What advice would you give to aspiring directors?
If you want to be a director, first and foremost, you need to direct. If you want to direct episodic TV, you must direct narrative projects. This was a huge shift for me. I have a career in TV that spans over 20 years, starting on Rap City, then MTV News, and then producing and directing music specials and docuseries. But I hadn’t directed a scripted project in years since film school (15 years prior) and wanted people to just “believe” I was a director. During that span, the game had changed. It no longer costs as much to direct – and unlike writing, directing requires equipment, a team and actors – it’s not just you. But the costs have gone down exponentially. So find (or write) a script, find some actors, pull out your phone or a digital camera and get to filming. Make it look great!
That is truly one aspect of how I launched my career. I did three digital TV series – the first a YouTube project with a bunch of my talented friends and actors (The Brown Betties Guide), the second for Black & Sexy TV (Sexless & Chef Julian), the third for Google (GodComplx). I made an intentional effort to build my reel of scripted work, because seeing a music video, interview, promo or performance in my reel, while it was great work visually, did not always translate to me being a narrative story teller.
Second, I would say build an authentic network of creatives that you know – writers, other directors, producers, camera, etc that are in the industry. This takes time, but these are the people who will eventually help you get hired.
Third, always study your craft and don’t let your ego have you thinking you know all you need to know. This industry is constantly changing as are the tools, terminology and technologies. There’s so much information online for free or for a small fee, and so many directing books and I encourage everyone to constantly be studying and honing their craft if they are serious about making this their career path.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career thus far?
My most rewarding aspect has been having my children see by action, not just words, that pursuing your dream career and your passion is not an easy path. If you stick to it, and do the very hard work required to build, it ultimately pays off. They’ve seen my struggles and my triumphs and how it has affected me, our lives, and our family. The greatest gift was being able to take my entire family with me to the Emmys when I was nominated in December 2022. We all got glammed up and got to experience an awesome evening together. They were proud, I was proud and it is a day I’ll never forget!
I will also say that I’m surprised and humbled that sometimes just by me being on set, as a Black woman director, I’m inspiring people and that is rewarding too. So many people that I don’t know have come up to me and hugged me and said how happy they were to see a Black woman in the director’s chair. They’ve given me that special extra nod, smile or dap and let me know they were proud of me. I’ve gotten cards and notes or even social media DMs from women saying that after seeing me on set, they had hope and were moving forward with their passion and desire to direct or write.
How do you stay true to yourself in the filmmaking process while balancing the wants of the writer(s) and producer(s)?
I make sure I’m clear on the story the writers and producers are trying to tell. Then I always trust my gut from the prep meetings to filming to make sure what I’m doing is serving the story visually and tonally.
What is one way you can continue to create pathways for other women in the Entertainment Industry?
I already actively continue to create pathways for other women in the Entertainment Industry by mentoring them in a very hands-on way that gives them first-hand knowledge of what is required to direct and produce. I transitioned two of my mentees into director’s assistants. Though they volunteered, I insisted on paying them for their time as I believe we all should be paid for our labor. This allows them to learn and get some extra money on the side. They see scripts, help me prep them for production, see all the drafts, plus how I build as I go from prep to my shot lists etc. for production. I have been able to get one of them opportunities to shadow on my episodes.
I also launched a virtual school, MoJo Academy, to help women, Black women of most urgency, and other marginalized creatives prepare for when they get their shot to direct an episode of television. My desire is to make sure they have the information, and understand the pacing, skills and creativity required to succeed because unfortunately sometimes we only get one shot and we can’t afford to mess it up.
A lot of people are trying to transition to directing. They just need the information to understand how those skills translate and if they don’t have those skills, this gives them time to work on it so they are READY when their opportunity comes.
I teach the Craft of Directing Multi-cam Television, The Craft of Directing Single-cam Television (coming up April 22 and 29) and Producing for Live TV. In addition to providing them with real life scenarios and assignments from scripts I’ve directed, I create a community for them so that after class they all know each other and hopefully remain in touch. In the future, I hope to align with studios and networks and for my class to be one that is that extra stamp of approval that helps my students get their first episode!