By: Amelie Tsoungui
Writing can be a drag, especially if you have a lot going on. But it is something that is a stress reliever once you start doing it. I started writing not only because of my major but because I found that the world that I was creating was a safe space for me. I put my heart into writing because it just really clears my head, no matter how complex the idea I have might be. Having encouragement from others as well is something that I live for. Knowing that people are rooting for me and just putting pressure on me to write what I want is something I live for.
the first draft
One of the best parts of writing to me is the first draft. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to finish a draft and then read it right after. It opens your eyes to the holes in the story and makes you expand on your idea. Another part of writing that I enjoy is the first feedback you get. It can be nerve-racking, but that is where I really thrive. Writers can’t always see what is missing with the story, so getting input from a peer is what drives me to write an even better second draft.
I won’t lie I am currently in a writing slump. I can’t write because I am in school, and I am overwhelmed with work. I like writing when I’m freer and when I have time to let my brain process ideas. It has been difficult thinking about writing because life just seems like it is kicking my ass. But this is all worth it. I needed this break; everyone needs a break. As life continues to get a little bit rougher, I have to soldier on, we all do.
So, keep your head up and fill it with ideas, when you decide to give yourself a break, write!!!
what's your favorite part of writing?
We want to know! Comment below!
There comes a time where you look at, you’re writing and say…what is the point of this? Who am I writing for? I do that daily. I think it is just a daily reminder for purpose. What is the purpose behind your writing, why do you care so much about writing? With every story comes a wild experience in my life. With every story comes the answer to every question.
I write for my friends and for me. My best friends and I have experienced a lot, and it is from those stories that I get my feature film ideas. There is no way that I couldn’t write about them just because these stories are meant to be told, no matter how much they are watered down. Now look, maybe not every story is important, but it stems from one of the fears I had growing up and how I conquered them.
These stories are really about me conquering things I thought that I never could.
No seriously, sometimes I think about what if I never got into writing, would this all be worth it? Probably not, but here’s the thing, I can’t spend too much time focusing on the “what if’s”.
I have to focus on my future and on my writing. My love for writing is deep, and I’m glad I found something that has helped me talk about what I have been through.
Plus, there is nothing more pleasant than a story that humbles you so much you can’t get it out of your head!
So, what is your purpose? Why do you write what you write?
Comment below! I'd love to hear your perspective!
This is YOUR sign to start.
Get those feelings onto the page and
discover the magic within!
My skin is so precious, but do people see me correctly? I always wonder why I have not seen too many people like me on my screen. It troubles me; it worries me. I cannot go on anymore racking my brain because I feel that I am not scared about or looked after. I feel that as a black woman I am continuously disrespected because I am not well represented. It is like my word does not count. As a lighter-skinned black woman, I am aware of my privilege.
I feel the need for my representation and the representation of darker black women because I feel that even though Hollywood has come a long way, there are still many things that need to be worked on.
Here are some stats from the diversity report released by UCLA. Learn more here!
Less than 2 to 1 among film leads (27.6 percent), Less than 3 to 1 among film directors (14.4 percent), Less than 3 to 1 among film writers (13.9 percent), Less than proportionate representation among total actors (32.7 percent), Greater than 4 to 1 among studio heads (9 percent). This is what I mean by Hollywood still has a long way to go.
Look I do not need validation from the film and television industry, but I do need accurate representation. Seeing yourself being portrayed inspires many. As much as we want to be known, we want to be known for positive things. I have seen too many black characters on TV be overwritten or not well understood because writers felt that they needed to be “ghetto” to get the point across about black women’s personalities. As I said, things have changed, we are seeing more black characters on our screens and the industry is putting out more movies with minority characters that are leads but the battle is far from over. I plan on emerging into the industry making sure that minorities are represented whether it’s behind the screen on in front.
The best way to do that is to start on paper. I plan on making sure that my characters are the best representation of the people who are in my life. I plan on writing for all the black women and girls out there. The stories that I tell stem from my experiences as a black woman so doing that through characters play a big part in my work.
