MEET TYLER RUMPH

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MEET TYLER RUMPH

Name: Tyler Rumph 

Industry: Film and TV // Cinematographer and Editor

Location: Los Angeles, California


ME: How many years have you been working in this industry?

TYLER: I was 20 years old when I landed my first paid job in the industry at a post production house in Burbank. The owner of the company was a friend of my parents. I'm now 32, so it's been 12 years. I can't believe it's been that long.
I learned editing in high school and I loved making skate videos with friends. I fell in love with editing and loved how you could take pretty ordinary content and turn it into something fun to watch.  At that point I didn't know I could make this my career, but when I realized this, I didn't want to do anything else.

 

ME: How many people are currently on your team?

TYLER: I’m currently freelancing and end up wearing many hats.  I do my own accounting and management for projects. This is pretty common for freelance cinematographers and editors. I am currently searching for an agent for cinematography work.  

 

ME: When you feel like giving up what keeps you going?

TYLER: There are many times throughout my journey in this industry where I have felt like I'm not getting anywhere, like I'm at a standstill or it doesn't seem like doors are opening for me and work is really slow. 
Early on I thought my career would progress much quicker. I had set goals of where I would want to be at what age. Those ages would come and go and I would not be anywhere close to what I had imagined. I would look at other famous young directors and cinematographers as well and feel completely behind for my age. I realized quickly comparing myself with others doesn't make any logical sense.  Everyone's path and background are so different. I realized I had to change my way of thinking, to make an adjustment inside myself. I started to look back over the whole course of the 12 years I've been doing this and where I was when I started. I thought wow, I was such a youngin' and I have learned and experienced so much since then.  Even though the day to day seems like I wasn't learning or progressing, I was. I realized I have come so far. I also realize, there is a long way to go still and much more to learn, experience and accomplish. 12 years from now where will I be? This gets me encouraged and excited. 
A film director friend of mine who I've worked with for over 10 years was just telling me he never thinks he will get his break.  He feels he's been hustling for so long and no big fish are biting.  He has made 3 great Indie films that were successful financially and just got a doc financed he is currently making.  In my mind, he is doing so well! I'm excited to see where he is in 10 years. 
 

ME: What is one thing people didn’t warn you about?

TYLER: People will try to take advantage of you. I think it's best to go into every job believing that this won't happen, BUT take the necessary precautions to cover yourself if it does. A written agreement is great to have for every job, even a small ones. Make sure that pay and all that is expected of you in the project, and the job is thoroughly discussed before beginning any project. Don't be afraid to ask questions up front so you fully know what you are getting yourself into.  Also, it's okay to say "no". This is so hard for me. But when you sense someone is trying to take advantage of you, flee! Just say "no thanks". 
 

ME: Who or what inspires you?

TYLER: I’m inspired by other directors;  Alejandro Innaritu, Paul Thomas Anderson, Terrence Malick.  Cinematographers; Chivo, Robert Elswit.  I'm inspired by photographs, paintings, design interiors.  I'm inspired by seeing new countries, places and lifestyles around the world.

ME: What has been one hard knock moment?

TYLER: There are a lot of personalities on the jobs I work on. There isn't one glaring moment I can think of, just lots of little ones where producers or directors on shoots are extremely condescending. It's something you have to learn to ignore. This happens too much.

 

ME: How do you stay organized as a freelance artists?

TYLER: Organization is important to me and helps me stay focused and productive.  I use google docs religiously for invoicing and proposals which helps me keep everything in one place and easily accessible from anywhere. I try not to let things pile up and become overwhelming.  There are so many things to stay on top of, so it's best to be consistent with the paperwork side of things. 

 

ME: How would you define success?

TYLER: I think if you can balance work so that you have enough time for your family that is success.  I love my job, but I would way rather be spending time with my wife and kid. 

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MEET KELLY ALLEN

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MEET KELLY ALLEN

Name:  Kelly Allen

Industry:  Dancer & Choreographer in the television, film, theater industry.

Location: Based in Los Angeles, California


ME: How many years have you been working in this industry?  

KELLY: 10 years professionally.  I grew up dancing & training in all styles of dance from ages 3-17 in San Luis Obispo, California.  Began teaching & choreographing at the age of 15. Made the move to Los Angeles when I was 17 years old and have been working professionally since.

 

ME: How many people are currently on your team?

