So you grew up in Jamaica, Queens, but your family is from the West Indies. Can you tell me more about your background?
I grew up in a single parent household. In total I have four sisters and one brother.
Where do you lie in that?
I’m the youngest. I was raised mainly with my oldest sister and my brother.
Where did you go to school?
First I went to P.S. 251, which is an early childhood school in Springfield. From there I went to P.S. 159 and M.S 74 in Bayside and for high school, I went to Brooklyn Technical High School.
So you took the Standardized test?
Yeah, I didn’t really want to go there, but it ended up working out I guess.
Why didn’t you want to go there?
Well I wanted to stay with my friends in Queens. All my friends were going to Cardozo High School, but my mother wanted me to not only go to a good school, but also to get away from distractions. So she tricked me into taking the test. She said, “Just take it to see how you do and I’ll give you something. If you don’t get in it’s fine. If you do, you don’t have to go. But just see what your options are.” So I tried my best to do well on the test hoping that I would get maybe sneakers or something. I got into Brooklyn Tech and then she told me that I going there otherwise I wouldn’t have a house to live in anymore. I’m pretty sure she was doing it more so to scare me, but it was pretty much I go or I have hell to pay.
Did your siblings go to Brooklyn Tech to?
No, my older sister went to school locally. She went to Andrew Jackson High School, which is up the street from our old house.
Who is your partner in crime, Amy Collado? You both look very young and I read about how you guys had to navigate one experience where you were sort of scared at one point during one of your shoots [Indiewire].
I wouldn’t say that there were times where we were scared, but there were definitely risky situations that we’ve been in. For instance, we worked with “Antenna Man” (Larry Cooper) and originally when we first went out to shoot with him, I was probably going to go by myself to shoot with him, but I just asked Amy on a whim to come out to the shoot. That’s when we first started working on Open City Mixtape.
How did you meet Amy?
We met through a mutual friend. I was shooting a promotional fashion piece for my friend Raeana Roberson and Amy happened to be the model for that shoot.
Going back to Queens, do you think that it has impacted your craft? I know you graduated from New York University (NYU), what did you major in?
Bachelor of the Arts in Film Television Studies. Growing up in New York in general has impacted my work. Do you know what I have to say in regards to Queens? It is so multicultural. I think that has definitely lent itself. It has helped me better relate to different cultures outside of my own. It has opened up doors to being curious.
In Queens, you cross paths with so many different nationalities and people of various backgrounds. The first elementary school l went to was in my neighborhood, but when I transferred to P.S. 159 in Bayside, the experience was much more different. Even though they were both public schools, the resources at my new school were much better. Now as an adult, that disparity stuck with me. The differences in opportunities of certain communities versus others in Queens has definitely affected how I look at the world and how I explore those kinds of issues in my work.
Did you grow up with friends with varying nationalities and cultures?
For sure. That’s one of the great things about going to school outside of my neighborhood. In elementary school in Bayside, it was not very diverse. There were maybe two black kids in my grade. It was a predominantly a white school, but in my junior high school, it was super diverse. It was a nice melting pot and it wasn’t segregated either. A lot of my other school experiences featured the Asian table, the black table, the white table and we naturally gravitate towards our own cultures. But in my old junior high school, everybody was mixed in with everybody. Junior high school was the most diverse school in my early education. Back then my best friend was Egyptian. Now I would say Amy [Collado] is one of my best friends. She’s Hispanic. Throughout my life I’ve definitely been fortunate that even though I didn’t come from an area in Queens that was necessarily that diverse I’ve definitely had the opportunity to mingle with a lot of people outside of my race and learn from them.
When I was growing up, it was the opposite. My elementary school and junior high school was super diverse [PS. 219 and JHS168] and then high school [Francis Lewis High School] it was mainly an Asian population. And I think as a teenager I started to digress in the sense that I stuck with Asian friends because that’s who I thought I could relate to, or “belong” with, but I don’t know, that’s a weird mindset…
Well I wouldn’t say it’s weird, I mean we’re kids. As kids you want to be in a place that makes you feel safe, especially because kids can be so cruel anyway and we’re just learning about the world and opening up in general. I think it’s only natural to fear the unknown in that way. I think that the closer you go towards Manhattan, like Jackson Heights or Long Island City, the more diverse it becomes. But then you have other areas that are not as diverse. So for people from areas like where I’m at, in Jamaica or if you’re from Bayside or somewhere like that, where it’s not as much of a melting pot, you step into the unknown when you do get submerged with other cultures.
