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Podcast with Shakesha Williams: Disrupting Hollywood, Women in Film, Directors and Producers of Color, Female Crews

The Socialfix Kickass Content Team

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Terry Tateossian (00:03):

Today I have Shakesha Williams who is the founder of Harlem fusion studios and also the creator of curvy girls rock. She’s a writer, director, producer, and a super rock star in my opinion. Welcome.

Shakesha Williams (01:00):

Thank you. How sweet of you. Thank you so much for having me. Of course. Thank you for being here. Yes, I’m excited. Me too. So we’ve been unpacking quite a bit of stuff. Oh, are a very deep woman. You go to the bottom with it. I love it. I love it. So tell me a bit about your background and how did you get started in filmmaking? Um, I think I knew all my life. I wanted to be a filmmaker, but I actually started a film school back in Oh nine, I wasn’t a spring chicken. I didn’t go from high school straight to college and then off to film school. No, it took me some time to find my path. And when I did, I knew I was absolutely in love. Um, worked on a bunch of student projects and in 2012 I found it Hartland fusion studios. And we have been working ever since. We won for best screenplay short for something that I wrote called my story that is now streaming on Amazon prime. We just finished filming and releasing the first two episodes of Curry girls rock, uh, independently produced television series and we’re super excited about all the things that we’re doing right now. Yeah,

Terry Tateossian (02:15):

yeah. I checked on my story. I thought it was such a unique point of view.

Shakesha Williams (02:19):

Thank you.

Terry Tateossian (02:21):

It was very captivating. It has a very interesting twist to how you narrate the story and how the characters go through their lifetime. Tell me a bit about that.

Shakesha Williams (02:31):

So my story follows Wilbur, who is a dying man who sought out the help of a journalist to tell his story. The big secret is he was a person who killed someone in the sixties and the person was a freedom writer. Um, we don’t know the color of the person, but we do know he participated in his murder. And what we find out over the course of the movie is that he ends up marrying a black woman and the ideas that really finding redemption or really changing who you are take so much and the rest of the world may not even buy into it, but it’s what you do with your life that really matters. But the reason I, so a part of the movie is that the, his younger character appears to the journalist. The reason I did that is I didn’t want, you know, I wanted him to see the guy who actually committed the crime and can we still be sympathetic? You know, there’s the old man wheezing and dying basically in the chair, but now we have this young fellow man with all this energy to forgive him or do we show him any sort of forgiveness? And that’s what I thought would be interested in the play of. And I don’t think people really expect it to turn out the way that it turned out. So shout outs to the entire crew and cast and our director, Lynette Lucas, who made this film absolutely gorgeous. So yeah.

Terry Tateossian (03:55):

Yeah, I was very captivated by it. I, I thought it had a very unique point of view. And as we were talking about being on podcast, I started researching a bit about, you know, women in filmmaking and women crews and you know, women in color in particular and what their representation is in Hollywood as a part of the crew, part of the production, part of, you know, being in the film. And it was really interesting. What I found out actually is that back in the twenties, when Holly Hollywood was first started, before the big studios kind of were created and began taking over, the majority of the production women were very prevalent in that industry. They were very creative. They had very unique points of view. They produced all types of themes from action to thrillers to you name it. I mean, they were pretty much the backbone of movie production

Shakesha Williams (04:52):

of Terry. Yes, indeed. Yeah. No, you’re, you’re absolutely right. Yeah. And the, the issue became that, um, they were mostly contracted by larger studios and the studios were the ones with the power. So what do people in power do? They hire the people that they want. Not to say that the women didn’t do a good job because a number of female screenwriters and folks stayed in the industry over many, many decades. So, um, shout out to the pioneers. But at the same time, the folks who make the decision or with the decision making power has not been women, sadly. Correct. And particularly women of color. Yeah.

Terry Tateossian (05:36):

Correct. Yes. Yeah. And I mentioned to you my experience would not, you know, and I don’t have experience with the studios, but I have some experience with the networks themselves. They also have a pretty large contribution factor in terms of, you know, the smaller productions, even commercials, they do recommend that you work with certain production companies and writers and directors and that kind of keeps the differentiation away. You know, maybe you want a very different unique style that hasn’t been produced for the last 20 years. Yes. That person that’s been creating that same stuff over and over again is not going to have the right

Shakesha Williams (06:14):

so true. So true. And the idea that people in power hire what they know. Um, I think it’s so key for the ground, the independence, the Indies, the, the folks who are on the ground doing this every day to branch outward to their fellow filmmakers and build little communities so that as you grow together, you can give each other opportunities cause you’re not going to give opportunities to someone you don’t try. You don’t see value in. Um, what I really appreciate, like I told you this at a reduced Renee on her IgE story said that she, there was one black location manager in all of New York city in the union. And that’s insane to me. I’m not sure how many women and, or other women of other minorities are a part of it, but I would venture to think it wasn’t a really great balance.

