RILEY (excerpt from short film)
What was your first professionally directed work and when was it?
My first professionally directed piece of work was two music videos that I did for an artisan friend name Courtnie. The budget for both was small but I was passionate about bringing these ideas to life. The song “LTMF” took place in an apartment filled with black women (nearly 13 of her friends) with yellow and orange themes. The other “WHATS UP” took place in a black woman’s hair salon where we got to play with funky styles paying homage to the women before us in the 90s and early 2000s. I specifically love that piece because of how dirty I got my hands making sure the hair nails and set created a world all together. In the beginning of my Director? career my priority was showcasing black men and women in both positive and beautiful light. Working with colors and backgrounds that will complement their skin and let the viewer fall in love.
How did you get into directing?
I was always into media. I loved taking photos and videos, even when I only had a blackberry phone at the time! Still I would do planned photo shoots with my friends and take videos of my church family and school friends. Later, I’d import them and hop on a photo editing website/ windows movie maker to bring it to life. I was hungry to learn more and more as I slowly upgraded cameras and went up the ladder of editing softwares and taught myself the Adobe Premiere Suite. This was one of my many hobbies growing up.
In high school, I signed up for any club I showed interest in. I was a cheerleader, working backstage in stage crew, performed plays in theater, sang at the talent shows, and wrote poetry in creative writing. But when it came down to choosing a college, I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to major in. I decided to apply to 4 CUNY schools for an English major.
For reasons unbeknownst to me I got denied from all of them, and I was forced to go to community college. Seeing the professors at the university sparked the realization that I was not interested in teaching. So I asked myself, “What do I still love doing when I’m no longer exposed to it?” Creating media content. It was then and onward that I realized I wanted to become a Director. Suddenly, all of my interests in high school lined up. Each had to do with bringing an idea to life. I love creating and I love to execute.
What is your most recent project?
Most recently, I directed a three-part commercial for Aveeno. We prepped for about a month then I was flown out to Mexico City twice in August between location scouting and production week. It was such an experience working with a predominantly Spanish-speaking crew of over 100 people total. It was also really nice how well DDB and Aveeno trusted me to lead on casting, callbacks, fittings, and the locations, and trusted both my DP Xavi Portillo and I to push the commercial/cinema boundaries as far as lighting and color. Though I experienced a lot of firsts on the job, I handled it like a seasoned professional.
What is the best part of being a director?
Although I am taking on the same roles and overseeing production from start to finish, every project that I am put on to is different than the last. I’m forced to take a different approach, pivot, and learn something new (I actually keep tabs in my notebook the things I learn on every job I’m on). Overall though I love the process from conception to execution. Bringing ideas to life and making an artist, client, or friend happy brings a smile to my face. And of course, seeing the final product!
What is the worst part of being a director?
Honestly, the amount of work that goes into pre-production can be tedious at times. But it’s so important to be on those pre-production calls and create those decks so one singular vision is understood between all departments. I’d say the worst part is the amount of treatments that you have to write in a year, let alone a lifetime. Hours and days spent pulling references, creating a good layout and getting all the descriptive words down on a treatment in rapid speed and there’s a fair chance you won’t get selected. Great, now I have this solid idea and nothing to do with it right now. It feels like a waste of time. But every now and then when you ARE selected, the feeling is worthwhile.
What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, television, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre–comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
I want to try it all. I don’t quite know what I will specialize in just yet, but I do enjoy challenging myself on projects I haven’t done before. This year I would like to book more commercial and branded content jobs. I love the level of production and attention to detail they serve. I’ve done two so far and want to keep growing and learning through application. I would also like to finish writing then shoot my next short film, a psycho thriller.
Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you?
A big mentor for me right now is my manager Carolin. She came to me in 2019 and saw something in me, though I had only done low budget projects. She commented on how high level my work looked despite my resources. It’s been 3 years since then and she has always had my best interest at heart, advised me in a variety of matters and facilitated the conversations I prefer not to be apart of. She once said to me, “When looking for an production company to sign to, or industry friends to work and surround myself with, never be the coolest person in the room”. Your environment should keep you inspired and motivated to on up yourself. She’s very much like a second mom to me!