KELLY: I have agency representation (BLOC talent agency), there are about 4-5 agents there that I communicate with. But I work independently. Sometimes it depends on the job, with how many are in a creative team or cast for particular project.

 

ME: When you are feeling like giving up what keeps you going?  

KELLY: One of my mentors, Marguerite, said this years ago and it always sticks with me... “When you're feeling like giving up or losing your confidence you should wake up every morning, look yourself straight in the mirror, and say to yourself ‘Damn...I am FEIRCE’.”

Thinking of that always brings a smile to my face. I began doing something along those lines a few years back when I first heard Marguerite say that...and IT WORKS. It's a great reminder to speak the truth about yourself even on days you have doubts about yourself or your abilities. The words you say and think about yourself daily are powerful.  I work to keep believing "I am a STRONG, CAPABLE BAD ASS DANCER & CREATOR. Watch out world."

There are so many ups and downs in an artist's career. Not always, but in most cases, as an artist you go from job to job to job...auditioning or interviewing for the next opportunity, several times throughout the year.  It's easy to feel down when being "rejected" from jobs. But the reality is, it's competitive, you will get rejected at some point, and its part of the job....how you handle rejection is all about your perspective.  

I try to think, OK, maybe I didn't get this particular job because the timing for that in my life right now is just not right. Or maybe this means there's another opportunity that will present itself and it may be even better than if I had got the other job. I do my best to TRUST that the projects that are meant to be, will be.

Another tactic when I'm feeling low, is pulling up my resume, and reading it thoroughly. Pulling up my reel and watching it. Or look through old notebooks of lists of goals I dreamed of doing one day.... and look what I have checked off so far. 

There's a lot I have not accomplished in my career as dancer and choreographer.  But there's also a lot that I have done that I should be proud of. I didn't give up then. I'm not willing to give up ever.  Anything is possible.  

 

ME: What is one thing people didn’t warn you about? 

KELLY: OH BOY :) Especially when you begin your career, and in a new city, NETWORKING is a huge part of the industry. A great deal of how I got my first few jobs was through choreographers I've got to meet, know and created relationships with. Of course you've got to have the goods when you step up to the plate to perform. But It's important, when starting off, for people to be able to connect a name with a face. Then it’s really your consistent with your talent, hard work, and dedication to your craft to KEEP those relationships. 

I wasn't aware when I first moved to LA, just how important the initial networking would be, and continue to be throughout my career. It does get a bit easier as you establish your work, your portfolio and when you've been around for some time BUT the industry keeps growing, evolving, shifting. I will ALWAYS need to continue creating new business relationships. 

 

ME: Who or what inspires you? 

KELLY: Bob Fosse, never fails! Cyd Charisse, Fred Astaire, Alvin Ailey. When creating, I look to some of my favorite iconic directors and choreographers for inspiration. 

My dance teachers that trained me growing up...that's where it all began. And my mentors here in LA. They all put so much time, energy, support and love into making me the best dancer & choreographer I can be. 

They have so much belief in me...their support inspires my work.

 

ME: What has been one hard knock moment?

KELLY: A few years back, I was offered a job with a choreographer (personal connection) I had worked with several times before. The contract sent over by producers looked like it had a strange way of wording the legal points. But the main points I was looking at all seemed correct....I signed, returned and completed the job. I missed having them correct an important point on that contract. I thought I had understood everything correctly, but missed something!

Almost ALL of my jobs go through my agency so they can look at the contract, make sure everything legally looks OK before signing. And they can clarify anything so I am 100% clear.  That's what they're there for.

I did not send this one in particular contract through my agents since it was a job I booked directly through a personal connection.  I should have sent it to them anyways! If I was questioning points being made or anything looked different, I know now, it's better to bring them the contract, have them review, and give them the 10% agency fee.  

It's better to be safe and legally protected, than sorry.

 

ME: How do you stay organized as a freelance artists?

KELLY: I have notebooks, planners, binders for my work to keep me on on track. I'm constantly creating lists and setting goals for myself. Typically every 2-3 months.

Here are some examples of my lists and goals:

-Who are the choreographers or directors I'm dying to work with or have yet to work with in my career.

-Who are some veterans in the biz I can connect with to shadow & learn from/assist.

-Who are the other dancers I'd love to work with &/or continue working with.

-What are the jobs I've got my eye on at this time... which jobs am I dying to do.

    *I post this on my refrigerator, put it in my planner, or any place I often look.

And the most important list : HOW AM I GOING TO ACCOMPLISH THE GOALS ABOVE?