Does anyone else get super nervous when it is time to put all your work onto that Final Draft document? C’mon I know I’m not alone. See I’ve been having a hard time trying to put my body into starting this feature film idea that I have but I’m nervous. Nervous to write? Yes, that’s a thing. You know what’s crazy, it’s that I have already written two feature films, two. So why is this 3rd one so hard to write? Motivation, at least that’s what I think.
Something that always stumps my creativity is motivation. If I have none then I cannot get work done. I’m the type of person who does not need to be motivated to write at all, but I think that quarantine has changed that for me. Being home all the time is something that I never thought would happen a senior year, but it did, so I have been doing a lot regarding school and work and my writing. But overall, I am coming around to that especially after watching a bunch of movies that inspired my movies.
I am a neat freak in life. I like to spread that to my writing because it helps me evenly lay out my story, at least my first draft. I like to develop a lot, there is nothing more satisfying than having a plan for what you’re going to write. I’ve searched the internet to listen to all these famous screenwriters talk about their writing process but in the end, it made me feel like I was doing something wrong. Not that what they were saying is wrong but it’s just like I felt obligated to try to write like them. The motivation was not there but I did learn a great deal from some of the best writers.
A piece of my outline for my script While in Tennessee, my first ever feature film !
where do you begin?
My experience with writing a feature is always one that I enjoy. The first draft is the hardest because for the first time you are putting words down on paper ad what if it doesn’t match up to what you’re expecting? It is ok, it’s always going to be hard to navigate yourself through a story but that is the best part about it, it’s your journey.
How you lead yourself is how you will finish no matter how you write. The motivation should come from within and focus on getting your characters to the finish line. Just remember it’s you writing it, but it is their story.
So, don’t feel bad if you need to take some extra time for yourself before you start a writing journey because when you do, you’re going to have to give it 100%. Taking your time when writing is vital. Some of the best moments come to us when we are taking our time to carefully plan something and sometimes that’s not the case. Either way however and whenever you write, be confident because you’ve brought your story that far and it’s time to take it to the next step.
By Amelie Tsoungui
Why do people write?
Some say that it's in us and others say that when you get inspired to do something you just do it. See, anyone can be a writer, but it takes some time to find yourself writing correctly. Where some of us born to write? Yes. Does that mean that other people cannot write? No. Jump into the deep waves and put your pen to that paper. Now you may be thinking...
how do I write?
For me, it is fairly simple. Most of the time I am writing in a journal all day, so that is a little personal. When it comes to writing for film or television, I am always prepared. I have notes that I use to help me figure out what directions I want to take a show or film. I am always confident that you can never get something on the first try that is why I keep all of my notes.
Writing should be able to help anyone who decides that they want to do it. Writing is not easy, but getting yourself to sit down and do it without any pressure is the first step. Writing will help you get a lot off your chest. I find that when I sit down to write, it helps me unload everything that has been in my head. It is necessary to write so that you get a break from what is going on around you. Whether you write in a journal or write a screenplay, do it. Writing will only help you.
how to be confident about your writing
I’m not going to lie it can take quite some time to be confident in your writing and even in sharing your work! The best way to be confident in showing your work starts with what you write. Write things you are comfortable writing and talking about. Make sure you do your research on what you are writing so that when you do share it, you’ll know what to say. I know it sounds crazy, but trust me, it helps.
Last but not least, just be yourself and reflect that through your writing. Your work should reflect you, and that will make you more confident in what you are.
writing for your career
When it comes to writing for your career, for me it has always been about being confident in your art. Sometimes we might feel like the great idea that we have is not the greatest, and that makes us want to give up. I say do not give us until you have exhausted all options. We need to trust ourselves more when it comes to being proud of our work. Work until you have completed your work. It might take time, but you will get there.
Check out our podcast about how to make your writing stand out!
FILMING CATFISH DURING A GLOBAL PANDEMIC: The tight-knit community of small reality TV shows remodel filming practices for a safe environment amid Corona
By Meg Moore
Dare to Dream Productions Podcast, director and host Bridget Johnson interviews the director of photography for MTV’s tv show, Catfish, John DeTasio. He speaks on how cameramen adapt to filming up close reality content in a pandemic.
