Career: Television Director
1- How did you become a professional in your current field?
I was fortunate in that I knew that I wanted to be a director when I was a kid, but I had no connection to that world at all, so I had to look at the careers of directors I admired for inspiration on how to get there. The filmmakers I liked, the ones that stuck out had a background in animation (something I had already been playing around with) before switching over to live-action. So I went to college with animation as my major, but I also took live-action filmmaking classes.
INTERNSHIPS (apologies for the caps but it’s crucial), INTERNSHIPS, INTERNSHIPS are what got my foot in the door in the television world. Between semesters I would find an internship, and that made all the difference. I got to meet different people in the industry that I admired and could now get advice from, and it also allowed them to see my dedication to the job no matter if the task was fun or mundane.
The summer between Junior and Senior year, I was interning at a place that was starting to grow, and rather than hire someone new, they offered me the job! It wasn’t because I was the best at that position (at the time I was probably closer to decent), so I think it came down to the fact that I was already friends with the team, took direction well. I made sure I would get it done right (even if that took a few tries). Those 3 qualities can help you compete against people with a better reel or more experience. The other thing to note is almost all of my animation, motion graphics and VFX gigs (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Saturday Night Live, and over 5 Adult Swim shows) can be linked back to the connections I made from that internship.
Even though my animation career opened doors for me to work at places like NBC, I wasn’t having success in making the jump from animator to the director. To turn that “no” into a “yes”, I needed to prove myself. I confirmed that I could handle the responsibility of that scale (or close to it). This goal felt like it was at the top of a ladder, and climbing it rung by rung was my only option.
I immersed myself in the comedy world (going to comedy shows/taking classes). There were several comedians and sketch comedy groups that I had enjoyed collaborating with that were now getting paid opportunities to make short films + web series. They needed a director for these funded projects. Again those 3 qualities that helped me with internships helped me in this phase of my career.
Little by little, I was climbing that ladder, but there were frustrating moments where it didn’t seem like I was moving upwards at all. It felt like there were a few rungs (tangible jobs) missing, making it impossible to climb. In those instances, I realized I was going to have to identify what level of quality + achievements that those missing rungs represented and create that opportunity for myself. I was given great advice to make films that embrace what makes me and my perspective on filmmaking/life different (rather than copying a known filmmaker’s style), so I pursued ideas that I felt I had never seen before, and it worked. A few people were excited about what I was doing, and they were in the position to hire me for directing work or help me find funding for my projects.
It wasn’t an overnight success story, but that’s 100% okay with me because every time I’m given the opportunity to direct, I don’t take it for granted. It has taught me to operate with gratitude, and that is one of the strongest tools you can have as a director because it is felt by your team and that positive energy is massively important.
Getting as much information to each department as soon as possible through detailed storyboards is 1 major way I show my gratitude. Having supported other directors (as an animator) – I struggled to enjoy what I was doing when I wasn’t given a clear path or they kept changing the idea, but when a director clearly laid out the direction they were looking for it made it fun and easy to get there and often allowed me time to exceed their expectations.
Those early conversations also allow me to ask them, “what do you think?” because that Cinematographer, Gaffer, etc. is a LIBRARY of knowledge and tapping into that as early as possible benefits the project but also allows them to be creatively invested too.
Planning ahead also affords you the ability to think clearly if the shoot days aren’t going as planned (weather, power outage, missing equipment) and you need to shift course. Regardless if things pop up or not, you’re giving you and your team the best opportunity to have a great day!
2- What 3 tips would you give someone struggling to reach their goals?
The first thing to know is that this is very much part of the process of becoming successful so don’t let struggles stop you. How you overcome them is in part what defines you as a professional and can even define your creative style. Your love and raw talent for what you want to do brought you here for a reason but experience is what’s going to mold that love and talent into a professional career, so keep going!
- Research people in your field who you admire, there’s a good chance they’ve talked about a similar struggle in an interview and maybe that can inspire you to find a way past what you’re dealing with.
- It’s always good to ask for feedback / constructive criticism from multiple people you trust / and admire. They don’t have to be in the film industry to be able to offer you insight on how to handle the situation – any perspective outside of your own may reveal something you weren’t seeing. Try to be as receptive to feedback and criticism as possible – if someone’s giving you advice the bottom line is they want success for you just as much as you want it. Everyone’s opinion is subjective so don’t feel you need to honor every note but if multiple people are saying the same thing – make sure you take the time to explore why that keeps popping up.
- Lastly it’s very important to be as honest and true to yourself as possible. Criticism can often sting, but if you want to grow you have to learn to see struggles or failures not as a bad thing but as a roadmap to success. Gather as much information/advice as possible and there will probably be multiple options on how to move forward but listen to what your heart says and try that option first.
3- Name the top 3 goals you achieved?
- Directed a Television Series for HBO
- Created a series that aired on TV
- Wrote, Directed and self funded a feature length film.
4- What inspired you to reach your goals?
The gratifying feeling of accomplishment is a huge motivator, but if I ever feel close to giving up what pushes me forward is knowing that I’d regret giving up way more than if I were to try and fail. Never knowing if I could have done it and what I could have gained by seeing it through is such an awful feeling that will live with me for the rest of my life so I avoid that scenario as much as possible.
5- How did you overcome obstacles to reaching your goals?
I put my goals on notecards and allow myself to only have a maximum of 3 that I can actively work on at a time. For each individual card, I add 3 chores/tasks (to the flipside of it) that I can realistically accomplish for that day, so by day 3 It’ll look like I’ll have more accomplished than needs to be done. Once I finish a goal then I am allowed to pick up a new notecard of projects I’d like to work on.
6- How do you keep your inspiration from decreasing?
I find inspiration through new experiences so whether it’s visiting a new place, an interesting thought/conversation, or even scrolling through instagram – if I have a strong reaction to it I make a note, draw or photograph it so I wind up with a library of ideas/projects that I can pull from especially when I’m having a writer’s block. Even if it’s a so-so idea, I hang onto it because time may help mature my perspective on that idea into something worthwhile.