Who is your favorite director and why?
Honestly I have a few. First though would be Nadia Lee Cohen. She has a particular take on the modern world surrounding her work with a ‘60s middle America aesthetic. Although she maintains this aesthetic throughout all of her work, every piece that she delivers is fresh, new, and curtailed to the artist or brand that she is working with. I also love that she is her own muse and she continually creates for herself as well. Her work is one of a kind and I am thrilled to continue observing her journey. She is a reminder that despite how busy you get to never stop creating for fun and creating for you. It is the most important thing to avoid getting burned out, uninspired, and sucked into soley creating for $$$. The quality of your work as an artist, to me, relies on being true to yourself and making time for yourself. What I create in my work is an extension of me, and the ideas that don’t make it through the treatment stages I am going to create them for myself. You have good ideas and you do not need to rely on someone else to make them with your reality.
What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
As of right now my favorite movie movie is Bullet Train. The script writing was phenomenal, the way that it was shot and staged on one train was so impressive, the progression of the story, the selection of characters, the different perspectives and storylines, not to mention the neon location of Tokyo chosen, makes it such a great watch- I’ve seen it three times in the last two months. I also really loved A24s newer films such as Everything Everywhere All At Once.
Cinematography wise, Euphoria was also a really great watch. Although, I felt like the script writing could use some more work.
As for my favorite branded content, it would be GCDS campaign.
Though this wasn’t asked, I will also throw this in – I love the music videos that Rosalia, Tyler, The Creator, Bad Bunny, Nathy Peluso, A$AP Rocky, Pink Pantheress, and Doja Cat.
Each world build, come up with out of the box ideas and pair themselves with wonderful directors. I can feel the trust between the pair through the screen. Being able to create a world, a character and tell a story in such a short time frame is insane. I love short form content.
Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
My parents are Haitian and came to this country to provide my sisters and I with a better life. I was born in America. Growing up I bounced around in Brooklyn, New York, moving from apartment to apartment. I spent a brief time of 4 years in Pennsylvania then moved back to New York to Queens with my family where we’ve been ever since.
I was always an artistic child since I was a toddler, and have carried that spirit with me till now. My first job at 16 I worked at a Panera bread, then I worked at Hot97. This is around the time I was in college and learned what I wanted to do with my career. I took a year off of school after getting my associates degree in 2017, started working at the radio station as a videographer + editor, and started freelancing on the side to get more practice and get my name out there. I worked there for a total of three years up until the 2020 Covid pandemic came around.
Now, I solely freelance direct and edit for a living and live bi-coastal between NY and LA. My working experience always levels up!
How has the pandemic impacted your career, art, craft, shaped your attitudes and reflections on life which in turn may influence your work, approach, spirit, mindset?
The pandemic actually worked wonders for my career. I always joke and say it was the year that white corporations discovered that Black people existed. I’m so thankful that my manager approached me for representation just a few months prior. Within the two years of the pandemic I worked with large names and fashion brands, shot my senior thesis film Riley for Hulu, and was given opportunities I wouldn’t have even dreamed of the year prior. All of the work that I put in for years finally was paying off and kept me high above the water. During this period of time I finally attained my bachelors degree in film production.
Going to college when the pandemic first hit was most definitely a big shift. But because of that I was able to go to school from anywhere which allowed me to travel and then eventually move to LA.
I think the pandemic era pushed me to work harder than I ever had before and taught me that I am capable of so much. It inspired me to create content for myself surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement and the George Floyd protests which ended up opening more doors for me. The harder I worked the luckier I got.
However towards June 2021 I began to get burned out and realized I could no longer keep overworking myself. I learned the importance of being moderately scheduled and taking personal time for yourself. Opportunities will always come but your mentality and your work ethic will not always be there if you do not take care of it. No I am way more open to saying no to projects I don’t see myself being passionate about. It’s very OK to be selective. Your work, as well as your boundaries represent you.
Talent Agency Contact: ABOVO | Carolin Ramsauer, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.abovomanagement.com