He served as the executive producer of creative development at NBC and was the DP for many of CBS’ 60 Minute segments. He’s a freelance cameraman and has been the DP on all of the seasons of Catfish. This University of Arizona Graduate also has experience with producing and directing.
John’s interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Watch the video version here.
How did you land the job being the DP of the show. Did you work with Nev before?
I had not worked with Nev before, but I was a fan of his documentary. I had seen that two years between the time that the documentary came out and the deal was done with MTV to make the pilot, when I got involved. Many things had to fall into place as you’ll learn the more and more you get into this business. Every relationship you have in the world you leave in a good place because you never know when they’re going to come back. I was aligned with the CEO of the production company that makes catfish for MTV.
So MTV agrees on having a show, they hire a production company, and that production company boss I knew from back in the days when I did a lot of 60 Minutes and 48 Hours, he was a news producer. So he knew me as a magazine documentary guy. The person I told you about Tom Forman the CEO of this company had found David Metlzer, who had a very successful show called “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”; the original one. He was known as a documentary real life, not “fake reality” but “real, reality” producer. I was connected with David through Tom, already we had been working on a few shows together. When Catfish came along, they just saw me as a really good fit, because of my background in news and documentary news magazine, along with my body of work. They felt that I was the right person because I really wanted to make an original real, reality show where you are discovering things as they happen and you walk into doors one time. You don't set up, you just go on intuition and the energy of where things are. They felt that that was my strong suit and that’s how it happened. We all kind of came together, we always say it was lightning in a bottle, we all kind of found each other accidentally.
I’ve been in this business a long time, thirty-something years since I've graduated from college. I’ve been on many shows and I cannot tell you how rare it is to find a show that even gets out of the pilot and becomes a TV show. You’ve already done an incredible amount to just get a season of TV and then to make it two seasons is unbelievable. Never in my career have I been so lucky to be on a show where the core group of people are still the same, and we’re now 9 years later and 160 shows in.
It’s been amazing, we take every day as a blessing, we just appreciate the fact that we’re still doing it, and we feel like we’re making a good show and in our way trying to send a good message. Even though the people on our show don’t come from the best positions, they’ve had a lot of struggles but everyone is a human being and that’s what we’re really proud of telling.
You helped so many people find their love life with their lover that they’ve been searching for for years and not even talking to them on the phone.
We still try to keep in touch with as many of these people as we can. Nev’s always receiving text messages from people from the past.
Despite the limitations of not being able to travel to meet the catfish, and doing it on Zoom instead it was still highly entertaining. So what challenges did you face as a DP filming this show during the pandemic?
If you were to direct a show and you can't speak or a camera person with one arm tied behind their back, it was very challenging. Like everybody else when the pandemic first came out everyone was scared, we all retreated to our homes and waited to see what was going to happen. It took a month, maybe longer when our executive producer and Nev and Kamie were all thinking “you know what, as many catfish there are in the world I would imagine there’s even more of that right now”. People are just stuck at home, people need to talk to people - we should see if there are still stories out there, so they kept the casting going and sure enough they’ve been able to find some really interesting stories.
Zoom has been our savior, our ability to talk to each other and see what’s going on in real time. We send computers out to Nev and Kamie with software that we can control. We send a couple of small cameras to have as wide shots and through zoom I can explain exactly how I’d like to have the shot, and we can Facetime, and they can show me the shot, we did a lot of communicating like that. Our sound man has been able to find zoom recorders that take time codes, so we can sync the pictures to the sound so it’s editable. We found a way to do it. The main thing is having the software where my computer can talk to everyone else’s computer and our techs are able to make sure things are being recorded and that we get all the footage. The task gets more monumental because on a show like this, even though we wrap it up into a nice 45 minutes, one of our meetings might take four to five hours. So that’s a lot of footage that we need to group so that our post facility can gather that up and match where all the cameras are because we don’t have the ability to sync everything together like we do when we’re in the field.
Bridget: It seems like a lot more work.
Lots of challenges, you don't want to hear all of them. Our lives depend on good internet. It’s been quite a challenge but I’m so proud of Nev and Kamie, they’re amazing, and our post team who, even though we’re just sitting at the computer now, have found a way to still keep it so lively and interesting and I’m really impressed. It’s a small show and it looks like a small show but it’s a big family. Every stage of the way it’s impressive.
