REI’s “#optoutside” (commercial)

Courtney Sofiah Yates

Stept Studios

 

What was your first professionally directed work and when was it? 
My first directing jobs were a couple of films for Moncler and Document Journal in the summer of 2020

How did you get into directing? 
I got into directing through my work as a creative at a small advertising agency in New York. There I learned so much about wrangling thoughts into concrete ideas, responding to briefs, image research, physically directing on set and the language of editing. I was really inspired by the talent I saw around me there and it pushed me to believe in myself.

What is your most recent project? 
The music video for Hawa’s song, “Gemini.”

What is the best part of being a director? 
For me, the best part is the freedom to return to my childhood brain. Our child-self is much more attuned to reality.

What is the worst part of being a director? 
Being pigeon-holed into the identity the commercial industry has found for you can be very frustrating. But directing is such a broad idea that what might be unpleasant about a certain sort of work doesn’t even exist in others. It’s all about working with people who understand you.

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.? 
Right now, I’m focused on projects that have the potential for intricate world building (through VFX or set design) or layered and intricate emotional storylines. I want to tell love stories, death stories, stories about frustration, elation, anxiety, all of the intricacies of life as a human. Whether through music videos, commercials or video art, I’m very clear about the level of intricacy and depth I’m focused on executing.

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? 
Unfortunately, I have not had the blessing of being mentored. But I know how much of a privilege that experience is and hope to find that someday.

8) Who is your favorite director and why? 
My favorite director is Edward Yang. He is so intricate and meditative in his musings on the phases of life and love.

What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
It is so hard to pick a favorite movie. Some of my tops are Love Streams, Chocolat (Claire Denis), Yi-Yi, Suzanne, Suzanne, Totoro, Save The Last Dance... I mean there are so many. My favorite TV programs are I May Destroy You, Flea Bag and Girlfriends. My favorite online program is 2 Lizards by Meriem Bennani and Orian Barki.

Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?) 
I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan in a very academic family. I began shooting photos seriously in high school but did not know I could do this as a profession until many, many years later. I worked a few academic and corporate creative jobs and could never envision my future clearly, it was always foggy. But I was lucky to be around a few really inspiring women who were photographers, directors and creative directors and just observing them really cleared the vision for me.

11) 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?
I happened to go freelance as an artist two weeks before the pandemic shut down the city and world. It gave me a lot of time and space to be myself after many years of learning from others – fitting into other people’s boxes of what good “creative” was.. By being by myself for so much time, I had to really trust my own learning styles, which I had never done before. I had assumed my way of viewing, writing and creating needed to be fixed until I saw how effective my art was when I trusted myself. My life is very different than it was before the pandemic in so many beautiful ways.

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