11 Oct Episode 02: Queen Sugar’s Tina Mabry – It Only Takes One Yes
Full transcription below.
A native of Tupelo, Mississippi, Tina Mabry graduated from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts with an MFA in Film Production in 2005. A true hyphenate, Tina is a writer, director, and producer for television and film. She is currently a writer and producer for Fox’s upcoming series, PROVEN INNOCENT. She was a co-producer, writer, and director for the second season of USA’s hit drama QUEEN OF THE SOUTH. Tina was also a producer, writer, and director on OWN’s QUEEN SUGAR created by Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey. Tina produced and directed MELODY 1963: LOVE HAS TO WIN, an American Girl special for Amazon Kids. The special earned Tina a DGA Award and a NAACP Award. Tina’s other television directing credits include Netflix’s DEAR WHITE PEOPLE, ABC’s THE MAYOR, HBO’s INSECURE, FX’s POSE, and STARZ’s POWER.
In film, Tina began her career co-writing the feature screenplay ITTY BITTY TITTY COMMITTEE directed by Jamie Babbit. The film premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2007 and won Best Feature Narrative at South by Southwest Film and Music Festival. Tina went on to write and direct her first feature film, MISSISSIPPI DAMNED, which garnered an impressive thirteen awards for participation in fifteen film festivals including awards for Best Feature Film and Best Screenplay at the Chicago International Film Festival in 2009.The film premiered on Showtime Networks in February 2011.
Tina was named among the “25 New Faces of Independent Film” in Filmmaker Magazine in July of 2009 and was recognized by Out Magazine as one of the most inspirational and outstanding people of the year. She was featured in the Advocate magazine as part of their “Top Forty Under 40” issue, which features the top 40 individuals who are raising the bar in their respective fields. Tina has participated in several talent development programs including Film Independent’s Writers’ Lab, Tribeca Film Institute’s All Access, and Sundance’s Screenwriters Intensive.
Key Questions answered by Tina Mabry:
- How to become a writer/producer/director in TV & Film
- Do you need an MFA to be successful?
- Advice for creative on their journey
- Tina’s definition of success?
- How has Tina’s race, gender, and sexuality impacted her career and how has she challenged it?
Tina Mabry discusses:
- Deciding to stop studying for law school and applying for film school
- Having a tribe to read your writing and keep you honest
- Developing well-rounded characters in your writing
- How Tina linked up with Ava DuVernay and got distribution via Netflix
- Navigating the film festival circuit and creating a strategy to sell your film and yourself
- What steps Tina took to become a writer/director for hit shows such as Power, Insecure, Queen of the South, Queen Sugar and Dear White People
- How Tina turned her idols into mentors: Gina Prince-Bythewood and Kimberly Peirce
- How to build your brand to get noticed
- How Tina’s keeps improving herself and her craft
- How Tina got the opportunity to be part of the movie The Hate U Give and her review of the movie
- Why women cry (love this!)
- Advice to be successful – importance of patience, finding someone to shadow, and much more!
Tina Mabry’s Memorable Quotes:
- Fear can hold you back or it can drive you. It’s how you respond.
- It doesn’t matter about the “no’s” you get. It’s the one “yes” you get.
- It’s ok not to feel 100% confident. You have to build that muscle.
Links mentioned on this episode
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Social Media Info
Connect on Instagram:
Tina Mabry – @TinaMabry
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Connect on Twitter:
Tina Mabry – @MorgansMark
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Full episode transcription:
Tina Mabry 0:00
Be able to accept rejection, you’re going to get nothing but no and it doesn’t matter about all the no’s you get is the one yes that you get. That’s what’s important. I got rejected, I applied to four film schools, I got rejected from three of them. I had no idea about USC. And that was the one I happen to get into. But I moved out here without knowing that. And, you know, but that was all it took was one Yes. It’s like, I may not have had any kind of thing going in my career. But it took Ava said yes. For Queen sugar.
Shereen Kassam 0:39
Are you an aspiring creative in entertainment, business, fashion, design, or the arts? Do you want to elevate your creative passion project to the next level, then this show is for you? Whether you want a career in television, film, radio, literature, music, or beyond creative breakthrough will show you how to take your dreams and turn them into reality. This show will not only leave you feeling motivated and inspired, but also provide you real life tools to pursue the creative journey you have always wanted. I’m your host creative coach and chicken wing lover Shereen Kassam aka the funny Brown Girl. Yes, I have an unhealthy obsession with chicken wings. Now, get ready to flex your creative muscle.
Our guest today a true hyphenate – Tina is a writer, director and producer for television and film. She’s currently a writer and producer for Fox’s upcoming series Proven Innocent. She was a co producer, writer and director for the second season of USA’s hit drama. Queen of the South and a producer/writer and director on OWN’s Queen sugar created by Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey. Tina’s other TV directing credits include Netflix’s Dear White People, ABC the mayor, HBO insecure, FX’s pose and STARS power. Tina began her career co writing the feature screenplay itty bitty titty committee, directed by Jamie Babbitt. The film premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival and won Best Feature narrative at South by Southwest film and music. Tina went on to write and direct her first feature film Mississippi Damn, which garnered an impressive 13 awards for participation in 15 film festivals, including Awards for Best Feature Film, and Best Screenplay at the Chicago International Film Festival. Tina was featured in the advocate magazine as part of their top 40 under 40 issue, which features the top 40 individuals who are raising the bar in their respective fields. So let’s get started because Tina definitely is raising the bar in her respective field.
Welcome to the guests chair, Tina.
Hey, how you doing?
Tina Mabry 2:52
Good. How are you?
I’m great. Okay. Happy to be on. Yeah.
Shereen Kassam 2:57
Are you in LA right now or Mississippi?
I’m in LA. So I haven’t been back up again to do my yearly visit. But yeah, based on here in LA. So yeah, getting to that point where it’s almost like I’ve spent half my life year and half in Mississippi. So I know, it’s kind of getting in that weird phase of where you’re from, but Mississippi, I think is always going to definitely be my answer. But
I definitely want to get into your movie that was based on your based on Mississippi. But before we start, I love asking my guests this questions, I’d love to start with how did your creative journey start?