Shakesha Williams (07:09):

Um, and how do we fix that? What do we do to fix that? You know, those are the main questions that folks like you and I have to really think about when we are hiring and getting people, you know, staffed up on our projects. Right? Education. Definitely. Also believe that, I won’t say geography plays a part, but it really does. Like if I’m in New York, I have more opportunities and maybe if I’m in, you know, Iowa or Idaho, I know that schools like FSU schools like NYU, Tisch, it’s really important that folks who are like, you know, getting great internships and things like that, but you have to kind of have the access to it. But the great thing about being a creative, the great thing about this industry is you can start, you can get a black magic cinema camera that gives you four K quality visuals for less than a thousand dollars and you’re automatically not the greatest camera person.

Shakesha Williams (08:08):

So don’t go crazy folks, but start, start, get your stuff out there. Um, I think women too, I’m only blame women. I think people have this idea that someone’s going to give them a shot. And I do believe that it’s really important. Those shots are really important. Working for amazing people. Is Uber important? I really, I believe in that, but I also believe in, there has to be a buy in for you. You have to be, again, to start, whether it’s getting with a writer friend that you know, or a couple of actors you know from school or a couple of actors, you just know who, who are just interested. Start, it’s not going to be an Oscar winning drama. It’s not going to be the best comedy. ABC won’t be knocking on your door. But you have begun the

Terry Tateossian (08:55):

journey to becoming better and elevating your craft. Um, and that is also seen an elevation of craft is really seen. It is, it speaks volumes for who you are for what you’ve done. I’ve gotten a lot of the opportunities I’ve gotten just because I’ve started the journey. So you have to get in it in order to even fight the good fight. Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s funny how you mentioned just start, I had someone that was working with me and she wanted to be a photographer. She wanted to be a professional photographer and she somehow she got sold on attending Kodak university, I think it’s in Pennsylvania and they were charging her $50,000 or I’m probably underestimating it to teach her how to take pictures. And Linda is free if you have a New York public library card. I mean, give me a break, just say exactly. So I didn’t want to be overbearing and just say, yeah, that’s a really bad idea because you know, people don’t respond to that.

Terry Tateossian (09:54):

And education is important on a lot of levels, but if you’re in the creative field, there’s so many resources where you don’t need to be scammed to pay 50 grand and then not actually have the love of it coming out of you where you can’t help but do that and continuously enhance your skill sets and have a portfolio, not you don’t need to pay someone $50,000 this is an amazing time where like sort of in like a pioneer kind of space where there’s so much available to us. There’ve been several, you know, jury winning Sundance films that were shot on iPhones. Exactly. All it takes is ingenuity. Of course, particularly in film. You can’t do it alone, but having a good team, having a dedicated team, finding people of like minds to get with you, calling in all your favorites when you believe in a project, but that takes things that I think people don’t want to have to do.

Terry Tateossian (10:56):

They’d rather say, well, I’m going to go to school because it delays it a bit. Or sometimes they really just don’t know. They really just don’t understand. But girlfriend, you could’ve went to Linda. I’m telling you, they have great, great class. Yes, yes. Even even just YouTube. Absolutely. Things I’ve learned on YouTube never have imagined. I know how to make an acrylic table from YouTube. So shout out. So YouTube. Yes, definitely. So you talk about how you got started into this. You talk about the love of it. Um, and you know, clearly there are a lot of obstacles and challenges I think for everybody, not just in the information that we receive, not just in the education we participate in, but also just in general in life. Tell me a bit about some of the challenges and hurdles and obstacles and hardships that you had to endure. There have been quite a few financial as

Shakesha Williams (11:54):

a woman, sometimes it’s harder to get people to buy in to what you’re doing. Um, but why is that? Why do you think that? I think because it kind of goes back to what you were saying, um, when it comes to networks and how they often want to hire people, they know this is a very small industry. I know it’s, it’s a lot of jobs available, but ultimately it’s a, it’s a, Hey, do you know someone industry? I’m looking for an industry and if I work with someone all the time, the first person that I’m going to call on is the person that I’ve worked with on several projects, showed up on time, did what they needed to do and came in, got paid and left. Um, so me getting into the field was the hard part. Getting people to gain their trust like me, you know, coming in just cold saying, Hey, I’m a producer.

Shakesha Williams (12:44):

They had to really see me and they had to see me work and I had to learn what it meant to be a producer. I had to learn that everyone comes with an agenda and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but everyone comes in with their courts and stuff and how do I make the best, you know, get the best out of people on set and how do I make people feel comfortable? And when they leave they talk about what it felt like. Like it felt like such a family atmosphere. We were all family. That to me was so important. Also come from the corporate world. So taking care of business, making sure things were on time, knowing what, and I was paying out of pocket, knowing how much things cost and what I needed to do to stay on target. Being able to push a DP who thought somehow they were John Wu and was looking at the camera like a table shot in their life and you’re like, Hey dude, it’s going to take like we have five minutes, you know, and finessing that and making them feel okay with, with that.

