The month of March is Women’s History Month and to celebrate, I have chosen to highlight Black Female Filmmakers in the media industry. Unfortunately, we are still working to break down barriers within the industry to have our voices, craft, and artistry represented equally and equitably amongst our non-Black, non-female peers.
To kick off this series, I’ve had the pleasure of sitting down and speaking with Brittney Janae, a Cali creative with midwestern roots on her journey in the industry thus far, and tips/tricks for other aspiring Black female filmmakers.
How long have you been in the industry and what made you want to go into this field?
I’ve been in the industry professionally for about 5 years. After I moved to LA and made my first check as an editor is when I could say, “I’m a professional.” I got into it because I loved it! I had been shooting photography and started developing a creative eye visually since college. I’ve always been a creative, but it was finding that “thing” that was for me. I fell in love with the camera once I saw how I could show life through my lens in a visually stunning way. And with video, it was like ‘oh photo is already amazing so now I can have those frames and memories and art last longer.’ I love it!
Have you ever dealt with imposter syndrome in this industry? If so, how did you overcome that?
Of course! When I first started off I felt like I wasn’t good enough. Even when I had people telling me I was good, I always felt that I wasn’t because I didn’t go to school for this and I didn’t have the learned techniques. I thought being self taught could only get me so far. I would see other videos and photos and feel inadequate. That people would find out I was going on YouTube to learn! I also use to say I knew I could do it and just learn after. But I learned how to overcome by staying a student in my craft! I knew I had it in me but that comparison game was strong. Once I stop comparing my walk with others it helped me out a lot. I went through a lot of hardships when I moved to LA, which only confirmed that I was doing exactly what the Lord intended for me. So I believed in myself more! ” I continued to learn knowing that this is my purpose! I won’t be one of the greats but I would have fulfilled a purpose!
What would you identify as your most successful moment up to this point in your career?
My most successful moment up to this point in my career was when I decided to go full freelance. It was liberating! It made me trust in myself more, grind more, and have more faith! I didn’t have that crutch to fall on. It was “Do you believe that God will prosper you on His own in what He’s called you to do?” It was scary, but when I look back, it was the best decision I ever made! It allowed me time to develop my gift and to identify what God was doing in my life and be able to wholeheartedly seek it!
How would you describe your artistic style?
My artistic style is very clean. I like focusing on the individual and the stories I tell rather than the effects. I love negative space. I just like for it to look clean but creative. My style is also very commercial. I’m not into music videos so it’s a mixture of film and commercial if that makes sense.
Do you have a film bucket list?
I want to make dope travel videos, I want to shoot at least 1 short film in my time and I would love to win an Emmy.
What would you say to other Black female creatives wanting to break into the industry?
Hmmm.. there is a lot to say but first to just develop their style. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. Not to follow the trends but to learn what makes them unique. Find their niche and run with it! Also, not to compare themselves! Everyone had to start somewhere!
Why do you feel is it important to have our voices represented in this industry?
I feel it’s important to have our voices represented because it’s real. You can’t tell stories without Black women. Black women have been creating forever! It’s in our blood so to tell stories without our perspective would be false representation of life! Without our creativity, life would be so bland. Don’t take everything about who we are and what we create but silence us at the same time. It’s time for Black women to speak for themselves whether it’s through film, art, or business.