-What/who's classes will I hop into to make this happen.

-Who can I reach out to about my aspirations.

-Keep my website, resume, social media up to date and current with what I'm working on.

-What events or workshops can I make it to now, to make a connection & relationship with new people (or people haven't seen in awhile).

I'm also a big advocate of VOCALIZING my goals to others. Whether its to the choreographers/dancers I'm looking to work with, friends, family. It's helpful for me to hear myself talk about the things that I want. And saying "I'm planning to do this." Putting it out into the universe.  The universe talks back.

 

ME: How would you define success?  

KELLY: When you can go about your day, doing what you are passionate about.... can look at what you have going on and feel excited & challenged.  You are not "working" because you love what you do.


www.kellyallendance.com

dance resume

choreo resume

Instagram: kellyallen88 Twitter: @kellyallen

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MEET AARON AIKEN

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MEET AARON AIKEN

Name: Aaron Lee Aiken (Aiken Music)

Industry: Music Producer, Composer and Session Guitarist

Location: Los Angeles, California


ME: How many years have you been working in this industry?

AARON: About 5 years. I've been toying with all things music since high school, but only really started going at full strength once I moved to LA from Istanbul, Turkey.

 

ME: How many people are currently on your team?

AARON: Aiken Music is just me, myself and I, but I have a close group of mixing and mastering engineers, writers and musicians that I love to collaborate with depending on the project.

 

ME: When you feel like giving up what keeps you going?

AARON: I generally just step back, go work on something completely unrelated (particularly woodworking and racquetball) and if the funk doesn't clear I'll ask for advice from those I deeply trust, and I have yet to see that fail!

 

ME: What is the one thing people didn’t warn you about?

AARON: People devaluing what you do because you're a friend and should give them a "homie discount". I love helping my close friends out, but I didn't realize the sheer number of people who have trouble with the concept that this is what I do full-time and it isn't just a hobby.

 

ME: Who or what inspires you?

AARON: Quality and creativity. There's little that doesn't inspire me these days, whether it's an art gallery, time in my garage building furniture, or hearing great stories from an old friend. People who really give their all to what they do inspires me to do the same, even if we do different things. I actively try and surround myself with people who inspire me, and I find that spending time with them refuels me more than anything I could do on my own.

 

ME: What has been one hard knock moment?

AARON: Though nothing career-stopping has happened to me just yet (largely thanks to my endless texts and coffee sessions with Kat) I did have an artist, who I had done a great amount of production and live work for pro bono, completely cut me out once he/she met a new crew of writers and producers. I had assumed that since I was helping him/her out so much in the beginning stages I would get brought along once he/she made it big, but such was not the case. Always communicate what you assume, don't just think everyone sees what your day through your eyes.

 

ME: How do you stay organized as a freelance artist?

AARON: In short, Google Calendar. I'm 60% Type B and 40% Type A so I am generally pretty good at keeping on top of my schedule and work load, but obviously a curve ball is thrown occasionally, like Sunrise (my favorite calendar app) getting bought by Outlook and decommissioned. I used to use a cloud-synced to-do list app called Wunderlist, but more recently just carry a pocket size Moleskine with me which has my project tasks and random ideas all in one place.

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MEET VICTOR ÉLAN

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MEET VICTOR ÉLAN

Name: VICTOR ÉLAN

Industry: Theatre, Literary, Television

Location: Los Angeles, California


ME: How many years have you been working in this industry?

VICTOR: I have been working in regional theatres (Center Theatre Group and The Pasadena Playhouse) for five years now. Two years ago, I made a transition to double my priorities— meaning, I wanted to continue pushing my work as a creative young professional, but I also needed to focus and begin my career as a writer. In the last two years, I’ve completed two writing fellowships (as a PEN Center USA Emerging Voices fellow, and a LAMBDA LGBTQ Emerging Writer). I have also completed three playwright commissions, and I’m working on completing two more this year (2016). Within this work, I also decided that television writing can be a field that sustains my life as a writer, and therefore I’ve enrolled in the UCLA Extension Writers Program and have completed one year of TV Writing courses (drama).

 

ME: How many people are currently on your team?

VICTOR: I began to intentionally build a working relationship with a talent manager in January, 2016. We have weekly conversations were we check in on the status of my writing projects, talk about the pipeline of upcoming projects, discuss trends, and he relays the industry's needs based on conversations he is having with network executives and other managers/agents. He has also been a guiding light as I’ve completed my pilot for a fast-paced political international drama titled BELIEVER, and as I begin working on others. We are just now entering the part of our working relationship where he and I will begin taking meetings with executives as I now have polished projects to show for.

