Interview with filmmaker: LeeAnn Chisolm

LeeAnn Chisolm is a writer, award-winning filmmaker, and one half of Lena Street Productions. Born and raised in Germany, now residing in Atlanta, she found her calling early on through the written word and performing arts. From photography to poetry, to dance and film, her art is a conscious effort to inspire, empower and simply be the change she wishes to see in the world. She also brews a bomb-ass kombucha.

You attended Clark Atlanta University for television and production, what drew you to choosing television and production? Did you know at an early age that you wanted to be involved in the arts/media?
Before I wanted to be a filmmaker, I was a dancer. I had the opportunity to dance for a television show when I was 13, and that experienced opened my eyes up to the world of production. It was the first place other than the stage where I felt instantly at home. So from there, of course, I believed I was destined to be an esteemed broadcast journalist. Wrong. It was in college that I discovered I enjoyed creating narrative film way more than I enjoyed regurgitating the news. I still have a heart for telling real and authentic stories – scripted and documentary alike, but I like to put an emphasis on the art of delivering each story.

Tell us about your new web series “Food Diaries”? Where did you draw the inspiration to tell these stories? 
Food Diaries is a docu-series exploring our broken relationship with food inspired by my own actually. I had an extremely unhealthy relationship with food for all of my teen years, and at some point I had to look at myself and decide if this was going to be the rest of my life. That moment of clarity opened me up to a more authentic way of existing, and much of that had to do with what I was feeding my body. I use food as an introduction to a much larger conversation about how we live our lives and figuring out if it is truly conducive with the sustainment of our overall well being, our communities and the planet. Each episode features a different modern day revolutionary who has committed their lives to this sustainability, while using food as a medium. 

What can we expect from the remaining of the series on Food Diaries?
Get ready to meet more amazing trailblazers, healers, doctors, educators, and farmers who truly want the betterment of the world but have realized it starts with themselves. It has been a complete honor having the opportunity to share space with these individuals as they opened up about their journey to me. I hope they teach audiences as much as they teach me about conscious eating and living our best lives. 
What goes into your process for creating a web series? (some practical tips for someone who is interested in creating their own)
There’s a lot that goes into creating a web series, and I can’t say this is all in order. Either the case, here are a few tips. Before I put pen to paper, I always spend time on the concept. Making sure it’s viable for the medium and a viable story worthy of sharing – for the audience and myself. After I have flushed out the concept and scripts, start budgeting. Some things you might be able to cut once you’ve gathered your resources, cast, and crew, but it doesn’t hurt to overshoot. Make sure to include PR all along the way. Creating the story is as important nowadays as the actual story. Don’t deprive your growing audience of becoming intimate with your characters, the story, or your story as a filmmaker. Another tip, put as much emphasis in development and post-production as you do in principal production. It will only help you in the long run.
What is a successful moment in your career so far?
A successful moment in my career was when I and my co-writer, Mercedes McIntosh, were approached to write a television movie for a cable network. It was the most ecstatic I’ve been in my writing career. We worked on the script for half a year only to find out that the cable network was changing their programming and would no longer be developing our finished script. That experience taught me a lot about the industry. So yes, while we caught the eye of some producers and executives, a big break can be taken from you just as quickly as it was given. I share that moment because that was when I learned to stop defining success by a check, mass viewership, status or anything else external to me. I have determined that my success is my happiness. Doing what I love on any scale, that is my happiness. 

One piece of advice do you have for women working to get started in the industry (who may not have access to going to film school)?
Get started. Find friends. Find the local film community. Then get started shooting. Nowadays, there are no limits to storytelling. You can tell an amazing story on your camera phone. Don’t limit yourself and above all else, don’t be afraid to fail. It’s all part of the journey that is leading you to your intended goal, and sometimes that leap of faith is the only thing standing in the way of you and your dreams.
Funding is the F word that everyone hates. You have several projects under your belt, tell us how did you go about seeking funding?
I self-funded most of my projects, at least in part. To paraphrase Ava Duvernay, people won’t invest in you until you invest in you. It takes more time since you might have to dedicate time to something that’s not your passion to feed your passion, but it is always possible. Aside from that, we used crowd-funding. What can be even more valuable than funding is actual resources. With our first web series, Lena Street Ladies, we were able to get clothes from designers, locations, loaned equipment, music, and even a full cast willing to volunteer their time to grow in their craft all for free or on barter. Before you seek out cash, seek a network.

What’s next for you?
More episodes of Food Diaries and experimenting with the digital medium as a filmmaker. Always writing new scripts. Always birthing new stories.

How can we keep up with you? 

Lena Street Productions 
IG/Twitter: @MissChisolm @lenastreetproductions


Interview with film Director: Shanice Malakai 

Shanice Malakai is a producer, film maker & creator vested in visual storytelling that empowers those with a voice. Her short documentary film Black Girls Code has been showcased within the Cannes Film Festival; Short Film Corner, Langston Hughes African American Film Festival, Chelsea Film Festival, Focus Forward, Miami Sci Fi Festival and many more. In addition, Malakai has been honored on a local and national scale.  

When did you fall in love with the art of “storytelling”? (your defining moment)?

I believe it was when I was on set one day and realized that I could do this for the rest of my life and never tire of it.
What drew you to social impact stories to tell/document, for example Black Girls Code?
What drew me to tell stories was this innate need to make my voice heard. To ensure that the viewpoints for women like me were expressed. To change the narrative and manifest social and cultural change.
You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

I’ve ran into my team members by chance, through film school and through all walks of life. I keep my team strong by cultivating a vision and being communicative. I also keep my team strong by appreciating them. My ensuring that I am acknowledging their hard work and perseverance. They keep me sane and back me up, and it’s vice versa.

What female directors have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?
I would have to say Ava Duvernay. She’s one of the first female directors that inspired me. Her tenacity and spirit to move forward no matter the costs is something I look up to.
I often wonder why anyone would want to direct. Why would you want to always have 100 decisions in front of you and have over 100 people waiting on your answer?
Because it’s the rush of seeing your vision come to life. I direct because I want to change the way women of color are seen behind the camera. I direct because I want to manifest a vision and see it come to life.
What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

Audiences are not a monolith. Every audience is different. Every audience is unique. I am embarking upon a new film and my first question was, WHO is going to watch this? Who is going to want to see this? Researching my demographic has helped me to hone in on the spirit of my film. 

What do you look for when looking for a project?
I look for something that meaningful. For me, it’s cultivating a project that projects social change. That has a voice.

What is a successful moment in your career so far? 

I would say being able to attend the Sundance Film Festival through the Horizon Award. An award founded towards empowering young women directors. 
 How do you earn a living and sustain a career doing what you love?

I get a lot of client work for commercials, documentaries, music videos, you name it. I also work with youth and develop unique programming within an underserved community.
How does a typical day (for you) begin when you are in full swing production?

CHAOS! Hahahah! We have our safety meeting, we get set up for crafts. We go over our first shot line up talent and go through our day.

One piece of advice do you have for women looking to get started in the industry. 

Don’t let people undermine your decisions. Don’t let people let you feel as if you are competent. Keep moving forward and trust yourself. Don’t be afraid to take risks.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working on this new film. It’s a new journey for me and I’m excited to see what happens. I am also developing my new non-profit entitled Made In Her Image, a non-profit that teaches young girls of color how to make their own films.

How can we keep in touch?