How can we find you? (website/social media handles)
Documentary about the past/current condition of Missouri’s First Black City – Kinloch. If anyone is familiar with Kinloch, what they know, think they know, and what they’ve heard, more often than not will be extremely negative. From its history of corruption within local government to its over exaggerated crime to its decimated tax base and land saturated with garbage, these instances do hold some truth but do not tell the entire story of Kinloch. This documentary aims to share its historic makeup as a city of all Blacks – educators, entrepreneurs, congregations, community members, families – and how the dismantling of this city (through immoral and unethical decision making) was primed and planned long before its execution. What is being done and who is putting forth the effort to change Kinloch’s narrative and maintain Kinloch’s legacy? Well, you will see in the film 🙂
I began production for The Kinloch Doc in April of 2017 and man, I DID NOT know what I was doing. Granted, that doesn’t seem like it was too long ago but I’ve been diligent about learning and growing since then. In May of 2018, I made the Kinloch Doc into a four-minute short (still working on a full feature) as the final project for a media production program I was enrolled in, and submitted it to the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase where it screened in July of 2018 and then invited to screen at theSt. Louis International Film Festivalin November of 2018. Y’all, as a first-time filmmaker with no previous experience in media production, 2018 has been a great year for the Kinloch Doc. I’ve received a lot of great feedback from those who have had a chance to view it at the screenings and I can’t wait until I am done with the full feature. 2019 aint ready for the Kinloch Doc!
I was recently asked when I would be showing the short to the public (Vimeo, YouTube or Facebook) and I wanted to be sure that I didn’t want to submit to anymore festivals before uploading. Before the summer of 2019, I will most likely upload for all to see to generate more interest and a greater following before I launch my kickstarter. If I remain diligent and disciplined, I am aiming for a launched kickstarter in May of 2019. Y’all pray for me!
First and foremost (and I say this every chance I get), this film is about family legacy. That’s how it started and that’s what will be saturated all up and through this film. My family is from Kinloch and I’ve lost many of my elders (both grandparents, 2 aunts and 2 uncles) who loved Kinloch. I never got to experience living in the city, but the way my father and many other people I have met throughout production – talk about the city and their love for the city, I feel compelled and convicted to tell the story. Secondly, the population of Kinloch continues to diminish day by day. It was once a community that housed over 10,000 empowered and excellent Black folk to now only having less than 200 residents. By way of re-development, disinvestment and industrial investment, Kinloch may not be here much longer and its story needs to be captured and stamped in time while it can still be referenced in the present tense. I am Kinloch. Kinloch is me.
Happy First Generation College Student Day. If you don’t know what today is, don’t feel bad. It is fairly new but very much important. On November 8, 2017, the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) and the Center for First-Generation Student Success launched the very first, First-Gen College Celebration. While long overdue, I am excited that we are getting the celebratory recognition that we so much deserve. Far too often and for far too long, any and every piece of literature regarding First-Gen students lumps us in to a group of individuals that are all to vulnerable and susceptible to a myriad of distractions that could deter us from post-secondary education. Our stories are far greater, much richer, more complex and unique than the data. Here, I want to share my First-Gen story – I’ll try to keep it short 🙂
I graduated from high school in May of 2008. I would say I had a fairly easy high school education. I always strived for straight A’s, always involved in some after school activity and vying for leadership roles. I was the senior class Vice President, on prom court, and graduated with a 4.3 GPA. I never really had to try. I would do homework, listen to music, eat, watch tv, and text all at the same time. I was regarded as the student who didn’t need assistance which in hindsight, was the onset of many educational challenges I would have in the future. There is a huge misconception that high achieving students are often given preferential treatment by teachers and counselors, but that wasn’t my experience. I wasn’t given information about college reps visiting the school or scholarship opportunities. I had to research that on my own. I’m sure the preferential treatment was given to my white classmates considering I went to a predominately white school – but that’s another convo for another day.
I grew up middle class. Both of my parents had pretty decent jobs so we never really needed for anything and “access” (or what I would consider access) wasn’t an issue. It was awareness and information that set me behind the 8 ball. Granted, my parents valued education and supported me in my efforts to apply and enroll in college, but I had to take the lead and inform them of the little that I knew. I handled my business all throughout high school so they never questioned my efforts or double checked to see if anything I was doing was actually correct – they trusted me.
The FAFSA, I had to learn that on my own; best fit/match, I didn’t know the importance of that back then; tuition cost, I’ll just take out loans – I was just shooting and seeing what stuck (thank God for provision). I decided to go to the University of Missouri – Columbia (Mizzou) to feel like I was sort of far away, but close enough to get back home if needed. Little did I know, if I felt high school was a breeze, college was going to be the complete opposite.
