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Tess Lafia | SHOOT New Directors Showcase Event
Tess Lafia

Madeline The Person’s “Why I Broke Up With You” (excerpt from music video)

Tess Lafia

Mirror Films


What was your first professionally directed work and when was it? 
I directed a music video for an artist named Samia for her song, “Milk.” I messaged her on Instagram, was connected to her label, and flew out to New York with my DP. We had $800.00 and a camera my grandparents gifted me. It’s still one of my favorite videos I’ve made.

How did you get into directing? 
My dad was a writer and director, and growing up, he showed me that filmmaking is the best way to tell stories. My brother and I would make short films as children with a camcorder my dad gave us every chance we got.

What is your most recent project? 
Currently, the project I’m most excited about is a short film that is in the works. It’s a dark comedy about a magician whose show goes horribly wrong at a children’s birthday party. I plan to shoot at the end of this year.

What is the best part of being a director? 
I love working with talent and crew to bring something to life that was just an idea. It’s a really special feeling to get to work with people who you trust and vice versa. Nothing is more rewarding than being on set and watching all of the pieces of the puzzle come together after weeks of hard work and prep.

What is the worst part of being a director? 
Sometimes you have to be a people pleaser. You have to be the person to listen to all sides and create something everyone is happy with while still being true to your vision. Learning to stand up for yourself is the hardest part- I wouldn’t say there’s a “worst” part.

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 am focused on writing and directing to make movies. That’s the end goal- to have something on the big screen. I’d love to get an independent movie funded in the next few years. My writing partner and I write mostly drama comedies surrounding dysfunctional families and relationships.

I’d love to move toward commercial directing as well. I’d love to work with an organization like Planned Parenthood or companies that want to tell women’s stories.

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? 
I’m lucky enough to have had a few mentors throughout the past few years, but someone who believed in me very early on was Melodie McDaniel, a director/photographer I met at The Director’s Bureau. Melodie encouraged my career and helped connect me with different people who have given me directing opportunities. Mentorship is really important. Having someone who believes in you and your talent is invaluable. I think working alongside people who create art you resonate with and vice versa is enriching. There is always more to learn, and I believe in sharing knowledge and wisdom with people around you. I would love to mentor other artists one day.

Who is your favorite director and why? 
Richard Linklater is one of my all-time favorite directors. I love the way he is able to tell stories that focus on flawed characters who wander through life and all of its imperfections with a sense of humor. His early work is inspiring to me; he reminds me that less is more and you don’t need a ton of VFX or a huge budget to make something really special. Tape is just three people in a hotel room with a camcorder, and it’s an incredible movie.

What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content? 
As of now, at this moment, since this answer is always changing, my favorite film is Richard Linklater’s Suburbia. I’m also deeply in love with David Lynch’s Blue Velvet for reasons I am still trying to understand.

Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?) 
I grew up in Los Angeles, California. I’m half Chinese, half white. I think existing in this in-between world has influenced my view on how I see things and the stories I want to tell.
While I was in college at Art Center College of Design, I got an internship at The Director’s Bureau, Roman Coppola’s production company. I learned so much during my year there about the commercial world and built meaningful relationships with some amazing people. Working alongside really talented directors inspired me to get out there and find directing opportunities for myself.
From my internship, I was able to work with Gia Coppola on her feature film, Mainstream. It was such an incredible experience getting to be on set and watch another woman direct. I learned so much from that set. It made me feel like my dreams aren’t so far out of reach.

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?
During the pandemic, I had to learn how to slow down and stop comparing myself to others and what I see on social media. It has given me the time to sit and write. I wrote my first feature screenplay during the pandemic. It’s allowed me to reflect on what I want to do with my career and my art.