Where in Jamaica, Queens are you originally from? And where do you live now?
Francis Lewis and Murdock, I would say. It was a kind of like a crux of a few different areas: Cambria Heights, Saint Albans, and Hollis. I would consider all of those areas really where I grew up. I live in Brooklyn now.
Why did you move to Brooklyn?
I just felt that it was more conducive to my work life. Where I used to live was just so far from everything. The train ride to the city was really taxing. Unless you live in Long Island City or somewhere like that, getting to Manhattan or even getting into Brooklyn in some cases is just going to be hell.
I don’t really do much in the immediate neighborhood that I grew up in anymore… Most of my friends are either in Manhattan or Brooklyn. Some live in the Bronx. It’s just that my life is changing and I have to branch out.
Would you say that as an adult now, you identify and relate more to Brooklyn?
Yeah, I totally think so. It fits my lifestyle, it fits my work life, and it also fits where I’m at creatively. Brooklyn feeds my creativity. Being around the space that Brooklyn life offers, supports my creative endeavors more, versus Queens, which is so quiet! It’s very quiet, it’s very still… I think Queens is where you finish off and live the American Dream.
Where you retire to, like Florida?
Speaking from a perspective of somebody who is from a foreign background, when you come to America with the plans to make it one way or another and when you achieve that, afterwards you want to retire somewhere behind a picket fence. Queens is like that for people in New York City. They think, “Okay, I did the hustle and bustle, I struggled to get to where I am now, so let me raise my family in some peace and quiet.” That’s why I think a lot of people come to Queens, versus the other boroughs.
Maybe after I finish taking over the world one way or another [laughs] I’ll buy a piece of property in Queens, I’m still at the starting point, so I’ll get back there eventually.
Do you define success as you getting out of Queens?
I shared that same thought when I was growing up, but as I’m navigating this project [QNSMADE], doing a lot of self-reflecting about what I want now… I went to college and worked entirely in the city, and now I’m back in grad school—again in the city, but I’m taking what I learning and I’m trying to go back to Queens with the knowledge. As a kid I defined my success as me getting as far away from Queens, but now that is no longer my dream…
I think it’s the small town mentality. For instance, for somebody who is from the Midwest, he/she wants to go to the city, take over, and do big things. They follow whatever their dreams are, and even though I live in the big city, still being in Queens, I still felt far away from the big city. I need to get away from, that hometown sphere. I think that the only way to move forward with my life and career, is to break away from home base. I definitely think that that was another reason I left Queens. Maybe I will come back to Queens to live, but it needs to be optional, versus me feeling like I have to be there. When you grow and move forward with your life, you want to feel like you’re taking steps, and moving out of Queens helped me feel like I’m taking steps. It helps me feel like I’m taking steps in the right direction, versus feeling like I’m stuck. I never want to feel stuck somewhere. So if I do come back, it’s because I want to.
What are your childhood memories?
I have a lot of great memories. I loved growing up in Queens. I remember running around with my friends in the neighborhood and going to the park. I lived by Daniel M. O’Connell Park, which we all called OCP [Pictured above]. So I would say that between ages 11 to 13, OCP is where I would always go to link up with other people in the neighborhood.
I started liking guys around that age obviously, so [laughs] I would hang out around the park hoping that he would pass by, whoever I had a crush on at the time, but you know, I would try to play it real cool and pretend that I just so happened to be there, you know?
[laughs] Yeah, I had a lot of fun times at OCP, and just roaming Hollis in general. One of my best friends lives by Hollis or 203rd Street. She was one of those free spirits who everybody in the neighborhood knew and she was super spontaneous. Whenever I was hanging with her, I knew I was going to have an adventure. I would link up with her, see what she’s up to and often times we would just be roaming the neighborhood trying to find some kind of trouble to get into. Not too much obviously. We were just trying to find some kind of new adventure for the day, you know? Definitely not trying to get in trouble with my parents.
Was your mom strict?
I wouldn’t say that she was very strict. Whenever she thought that I was going in the wrong direction, she definitely made sure to put some kind of block in my path to move me in the right direction. [laughs] Overall, I think she was very flexible compared to a lot of other people’s parents that I know. I also spent a lot of time at PAL [Police Athletic League], and I think that it was very vital to my development as a creative person, as it allowed me to explore so many different avenues, whether I was involved in dance or sports.