Shakesha Williams (13:36):

Um, so that took time. That’s why I say start because everything takes time to build. It takes time to build those connections. It takes time to build that rapport. Um, and sometimes you have to start all over again. Um, and that’s okay too. So, so yeah, that’s what I found most challenging. Um, and I don’t, you know, it’s like when you wake up in the morning, you don’t think about being a brunette. You just kinda move into, I think about being a woman. Like I think about what the task is. And I move forward in it. Basically just building up my reputation, building my network. Again, super important in this industry. And to be honest with you, if you’re just in business period, it’s so key to have a great network, a great network of people who can, you know, guide you or, and here’s the thing, I know there’s someone listening and they’re in the middle of trying to figure out what they want to do and if this industry, if this life is the one that they really want, I would say to you, utilize your talents and work hard because someone is going to say your name that you didn’t expect to say your name and it will lead to other things.

Shakesha Williams (14:44):

And I’ve learned that that people that I’ve met weren’t things that I set up or conceived of. I didn’t plan to meet XYZ person or I didn’t plan to get in contact with a person. I didn’t plan to get money from this person. It happened because they saw my work and they believed in the vision and I was able to sell them cause they’re like, well, she already did it once, twice. Let’s, let’s bring on. And so absolutely.

Terry Tateossian (15:07):

Well they believed in you. Yes.

Shakesha Williams (15:10):

But I, you know, if I was sitting at home playing PlayStation, I would be the same person without something to show for it.

Terry Tateossian (15:18):

Exactly. I play PlayStation by the way. No, no, no. Nothing wrong with that. Um, I try to tell my, my kids especially, you know, when they’re doing something for the first time and there’s, you know, learning a particular skill set for the first time when you were a baby, did we continuously try to help you learn to walk or do we take, you know, just give up now, you know, you kind of have to just assume that you will figure it out. Assume that you will succeed if you don’t stop and just continuously keep pushing forward until you figure it out. Yeah. And sometimes you may never figure it out,

Shakesha Williams (16:02):

but when, when do you ever like the younger I get the more I realize, ah yes, I said younger. I realize that you are always learning and growing. It never stops. It never changes you think you like even if you get to a Mark by the time you get there you’re onto the next Mark. So there’s always, I don’t want to sound like Matthew McConaughey at the Oscars right now, but I kind of do like you’re always chasing your next self. You’re so whatever your level you think you’re at, there’s another self waiting on the other side. If you’re fortunate, if you’re fortunate enough to live long enough. Yes, absolutely.

Terry Tateossian (16:41):

I read the other day that there is no success for successful people. Yeah. Amen. I ironic

Shakesha Williams (16:51):

it’s true. Like if once you hit a Mark, what is your next target? And that’s just a part of learning and growing. You can be a a sheep herder and your next, you know, you can go, well I have five sheep, I want 10 there’s always a level of growth and change and experience protect. So I think with young people, we’ve us nineties kids who came under era and we saw like the yuppies and folks doing their thing. We began to assess our lives and think that the driving force was the marks, a home, a car, a certain figure in your bank account. And that kind of turned itself on its head with the mortgage crisis. Like all that shit went out the window. And for me, I think a lot of times for me it’s particularly after, not too long after that I was homeless for two years.

Shakesha Williams (17:42):

I was someone who kind of had a lot going on financially. We were doing really well, my husband and I. So we never thought we would end up in that situation. What I found at that time is that I survived it when I thought I wouldn’t. So the strength that I have as a filmmaker also comes from, you know, I’ve been in the worst trouble you could possibly be in as a human being, as an American, as someone who paid taxes. I was in the absolute worst position and I found my way out. So now it’s nothing for me to get to a location and the door is still shut or locked because someone didn’t do what they were supposed to do or handling a late contract negotiation because I survived that. So, and the, and the other thing is the push. I want to have this, I want Kirby girls to become a distributed, uh, television show. I would love to make my story into a full length feature, length drama and all the other things that Harlem fusion studios is working on, including an app, including another film series. So all of those things I have to push and these are just things that I’m doing now, not even the stuff I’m doing two years from now.

Terry Tateossian (18:53):

So tell me about your mindset before you became homeless, while you were homeless and how did you come out of that? Like, tell me what was going on in your mind, you know, your family, um, the situation. How did you figure out that things were beginning to turn around for you? What did that feel like? What did you do to get out of that?

Shakesha Williams (19:13):

Um, so it happened. So suddenly my, my husband, he got sick in 2011 and he lost his job. Of course, he was in the hospital for 45 days. He was in the ICU unit. And like literally everything kind of turned from there. You know, we, we held on for a while, but the last time that either of us lost our job, it was the complete ruination of everything. Uh, all of our physical stuff gone. Our home gone. And we came. We were actually living in Atlanta. We came back to New York. Um, and we were living in the shelter system. My mindset before was survival. Okay, let’s survive. My mindset during was also also survival. However, I didn’t think I was gonna make it. It was such severe depression, such embarrassment. I had older kids at the time, um, and I really didn’t want to go on.