I also began to intentionally build relationships with other writers, theatre professionals, and television executives. For me, relationships are important because they lay the foundation for a future of partnerships and potential collaboration. Through this I have formed a recent team with a marketing expert at FOX, an actress from HULU’s East Los High who will direct, a grammy award winning musician and composer, and a production company to produce a short animated film inspired by a play I wrote in 2013. The tie in— our passion for an increased awareness about Alzheimer's research and the deaf and hard of hearing community. Not all conversations that bind us are about our ambition regarding the industry. The things that bring us together are the very things that make us human, our passions and our ability to change awareness and the world around us. 

Additionally, there is a high level of self care involved in the pursuit of ambition. This is an awareness we must all have— the realization that in order to maximize results, we must first and always take care of ourselves. There are many great friends in my team, those whose council I seek in challenging times. I also have a psychic/spiritual advisor, a cranial sacra therapist, and friends who check in on my eating habits and workout routines.

 

ME: When you feeling like giving up what keeps you going?

VICTOR: Giving up is not an option. That does not mean it is always easy to continue. When times are challenging I branch out by delegating and asking for support. Three and a half years ago I was involved in a terrible car accident that left me so weak and injured that I could not carry a book in hand. I had to slow my life down; I had to make ‘healing’ a priority. No one ever teaches us how to heal; we are not taught how to slow down to make room for healing. For eight months straight, I had to learn how to make room for four chiropractic, acupuncture, physical therapy appointments a week. I had to learn how to ask for help, how to be transparent about my abilities, how to say No, and how to say Yes with modifications (stating the parameters of my abilities). This was a tremendous lesson. Now, I’ve learned how to be very transparent about my abilities, and more so— I’ve learned to ask for help. When I feel like giving up, I ask for support, I ask for help, I build out and make sure I have a support team that can strengthen the goal.

 

ME: What is the one thing people didn’t warn you about?

VICTOR: I should not take things personally. Most times, people make choices based on their needs, desires, flaws— and when it affects me, I should never take it personally. 

 

ME: Who or what inspires you?

VICTOR: Shonda Rhimes inspires me, Obama inspires me, individuals who carry out their civic responsibilities in their work inspire me. My grandmother and grandfather inspire me. I often times think about the tremendous struggle migration must have been for them. They decided to leave Mexico and come to Los Angeles with nothing but a suitcase and their children. How many of us can simply carry our lives in a suitcase, and arrive in a new country without resources, language, and a known/promised future? That risk is incredible. Their choice to take that risk is often a meditation for me. I think about the huge leap our family has made because of that simple choice, and the stalwart investment they then made throughout a lifetime to sustain that choice, to carry it out, to see the fruit of their labor in the establishment of a family in the United States of America.  Their struggle is vast, it makes any risk I could ever take feel small, it makes it feel conquerable. I am inspired by that choice every day.

 

ME: What has been one hard knock moment?

VICTOR: I resigned from Center Theatre Group in 2013. This was a leap of faith as I needed to take time to restructure my life, as I was acknowledging my need to prioritize my career as a writer, too. My job there was not able to support any other part of me, and that was okay— I couldn’t take it personally. I had to walk away. I was unemployed for three months. I had landed a very competitive 8 month writing fellowship, but it did not support me financially at all. I took the leap regardless. My family and friends helped me get through this tumultuous phase. That, and the book “War of Art” really helped me reprogram the way I thought about being a creative professional. During this time, I notified my entire network about the changes in my life and asked them to share with me any open positions that might serve the new life I was trying to build. Three months later, four friends recommended me for the same job. I took notice, applied, interviewed, and began working in the Artistic Department at The Pasadena Playhouse. I walked into my interview and was transparent about my new priorities. They appreciated my transparency and hired me. We structured, and have continued to structure my contracts and salary there to fit my personal/creative needs, while I achieve and really— exceed— the goals laid out each year.

 

ME: How do you stay organized as a freelance artists?

VICTOR: I have two planners (Moleskin Weekly Notebook and Self Journal by self journal.com). For me, it is important that my planners are tactile. I have to be able to see them, feel them, scratch things off, take notes, add notes, color code... One is a weekly view— it allows me to scan the week and month for things I have to be aware about. The other, is a daily planner, one that asks me to state what I am grateful for that day, and asks me what I will do that day to achieve my three overall goals for the year. These two allow me to see the micro and the macro— they allow me to be move steadfast, and still take time to acknowledge the small wins that build towards victory.