As an adult, I definitely see the value in recreational centers. The people there were very supportive, and definitely instilled the idea that I could do anything I wanted to do. It’s unfortunate because that center closed down. I think that kids in that neighborhood could really benefit from it. It also takes kids off the streets and keeps them out of genuine trouble.
Where was that?
I guess you could consider it St. Albans. I don’t know, but I always thought the nearby neighborhoods blended into each other.
Did your love of film begin there?
I didn’t do anything film or video-related until high school.
What did you do in Brooklyn Tech that was film-related?
Well, our school had majors and I was in media, but I didn’t take media because I felt like I had a future in it. Everything else seemed way too boring and media was known as a lax major in my high school. It was the major for you if you wanted to just go in, do nothing, and get away with it [laughs]. That was the reputation that media had and it is so untrue because a lot of classes were actually really hard.
Yeah, the creative field activates a different side of the brain.
I agree. I think the major didn’t get a lot of respect because it was a creative major and people thought it was going to be easy. In that major we had to learn a lot of things, including web development and web design.
Oh! So a lot of technical skills?
Yeah. It’s funny because I didn’t see a lot of value in what we were doing at the time, but a lot of stuff that I learned is stuff that I still use to this day in my work life. If I had paid more attention, I could have walked away with even more skills and could be making even more money off of this stuff that I was learning for free. Like web design and animation for instance! I had one video course. I remember doing commercials which was actually my first time behind a camera, and I was really excited. I didn’t have access to a camera otherwise. I remember telling my teacher something along the lines of “Thank you so much Mr. Edwards, for allowing us to do this. Now I feel like I could be a music video director one day.” In response all he said was “Whatever. Sit down.” [laughs]
In that video class, does any one specific project come to mind?
I was asked to put together a visual story using photos. I decided to produce a piece called I See Black People. It was about how beautiful and resilient we are as a people, despite the various forms of oppression we’ve dealt with over time. I also touched on the fact that our experiences with adversity connect us globally—not just here in America. I worked very hard on that piece, researching and collecting hundreds of images and clips, which I cut together very intricately to a five-minute piece of music. It was my first time using visual storytelling to comment on social issues. That piece still means a lot to me, I have it saved somewhere on one of my hard drives.
Did you fall in love with film then?
I did, I did. I liked it a lot and those skills are what I applied to my work later because it’s something that I really see a lot of value in, especially within an industry that demands that someone have more skills than just coming up with ideas or the point of view of a director. They want people who can shoot, cut, and do everything in one.
Like a jack of all trades?
Yeah, exactly, which isn’t something that excites me, but it is what it is. Especially someone like myself, who is just starting out, the skills became really practical. In high school, I definitely felt like a rush doing those silly projects, but I still wasn’t sure, I guess I still didn’t see a path in film being that realistic for somebody like myself. I didn’t really know how to break into film, I didn’t know anything about it. I thought that maybe one day down the line, I could figure out how to get into the business. If I just stay in the creative field, whether it’s by working in marketing or advertising, or working in some form of entertainment, then maybe one day I’ll align myself in a position to direct. But it’s definitely not something I thought I could immediately jump into. And then another thing… something else that kind of steered me… I didn’t see it at the time, but actually it helped me to figure out that I needed to direct.
I did a series of plays at Brooklyn Tech. It was for SING!, it’s basically a competition between the grades. We each had to write and produce our own original stage plays. I was a part of the entire process. They gave us a theme, but we had to come up with our own script, the look and feel of it, the dances, everything. I was the director and I was a part of every single aspect of the production.Up until that point I had never felt so alive, you know? So that’s what really put me in the mindset of “Yes, I can really see myself being a director.” But I knew that I didn’t want to direct for the stage. I felt that the stage was so limiting in some ways. Doing film and video allows me to create storytelling experiences, but on a much bigger scale. Between that and the minor stuff we did in my video class, those were the first big hits that I thought “Mmm! You might be on to something!”
What did you think you wanted to do before your epiphany?
I always wanted to work in the music business. I really looked up to people like P Diddy, Sean Combs, I don’t know what he calls himself now, Puffy [laughs], Russell Simmons especially since he is somebody from my area in Queens and just people who took something that they loved and were able to create a successful life/career around it. And you know, Diddy did A&R and since I loved the hell out of music I thought it would be cool.
What did you want to do in the music industry? Sing?