What did the camera set up look like before the pandemic? How many cameras and what kind?
Before the pandemic I would travel with no less than 11 cameras. The cameras would range, A lot of point and shoot cameras that happen to shoot video. We started doing that very early on because Max was on the show with us - and Max and I were shooting basically everything. It’s hard to get all the angles one time through. Even though Max was just holding a little hand held camera - the intimacy he got from a person that was talking to him was an angle that was physically impossible for me to get unless I’m in the shot the entire time. We loved it and post loved it, and we really started to use those cameras a lot. We don’t use them as much anymore but I still take a couple of those, Kamie uses it quite a bit. I carry these little cameras (Cannon XF-205) , you can't even buy them anymore, because I think they came out in 2012. I love the camera because you have all the controls of a real camera, zoom, focus, iris control you can make it professional or you can do automatic audio settings. Kamie can take it and put it on her lap or walk around during one of our reveals like this on automatic controls, and she’s going to get something. She’s going to get an angle with the catfish looking right at the camera which we love - the raw intimacy is important to us.
I also use C300 Mark II for when we’re sitting down. This is between the two (Canon XF705) which is a documentary camera, and we have five GoPro's. The reason why I have so many cameras is our show depends so much on someone's reaction. You don’t want to miss those moments. With less cameras you run the risk of missing things. We don’t do anything twice. Early on in the show I would sit in the middle and Max would shoot with his camera and it would be hand held and energetic and good, but we were missing a lot of so I added more cameras. A typical scenario is we are going to meet the hopeful, I might go to a set early and figure out where they’re going to sit, do some basic lighting, and drop off the cameras, but I don’t meet the hopeful (someone who writes into the show). We rig the car with GoPro's and then we’ll go back to the hotel. So when Ned and Kamie have their call time, they are already on camera - we follow them from the lobby to the car to the location. Me, my assistant camera, camera tech all hold the little cameras and walk into the house at the same time. We do this because we want Nev and Kamie to be part of the story. We don’t care how dirty it is, our biggest goal is to get the real reaction the first time, and we get all the honesty we can. No one actually meets the hopeful until the first day. We’ll roll the go pros and record their real goodbyes. That’s how you get real personalities and reactions. It’s complicated but it’s simple.
A little bit of control - still not as much as I’d like to have. That’s what just happened to your camera, I saw you move and the iris went up and the light changed. That’s what happens with these cameras; they're not professional cameras but at least we have a little control with them. I wish there was a way that if I were in control of your camera, I’d have some ability to pan, and tilt and zoom. There are cameras like that but you would have to be out in the garage not across the country. That would give me a lot more freedom but that’s why I have the other cameras locked down in wider shots for when those real moments happen.
When you were on set during the pandemic did you have to get tested before and wear a mask?
There was no set, our set was in the office, we sent them the equipment and taught them how to set everything up over zoom. But if I'm seeing Nev or Kamie we’re wearing masks, getting tested, taking all the precautions.
What do you think the future of filmmaking looks like post pandemic?
I’m still hopeful that we’re going to find our way back to each other. It’s not going to be overnight, it’s going to be a slow roll out, but I’m a history buff, and looking back through history we’ve had several pandemics, they’ve always subsided, and we’ve always come back together. We’re tribes people, we need each other. It won’t be overnight, I think it’s going to take a while, at first it’s going to be difficult shooting films, you're not going to find lots of extras in the background. People are going to have to write shows that don’t have big crowds. There's going to be scripted television where you go in, set up the shot get everything ready and then leave when the actors come in except for maybe two or three people, and they’re spread out pretty well. You won’t have all the crew and video village in the studio anymore. Slowly but surely as we get a handle on this and we get the vaccine, and the noise settles down and it becomes less deadly we’ll make our way back to each other. I believe that, I feel that.