You know, everybody has a different story and, and how we get into this industry, and then how is our path. And so for me, I mean, I always love movies like that, that was something that connected with me, my mom will like we will watch these old vampire movies. But what it did was, you know, not so much of the quality of the movie, but we would talk, and they would create discussions between the two of us. And, and I would also also just love film, and I love writing, like, and I you know, everything that I learned it was everything was from TV, because I didn’t you know, we were, you know, we didn’t have any money as a family. So traveling was out of the picture, you know, as a picture. So the only things you had to connect to the outside world was TV. And, you know, and I just became enamored with just creating stories. And so I mean, like, I would take my little happy meal toys and play around with them. Like and have episodic opening. I’m like, I now realize it.
oh, my goodness, how old were you? Like, I’m like, you must have been in your elementary school?
Yeah, I was probably like, 6,7,8 something around there, you know? Yeah. And you know, and I tried to write my first novel when I was 12. And, but, you know, I always kind of realized now looking back, as you know, and I tried to write another novel, in college and undergrad, that was just me trying to find my voice in a way to therapeutically also kind of escape my current circumstances. And, you know, and I’m like, I would never show anybody, whatever that 12 I’m like, my wife is not even privy to that. Like, that’s never gonna be shown because it was horrible. But when I did have a full script. So that’s good enough.
That’s hilarious. So it was there a TV show or film that really inspired you going up that you were like, this is what I want to do.
At that time, like, it wasn’t so much. It wasn’t so much like, here’s one film that really kick starting it off. It’s more just the industry itself of the medium of television and the medium of film. Just and its totality. But what really made me changes like, you know, I’m an undergrad, I’m a political science, physchology major. I’m studying for the LSAT, I’m in my last year, I’m like, Well, I guess I’m going to law school. And then I watch now these were the movies became very crucial to my life. I watch Boys Don’t Cry by Kimberly Pierce, and love & basketball. And when I saw, at the end of each film, that it was written and directed by a woman, I decided to put the LSAT book down. And then next thing I did apply to film school, and I gave myself a due date. So I’m leaving Mississippi, no matter what may 26 2001. I’m driving, I’m doing what I gotta do, you know. I’ve never been on an airplane, I’ve never been to Los Angeles, I found my apartment online. And I have not been accepted to the school yet, at all this step out, because I, you know, two women, I saw them and their stories and their movies touched me and stayed with me, that it said a precednet of, that’s where I’ve always wanted to make sure with my films or anything that I try to work on that it stays with you. Because and have have an impact on people, because that’s what changed my life just knowing and seeing that maybe know what was possible. And, and to go outside of even though you’ve never seen anybody making a film in Mississippi, it ain’t happening it is very rare. And chances are true or not. But, you know, but it’s like you don’t have it. So it doesn’t seem to exist. For you, and that’s the thing about it so beautiful about it, that these two women, they they changed my life. They gave me that, that courage and that inspiration to actually say the hell with law school. I’m going to film school.
Yes. And I want to ask you that. So you were in law school? And then you decided to go to film school, like walk us through that transition? Like how did did you just wake up one day and decide, this is what I want to do?
Well, I had gone into law school yet I was right there on, you know, just studying for the test and getting ready to get ready to go to law school. And so I hadn’t officially get, you know, gotten to that point. But yeah, it was exactly that it was us these two movies that changed your life. And I was like, there’s no way I want to go more in debt, you know, going to law school, if I’m going to do that, I’m going to do it for something that I love. And the scary was, it looks like this is this was that was my mission. So when you know, at that time, my wife You know, I wasn’t with anyone so but you know, but that’s what that was. And it was that heartbeat that was there. And I just decided to take that chance. And I was like, it’s worth me driving across the country and going to a place I know nothing about. And I have no idea if I got into film school or not, none. And I’m just gonna but I’m going to make this work somehow. Because it’s possible. It’s possible. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but it’s possible. And that was very scary, you know, scary. But at the same time, empowering moment, because I knew I didn’t have the luxury to fail.
Right? Yeah, I feel like a lot of us in that boat. We don’t take those risks, because we don’t have the luxury to fail. And that stops us because we’re scared.
Unknown Speaker 9:20
Right? Exactly. And fear can hold you back. And that’s something that is either can hold you back or can drive you. And that’s the thing about really get to pick which one and I think that goes into just also about being in this industry or people who want to get in it. It’s like it’s okay to be afraid about about things. That’s a being fear is not an issue is how you respond to the fear. You know what I mean? And it’s, it’s just one of those things like for me, you know, it’s like, I can’t let it cripple me. You know, I’m a, like, trust me. I’m scared all the time. You know, like writing or directing? Like, in the beginning, you’re so
Shereen Kassam 9:58
Tina Mabry 10:00
Yes, every time you write something, and this is like every writer, you feel like that’s the last thing you’re ever going to write. You’re like, that’s it, then I have no more stories in my life. I have no more stories to tell. You figures will let you’re like this is the last thing I’m ever writing. But knowing damn well, you are going to write again. It’s weird. And I think it’s because you put so much of yourself in it. And you get that story out. And you’ve been living with these characters for so long, that it feels like I’ve gotten everything out that I possibly can I don’t know what else to write about. And then one day, it comes back really quickly. So you know, but that, and then um, yeah, we’re definitely set. You know, I’m always like, nervous the night before. I’m always like, please always these people money. Usually, like in a hotel room like Lola, like, Can I do it and I just need to get the first shot off. That’s it. Then once I first shot, as long as I’m good, nobody ever knows I’m stressed. And it was very important to for director because that’s the spreads like wildfire. But I really also know that if I’m afraid before I’m embark me on something, that means I actually give a damn. And that’s important. Because if I’m not scared out here, and if I don’t care, then that means I mean, what am I doing it for? So that’s why you know, so you got to be very selective on the projects that you take. You know, what actually, are you going to stick with what moves? You know what I mean?
Shereen Kassam 11:35
So you got in your car, you drove to LA, you apply to film school? Tell us about that. Like, do you think an MFA is something you would you would recommend to someone who wants to go into TV and film?