Shakesha Williams (20:13):

Um, but for whatever reason, but for whatever reason, but God, um, I’m here. He still had, you know, plans for me and I think my analytical side saved me. If I kill myself, who’s gonna find me? What’ll happen with the kids? Will they blame themselves? Like that part of me, that type a shit really saved my life. It really did because I didn’t want to do anything that would damage or hurt my family or hurt my kids or, or even have them believe that they had something to do with it. On the other side of it, God thank God cause there is a tomorrow for anyone who’s having those kinds of thoughts. There’s always a tomorrow. So moving forward, I’m still in the shelter system at this point we’re living sort of like in an apartment. I’m in the Bronx and at that time I was working, had a day job and I met a fellow filmmaker and we kind of collaborated on getting my story off the ground, which is an even bigger reason why the best screenplay was such a big deal because we created my story at a time that I was in a really tough situation.

Shakesha Williams (21:22):

I learned that my mind says I’m one tough cookie. I’m a survivor. I used to hate the word so fiber because to me it felt like, Oh I’m a survivor. Like, how much more stuff do I have to get over? But no survivors powerful it and I’m, and I’m now thriving because I’ve survived that and working. And when people hear about that, they’re like, are you serious? You were homeless.

Shakesha Williams (21:46):

Like that’s the reaction I always get because I’m a hard worker. I you can’t now treadmill, I’m not going to use the Willow Smith line, the treadmill line. Cause that’s a lie. You will outwork me on a treadmill. But I will wake up at three o’clock in the morning and I won’t go bed till three o’clock the next morning to get what I need done. And you will not outwork me. And I’m smart and I’m efficient. But more than that, I’m a survivor. I’m a thriver and I’m here for a purpose. And part of that purpose is to just engage, entertain, and Enlive and enlightened.

Terry Tateossian (22:18):

While you were going through the hardship of being homeless, did you ever envision your day to day life as how would it play out in a movie?

Shakesha Williams (22:29):

I wa I did not. Um, when I think about it, it’s a possibility that I will delve into that as a film. But if I think about it like woke up in the morning and it was home and I actually wouldn’t make a good movie, are you going to produce for me a hundred percent we’re going to produce that because I think people need to understand that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I still have a little ways to be completely distant and creating those narratives. So I can talk about it with you now. But you know, the creation of, you know, seeing it played out, I don’t know how I would react still, but I am able to talk about it and the more I am able to share with you and others, my experience, the more distance I get from it. So it’s a very healing thing to talk about, but it also will help me be creative. So you’re right. All right. You don’t get any money for the idea, but unless you come on as a producer

Terry Tateossian (23:32):

lately, that’s what I do. Whenever I’m going through something really difficult, I’m like, okay, this is going to be in my book, this is going to be in my movie, you know, how do I want this to actually play out now? Yeah. I kind of distanced myself from this situation because the way to look at it. Yeah. I mean when you’re really, it’s like, Oh shit. You know, you get paralyzed, you don’t know what to do next. You don’t know what the right decision is. You’re kind of swallowed up by your own emotional drama on the inside. Yeah, yeah. Mean. Yeah.

Shakesha Williams (24:08):

So that’s actually good. I mean, I’m not, I’m not, I’m going to try that. I’m going to give it a shot and see if I can take like something that happens to me and like turn it into a scene and always beyond say Jazelle Knowles Carter will play me. That’s right. Right, right. Every time. Hold that thought.

Terry Tateossian (24:26):

Let’s take a quick break and thank our sponsors. The production of the amplified podcast has been brought to you by social fixed medium. Social fixed is a transformational growth hacker agency focused on emerging technology platforms. Video and podcast production, content marketing and overall startup strategy. Social fixed has helped over 300 clients generate millions of dollars in revenue, fund raising and a profit. If you’d like help launching or growing your business, visit [inaudible] dot com

Terry Tateossian (25:03):

talking about who’s going to play you. Tell me about the characters in your short film. My story and in curvy girls rock, how did you figure out who you wanted to portray and who would be the right type of character? How did you develop the characters, what you feel makes them different?

Shakesha Williams (25:22):

So like my story, it was a small cast. It was the two guys who played Wilbur, the two guys who played Alice up, two women who played Alice, the main character, Steve and the two grandkids with curvy girls. I wanted to create something. The premise is women who live in New York, but they happen to be plus-sized, not a, not a thing that just happens to be it. Um, and their lives, drama, love, sex, dating careers, that whole thing. Um, and I created curvy girls because I’m a plus size woman and I wanted to see a narrative spine outside of plus size. Women are really sad and just like there for humor. It does have bits of humor in it, but every one of the leading ladies are a plus size. And I wanted them to be, you know, Brown girls and cute and look good and be desirable and be the leading lady.