I was always trying different things as a kid. I probably was interested in singing at one point, but I definitely should not be singing. [laughs] Song writing for sure, I was definitely interested in that. I was always interested in creating things and so music was definitely a big part, which is why I thought that I would eventually go into the music business. But I just realized that it wasn’t for me. I guess I realized this by the time I reached my college years. Even though I liked it, I didn’t know if I could see myself doing it forever and it didn’t replicate that feeling that I had when I did those high school plays, or when I did those little short videos/commercials. That’s what I was really looking for. By the time I reached college, I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go, in terms of what I wanted to study, but I knew that I did need to replicate the rush I felt when I directed, when I was sitting there meddling with that camera in that stupid video class [laughs]. And I wasn’t getting that from anything I was doing, I guess those internships in the music business really made me refocus and think about what did interest me. That’s when I finally paid attention to that whisper in my head that had been telling me that I should be directing.
You said you had a music internship, where was it?
I interned at Bad Boy. I interned at their recording studio. I can’t remember if I did two or three internships at Bad Boy in my freshman year of college or in the summer. It was my first internship. I did one in the marketing department and then in the recording studio. I did a few other music internships, like at Columbia Records.
And you did this while being a full-time college student?
Mhmm, having those experiences helped me realize that the music business was not really what I had expected it to be. And so it made me tap into what really speaks to me. The reason I followed that path, aside from having a deep passion for music is because it was a path of people I deeply admired. But they followed what they loved and even though I did love music, I didn’t love working in it. I had to find what I did love.
What was your first directorial debut, or something that you created that you are proud of?
Well I guess I’ll talk about the first original story I did. It was actually a storyboard. Following all of the internships I did, once I decided that I needed to change directions with my career, I ended up studying abroad in Paris. So during that time, I got to explore Paris, which is just a great city to be for exploring the arts and different creative avenues. During that time, I can’t remember what specifically made me think that I needed redirecting. It was around that time when I decided to put in an application for the film program. And so, obviously I didn’t have access to a camera. Not only did I not own a camera, but I wasn’t even in the States. I didn’t know how was I going to apply to this program, this production program, when I had nothing to create a production with. I wasn’t even going to apply, but at the last minute, my friend asked me if I was still going to apply and I said “No, because I didn’t have any video equipment so I wouldn’t have anything to submit.” But she told me that I should figure something out to submit, if I really felt like I should be going in that direction. So I put together a storyboard because the application stated it was one of the options. I didn’t think that it was a very smart option to submit a storyboard, but it was all I could do. So I just tried to make the best thing possible. I told a story, frame-by-frame, about a very depressed woman living in the Upper East Side, who on the outside had everything that a person could want, but on the inside just felt very empty. I locked myself in my apartment, really sat there, and drew out the whole thing. And just in the nick of time, I got it in. I drew that and I wrote another short story that was about my relationship with my father. I got into film school with that. I almost didn’t even do it, but it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. So I felt that that was my first experience storytelling even though I still had not held a camera at that point.
So that was your application to where?
To the Tisch program. So shout out to whoever saw something in me!
And when did you go to Paris?
That was in my sophomore year. I applied to Tisch in my sophomore year. So the summer after my sophomore year was when I started taking Tisch classes. I was in Steinhardt at first and I just moved over into Tisch.
Do you ever go back to NYU to give talks since you are an alumni now and successful!
I haven’t been invited to speak to any of the students yet, but I’m only a few years out so I like to think that maybe they want people who are a bit more established and seasoned within the industry to come back and speak. I speak to some of my old professors here and there. I still have friends in the graduate program, so through them I stay connected to what’s happening at Tisch, but overall I try not to spend too much time there for the same reason I try not to spend too much time in Queens. I start to feel that I have to leave…
I’m the type of person that has to constantly feel like I’m moving forward. I never want to feel stuck. I never want to feel comfortable, complacent rather. If I was to stay very integrated with what’s happening in the Tisch community then it’ll stop me from really getting out there and exploring what the industry has to offer. Everybody has different paths, but a lot of people definitely take jobs, whether it’s part time or full time within a program and just try to work on their stuff when they can, outside of their real job. And I just can’t do it. I really need to remove myself from that in order to keep myself in the mindset of moving forward.
Talks are so much more interesting when they’re coming from someone who is just starting up, struggling, versus someone who has already made it in the industry.
