B. Danielle Watkins
Before I started producing my own films, I had the dream all writers have; write an amazing script, let Hollywood buy it, and live the fast life. I wrote a few scripts and started sending them off the screenwriting contests where the prize was for the film to be optioned (sold to a major studio with the option of future production). I sat down and gave my heart to my words and I sent script after script off with the confidence that I would move on to the next level.
I submitted early, because I’ve always been told the early bird gets the worm, so I waited what seemed to be unusually long for the response that came with paying these people to read my heart. The very first email came in. Addressed to Brandi Danielle Watkins (because pen names were not allowed), and it started “Thank you for your submission to (name omitted) but we regretfully inform you…” Regretfully inform me? How? Did we not read the same script? What do you mean I need “more work”? So many questions stemmed as I went back and read the script again trying to understand where I went wrong. Luckily, I was young and cocky, and I had 3 more scripts submitted and I just knew they would win something somewhere.
One by one my rejections came in. Up until this point I’d been nothing but an author. Hell, I’d even taken my novel series that was successful and adapted it to screen and submitted it and THAT got shut down. I even submitted to a contest Will Smith (who is my favorite male actor of all time) was conducting to find a new family series. They said the definition of family series was left up to the writer’s interpretation, and I took it too far resulting in yet another rejection.
At this point I was rethinking the whole screenwriting thing. I couldn’t possibly be as good as I thought I was as I’d failed miserably at not one not two not four but almost ten contests with several different scripts. The pain of such rejection was almost unbearable. What did it all mean? Then some of the contests had the nerve to send feedback about the scripts and tell me what they did and did not like about the scripts. It was at that moment I realized I hadn’t failed at anything; I just entered the wrong arena to expect victory.
You can’t go to an Atheist convention and expect a presentation on Christ the Savior to mull over well. That’s just not smart. I’d not thoroughly researched the contests I’d submitted to, so I didn’t know my competition or my judges. And let me keep it all the way real, at no time will a middle-aged white man ever understand the story and dialect of young black college kids. At no time will a Christian mother of four who leads bible study ever understand a script about religion and homosexuality. In that moment I realized; failure is subjective.
The fact of the matter was yes, I had singlehandedly lost every contest I ever submitted to up to that point, but what did that mean? Did that really mean I was a terrible screenwriter? No. Did it really mean that I did not know how to develop characters and place them in realistic situations as one of the readers said? No. What did it mean? It simply meant that if I truly believed in the stories, I wanted to tell I needed to find another way to tell them. I needed to remain true to my stories and stand strong behind how I wanted to tell them, and I did. The first script that was rejected went on to be produced and screened at film festival all over the world. The world. You know, the place bigger than the United States. The world. This is the same film that I was told was one dimensional and flat, because it wasn’t understood.
Everything ain’t for everybody. We get so caught up on what people do not like or have rejected about us or our art we forget we do not like everything either. Let me make this plain. I have never been to a Garth Brooks concert and his music sounds like mush in my ears, but that hasn’t stopped him from being filthy rich and successful now has it? We’ve been conditioned to measure success with mass acceptance, and that sets us up to believe that when the masses or those recognized as the key players find something to lack or not be good enough, we as a whole embody that same idealism. This, boys and girls, just isn’t true. What is true is you will get 1000 no’s but all you need is one yes. All you need is one person to say, “I like that” and that changes the course of your whole life.
This doesn’t mean that you can run around and tell masters of the art they are wrong and you’re right. No, that is not what I am saying. People are in their positions for a reason, and that reason is usually they are good at what they do. What this means is you have to take failure with a grain of salt because it is not failure until you stop trying. That is the moment you fail. The instant that I realized and accepted that concept, doors started opening left and right for me. Disappointments hurt, rejection letters hurt, criticism without understanding hurts. Trust me I know. I get more of those things than anybody else, I swear I do. There are moments when I sit around and look at all I’ve achieved, and I am proud of a project and BOOM! Someone thinks it’s a piece of shit. I’ve learned that’s okay, and that didn’t mean I failed, it just meant I was redirected. And let me tell you this…EVERYTIME I was redirected the outcome was that much better, and usually something I couldn’t imagine. Failure tastes good when it is reheated in success, and don’t you ever forget it.
Life isn’t easy. Following your dreams isn’t easy. Being brave enough to share your talent with the world isn’t easy. It comes with disappointments, roadblocks, setbacks, some more disappointments, mental blocks, moments alone, pain, and the list can go on and on, but the secret to beating this is remembering what I said before; failure is subjective. Change your mind on failure, reheat it, and make it your own success story.