Shakesha Williams (26:21):

And sometimes it’s awesome to wait for an opportunity. It’s great when you know, the networks finally catch up and put out an amazing film or you know, you see a show shout out to shrill on Hulu, killing it, thank you. 80 for doing your damn thing. Um, and some other shows and some other, you know, plus size women doing it. But for, I was like, I need to have my voice heard. So that’s where the characters of curvy girls came from. Um, did you want me to tell you a little about the girls? Okay, so it’s uh, Adrian Zuri, jazzy Regan and Ivy. Um, and they all interest in, they all have some really hot dudes kind of hot for them and they all have like full love scenes. No breaking away. And then back to the camera. It’s nothing gross guys. It’s cool. It’s cool. You can watch it at work. It’s fine. Sorta.

Terry Tateossian (27:13):

So it’s kind of like sex in the city. But the current version it is,

Shakesha Williams (27:18):

it is the 21st century. The late 21st century. No, we’re still early. It’s a 21st century modernized version of Sexton. No, it’s the plus sized sex in the city. There you go.

Terry Tateossian (27:29):

I mean really, I don’t know. Is there a really a differential like why do we have to differentiate? Why is there a plus size section and why is there like, I mean I still don’t understand it.

Shakesha Williams (27:41):

Okay. This is what I’ll say. I don’t mind clothes being made for my body. I don’t because if for women’s for last size, what is the plus plus to what it has been said by Bloomberg, there was a study and the study said that 67% of American women are size 14 and over 14 years. Consider I can’t define that for you. I just showed up to the, I just showed up to the party. No, it’s actually 12 and up right. Size 12 and up is considered plus. So maybe anything over zero is a plus, but I just showed up late to the party. I didn’t get any, I didn’t create these labels, these heteronormative labels that have been established way before. Either you or I even showed up to the party. But I do think it’s important because plus size women are sometimes a little bit differently. Um, what I don’t attest to is the fact that a lot of retailers are still not selling plus sized clothing. That’s an issue. It’s lazy, it’s irresponsible and you’re losing a lot of money. That’s the problem. So I don’t mind there being a plus size. What I mind is the us being ignored.

Terry Tateossian (28:58):

Yeah. I mean, some of the biggest brands right now are specialty plus size. But like when I look at it, women’s bodies go through so many different changes that at what point do you consult plus, you know, plus two Y, Y you know, when you’re pregnant, you’re one size. When after pregnant you’re another size before you. I mean it’s just constantly changes. You know, sometimes you might be slightly thinner than other times. Other times you know, you, you gain more. I mean, it’s just constant

Shakesha Williams (29:30):

and I’m right there with you. I am right there with you. The problem is, so it’s one of the last isms, acceptable isms that we face. So there’s fat. Um, and I found myself on some sides of that at, at times. Um, unfortunately, and when I say fat shaming, I mean, you know, you see a thicker person or a bigger body on a plane and the reactions that people have, there’s a whole, please read if you get a chance. There’s a whole community actually talking about flying and being plus sized. I haven’t faced those issues, but I can’t imagine getting on a plane and being chained for being bigger or a seatbelt, not fitting over a body. So there are very real things outside of using the term plus that are problematic. But I will say this with the body positivity movement, there has been a lot of light shown on body diversity with a lot of plus sized models entering into the industry.

Shakesha Williams (30:27):

And you know, good, bad or indifferent. Instagram has played a huge part in allowing people, you can kind of curate your own existence. So if you feel like I’m a big girl or I’m a big guy and I really don’t know how to, uh, like I need some inspiration on how to wear clothes for my body or just something to pick me up or see somebody other plus sized bad bitch doing her thing, that’s what the great buttery thing about Instagram is that I can curate my own kind of existence and my own kind of visuals and it can be super positive. And that’s what I wanted curvy girls rock to be. I wanted it to be super positive. I w I didn’t want the narrative to be body, body, body, but I also wanted it to have a narrative that shoot, if those women can do it, if I’m on the right path. And by the way, we are effing awesome. It’s not easy being a woman. It’s not easy, you know, having a career or having a love life, whether you’re single or married. And it’s all just something that we have to really

Shakesha Williams (31:31):

appreciate about one another. And I think once we do that and take away the labels and the judgment and are able just to look at someone and just see them for who they are. And I know that sounds really like have a Coke and a smile kind of answer, but it’s, it’s the truth. Like we have to get to a point where we just don’t see a body walking towards whether they’re black, white, heavy, thin, and make an assumption. Absolutely. So that’s what this, this time in life is about right now.

Terry Tateossian (32:02):

Yeah. I mean, I’m glad that there are people out there like you that are changing perception and how we view the fizzy cat. Just the physicality of people because there’s just so much more to it. And unfortunately it impacts us in such severe ways for our entire lives. Like, you know, I spend the majority of my, you know, younger years, absolutely terrified of being different than what was out in the magazines. And of course they’re completely Photoshop, they’re, you know, air done or whatever, and you don’t actually see what a real body looks like and don’t also know what a real body looks like. Right. Right. And you kind of have this idea of, well, this is what I’m supposed to look like, but I don’t, Oh my God, there’s something wrong with me.