2nd semester of my freshman year of college, I was pregnant with my baby girl. So now, not only am I a First-Gen college student but I am a student-parent with a whole new set of unique needs that more often than not, were never left unaddressed. At 5 months, I moved back home with my parents to get support in raising Addy while still taking classes at a local university. When my daughter was 15 months, I came back to Mizzou with my daughter on my hip. Freshman year by myself was challenging but it held no weight to parenting and going to school full-time.
My remaining years in undergrad consisted of financial aid appeals, gathering 343,943 pieces of documentation for my FAFSA since I was independent, food stamps, WIC, TANF, one-on-ones with professors, tutoring, on-campus jobs flexible with my schedule, daycare, bringing my kid to class, creating student groups to find other students with similar lifestyles to feel supported as a first-gen/student parent and the list goes on and on and on. This continued on to my graduate school experience as well, except this time I was GROWN grown. Didn’t make the challenges any less harsh (being a first-gen graduate student deserves its on post – not today)
First-Generation college students do not have monolithic experiences but our pride, drive, will, tenacity, relentless pursuit of completion, repeated episodes of imposter syndrome and an on-going desire to pour into other First-Gen students make our journeys that much more similar. We aren’t basket cases, we aren’t at-risk youth in need of a savior, we aren’t data-fillers and quota reachers. We deserve a quality education and to receive the same amount of nurturing support as your legacy/pay-tuition-out-of-pocket/75th-generation college students. We bring diversity to the classroom and workforce and are more apt to be of service to others because we know what it’s like to start from scratch and have to just “figure it out.”
If I were to define my college experience in one sentence, it would be “trial-and-error.” There was no road map laid out before me or a book full of advice from family members on how to navigate college because they didn’t know either. But this experience helped shaped so much of my life and I am forever grateful for this experience. Most importantly, my daughter will now have the opportunity as well as the access that I did not have. Even if she chooses not to pursue post-secondary education, she will be equipped to make an informed decision and won’t have to shoot and see what sticks.
*To read more about Addy and I’s experience at Mizzou, read here
Based on all the things I post on social media and all of my endeavors (parenting, fiance-ing, work, blogging, hair tutorials, documentary filmmaker, etc), I am often times ask how do I manage to balance it all. In fact, I’ve been listening to more and more podcasts about women, specifically women of color who are entrepreneurs, and that is always one of the first questions (if not THE first question) during an interview. “Such and such, how are you maintaining a healthy work/life balance? What are some good tips?”
First and foremost, there needs to be some clarity around what a healthy work/life balance actually means. More specifically, what the word “balance” means. We tend to assume that balance is equivalent to 50/50 when in actuality, there is no such thing. As much as I love Teddy P and his jam, “When Somebody Loves You Back” (also known as 50/50 love) I don’t find that equation to be relevant… at least not today. AND that’s not a bad thing either.
This concept didn’t become real into me until I was knee deep in college and parenting at the same time. I would always feel guilty because I either felt like I was focusing too much on my studies and not enough on my daughter, or too much on my parenting and not enough on school. It wasn’t until I got to graduate school that I truly understood my journey had to be walked a day at a time – and not feel bad about it. Some days I had to put myself in a zone and pull some late nights while Addy entertained herself and we ate fast food because I didn’t have time to cook. Other days I said “ta hell with class” and slept in or picked Addy up from school early so I could spend some time with her.
I carry that concept universally now. It’s relevant with all of my identities – all of my endeavors. When my hours at my 9-5 get to be hectic, I pull back on one (of my many) creative projects until the tasks are complete. For example, rather than writing 3 blog posts this week, I may only write one to make sure I at least put forth some effort and to stay consistent with my writing altogether.
On days I know I need to film, I try to schedule those days with space in between so my daughter isn’t always away from me (she not ready to be on set yet lol). This works for me.