Peace, Love and Opened Doors,
Ever watch a horror movie? Before you even sit down, and press play on the VCR (that made me chuckle) you have already set your brain to know it should be scared. Whether it be the trailer of the film, the reviews, or a few of your friends calling you after they saw it in the theatre saying how positively frightening it was, and you believed them. Once the movie begins you have already braced yourself out of the fear of what might happen. 116 minutes later you are staring at the screen as the credits roll thinking to yourself “That wasn’t scary at all” and slightly disappointed in the hype built up behind this event. Sounds a lot like life doesn’t it?
How many times have we feared the outcome of the unknown and once we got to the other side all the fear and anxiety really was unneeded because nothing is ever as bad as WE make it seem? Let me say that again for those in the back who did not hear me clearly; nothing is ever as bad as WE make it seem. Fear lives off the power we give it just as in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise Freddy Kruger’s power came from the fear of the children. For the remainder of this article we will refer to fear as Freddy, sometimes it is easier to understand something as an entity and not idea.
I have been a professional writer since my first novel was published on August 26, 2011, and I have had fear consume me several in the eight years I’ve pushed myself to no end to make a name for myself. When I was in the process of publishing my first novel “No Other Man” I really had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t know anything about marketing, I didn’t know anything about selling, and I damn sure didn’t know what it meant to be a public figure! Enter Freddy stage left, right, and center. Freddy took me out on a date, and said listen, you ain’t got it bro. This isn’t you field of expertise; you won’t make it. I believed Freddy, only because I didn’t have anything to prove him wrong, but God. I won’t make this a religious piece, but if you want to talk to me about the goodness of God email me, I can talk all day, back to the topic at hand. I let Freddy freak me all the way out on our date, and then my release date came. I sat in front of a package of books, postcards, bookmarks, business cards, posters, and all other marketing materials and said to myself “what the hell did I do?” At this point I’d also agreed to write two more novels to finish the series in twelve months, so Freddy was really in my ear. “You couldn’t possibly handle this” and with all evidence pointing toward Freddy’s assessment I figured I was pretty much f**ked.
Then the unthinkable happened; I sold some books (not what you expected I’m sure). I went to California as a featured artist only a month shy of releasing “No Other Man” and with no books in hand (post office issues) I sat at a table with a poster of my book, myself and some order forms and I sold 5 books to complete strangers. What was I scared of again? I am a writer, and people like to read, why wouldn’t they buy the book? Then I wrote parts two and three of “The No Other Man Three Part Tragedy” and some more pretty unthinkable things happened; not only did people buy the books, but they liked them! WHAT WAS FREDDY TALKING ABOUT?
We all deal with a little Freddy every now and again, and I will never tell you he will go away. I am listening to Freddy as I write this article. He is a natural part of life, but you have to combat him to be able to function, and that I why I am here. I am the girl who has survived the entire Franchise and my name is Nancy (if you have never seen the films you don’t understand and just know I’m the man!).
Freddy better known as fear is nothing but false evidence appearing real. Nothing more nothing less. As soon as we get a handle on what makes us fearful, we can get a handle on how much fear we truly have in our hearts. Breaking the acronym down further; False means not real, Evidence is something real that supports a theory, to appear is an action of showing yourself, and real needs no explanation. Freddy is in trouble now (this is that part in the movie where you figure out your superpower and it is time to face the demon).
Many things can present themselves as reasons to fear moving forward. Past experiences, whispers of those who aren’t strong enough to chase their own dreams, mental anguish because you truly do not believe in yourself, and many other external factors that I could continue to list, but all in all do not matter. At the end of the day one thing holds true; what God has for you NO MAN can take from you. All the fear in the world will not prevent you from propelling forward toward the greatness you are destined for.
I titled this article “In God I Trust” because when Freddy comes to visit I press through and give it all to God, the universe, Buddha, Jah, whoever you feel connected to, but what you need to understand is there is nothing to fear but fear itself. We paralyze ourselves with fear because it is comfortable to stay in a place where we know the outcome. It feels better to be able to predict the future than to allow it complete control, and that’s cute but that is not how you progress.
The reason why so many people fail isn’t because they did not have the ability or the skill set, but simply because they were too scared to try. Freddy doesn’t run my life, he may come visit every now and again, but I have a greater purpose and he cannot take that from me. You have the same superpowers as I do, and I believe you can win the battle against Freddy too.
Peace, Love and Superpowers,
I have been blessed to have about 10, yes count it 10, best friends all at the same time. Some people do not grasp the concept of having more than one person who is close to you, who you can confide in, and who holds you up when the world is pushing you down, and I understand that to the normal person more than one person can’t hold such high regard. I tried being normal once, it was the worse 53 seconds of my life! My “Bestie Brigade”, as I affectionately refer to them, is the reason why I get anything done; it takes a village.