For me, I think as far as like getting an MFA for me, I didn’t know anything about about making a film. Nothing. I never made one I’d never other than me writing for myself. I’ve never shown anyone else it was, it was something I’m like, I need to know how to even do this. So for me, it was crucial. And I had to spend the money. For some people. I mean, it’s really an individual choice, you know, you have to look at your money, your time. Do you need structure, you know, to be able to do it? Or can you just decide I’m just gonna go on a job and get my train and that way, and both of them are equally fine.
Okay, and so then you go to film school, and then you create your first film, or not your first film, but your your baby Mississippi damn right, which is based on a true story. And I watched it. And I have to say, it was one of the most captivating storylines, because when you just when you think it can’t get any worse, it gets worse. And you’re talking about everything from addiction to violence, the sexual assault, and you’re just sitting there trying to take all this in, tell us like how, what was the process to write this to write this film? And don’t apologize. You know, it was, it was it was great. The cinematography was great. I mean, it was such an overall such a good film.
Yeah, I just like to always give people hugs afterwards. This isn’t like, it’s okay. I’m fine.
All right. That’s where I’m like, I’m like, I’m so far you’ve been watching alone. I wish I could give out hugs.
I could have no, I mean, it definitely made me feel grateful not to make your situation, sound worse, but like, it just made me feel grateful for my parents and my life. And but I definitely needed a hug before I went to bed that night.
Yeah, I mean, that’s the I mean, you know, it’s one of the things for me, it didn’t start, it was weird. I just got out of film school. And I was just sitting there kind of just writing and just just, I didn’t know, what I wasn’t doing is the only film that i did i do in a traditional way of outlining it and going through it that way, if the only film that I haven’t done it, or any kind of project of writing, which is strange. And I don’t know if that’s because I just didn’t know that I needed to start there or not. But I just kind of was just coming guys writing scenes and just thoughts from the past. And all of a sudden, I was like, what’s becoming a screenplay is growing into that. And, you know, I started working on it, like I was working in a boys group home. So when I would do overnights, like, I was just right on the script. And halfway through the script, my mom got cancer. And she told me, you know, before she passed, she was like, promise me that she will finish this movie, that you will make this movie, be real about it. And you know, and I had to put it down after she passed, like, so many months, like I couldn’t go back. And then I had a friend who had lost her mom, and she was like, I promise you sit down and write, it’s more therapeutic than you think. And I sat down, I don’t think I even got a chance to write all the way through. And I just balled the first day like I was just gone. Like crying. And then every day it became easier, easier, and easier. And I did become part of that was the beginning of the healing process. I think for me, and helping me with, you know, the was grieving for my mom, because I was a young kid, I didn’t know how to deal with it, like, but it was just that was the pivotal thing that kept me going was Mississippi Damn. And my wife and manager, Morgan stiff. You know, she knows my family intimately. And so every page I would write, you know, she was right there to read it. And you know, kept me honest about situations, you know? Because sometimes, you know, it’s hard to tell your family business is probably talking about it. But if you’re not being honest, on paper, she pushed me to that, you know, to make me make sure I would do that. Or to make sure like, okay, the character this based on you, you know, it’s so hard to look at yourself. That’s the hardest character I would ever find to write this one you have to write about yourself. And, you know, she would make sure that I put making her completely flawless.
Yeah, you could tell I mean, all the characters had so much depth and personality, so I can see how being emotional and going through that process really did help you develop those character
it really did. And I just always tried to in something like I when I used to teach I always would impart to my students is that you should care about every character that’s in the script. I don’t care if it’s like got one line. What What is it about that person to say? Why are they in there? You know, and think about it, and try to make sure you have your characters well rounded, and let them live in the gray. Life isn’t black and white? So why should your character
now going back to the movie, Like you had some really big names, in Mississippi dammit, how do you go about finding such great talent when the movie wasn’t backed by a production company already.
We were so fortunate. We started with film independent. Morgan was actually doing the producers lab. And we had a small amount of financing not the amount we really wanted for the budget. And, you know, basically she went to like the mentor that’s in that said, you got this money, make the film for what you got. And then she came home.
Where did you get the money from though? Where do you get funding from?
Tina Mabry 17:18
It was a private equity. So this was coming from, you know, you know, family and loans, I wouldn’t necessarily advise anyone to get a loan. Still, but it was like nobody else was going to make it for me. And wasn’t we didn’t have anybody that was just going to give money. So that was something that was important to us. I mean, we also chose the like, oh, prop eight past and we get married, are you making the film? We decided to make the film instead of prop eight would not pass. We were wrong about that one. But you know, we chose movie over over wedding. And then the time. So, you know, but that was just one of those things where, you know, just like, now how do we get it done. And Morgan, just Morgan and Lisa, they both knew exactly how to play this. And to get this and to make sure that that movie, it would not look like a half a million dollars, you know, that we would have that production value. And through some independent we ended up connecting with casting directors, Mormon Boland, casting, you know, in so they basically brought us like, a lot of talent out, you know, here’s the known talent going through trying to make offers. And sometimes it was like the people that we wanted, you know, we might not be able to give due to schedule availability, or just maybe interest in the project, or we just couldn’t afford them. And so what what, you know, Meg and sunny were able to do is really just when know, the actors that we could approach that we needed to do, and everybody came, was ready to read, everybody read for it. And I was really shocked by that. And I, I was like, Oh, they’re reading it? Oh, this week, you know, so from the audition. When they came in, I thought we were just going to have a meeting. And then he brought his sides with them. And I was like, I definitely cannot read the sides which bruh just because I can’t act.
Shereen Kassam 19:21
So basically, it just comes down to hustling, right? hustle, hustling to get the get the funding and get the right people and
Tina Mabry 19:27
then make it work. I mean, you know what your limitations are. Now it’s like, you can either look at the problem and try to say, Oh, we have this issue. Or you can say, well, what’s the solution to it, because there’s always a solution and being willing to collaborate with other people so that y’all can find the best solution together. And for the for every, you know, for the situation, and it’s like, that’s having each other’s back as a team. And that’s, that’s what you know, yeah, you can’t make a film Lord with I think you try to, if you didn’t have a team, everybody is equally the important, nothing works without anybody, PA to the director to the producer doesn’t matter. You need everybody on this set, and everyone is making it happen. And that’s why I don’t take some credit. You know, because it’s not a film, by me, it’s a film by us. I just happened to have the honor to direct it.