Right. I mean hey, if they ever wanted me to come talk to the kids at Tisch, I would love to. The only thing about Tisch kids, and I hate to talk bad on my program [laughs] because Tisch kids are very smart kids. We’re all very smart kids, but possibly smart to a fault. I don’t know if at that stage, they’d be ready to hear my words of wisdom. Many people in the program are very confident. They know what they want to do and don’t think they need to change the way they are. Maybe if I had an Oscar under my belt, or a few, major big budget films out there, Hollywood films, then they might care more about what I have to say, but where I am at right now, I don’t know if they’ll really soak up my advice. I guess I should give them more of a chance, right?
I think that if you reached out they would definitely want you speak to their current students.
Yeah, I also want to give my advice and save the kids that are going through what I went through in the program. I could save them some time and heartache over mistakes that they don’t need to make because there are a lot of common mistakes that all of us made in film school. Maybe when they do ask me, we’ll see how it goes. I’ll give them a chance and see if they want to listen.
I also appreciate the opportunities I have gotten to speak to teenagers and younger kids. I really like those experiences… guiding kids in the right direction, giving them advice and inspiring them because I think the earlier you get the push towards your dreams the better off you are, you know?
Where have you spoken to the youth?
I spoke at one program, a non-profit connected with Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), which had a group of kids that were interested in media and journalism. At a program called “L.O.V.E” which is an acronym for “Leave Out Violence.” It’s a non-profit also based in the city. Amy [Collado] joined me at the L.O.V.E program as well as other non-profit work at 651 Arts. And I’m actually going to be getting together with another non-profit this weekend called “Petals-N-Belles” which is a non-profit dedicated to engaging young girls with different things such as female empowerment, so that should be fun! I like talking with kids, especially kids who are at risk because they need it the most.
It’s one thing to give advice or encouraging words to a kid who is curious or has a little bit of ambition within themselves, but to give advice to somebody who has no one around… It gives them a sense of direction and gets them on the right track. It means the most to me to be able to engage with them. I would like to do more with at risk kids.
And how do you find out about all of this stuff or do they just reach out to you?
They reach out on their own. In more cases than not, people reach out to me which is cool. I haven’t done much stuff in Queens yet, but I’m totally down to. It’s my hometown.
Do you want to talk more about Open City Mixtape and the Indiegogo? How that project came about and why you chose to crowd funding as your avenue?
I didn’t really have a lot of work under my belt that expressed my personality as a filmmaker. It is one thing to say, especially coming out of school “Oh I’m a director or I’m a screenwriter,” versus to say it when you have work under your belt. As a filmmaker you have to make films and that’s the only thing that people can judge you by. They can’t judge you by the ideas that are just sitting around in your head.
I had to start somewhere and when I first started Open City, I had a “just get out there and shoot it” mentality. I had little to no money, I didn’t have tons of resources and I couldn’t build a whole fancy crew, but I was pretty sure that I could do something captivating, something compelling.
That’s how I started doing it, but as I continued shooting, the idea grew and I was taking everything out of my pocket even though it’s still a very guerrilla style production. It’s one thing to do one or two shoots out of pocket and another to do seven or eight out of pocket [laughs]. That’s when we decided that this project had a lot of potential and that we had to fundraise so we could keep going. So that’s why I decided to do the Indiegogo.
In working on Open City, it really gave me the opportunity to share myself and the stories that I thought were interesting and worth telling.
Crowd sourcing and crowd funding is so “in” right now. Why did you go with Indiegogo versus say Kickstarter?
I had already known about Indiegogo because I used it to finance my thesis film. I really didn’t want to do crowd sourcing again because it’s really tough.
It’s so stressful!
Yeah. It’s really tough, really stressful and you have to get out there and just ask everybody to help you out. It’s really not easy, but we weighed our options: to not crowd source and possibly not be able to afford the project or to just suck it up and make it happen and do what you got to do. So we tried and it was actually a really great experience. I learned a lot more from doing it than I thought I would. It was cool and I’m really happy that in the end, I proved myself wrong because at first I felt a little apprehensive and questioned is this what we need to be doing, but we raised all the money that we set out to get, so I’m happy I did it.
There’s tons of campaigns on Kickstarter with films. Are you thinking of ever doing that again? What are you working on now?
I can’t talk too much about what I’m working on now, but I definitely feel excited for where I’m at right now. I’m finishing up Open City; we only have a few pieces left. I’m going to be excited to see that through to completion. Aside from that, I think I’ve grown a lot creatively and I’m excited to explore a different side of my personality as a filmmaker. I think this year will end off really well. Right now I’m in a process. I’m in talks for a few different projects. I’ve been writing a lot recently since there are a few things in development.