So many times we hear about how all these strangers come together and create something great, but what people fail to realize is with strangers comes a lack of predictability, and as a Virgo I cannot live like that. That’s not to say that some of these people didn’t start off as strangers, or that people who are close to you cannot be disappointing (don’t be misled by my words, but you know what friends you trust to cook the turkey for thanksgiving and who you are electing to bring the plates get my drift). This is simply a reminder that when you are on your way up take those with you who held you down when there was no lower you could go.
When I began preproduction for, what is now one of my biggest projects, the REVRY Original Series “3030” I sat down and looked at the scope of the project. I needed a cast, I needed a crew, I needed a location and location manager, I needed all kinds of things that I did not have. I had a choice; I could go solicit people I couldn’t afford or I could look around me and keep those closest to me in this dream. My goal for “3030” was very simple I wanted it to be one of the most important black lesbian shows in herstory. I wanted to bring a project to life like nothing else that was out there, and I wanted to place it in a forum where it would not only be respected and seen as such, but where it could carry over and cross into a demographic that my current work had not reached.
Every major role in the show was held by one of my best friends, and at the time my thought process was easy; if the show makes it, they make it too. Please understand, of the 10 humans that are my best friends, only one of them is in the industry. This means my friends supported me and my dream so strongly that they left their comfort zones, expertise, and their own dreams to spend 16 hour days on set doing somethings they didn’t quite understand because they believed in me. That wasn’t the first time this happened, or the last, on ALL OF MY SETS I bring in my village, hell, season 2 of “3030” my cousin was one of my camera men. I utilize my village!
I’ve seen so many larger than life celebrities discuss this concept as of late, and what I found interesting about this is the universe taught me this before I ever saw Will Smith’s video on Instagram, or the viral video of Oprah speaking at the college graduation. I had to sit back and think, if Oprah and Will see what I see on their level I must be doing something right! If you’ve read this far, and you do not know the concept is, no worries I will clue you in in 5, 4, 3, 2…
You are who you surround yourself with. If you surround yourself with fake people, you will receive fake support which will leave you in a sticky situation alone. If you surround yourself with flaky people, you will look around while you are waiting on them to show up and they will never show, If you surround yourself with jealous people (this will make some people mad), those will be the same people taking what you’ve done and using it against you to get one up on you. If you surround yourself with positive people, you will find your self positive in moments of doubt. If you surround yourself with genuine people, you will look around and you will have a cheering section screaming your name. If you surround yourself with people like you, you will never be alone again.
In the world we live in today people value views, comments, and followers as success. They misuse “village” as those 50 thousand strangers who liked their Instagram photo, and for those who want instant gratification that works. My word of advice is that in the grander scheme of things building a support system is much more important that focusing on a finicky fan base. Fan bases will come. It is the nature of the business. You make work, people like your work, people like you, and the cycle continues. I am a huge New Edition fan (please note my usage of fan here even though in my head since Ralph Tresvant once kissed me on my cheek we are friends) and in their song “N.E. HEARTBREAK” they say something so profound that it took for me to enter a space where I could relate to be able to understand. The lyrics “People think we don’t get lonely but we’re far away from home, one minute 20,000 people but then they go home we’re alone its off to another city where everybody knows my name.” Read that one more time and then continue with me.
How lonely is that life? Moving from city to city entertaining strangers, fans, people who know your name, recognize your face, know everything about you, and all you see is a blurred face from fast pace moving and shifting. In that one piece of the song it signifies what I’ve been saying; the fans will come, but who is there for you?
That is where the village comes into play. That is where you realize who you keep around you will be the same people who keep you grounded, who keep you motivated, who will tell you the truth, who will stand behind you when you feel the world is against you. Think of the conceptional idealism of a village as we were taught in grammar school (for those of you not from the east coast elementary school). A village is a place where no matter what the people look out for each other, the people help each other, the people take care of one another. If one eats, everyone eats. If one is sick, everyone is a nurse. The examples are endless, but imaginable. Now close your eyes and picture your village. Who is helping you? That’s what “it takes a village” means. The people around you are your village, and if you are a creative and you cannot look around at your “village” and trust that when you are about to do something bigger than you and you need their help that they will do it, you need a new village…period.
Ultimately as you continue to matriculate through your career, your village will change, and that may be hard. I know from personal experience, and I will continue with my “3030” example, that change will come when people aren’t supposed to continue on that path with you. When I began “3030” two people who were very close to me were on that project, and today those two people are no longer in my life. You have to pay attention to your village, because when its very foundation is threatened you are it’s protector. I had to make some pretty tough decisions and again I looked around and my village stood by me as these people had to not only be removed from the project but from my life.
