. Camera, lenses, lights, cords, all lay around with no semblance of being prepared for work. And the photographer who was looking to become a director? Well… he needed some direction.
If this video was going to happen the way the artist wanted—or at all—someone needed to step up. So, right there on the set, I sat down with pen and pad and wrote out a list of the shots I imagined when I wrote the treatment; I worked with the actors to put them in the mindset of the characters and the motivation for the scenes; I described to the photographer the lighting and camera angles that would best work for the tone and theme of both the music and story.
At the time, I had no idea what I was actually doing. But even though I was thrust into this position, it wasn’t exactly without preparation.
Xavier Institute for Higher Learning is the base of operation and the training site for teenagers with super human gifts. They possess a gene that normal humans lack, which gives them their special abilities—the “x-gene;” therefore, we know these gifted individuals as “X-Men.” I’m sure X-Men wasn’t the motivation behind the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, but it certainly is a comparable concept. Ellington is a school in DC designed to nurture and train young people with special artistic gifts. The intensive program requires an extended school day, and a dual curriculum of academics and arts for successful completion. I was a 13-year-old story creator, so I was chosen for the Literary and Media Arts cohort.
Just a year in, I was already asking my advisor and radio teacher, “What would someone major in at university in order to own her own entertainment company?” His answer led me to study business, while concurrently (healthily, of course) obsessing over perfecting my writing craft—studying great artistic entrepreneurs like Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Sean Combs, and George Lucas, while teaching myself to write screenplays, reading Annie Hall, Good Will Hunting, and Jerry Maguire.
Raised by a single mother who tried vehemently to make up for the missing parent, my upbringing wasn’t anything like the ones on TV, but she didn’t allow me to be quelled by the world’s expectations of how a little girl ought to be. As a result, this philosophy shaped not only my stories, but also my life. As a DJ, I worked in a completely male-dominated scene and earned their respect when I was just a teenager. My first grownup job was as an on-air personality and programmer, which exposed me to how the industry works, through and through. Successfully completing and publishing my fist novel was an exercise of discipline. And then, running my own little indie record company was a lesson in leadership and agility, and helped prepare me for my bigger aspiration of a global media conglomerate.
Consequently, the creation that is currently my life’s work, Of Music and Men, is a multimedia franchise, anchored by a half-hour scripted series about a chronically single, young entrepreneur struggling to build an indie record label, while navigating (statistically) the country’s bleakest city for bachelorettes: Washington, DC.
So my stories are of the same fabric with which this life of mine has been made—challenging the definition of “ladylike” by championing female leadership, sex-positivity, anti-dependence, and depicting what it means to be a spiritual being on this human journey. I am fascinated by the lives of women who boldly pursue—or pursue being—what they traditionally wouldn’t, couldn’t, or shouldn’t. Thus, my characters find themselves thrust into a unique journey from page one.
The process of perpetually finding my own voice and honing that voice as a storyteller means staying curious and saying, “Yes” to any opportunity that enriches my writing, technical skills, and visual perspective. My multifaceted collection of experiences has equipped me to flourish in every capacity, from the office to the art. I can’t tell great stories without (myself) having great stories to tell.
So, that day in Baltimore in the empty café/video set? Like I said: I wasn’t exactly unprepared. It was the chance to coalesce everything I had become to that point, which had prepared me to take the story off the pages I had written and give it tangible life. The distinct, almost stifling aura of David Fincher, the sneaky intimacy and unique Danish style of Susanne Bier, the strong, heavy-handed feminine finger print of Jane Campion… Of course I didn’t achieve the greatness of these impeccable storytellers—my idols—in just my first time at the helm. But because of my life’s preparation, a music video got made!
For all of my accomplishments, there are an exceeding number of crushing defeats, but I am continuously exhausting my creativity. The pain of constantly failing gives blood to my characters, pulse to my themes, and breath to my stories. It’s my superhuman—perhaps, X-Men caliber—grit that has brought me to this point.
Epitomizing my generation, I’ve cut and pasted together a solid foundation as both an entrepreneur and a storyteller, but as I grow into an artistic mogul, I never take my days of truly humble beginnings for granted.