So how do I manage a healthy work/life balance? I understand that 90/10, 80/20, 70/30, & 60/40 mean “balance” too – not just 50/50. Some areas will get a greater percentage out of me on some weeks than others. I accept that because that is where I am.I’ve learned to accept my “W’s” as they come. I may not cook a nutritious meal for my household everyday but I guarantee you they never go without a meal – whether it’s made by my hands or picked up from the drive thru. I may not be further along with my film than I originally wanted to be but I’m gaining more and more skills by the day.
We tend to get all bent out of shape and frustrated because we feel our efforts or inadequate and half-ass. We set ourselves up with unrealistic goals from the jump and get upset when they aren’t accomplished in the way we originally intended. Ultimately, there is no such thing as 50/50. You do the best with what you have when you have it and you get real honest with yourself.
Over the past couple of years, the culture has definitely shifted from going to school to get a good 9 to 5 job and ultimately working for someone else to “F the man – I’m working for myself.” There has even been a surplus of FB groups dedicated to encouraging people to quit their day jobs (with a plan in place of course) and fully invest their time (and resources) into their own entrepreneurial endeavors. I agree with some of these sentiments as I’m even in the process of working on my own creative gigs that I hope to turn into my full-time profession, but I can’t dismiss what I’ve gained from working my 9 to 5 that aids in the current success of my entrepreneurial endeavors.
I know it can be hard to shift your brain throughout the day from full-time work to entrepreneur work but as the saying goes, perception is reality. If you perceive your 9 to 5 to be nothing but a distraction and barrier to your 5 to 12, that is exactly how it is going to feel when you approach the latter part of your day. If you perceive your 9 to 5 to be a stepping stone, you will find that it can help boost your daily flow.
Below are 4 ways that my 9 to 5 help boost my creativity and pour into my entrepreneurial endeavors.
For those who may not know, I am immersing myself in the world of filmmaking and currently in mid-production of my first feature film, The Kinloch Doc (view teaser here). Because this is a new endeavor, I can’t even express how challenging (yet rewarding) it has been to manage all that encompasses creating a film…..with a day job…..and a kid….and a fiance…..and etc. My current role is an Administrative Coordinator for a college access program so 95% of my job is to take care of logistical tasks from behind the scenes and make sure everything is in order – emphasis on order. Filmmaking requires a lot of pre-planning and order from scheduling interviews, renting equipment, conducting interviews, editing projects on a deadline, etc. My administrative coordinator role enhances that skillset so I’m more than prepared during production.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust myself to work for myself 100% at this point in my life. My level of discipline is not where it needs to be. Like, if God said “Alana, quit your job and go work for yourself” I’d probably say, “Wait, I aint ready yet.” It’s something about a pre-established schedule and expectations set for me that helps make my job a little easier. Maybe because I’ve been conditioned to learn and work that way all my life so approaching anything new so abruptly would cause more anxiety than excitement. However, I am taking this time to translate my work discipline into my creativity: setting my own deadlines and following them, seeking out people to hold me accountable, task follow through and completion, etc.
Because I am looking forward to working on my own projects when I clock out, it helps me approach my work tasks with more dedication, discipline, and efficiency. Ultimately, I want to get all of my necessary tasks out of the way so I can start working on what I really want to work on. Consider it rewarding yourself for a job well done.
Self explanatory. For me (and in general), making a film is EXPENSIVE and contingent upon how much money I have available at any point in time, that will dictate my production timeline. You need a steady flow of income that will help fund your other endeavors until those endeavors can consistently fund themselves. I try to treat my film like its own bill and have a completely separate bank account with another institution that I only use for my film and any film related expenses.
I know many of us are counting down the days, hours, and minutes to where we can ultimately be our own boss but until that day comes, find value and contentment where you currently are. I’m fortunate enough to have a job that I enjoy and colleagues that I loooooove working with, AND they also understand and support the fact that this job is only temporary for me. I know that is not a reality for everyone. However, there is reasoning and purpose for the now and with a few minutes of self-reflection and introspection, there are several things we can pull away from our 9 to 5 that will enhance our 5 to 12.