Shereen Kassam 20:21
That’s a great way of looking at it. I love that. So now you you put out this film came out in 2008 it got it real break in 2015 talk about what you and your team are doing behind the scenes during that time to get it to get it to that level.
Tina Mabry 20:35
Yeah, I mean, we, we, we didn’t get distribution, and at the time we came out. It was one of those things, we were actually, you know, 2009 and the recession. People really weren’t backing it, we get, you know, Precious came out the same year. You know, we heard from distributors that the market can’t bear two black films at the same time. Two black drama, but what I’m like, how do we have the 15 comedies with the white men as leads? You know, like, don’t don’t lie about what that is, you know, that’s something that that, that they have to look into, you know, as distributors at that time, you know, and with their acquisitions. And so, you know, we ended up selling it to Showtime where it was on, therefore, for a bit, we decided not to distributed with the company, but to self distribute, because we were like, Hey, we put the money in ourselves pretty much mostly. So if we’re going to, you know, think well, we’ll think on our own terms, you know, we’re not going to take a bad deal that’s going to be packaged with a whole bunch of films that will probably never see the light of day. So we’ll try it on our own. And then in around 2016 it was around the time summer before I started working on Queen Sugar and Ava DuVernay and Array at that time, you know, we get distribution through Netflix. So once and working with them as our you know, distributor. So then that way found a whole new life and got a rebirth after finally have an opportunity for people to see it on Netflix in you know, you’re not the only person that’s watching it and crying and crying. You know, like to be on Twitter, like aww they’re crying. Also thank you for watching, but I don’t know why you watching that one the morning like I don’t know if I can go to sleep after
Shereen Kassam 22:38
yea, don’t that. do not watch this film at 1am.
It’s funny. It’s like you see all the comments was like 1,2,3 in the morning, and I was like, Oh my god, people stay up late.
And I was like, I don’t think,
well, they probably watched and then couldn’t go to sleep.
Tina Mabry 22:56
I think they needed a drink. I mean, I think that’s one of the things you know, you think think about? What do you give out as the kind of party favors that are famous for your movie? Do you give out pens or shot glasses in this case? I dont know
Shereen Kassam 23:13
So you did apply it, you did submit to a lot of film festivals, and you won a lot of them. How did you navigate the film circuit? And like what advice do you have for people who are going to film festivals to be successful
I think you definitely you know working with your producers and and your team to come up with a festival strategy for where you’re going to have your premiere where how you’re going to navigate the system. And, you know, and also realizing like, you know, we know what, when our festivals are Sundance kicks off for the rest of the year. But deciding which is the best place that one where we think we can actually, if you’re trying to sell your film, where you can actually get it acquired. If you have indeed and you’re choosing at a screen like this, you know, the hate you give premiered at Toronto, you know, but even if the funding but that’s where they chose to premiere, that was the best market for them to actually in the best place to showcase it. So you have to really think about that, like, how do you want the film to live, because it just doesn’t end at the making of the film, you have to know how to sell it. And that’s the one thing that sometimes I feel like in film school you don’t learn how to do. you learn how to make a great film, but you don’t know how to sell it, or even how to sell yourself. And realizing like how to do brands or contracts and all that stuff, that’s something you end up learning, you know, in the midst of it, and its really can be very confusing and scary, and you don’t want to make the wrong mistake. And then you go with your gut a lot of the times and ask advice. And thankfully, you know, organizations like film independent, Josh Wells, like, you know, from the moment that he known him for so long and done every project, the film independent has every lab that they do, but it was just something that you can always rely and call on them to, you know, get help advice or talk to, to try to figure out certain things and, you know, being able to take, you know, he takes those phone calls, and he still thinks calls today when we hang out, you know, or, you know, but it’s like it’s a good relationship, and they really are family at film independent. And I we really feel very part of the family. And we know that, you know, our film would never have been made, had they not been involved. And so it’s always good to know the different organizations that really will champion your film and do as much as they possibly can to try to get it the attention it needs. You know, sometimes help you telling you the festival strategy. And but it doesn’t always mean that one festival, you’re going to sell, you know, if this one is and only this one. I mean, you see Moonlinght premiere Telluride, you know, so that was a great trip, that was a great deal for them to premiere. And so you know, just depends on your particular film and the audience you’re going for and where you’re going to get the best reviews for your film, and make sure it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of the programming.
So now you’ve you’ve you’ve shot this film, and since then, I mean, you’ve had so many opportunities to write and direct episodes for hit shows, like dear white people, Queen sugar, insecure, Queen of the South. How did you how did you make a name for yourself to get those opportunities?
Tina Mabry 26:31
I mean, everything started with Queen sugar, and you know, Ava, calling and giving me an opportunity of a lifetime. And where it was at a point where I was actually about to give up. Like I was just like, after all these years just feel like it’s not working.
Shereen Kassam 26:49
And how many years have you been? How many years? Have you been doing it?