I’m unsure how much more I could make this plain; if you try to do this alone it will be one of the hardest things you’ve ever attempted. Your village prevents you from hurting alone, from making bad decisions alone, from celebrating alone. That is why who you have in your village is so important. Nothing worth having is easy to obtain, but having someone there to have your back through it all eases the bump just a tad.
Peace, Light, and Kick Ass Friends,
People always ask me “B. Danielle how do you manage your time?” “Where did you get your work ethic from?” and I never have an answer. I always have the deer-caught-in-headlights look as I search for something intelligent to say so that all of my professional clout doesn’t go out of the window. My usual clever answer; “I’m not quite sure, but if you have any tips, let me know.” It usually elicits a laugh and I can slide away without being completely mortified.
The beautifully ugly truth is; 99% of your time no longer belongs to you when you have a goal. Whether it be movies, shows, and novels like me, or physical, artistic, or otherwise out of the norm desires, when you have to work hard to make it, time becomes of the obsolete. But how do you balance something that no longer exists? How do you handle the emotion of letting down your loved ones and truly focusing on you and living for you? How do you handle the late nights and early mornings? How Sway? There is no easy answer to these questions, so if that was what you were anticipating, I apologize for being disappointing. Reality is I haven’t mastered it completely, but I do know the true meaning of blood, sweat, and tears. I know the meaning of the grind. I know the meaning of “by any means necessary”.
Nothing worth having is gained easily, Remember that. Write it down, tattoo it on your forehead, or do whatever you need to do so you do not forget it. It’s real! I would not be where I am today if life had been handed to me easy. I wouldn’t be able to hold my own in a room full of entertainment industry professionals if I couldn’t relate to their stories of how they got in that very room. If it is easy, it will not last. Period. I literally had to sit down and have a conversation with myself and realize what “By any means necessary” really meant.
“By any means necessary”, is something that people say often and rarely know the true definition. I could go on and on about Malcolm X (the originator of the phrase) and the true power behind those words, but that is for a different article. What I can tell you is that when I say “by any means necessary” I mean just that; you will do what you have to do to make sure you get what you need done, and done correctly. This means you will miss some things, and you will have to prioritize your time, and figure out what is more important. I have missed every baby shower anybody close to me has had in the last five years. Unapologetically. This does not mean that my attendance wasn’t important; it just means the project I was working on was something I needed to get done. Those decisions aren’t always easy. They hurt, and not just your feelings, but you have to stand strong in believing in yourself and your goal, and those who stand behind you will hold you up even in your absence.
When I started my production company, and filmed my first film, I HAD NO CLUE WHAT I WAS DOING. I emulated what I’d seen colleagues do, I researched, and I took $400 and made a movie. I didn’t even know that for that to be the entire budget was offensive. People on Craig’s List were threatening to go to the union on me, and I didn’t even know what union they were calling. I was so naïve and green, and then I realized I had to make another movie. Life didn’t stop, and was not over because the first movie was done. I now was a moving force in an industry I knew nothing about, and my entire life changed! I am a writer, I write, so all of a sudden I had writing projects up to my ears, and I had to complete them on time. I couldn’t kick it. I couldn’t go be young (I was 29) and have fun and stay out, I had a brand to build and a name to build. Talk about hard. It was completely horrible (I mean that in the most positive way possible). I didn’t sleep, I had to manage a relationship, a full time job, and a full time dream that I was turning into a career. I needed 48 hours in a day. I needed time to heal when my relationship failed right before the world premiere screening of my first movie. There was no time! Life was still happening! I had to show up and show out! I owed it to myself; my blood, sweat, and tears. The end result was something that is indescribable; that moment when you sit in a theatre and you hear a sold out audience applaud your work that is what everything up until that moment is for.
What I’ve learned while on this grind in the independent world is that at the end of the day, if you don’t go hard for you the people who depend on you won’t go hard either. “By any means necessary” is more than just a phrase it is a lifestyle for me. I go hard so that my team knows I think they are worth it. I go hard because my mentees need to know that they are worth it. I go hard because my fans need to know that they are worth it. “By any means necessary” means that I put the end goal before all. I see the bigger picture, and I viciously attack it until I own it. Beyoncé said “I dream it, I work hard, I grind ‘til I own it” those aren’t just pretty lyrics. That is a culmination of everything I’ve just said. It doesn’t matter what you’re working toward, the point is you’re working toward something! You’ve done more than most because you started in the direction, and it is up to you to have the follow through! It is up to you to make your dreams a reality, and to achieve them BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY.
Peace, Light, and Hard Work