How are you supporting yourself if I may ask?
Well I still do commissioned work. I’ve done a lot of work as a videographer over the years with mainly music related content. I’ve done some work with fashion.
I’m really at a point right now where I’m focusing solely on directing, so a lot of music video opportunities have come along. I look for ones that really speak to me. I shot something last summer for Complex TV, which was cool. There are definitely some great things in the works and I really want to focus now on breaking into music videos and doing commercials. My ultimate goal is to do feature films, but I don’t think that I want to limit myself to only directing for film. I want to explore different avenues. I’m really curious to see what I can do in the musical world. I’m curious to see what I can do in commercials and just in other ways to tell stories.
We live in an era where the World Wide Web creates so many opportunities for content. There are many different fun ways to approach story telling so it’s been really fun for me to just try to figure out different ways to express myself in a commercial way.
The Rockwell snapback that you wear, do you sell those?
Yeah, it’s on the Open City site, on our shop page, that’s another way that we raise money for Open City, through the apparel [and now prints as well].
I like the look and feel of Open City. You chose to keep it all black and white. Is there a reason behind that?
I really felt that it fit the aesthetic of Open City.
Like the guerrilla style?
Yeah, it fits the personality of the world I was trying to create and it also made it a distinct world, a distinct cohesive experience. One thing though, being that I am so early in my career, most people have seen my work, and they all think, “Oh is that the only thing that you do?” It’s a series though, naturally if they’re all one thing, they should have the same kind of look.
You feel that they’re pigeonholing you into just doing black and white films?
Yeah, so that’s the only thing that can be a little annoying at times. But I know that in time, as I continue to put out more work, that notion will be rested.
How does it feel when clients ask you to recreate what you have already done?
It’s frustrating because I’ve done that already so I don’t want to recreate an experience that I’ve already been through. There is no challenge to me in that, creatively. I get that you saw something that you liked so obviously that’s what drew you to my work and you feel that it relates to whatever you’re trying to say at this time or in this new project. I get that, but they should approach it saying something along the lines of “This is what I like about you, so can you lend that to whatever it is I feel we should collaborate on” but overall I think that if you like me, we should do something together, something new and fresh. Let’s build something new and innovative together. I don’t like recreating stuff that I’ve already done. It’s tough trying to navigate those conversations.
Do you do work that you love and also work that pays the bills or are you trying to do work that you only love?
It’s tough. This is a challenge that many people in my field face. At this point I’m just trying my best to synergize the two. I’m trying my best to figure out how can I pay my bills while doing something that I genuinely am super excited about versus doing something I just have to do because I have to eat.
It would be disappointing to pursue my dreams and end up feeling forced to do work that is not personally satisfying. I’m very lucky to be able to wake up every day and do work that fulfills me so I avoid opportunities that aren’t as meaningful.
When it comes to doing things that specifically cover my integrity as a filmmaker, I definitely am becoming more firm in my decisions. If there’s anything I don’t believe in or I’m really not excited about it or it just contradicts who I am, I have no problems nowadays with saying no. But you know it can be hard when it’s a choice between making some money. [laughs] If anything, right now I’m just at a point where I’m trying to figure out the best ways to connect the two, making sure to incorporate a really dope concept into a commercial opportunity.
Do you think your mom taught you to be strong, to really go after what you want and to say no to things that don’t suit you?
Well, she always encouraged me to be creative. If I had dabbled with a camera earlier on I could have been light years ahead [laughs]. That was the one thing that didn’t come into my sphere that much. Though I did have a tiny bit of experience with film. She always encouraged me to be an artist. I drew a lot, I would make little comic strips, and I was constantly expressing myself in artistic ways and there were probably times when people discouraged me by telling me that I wouldn’t make a lot of money as an artist, so she always told me that I had a gift and that I should definitely not turn my back on it. It’s something that I definitely didn’t appreciate at the time, but now as an adult I do.
Did you design the website for Open City?
I worked with a web designer on the Open City website. This was my first time really designing a site. Working on it definitely took a lot out of me, such as figuring out the best way to showcase the films. It was definitely a learning experience.
It made me think a lot more about the user experience and building a website that is not only visually appealing, but suits the way I’d like the projects to be curated and that it is also user friendly and the most functional. It was really great. I was proud when we finished designing the site because I put so much of myself into it.