Tina Mabry 26:52
Been out here for like 14 years, you know, trying to make it happen. And I’m like, getting closer to 40 and it’s like, Is it going to work or not? am I wasting my time? I’m scared, you know, what more do I need to do? And then but that’s the importance of having family and friends that support you. You know, my friends are like, you know, you might if you were trying to sing we will say yeah, baby go back to Mississippi because you can’t sing. they would still me that. Were they were like, No, you should get a writer or director the way you’re not going nowhere. And just in like within that within a month time, Ava contacted me and was like, Hey, I gotta show queen sugar. Gonna be on own. You want to come on as a producer or director, you know, write in the room? Yes. It was so much. Yeah, Warner Brothers was like where do we send the paperwork to your people. And I’m like, ain’t got no people. Oh, my God, at that point, no, agent, lawyer, nothing. I was like, i have no people, but I was just like, okay, so I had to go find people. the people that I ended up connecting with, you know, that was, it was the best thing. But yeah, that was where I got my break. And without having someone to open that door. None of this would be. And that’s that’s where everything started was queen sugar. And from there directing on that show. And I can’t believe I mean, I was really honored to direct the last two episodes of season one, you know, and it was the first time I ever directed episodic. So, you know, I was really, really scared. You know, but this show meant so much to me. You know, and I just our writing room, a cast the crew, and you don’t and I just think we live and breathe this story in the writing room. And then on top of that, when you meet the real people who are actually the actors playing, you know, them, and they’re actually good people, and they become your family as well. I mean, it just makes the working environment that much better. Like, you know, you’re really creating magic, you know, on screen and working together. But it’s like, also, you get a chance to have so much fun on set, which I love doing. I like having fun, cuz I remember those days when I didn’t have anything to do. I had nothing. I’m like trick people into paying is why you tripping but don’t get up.
Shereen Kassam 29:16
You know, but it was like the bat. Yeah, like, and what and then the irony of it is, a week later, Gina Prince calls me and says shots fired that she’s like, I want to bring you on staff and I’m like, oh my god. Like it just like it hit right there. And I was like, can i write for two shows. I mean, I know that I have no idea. And I’m like, No, they were like, no, but you know, but I’m like, here’s the one that changed my life. And made me take a chance across, make a trek across the world. I mean, it felt like the world anyway, the country, but it was a different world for me. And make me you know, to have that give me that drive. And here she is, like, right here offering me a job and is my mentor, and is my mentor to this day. So like, you never see that happening, you know, and Kim is a mentor as well. I never would have thought that two women that changed my life the most. But they will be my mentors today and my friends and people that I can rely on and can trust. I never would have thought that. But that’s the beautiful thing about about life of how it goes back around, you know, just can’t see these things coming.
Yes. So did you ever have you ever asked Ava like, how did she come to know you? To give you this opportunity?
She saw Mississippi Damn, like was back on the festival circuit in 2009. And she loved it. Yeah, she, you know, she just really loved the film gravitated toward it. So we make this a film that, you know, they go see for their date. Move out, like, we got plenty of posters, how many you need? But you know, just kind of going around just knowing, you know, being on the festival circuit, you know, and, you know, we run in the same groups, you know, as filmmakers, especially as black women, you know, we try as best we can to make sure that we know our community and that we help each other. And so yeah, she was just a really big, big fan of the film. And she was like, No, I don’t want to bring you on as a staff writer, you know what you’re doing for TV, I’ve seen you do all these programs, here, you’re going to come in as a producer. And like that never happens. And that also changed my life is what I’m able to do as a writer and writing rooms. Because my position, I’m not starting down as a staff writer I’m already as a producer level, and that wouldn’t have happened, and she wouldn’t have done that. And so I will always be forever grateful to Ava for opening that door for me when no one else is.
So just so for clarification. So you are you’re right, as a director and a producer on the show, like what does each role entail? And would you suggest or Do you recommend that people be skilled in all three, being able to take all three hats?
Well, I think you should definitely, I think in order to do a good job in our industry, I think you need to know what everyone’s position is and what it entails and what their job is. So that you can appreciate and understand what they have to do to get to this result. You need to you need to know where grip and electric is going, you need to know what visual effects has to go through. All of this stuff will come in hand in hand. As far as like as being a show, you know, being on the show. As a writer, you know, that means that you know I’m in the writing room with every day. And we’re we’re breaking story and coming up with each episode, when it’s going to be about and when you go off, you’ll have your own individual episodes, right. But you still have your writing room, because we’ve all worked together to make sure that the story is solid, and you go off and you’re write. And then you you are looking at things from a wider point of view. And I like to switch hats on that. But you’re also looking at is when you’re a producer on a show. I feel like it’s it’s part of your duty, because you’re all episodes produced when you’re there with the show that from the very beginning of the first episode, you don’t finish until you hit that last episode, you’re not going anywhere you’re not on that time limit. Those 20 weeks, like a fast writer would get and hope for an extension. And so what you’re looking at is dealing with them making sure that the show is going through. And also I personally like to make sure I pay attention to budget as well. Because I’m like, I’m used to making films, there ain’t got no money. So like, but it’s like, Okay, we got money, like, let’s save it like, you know, acting on every show, you’ll find yourself where it’s like, as a director, I do find that coming into play, because we’ll point the camera one direction, and they’ll say like, okay, so we got at least one 25,000 for this, then I’ll tilt the camera to the right. And I said well, how much would that be? Free? Okay, there we go. You know, cuz you know, you’re an indie film, and that that’s always going to be me, you know, every dollar counts. And you think about it. And how to how to make that work without sacrificing compromising story character to make some financial budgets happen. But I think, you know, for me, it’s something as a producer on a TV show that I’m always trying to be aware of, and making sure that we’re using our sets to. So we’re not so much on location all the time. But it just depends on the show, some shows weren’t mostly on location. But and as a director, when I’m directing, I don’t put on my writers hat. What I’m doing to I prefer not to ever direct the episodes that I write. So they always give me the opportunity in the room, they’ll say like, Oh, do you want to write the episode, you’re directing it, I don’t want I never want to, because I like working with other people so much. And I want another person’s perspective, as a writer of that episode, and also just the chance to bring what their vision is to life and put it up on the screen. And that way I can, you know, I’m looking at it from this point of view, as a director, I do know what’s going to happen in the show, which gives me an advantage, you know, to really know how to play these things, and which one’s really handled this way. Because I know we’re setting up everyone at the same time. It’s like having someone else there as the writer of the episode to cover it. That’s something another job, I don’t have to think about doing, you know, that I have, here’s my partner to be able to be there to make sure that we get this or did we not, you know, and, and me making sure that I’m focusing on other things. So it’s all a matter sometimes of really knowing how to switch hats to each position, that that’s the crucial thing is knowing that
Yeah, cuz I was just curious for the listeners, like, you don’t usually hear someone doing all three, or maybe you do and I just, it’s just never been publicized as much, but I noticed when you’re working on these shows, it’s always like, Tina does writer producing directing. And so just curious how you balance all of that.