Shakesha Williams (32:48):

Yeah. But that’s not the case. It’s not for the longest people who had dimples or pimples or miss colors or whatever on there. I mean, we’re in a time now where people are loudly saying, I’m okay where I am. I’m, I’m okay being me. Um, the more we dismiss those rumors and dismiss that whole narrative by creating art that reinforces positivity, not just in your body, but in your mind and your spirit, we break down these walls. It’s a hard, hard, hard wall to crack. But I think we’re making indentations little by little. I think it’s sad that we still have to make these invitations and one day we won’t have to even have these conversations. But today we are and we’ll keep doing the work until it’s done.

Terry Tateossian (33:33):

Exactly. That’s why we need people like you in the media. We need people like you producing different types of content and we need people that have a diverse point of view to showcase, you know, not necessarily just racial issues but body image issues and absolutely. Um, you know, gender issues and all those things you mentioned earlier, um, when we were chatting off the podcast, this really interesting study done by USC Annenberg media that studied over the course of between 2007 to now the different perspectives in, in media as far as diversity, gender and social change initiatives are concerned. Tell me a bit about that.

Shakesha Williams (34:22):

So the study basically looked at the big studios to see where women are in play. Are they directors? Are they producers? Are they even getting jobs, women of color? Where are they? Where do they stand? And it, it was kind of shocking, not really, but it only 2% of women are involved in the executive side of movie-making and Hollywood. Um, of that a thousand jobs in that industry, they just took like a thousand or so they may have done more. But I remember the 1000, there were only 2% of women like making decisions and being in the front of the queue being, you know, directors with decision making power or executive producers or people who green light projects. And it’s problematic. Um, but it goes back to, you know, the old boys network. Women now are more, you know, you have the women in film and TV organization, you have an organization like see her, um, hashtag see her that are doing really cool things in the industry to change the narrative, change how women are seeing change, how we’re seen so that we can then be seen.

Shakesha Williams (35:40):

Um, and we now need to control our narrative. So those of us who were kind of coming up, we need to begin to pull money together and create organizations and companies and distribution companies that will send big budget films. And these w we talked earlier about what is a strong character? A strong character is just someone who is a winner and survived and could get through and has great dialogue and pushes the story forward. But a great character in life is someone who sees a problem and executes on it and makes it better. So I think a lot of us have to become problem solvers and start banning together to make this thing different. I love that.

Terry Tateossian (36:17):

Yeah, I love that. And yeah, I mean, and just to point out, out of the 2% for of women being in film, it’s even less for black women, for Latino women.

Shakesha Williams (36:33):

That’s crazy. Yeah. It’s crazy talk. So yeah, and it’s just now that we’re kind of getting a little roll on it. Yeah.

Terry Tateossian (36:41):

And these numbers haven’t changed since 2007

Shakesha Williams (36:44):

so what, 1112 years. So yeah, but we can make a difference. I always try to walk on the side of, of changing things. What is one way to change it? Like support films and women of color behind the camera? Just recently I watched Canaan queen, I’m sorry, Hollywood reporters round table had the director of key queen of Causeway. I am ruining this. This is a Lapita Nuon goes, um, film that she started in, I think she executive produced it and the woman was um, Indian, um, and she was the director and this was a really big budget film support, things like this. Even on the back end, y’all Blu-ray money counts to support those things. And when you’re a woman of color, hire women, hire good hardware. Now and I don’t mean just hire any woman, hire women who were working really hard in the industry. I’ve connected, you know, our work so that we can now kind of create these little circles, these little vessels so that we don’t have to have, I’m tired of the same old conversation, the narrative by stepping up and doing some things.

Terry Tateossian (37:58):

Absolutely. Absolutely. So yeah, for example, all female crews, um, that’s a really interesting idea right now. There, there was actually a, a Kickstarter campaign that was for the LGBTQ community was um, the crew was made out in the, the cast was made out of all diversified characters and crew. And they raised, you know, I if I’m not completely mistaken, I think it was about maybe $40,000. They didn’t see it on Kickstarter. Yeah. And I know you have all women crews as well.

Shakesha Williams (38:36):

Um, Mo, a lot of women on my crew, I make sure there are a lot of women. I’m still in New York, I’m still Indy and a lot of times I’ll get like a DP that I’ve worked with, but I do make sure that I have like a ton of women on my set. All my ads have been women minus one. A lot of my PAs are women mainly because they need the shot. And I love giving hard work and people are shot. And also because women are dope and we get it done just like everyone else. And when you can make a difference, you do.

Terry Tateossian (39:07):

Absolutely. Have you ever had, um, have you ever given somebody your shot and really kind of try to push them forward but they resisted?