I like the way it came out because even though I worked with a really great web designer who was super patient, I’m sure I drove him up the walls sometimes… the overall aesthetic and the feel of the site was so much of what I told him.
One of the reasons why I like it so much was because of the user experience. It was easy to use, simple, and beautiful. It lets the films speak for itself. It wasn’t all of these buttons everywhere.
It was a great experience. I like building websites. I mean I didn’t do any of the dirty work, but it’s exciting to create a world.
When I first heard about Open City, I thought that it was done by someone who was in the biz for a long time. The quality of work and the website really draws people in. So it’s really cool to see it’s you behind the lens, a young aspiring artist. The work is really impressive, so you saying that you’re just beginning is amazing to hear.
Thank you! I mean I’m just so young in my career and I’m still discovering what my voice is. Open City has definitely been helpful. I feel like every time I put out a piece, I’m so happy to be able to express myself in a way that people appreciate. Obviously, I’m sitting here trying to find the right words because I don’t think that I’m good with words but I can express myself through film.
When you look back on your older pieces, how do you feel about it? The “N.” piece is really powerful, on Vimeo it says you posted it 4 years ago…
I’m at the point now where I make something and I’m done with it. Once I get it out of my system, it is cathartic in a way so I’m ready to move on to the next one. I don’t really watch my stuff that much, but every now and then when I do, it’s nice to see the growth. I feel like a completely different person. My perspective changes and sometimes I think, “Ew! Why did I put this in there?” and I’ll see all of the flaws [laughs] which is part of the reason not to watch it. I remember earlier this year I had to go through a lot of old hard drives looking for old material and I found myself watching a lot of my old stuff from film school and I thought, “Wow, time really has passed” and I really have grown. It’s nice to look back and see that, but I definitely cringe to. And things that I really want to forget live on the internet [laughs].
I know you grew up in Jamaica, Queens, but were you born in Queens?
Yeah, Queens girl all the way! [laughs] My family is Jamaican, but my mom is actually half Indian.
Have you been back to Jamaica [the island country]?
I haven’t been back in a really long time, not since I was seventeen. So I would love to go back soon. “Soon come” as Jamaicans say, [laughs] which is “it will come around soon enough.”
Is anyone else in your family in the creative field? What do your siblings think of your path?
All of my siblings are doing different things. Nobody does any work in the creative field, so I’m the only one. Maybe that comes with being the youngest and I’m a little more rebellious in that way, but they’re all proud of me. I actually don’t talk too much about my career with my family. I’m very private and introverted. Every now and then, I’ll share something. I also hate being bragged about and dealing with tons of questions. My mom is the type of person who will always ask me what kind of celebrities I’ve worked with or if I met so-and-so, and questions like that. [laughs] It makes me feel really weird when I’m in a situation where people boast about me. Obviously I appreciate people talking highly of me, but when people are bragging about me right in front of my face, it makes me feel really weird and it opens up a conversation that I definitely usually don’t want to engage in. So because of that, I tend to be very discreet about what’s going on for the most part.
Are you the type of person who wants their work to speak for itself and the art to live on its own?
Yeah that’s the priority. It’s funny, I actually never wanted to engage publicly outside of my work. In terms of being on camera or doing stuff like this [interview] I just wanted to shoot stuff, make amazing work and have people appreciate me in that way, but somehow it seems like the universe is pushing me to engage. But I do think that it’s for a good reason. People are really happy and excited to see young women like myself doing great things in the arts. I appreciate the love that has been coming my way because I’m sharing my stories, so even though I still am not too comfortable with the public exposure, I know that it only helps me as I try to move forward with my career.
Why do you think you’re an introvert?
I don’t think I am, I know I am. [laughs] I just consider myself to be a very private person. I’m very open in certain ways, but in other ways I just think that it’s important to protect things that I feel are sacred. Whenever you open up to people in certain ways, you kind of leave the door open to them stealing your joy a little bit. That sounds a little crazy, but I think to protect things that are sacred, you have to keep things to yourself.
So for instance, you know how people guard their love lives or so to speak? That’s something that I consider to be sacred and I wouldn’t want to put it out there in a way that gives people the opportunity to come in between what means a lot to me, so in that way, I am private, and that’s an example of why I feel like I’m more of an introvert. I value my privacy and I value things that I feel are important to me so I don’t really want to do anything to jeopardize the value of those things that make me happy. [FIN]