Tina Mabry 36:09
I’m still trying towork that out. Right now love is what takes it and makes it go, you know, just loving what I do.
Shereen Kassam 36:19
Yes, that’s, that’s awesome.
So now you said you were in LA for 14 years really just grinding and hustling and waiting for that big break? What were you doing in those 14 years? Like, what were the highs, the lows? What were you doing to get your name out there.
Tina Mabry 36:32
I was like, I had had my short film, my thesis film, I had co written a comedy feature itty bitty titty Committee, which is ironic for me. And I’m like, and also writing a comedy was a whole new kind of thing, another genre for me. And I done these things. But you know, I didn’t have an agent, I had no representation. And I thought that as soon as I got out of film school that you made your thesis film, you show it at first clip for USC, there you go now here comes an agent. And that’s not how it works. You know, and also, and I didn’t know how to really use the festival circuit back then, of how, where should I premiere this. And the thing is, the movie got a lot of traction, and it got a lot of airplay to Showtime. When it was like be TJ you know, before everything centric, and, you know, with just all networks is really playing and really going around and touring with the film as well. So, you know, that’s just one of the things is that I you know, I just thought that was going to be it but it just didn’t work out that way. And so I was disappointed by it. So I took him you know, I took a job at Sony and TV marketing, department editing, Judge hatchet episodic promos. Okay, doing this and judge Maria Lopez. But really get the show. And you just doing that, as you know, like, I realized the divide between corporate and creative to at that time. Because I was like, Oh, I want it, you know, I want to write on the show. But this is not the way that you know, I could you could see the segregation between that, that they didn’t want you to anybody to cross over and said, Okay, well, that seems to be the rules. And then at that point, once that job ended, I ended up going to voice group home I worked there for for a while, then that home got shut down. And then I was like, Oh, my God, I dont have no job, what am I going to do. And I’m like, luckily, I had a friend who was at the Art Institute, and he was actually over the, over the department. And so he hired me to work in the film department. So I became a teacher there and also taught at Cal State Long Beach. So I just tried every subject possible. And I did that for about five years until I got on Queen Sugar. And once I got, you know, Queen Sugar I had to quit my job, I didn’t have time to do justice to both things. So but that was what I did in between, and I kind of resigned myself to thinking, you know, I was going to be one of the people, I guess, in the end that’s going to be they’re going to be the teach not Do you know, one of those people. But what I really realized now is that it actually made me a better artist, by actually going through what I went through. And I think success and opportunities come when it’s supposed to. And I believe when there were certain things like as much as I wanted things to be different with Mississippi damned, I don’t think there were certain things that I personally would have been ready for to handle, you know, going out with the film and having and pushing it in a different kind of way, especially on such a large scale. Like the way that I can now I’m just the sheer fact that I’ve grown, you know, growing up and you’re more confident, you’re more assured of what you do know, and you know how to ask questions about what you don’t, and not have any shame with it. Because that’s where I see a lot of people fall short. I’m like, the only dumb question is the way you don’t ask, it’s okay to ask people. So, like, it doesn’t mean that that, you know, don’t get your ego involved. I mean, yeah, you know what it is?
Shereen Kassam 37:44
Now,I say the most intellectual people have the foul mouth.
Tina Mabry 40:38
That’s good. And I’m gonna make it then cuz I think all my scripts are R-Rated. So , you know, I use strong language in my episodes or whatever. So but yeah, but I mean, it’s just that muscle and ego gets in the way of it. And just know that insecurity becomes the cost. And like the little waves, that’s just because, you know, I we discussed earlier about, you’re just afraid, and because something is new, and it’s okay to feel not 100% confident in it, the first time you do it, because you just can’t takes like anything else it takes you have to build that muscle. And and then you’re you’ll get to a point where you’re like, that part doesn’t faze you as much, but then later on, they’ll be something else me, that will, you’ll have to go through that same process.
Shereen Kassam 41:26
So how did you stay optimistic.
Tina Mabry 41:29
I mean, that’s, I think, optimistic. I mean, my wife is someone who’s a pivotal in my life, and that, you know, she is a person that, you know, just pushes me, challenges me, supports me loves me so much in every way, and that I have that I feel a short. And I also never want to disappoint her. I swear I just never do. And so that keeps me really push friends and my family of not wanting to, to let them down either. And, also just to hear the you know, them being that, that voice of support the shoulder to cry on, if you need, you know, the laughter You need to just hang out, whatever, and I’ll us all reciprocating that to one another because we are a family, you know that that’s what gets it gets me through it. And it’s like, I do this because I do love to do it and love from it. But I also love And more importantly, I love my family and my friends. And in the end of the day, I’m doing this Yes, I’m getting I’m so blessed to do something that I love. But I’m also doing it for them. You know, because this is where I’m, it’s gotta go back and also doing it for other people to help them like, not make the same mistakes that you know I do. And that’s why I try to do as much mentorship as I can, you know, given my schedule, I can do it, because I always think it should be better for the next generation coming up behind us, I don’t want you to make the same pitfalls I made, or things can be easier for you, I want to help you, you know, and our company, Morgan’s Mark been one of those things that that’s our one of our goals. And that’s what we do. And we make sure that we recognize young talent, and we try to make sure and give you a chance. And like a former student right now is the VP of development at our company. You know, because we saw the potential in this young black woman and we know you’re getting out of school and you have all these coming, we want to bring you in and give you a salary. So that you don’t need to not have to go through and have that hardship and and give you some health insurance to take that up. My health insurance was,
Shereen Kassam 43:55
Well can you hire me to that cuz I need health insurance
I’m trying to build it, we can build it all. I’m working on it working on it.
So you you you’ve come up, you’re doing great things, how have you gone about building your brand to be one of the most sought out women in today’s film and TV industry?