Shakesha Williams (39:15):


Terry Tateossian (39:16):

That’s one of my biggest pet peeves.

Shakesha Williams (39:18):

I can’t, but we can’t save everyone. And what you begin to learn, the more you work with people, the more you work with up and coming folks or people out of college or just people in general trying to get their feet wet, is that there is a large pool of C students in this world. True of average MFS who aren’t about, they just want to kind of slide and glide through through the process of elimination. However you begin to meet people who are awesome and dope and like amazing type A’s that I promise you as soon as I get my 20 million for this project, you are on board cause you, you freaking rock. So it, it literally is a process of elimination. Um, what I’ve come to learn is I give you enough rope to hang yourself and I’m quicker to pull it. I used to give a lot of tries like, well I don’t have time for that anymore.

Shakesha Williams (40:17):

I have being a producer has made me really decisive and really kind of like cutthroat, like he’s got a cow. Um, and even still I suffer with that a bit because some of the things that make you say that, um, for instance, I had an 18 I show up the day of and I had to use one of my PAs as the a D now you know what it takes for an ID and what an Ady has to do to prepare for set. Um, fortunately I am anal retentive and don’t trust anyone. So I had my notebook ready for the next person to step in. But that’s huge. When you’re shooting five scenes, you have seven pages. I know there’s a filmmaker, like seven pages, girl, what are you doing? So like shooting seven pages where like four different scenes and setups, I’m sorry, four locations in one day.

Shakesha Williams (41:06):

So for that person to then drop out of like not even call me the night before or some that early that morning, I’m chasing you. That’s huge. Lead bad for me. I can’t recommend you to anyone with that. If someone asks me, you worked with her before. Again, this industry is all about a look. I’ll raise my eyebrow when they say how was it working with so and so and they go, okay nevermind and that’s what this industry is. It really is your reputation. Um, so if you suck it’s going to get around fast. So that’s the other thing. One, I don’t wait a long time before I execute and to like you’re going to ruin yourself after awhile. You’re going to X yourself out cause people are gonna it’s going to get around. You are who you are. Everywhere you go, everyone on your team sees when someone doesn’t pick up the weight.

Shakesha Williams (41:55):

So you are ruining. Like when that person isn’t doing what they’re supposed to do, the rest of the team is looking at you and that person like, well here I am busting my ass to make this thing work and here you what? What’s going on? You’re not going to, and it actually hurts your reputation as well as a leader. So I’ve just become more decisive. I see it. I can see it really early. I can see it really early. I can call it like, Oh no. Or what I’ll usually do is reroute them into something less. So I’ll let you step up. I’ll give you a shot when I see you’re not out. Come come here. Why don’t you just go ahead and shuffle these papers for me. Thanks. And she’d take these head shots and put them in piles for me. Right? Yeah. I mean, whoever’s putting in headshots for me today. Sorry, that’s not you.

Terry Tateossian (42:48):

I give you a lot of credit because it takes a lot of intuition. Yes. Right. It takes a lot of, um, emotional intelligence to assess the situation. You know, sometimes I feel like there are issues that may be, are causing that type of performance or that behavior. So you know, you might have to readjust and try and help the person. Yes. But ultimately, I mean that’s the hardest job in the world.

Shakesha Williams (43:15):

It is. But if you like my plan is for the studio to be a physical running studio. So for me, I really don’t have a choice. I can sit there and make it seem like, you know, I’m just, no, I plan to kind of take over the world, not pinky in the brain style, but I like it. I get it. And in order for me to do that, if, if I have to be able to manage a staff,

Terry Tateossian (43:42):

yes. And you have to be efficient and you have to have an optimal type of business.

Shakesha Williams (43:46):

And then women are often questioned when we have a hard line, you know, where a bitch where that’s where that, so we all might crave. So we question ourselves because we’re not certain like how we’re appearing. I know people aren’t in love with her, but Amy Schumer actually had a sketch and there were all these women, they weren’t neuroscientist and had all these degrees and the guy came up on stage and they were doing this thing. They were, um, excuse me. I just had a thought. Like we, we question ourselves and we’re always asking permission and we, you know, women in leadership can’t, we don’t have that. We don’t have that luxury.

Terry Tateossian (44:28):

I say, just listen. If they’re going to call a bitch, just

Shakesha Williams (44:32):

own it. Call yourself a bitch. I’m a bitch. I’m this, I’m that. I’m sorry this has happened to me. An actor actually called me a bitch. I was trying to get everyone off upset and everyone’s like taking selfies and stuff. Yeah. And I was like, well I’ll, I actually said on the phone, I said I’m a ride. That’s great. Cause I knew I was doing, I was on the in the right vein. Exactly. Exactly. I don’t know why that’s such a scary thing because that’s what the world has told us. Call you a bitch. It’s a, it’s a form of control. Cause if you get called a bitch, then you’re in this whole kind of dynamic of am I, am I doing it right now? Not anymore. So we, if we’re women in leadership, we got to make these choices. I had someone call me the devil. Sorry. That’s all right. Nice. Oh God. Like that. Did you give him my eyebrow? No. No. I said yes. I’m sure. Thank you. I’ll take that. Um, so let’s see. I liked some of the

Terry Tateossian (45:36):

stuff you told me over the phone where it you said I made my own seat at the table. Yeah, man didn’t wait for a savior.