My son works on a reality tv show where they shot it in a bubble, it was very successful. The show basically bought up an entire resort, so the crew slowly arrived, got tested, quarantined, and nobody saw each other and finally, after all of that and time in quarantine they slowly got together and started building the show. There was no coronavirus, they shot the show for two months, at this one spread out location and it was very successful, they're planning on doing the next season very shortly. We’re all finding our way, I think the small shows are going to do okay, shows like Catfish because we don’t have big crews. MTV is being very cautious. When MTV is ready we’ll get Nev and Kamie back together in the same room. Maybe sitting a little further apart but that would be lovely seeing them together. Meet our people out in a park and stay outside and stay distant, we’ll find our way back. There are 20 of us on the Zoom associated with the show and at the end of our meetings Nev has us turn our cameras on, so we can all say hi.
Do you have any advice for beginner DPs?
There’s so many different avenues for DP’s, pick your lane. Really try as early as you can, what you really like, identify it. Are you super interested in multi camera sitcoms? Are you interested in films? Are you interested in taking over the corporate world? The YouTube world? And really focus in on that world and who the leaders of that particular lane that you pick are. Pick your path the way they picked their path.
Obviously the easiest way is to go to a very prestigious school that hands out really amazing internships, and apply and win a great internship and go work for Martin Scorsese, that would be wonderful, but those things, that’s very rare. So you just have to pick your lane, really study the people you admire, how they did it, and learn from that. You don't have to follow their path - but learn from how they did it.
You have to get to where the business is. I went to the University of Arizona, I had to find my way out to the west. still to this day there’s not a lot of work out there. Now I can go live there and commute after 35 years of connections, but I had to find my way and immerse myself in the world. Fall in love with story telling more than falling in love with your ability to shoot a gimbal shot or get nice lighting on a car. You have to know light, light is so important to know. Not just typical key light, backlight, accent light, actually study the light. When you’re sitting outside by a lake and you notice you feel really good, think about the light. When you’re looking at art and it makes you feel a certain way, think about the light. You can light with one single lamp, it might tell a story. You don’t need big toys, but obviously, understand the basics. Wide shot, medium shot, reaction shot, and understand the basic building tools of building a story.
When I look at audition tapes and it’s just one beautiful shot after another, it really tells me nothing, I want to feel something when I watch. I want to feel stories and I want to feel that you understand story, you understand emotion, that there’s a person there. That directed or feels these shots. It’s not all about “look at this great drone shot I got”.
What’s next for you?
Retirement hopefully. I figure I’ve got about ten years left in this business because I still enjoy it. I’m a freelancer so my life is still concurrent, I work for this company critical content, because of Catfish they have basically booked me in chunks at a time. They’ve got a lot of other projects going on, so I’m always working on other things. In fact this week and last week Catfish is dark, and I am working on a show with Kevin Hart who is doing a game show for E, called Celebrity Game Face, it’s also kind of a virtual show. Since COVID-19 our Catfish team has done a special for CBS, sort of shot in the virtual style Catfish episodes. People giving each other haircuts while we were at home in lock down. I’m out there doing other stuff but catfish is my main stay. I hope that Catfish continues on for a while. As I tell my friends all the time, us core people who have stayed with the show, we’re going to ride the wave all the way to the shore until MTV says okay it’s time to close the doors. We’re enjoying it.
As far as other work goes I don’t really worry about that so much, but I’ve earned that. I’ve been around a long time so when I become available I know a lot of people and I can jump onto something else. I don’t have the big aspirations of “I need to shoot a feature film” because I’ve achieved everything I wanted to do. I’m not in it for any kind of attention, I get to direct shots, I get to pick cameras, I get to pick how the whole construction and the mood of the project is. When I was doing that on two minute news stories I was already happy, I had already achieved what I wanted to do.
As different shows come along that’s great, but I’m just grateful that I get to do that. I get to manage a team, whether it’s two people or fifty people. I’m managing a team and trying to construct something for the visionary for the director or for the executive producer, trying to imagine what they're imagining and trying to bring that to life.
It doesn’t matter if I’m doing it for something big or something small, I just enjoy doing it. I don’t think about what’s next, I just want to keep doing what’s now.
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Bridget Johnson is the president and co-founder of Dare to Dream Productions. She writes and directs thought-provoking films that inspire others to follow their dreams.
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