I try to just one just always being humble on what I do, because, and I realized where I came from what I’ve gone through, in order to try to get to this point, and being grateful for the opportunities that I have. Two, always making sure that I try to eliminate as many excuses as this industry can give you for not hiring you. So that’s why I do some of every kind of genre, you know, like, can’t say can’t do action can’t Do you know, comedy can’t, can’t do drama. You know, like, what can’t work with kids nope done that, you know, so that I want to eliminate that so that you can really know I’m looking at the talent that I have. And also just making sure that I’m trying to constantly learn more about what my practice and hone it and make sure that it’s getting better that it’s growing. And that takes a lot of different challenges in and that’s that’s something that you need to go through. And also just you have to learn the politics of this business to, which is something that I didn’t know, initially, really coming into it. And just because there is a political game, you should know the game, it doesn’t mean you have to play the game in the way, they do. Because to me, I gotta sleep at night, and I’m not trying to do anybody wrong, the only thing is to lift you up, not bring you down, not not have jealousy about the success of another person. But celebrate that and championing it, go to that person’s movie, show that let it let that dollar amount prove it. So the more films can be made, you know, and so, you know, but that’s about getting outside. You know, think just thinking about yourself and thinking about what we do as a whole.
Yes, no, I totally agree. You mentioned that you continue working on your craft, what are some of the things you do even now to continue getting better and improving yourself,
Tina Mabry 46:15
especially in a writers writers room, really having to like pitch every day that you’re in there, different ideas, so really learning how to come up with an idea of how to execute it, how to look at it, and the totality of an episode or any kind of story in it, and how to write faster and still write good. if you can write well, and fast, that’s where you want to be. And you do that from reading other people’s stuff as well. And I also I mean, like, I still kind of always, like, do this, because dialogue is so important to me. You know, I always would tell my students go listen to two strangers, talk, just go eavesdrop. You know, like, Don’t get caught though. don’t do that. But, but I was like, but if you listen to them, you’ll understand see what you what information Did you get from listening to these two people? What is their relationship? How did they talk? What happened to them the other night when you know,that party the othernight, you know, for dialogue
Shereen Kassam 47:23
How did the opportuity to take on The Hate U Give and turn a book into a movie?
I mean, was just something that my agent that, you know, got my attention, they were looking for someone to come in and rewrite the script that had previously been written, they really wanted to touch certain areas that really understand the difficulty that the main character Star has to go through leading, leading a double life as a black woman in this world. And they really wanted things to really hit home and to be, you know, to really make sure that the revisions on the script would bring it to where it is now at the end. And that I get that opportunity. And I went in and talked to George Tillman and met with him and, and I really loved the book (The Hate U Give) so much, I was like, this is great, you know, I want to have the luck of rewrite this, you know, I would love to be part of it. You know, and it was just one of those things that get that opportunity. And it’s just, it’s a movie like I, you know, I’ve gotten a chance to see it. I cried a lot. I mean, not just it was an ugly tears, girl. I mean, I was just, you know, you just sit like, it’s funny. You write, you write it, and then you take full off in the movie, you forget, like you didn’t know what was coming up, like, I should know that’s coming up, like, why am I being surprised. But that was that shows like how good this movie is. And I mean, I just can’t wait for the world to see it. And I can’t wait, this is a movie that I think is so special that everyone needs to get behind and support. And it has such a moment right now mean, this is the time to tell it. And it speaks to one of the things I really want to make sure that even though as a young adult novel that, you know, for me, in coming into the revision, you know, I also want to make sure it was something that was going to apply to my age group to, you know, in every age, so that we could be talking and also talk across color lines as well. And, you know, with social economic life, so that, looking at this as a universal story that does have a strong message. But it’s something that everybody can relate to, right?
Yes, no, I can’t wait for it to come out. That’s awesome that you got to got to work on that. So let’s get a little serious. I’m curious. Like you’ve gone you’ve been in LA now you’ve been working on all these shows. How has your race, sexuality or gender impacted your career either positively or negatively? And how have you challenged those situations,
Tina Mabry 50:06
I find that my my race and sexuality has impacted my career, mostly more than my more than my sexuality. I feel more like with my sexuality, I do feel compelled to make sure that one, I want to always tell our stories. And I also always want to make sure that let’s look at life as it is, let’s look at life and look at the supposed to be creating a microcosm of the world as filmmakers. And that includes all levels. So you know, the entire world and your film doesn’t have to be straight, you know, but nor do they have to all be gay. But can they just look like what the world looks like? You know, and everything doesn’t need to be a coming out story. You know, it’s like, we have trouble and life life like anybody else. So I’ve been I’ve actually found that one’s not be as as hard. I definitely feel like as far as race a sexuality, I mean, a gender. Oh, my goodness. So that’s something that has, positively I what I love about it is that I think all of the injustices that have happened, has actually made our community stronger, and made us bond together and fight together. And I think the best the most positive thing and this the greatest thing that they could have done with when you do face these issues, that you’re just bringing, bringing it closer and making that fight to make it make it equal, you know, you’re actually helping that. Just making us come together, come up with new ideas. So thank you and that way. So we’ll make a positive out of this, you know. people this industry are really just intimidated by us because we are confident. I didn’t know that confidence that will make you not get a job. Yeah. It’s amazing. Amazing. I’m like, Damn, y’all got some insecurity. I’m like, you know, but, you know, like, but at the same time, it makes me feel so much stronger. As a woman. I’m like, these men have got problems. And it’s like these things do hurt on set, when you do have to really encounter encounter them at these time. And I’m like, I think people they got it wrong. They think that women like, Oh, yeah, you know, you want to cry afterwards. Because Oh, my God, I feel so hurt. No, that’s not why you crying . You cry becase you like you about to catch a case because I want to murder your ass. That is why we feel this way. We just don’t want to go to jail. This is what’s holding it in. So I have to cry. It’s not to kill you, as I’m riding back to the hotel, if having a hard day or riding back home. If you’ve encountered that, because you’ve held that in it’s like it’s not because I’m I’m emotional. No, I’m trying to save bail money is what I’m trying to do so. But you know, and that’s the thing about it is that we don’t it’s not a weakness. And I it’s so amazing like to just hear like, Oh, can women direct action? And when they assume that just because someone’s father direct action. You know, they discount the female, that’s the new director because they said, Oh, her dad does it so she knows how to do it. I’m like, is it passed down through sperm? I didn’t know that directing, action movies were sperm dependent. You know. But you know, and I think two, of being able, you know, I would love to believe and I think that this is the primary reason that Yeah, you hire me because you find that, that what I my talent can bring something to this particular show. So that that’s why, you know, I primarily get hired, that it’s not based on my race, my gender, or my sexuality, but my talent, and what my race, gender, sexuality, what is providing is just a different lens, to tell that story. And that’s, you know, one of those things that it’s like, that’s, I’m going to have a different perspective. And so the best what I’m able to provide, you know, as a as a filmmaker, so, for me, it’s like, it’s coming to a way of being very positive, because I think I’d look at things in a different perspective than I did before. Or I get a chance to give a voice which is so important to me, to people who don’t have one, because I didn’t have one for so many years, watch TV, waiting on someone to tell the story of where you kind of grew up, or how your, you know, like your people that you see every day, and it doesn’t come. And the thing you have to realize is like, don’t wait around for somebody else to tell a story, you tell it. So you know. And if you are waiting for somebody to invite you to the table, they might not invited to the table. So forget, it builds your own damn table. You have to do what you gotta do. And that’s part of the hustle that you got to keep going with. that you gotta keep fighting, you have to keep getting better. And you have to keep leaning on each other in order for anything to succeed.