Shakesha Williams (45:44):

Well that’s, yeah, that’s mine. That’s my thing. There’s just this thing where everyone says, Oh you get your seat at the table. I’m like this, go buy a table from Amazon and set up shop in the room. Cause eventually someone at the table will notice you. Someone’s going to see that you set up like who’s this guy? I got a table right here. He’s, he’s over there. He doesn’t want to be at this boys. No I, I, I can make this happen on my own. [inaudible] Joe Pesci jumped into my body. You’re going, you’re making me cry. Honestly. I did see Joe Peshy in the, in the scene where he’s like, am I funny? Do I amuse? You know, he started speaking serious

Terry Tateossian (46:36):

living fearlessly. You said, I wrote my own story. Once your back is up against the wall, you only have four to push. He talked about living fearlessly and you said you have to be willing to,

Shakesha Williams (46:51):

to try and something else. Sometimes one day this stuff is going to come up in a trade. I’m gonna be like, what the hell? What did I say that? Um, yes, so committed, committed way. So living fearlessly, so I’m not fearless. I’m pretty damn scared all the time. I live in constant panic. I’m not even breathing, breathing through my diet. I’m like, it’s very short breasts. However, what I won’t do is allow fear to keep me in the pocket. Um, I can walk alongside of it and I can walk standing with it standing in front of me, but I don’t allow it to stop me. So being fearless is not the absence of fear going along, even when you’re at your most terrified. Um, and it also, sometimes it’s just like your experiences. There’s a part of you that wants to keep you safe and wants to keep you away from anything that’s gonna mess up. There is always going to be a side of you that through all of your experience, it builds itself up. And it’s like, well, maybe it’s not the right road. Maybe you should. No one’s going to, because that side of you was the ed. Yeah, I went to school but I didn’t listen a lot.

Shakesha Williams (47:59):

I was always there either pummeling you, punishing you or trying to make you think you’re bigger than the world and it’s also from a small space. You have to get beyond yourself. You have to get beyond your way of thinking. You got to get out your own way and make it go creatively. What I mean by doing like fearless creatively is sometimes you don’t have a notion of which way to go, but try something. Sometimes you have to throw spaghetti on the wall. See if it sticks. It’s not always going to work out the way you expect it. It’s not always going to. Sometimes you will fall, you will face plant, you will fail and then you won’t. All you need is one. Yes. I know these are like real general terms, but all you need is one person to tell you I’m with it. Let’s go, let’s do this and it will change your life, but you have to stick with it. You cannot deviate from the plan. Even if you have to take time away from the plan or you have to do something else. Always come back to the plan. Stick with the plan.

Terry Tateossian (48:58):

Absolutely. I always say no is my favorite word cause it just means that I’m getting closer to my yes, because it’s just a numbers game at some point.

Shakesha Williams (49:05):

Oh man. Well that was from um, there’s this book called my uh, something about my parachute and it’s like a career guide. And the guy had, I always remember this, it was like all of these nos. And then at the bottom, just one. Yes. So process of elimination folks.

Terry Tateossian (49:26):

Tell me about how did you win short? A best short screenplay for my story.

Shakesha Williams (49:31):

And so our director, Lynette Luke is for my story, submit it to the widescreen film festival. This is back in 17. And she submitted for screening. So we got an official screening, but we also won best screenplay. And it’s very important because I wrote my story. So it was super duper like I went up, I made a speech, I was the only person make a speech. You’ve only been in a room with me for about 40 minutes. Can you believe that I would make a speech? I’m just like a wallflower, and I made a speech cause I was like, for everything that I ever get in life, I’m going to really appreciate it and be in the moment. And when we won, it was some really good projects. So it was even better. The fact that we had seen all these other really cool movies and that we were up against them and we still won. 

Terry Tateossian (50:28):

Congratulations. I think that varies of very serious achievement and some achievement. I wish you nothing but the best going forward. Oh, thank you. So much question. I am so appreciative to Mike Donahue for introducing us. Oh, big Mike and for your time today. Thank you. I personally, I mean you made me laugh. You made me cry. Um, I think your work speaks for itself and, um, I’m very excited to, to have recorded this podcast with you. Thank you. I look forward to collaborating together. Absolutely. Thank you.

Terry Tateossian (51:03):

Thanks for listening to the amplified podcast. Follow us on our social channels and subscribe on Apple and Google podcasts, Spotify, pod, Podbean, or wherever you get your podcasts on the next episode. Stay tuned for more trailblazing insights, energy and culture to help fuel your pursuit in the modern digital era.



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