Shereen Kassam 55:09
So what advice I mean, you just gave a bunch of really good advice. But to wrap up, what advice would you have for creatives on their journey?
Tina Mabry 55:16
The one thing I would say is that one be able to accept rejection, you’re going to get nothing but no, and it doesn’t matter about all the no’s you get is the one yes, that you get. That’s what’s important. I got rejected, I applied the for film schools, I got rejected from three of them. I had no idea about USC. And that was the one I happen to get into. But I moved down here without knowing that. And, you know, but that was all it took was one Yes. It’s like, I may not have had any kind of thing going in my career. But it took Ava said yes. For Queen sugar. It’s just one thing. And so it’s like to be able to not let that, that deflate you or take away make you doubt your talent, that you can just understand that this is the process of how things are in our industry. And that, you know, get a get back Go for it. But don’t let that discourage you. Let that No encourage you What does it tell you tells you that you got hope coming into yes will come your way. And also that to be patient. And that’s the heart I mean, I struggle with patience myself still, I mean, I think we all do it. But it’s so easy to be patient, you know, impatient with this process, because you really want to get out there and work and you want to be able to have fun with that and create something that effects lives, but you may not get the chance but it will come be patient. And then also educate yourself. A try to connect with people who are doing in this industry, try to shadow them, I think shadowing is the most important thing that you can do. Whether you can get a chance to send to sending it to the writing room shadow that way or be on set and shadow director or you know or shadow them to prep the whole way to see how it is because I think about you know, like, you might want to do this even more after you see it, you might be like, maybe I want to do this part of it. You know, but how can you know if you never see it, you know, and that’s the thing about it that I think that’s the part that’s missing. In our industry, a lot of it is because it’s so, so set off, and it’s so private, you don’t know. So you’re walking into a writers room, even though every room is different, there still is a constant that kind of flows through it. But you but you won’t know unless you’re in involved in it, you won’t know what it takes to actually what do you have to go through as a director to prep something for an episodic, you know, directing gig, and how to execute that and be on time how to act with the writers, the actors into all of that you would not know that if you weren’t able to sit there and watch that director do it and be able to ask some questions and talk about it, why they made certain decisions, you know, so you know, that’s, to me is one of the most valuable things that you can get. And so that’s what I would just say is just be patient. To that, yes, it’s coming. You have a backbone for the no’s, and then trying to find a way to shadow somebody. So that part is something that I think people need to always look out to have in your life. And so for me, George and Gina are just a small, you know, gathering of people who are my mentors that have been through things that I’m about to go through is my rise in my career. And they are so willing to help and to give advice. And without that advice. I can’t make it, it’s going to be harder for me. And they’re so open with giving it so we have to continue to do that. and pass it down.
Shereen Kassam 58:56
You’re amazing. I love everything you just said it’s such a it’s refreshing. And it’s it’s it’s like, it’s actual knowledge people can easily implement, like getting a mentor and going and shadowing someone. And I think the hardest thing for creatives is understanding that there’s always going to be no’s, people think everything is just it’s the luck of the draw, but it’s really the hard work. I mean, you put in 14 years in LA before you got that. Yes, but you didn’t give up in that.
Yeah, you gotta have your tribe around you, you gotta have your family.
So let’s jump into the lightning round. I’m going to ask you five questions, rapid fire, and you just tell me the first thing that comes to mind
Oh, God, okay. Let’s go for it. Yep.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Keep hustling never stop.
What is your definition of success?
Can you do you feel like you’ve impacted someone and made a lasting impression in this world, be on a big level or small level, but that you could practice
not counting your wife who inspires you and why?
Tina Mabry 1:00:04
My parents, they’re not around. But what inspires me is because they went through all this hardship. And they went through everything so that I could have the luxury to choose what I wanted to do with my life and not just have a job. And they made that sacrifice and all the hard work they put in, and all of the sacrifices they made and the strength that that provided me with and the way that I look at life. They are my they are my biggest inspiration. And you know, and they’re not here, but I will still feel like I cannot tell them.
Shereen Kassam 1:00:34
What’s a habit that’s helped you on your journey?
Tina Mabry 1:00:37
Shereen Kassam 1:00:43
What do you want your legacy to be?
I want, I want people to look at my career and be able to say that even if it’s one person that you gave me hope, and you show me something that it was what I thought was impossible was as possible. And if I can do that, that will be one of the greatest legacies that I can leave behind because that’s what would have made me even have a legacy in the first place. Because that’s what people did for me.
I love it. Tina, where can listeners find you online?
Tina Mabry 1:01:19
Oh, you can find me at MorgansMark.com. And that’s everything that our production company does, way to contact me of going through my management. But it’s also the best way I can do it. And I’m also under my Twitter handle. TinaMabry
Shereen Kassam 1:01:43
Alright, cool. Thank you so much for joining us today, Tina.
Thank you so much for having me. This has been a blast.
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