 

ME: How would you define success?

VICTOR: Success, for me, means being able to stand tall with a strong network of support and community behind you, one that feeds you, and one that you feed, too.


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MEET JARED CALLAHAN

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MEET JARED CALLAHAN

Name: Jared Callahan

Industry: Film

LOCATION: Atlanta, Georgia 


ME: How many years have you been working in this industry? 

JARED: I’ve been involved in making movies for 15 years or so. I made the move to be a full-time filmmaker two years ago. 

 

ME: How many people are currently on your team? 

JARED: The team fluctuates based on what stage of production we are in. Most of the time it is just sitting alone writing or editing in my home office. Right now the count is high because we are releasing one feature film while simultaneously filming another one. I have a couple lawyers, sales agent, distributor, boutique publicist team, investors, another production company with their crew, and four interns. 

 

ME: When you feeling like giving up what keeps you going? 

JARED: Staying committed to multiple projects keeps me from giving up on any one of them. I think of it like a river with different currents. Your hope with multiple projects is that the momentum will always be moving rapidly on at least one of them. When that projects slows down or hits a dead end, you can easily shift your efforts to another worthy project on your plate. Many irons in the fire, if you will. 

 

ME: What is the one thing people didn’t warn you about? 

JARED: Rejection. Filmmaking is an exercise in rejection. When trying to fund my last film I sent out the business plan and a sample clip to fifty people whom I thought would invest. I got a couple of nibbles, but in the end, I got nothing. 0 for 50. I meet people all the time that like to talk about being a filmmaker, but in the end they don't actually push through the rejection to put out any work. In order to actually make films I've learned that you have to be able to put your head down, find some grit, and get the work done no matter the circumstances. 

 

ME: Who or what inspires you? 

JARED: Wes Bruce's art. Music from Joel. P. West and Bryan Bangerter. Most recently it was having soul-feeding conversation at a BBQ with fellow thrivers Andrew Gumm and Sean Sand. I love when people work hard, question everything, and are not afraid to take risks. My favorite thing is learning something new which readjusts what I thought about the world. I try and tell stories that can do the same for others. Learning someone's story has the ability to transport us into new levels of empathy and compassion not previously accessible. 

 

ME: What has been one hard knock moment? 

JARED: During post-production on my first feature film, we had two editors quit. They took the money we gave them, strung me along like they were doing the work, and in the end turned back in nothing at all. Not a single edited scene. I felt really betrayed. They had torpedoed my ability to afford another editor. I worked very hard to forgive them. In the end, everything worked out exactly as it needed to. The delay caused the editor I truly wanted to be freed up. The need to find more money led me to my eventual executive producer who funded the rest of the whole film. In the moment the clouds looked really dark, but if I can survive that betrayal then I can move forward confidently into whatever the next storm might be. 

 

ME: How do you stay organized as a freelance and self-employed artists? 

JARED: I write tons of notes to myself and turn everything into lists. I work really late into the night, most often doing emails and writing before bed. Then I sleep until I wake up naturally, and try to do editing and writing during the day until a late dinner. I have learned to not let my desktop or workspace get too messy. I keep emails and all my work files organized in files by corresponding projects. If those get out of control, then the little things start to suck away my ability to accomplish big things. 

 

ME: How would you define success?

JARED: Success for me would mean being able to make the projects I choose to make; to tell the stories I want to tell. I don't want to have to make commercial work for a paycheck. I also love the idea that I could make a meager living by creating things. My wife and I live very simply. I want to be able to tell stories that push me to the limits of my knowledge and force me to engage humanity or the earth in a new way. 


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MEET ASHLEY JOHNSON

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MEET ASHLEY JOHNSON

Name: Ashley Johnson

Industry: Small Business Owner/Graphic Designer

Location: Hawaii


KAT: How many years have you been working in this industry?

ASHLEY: I have been in and out of working as a freelance graphic designer for about 5 years now and started a small business called Lucky We Live Hawaii in 2012. 

KAT: How many people are currently on your team?

ASHLEY: Most of the time, I am a one person show, but my husband Bryce is a professional photographer who helps me with aspects of the business like creating content for marketing purposes.

KAT: When you feeling like giving up what keeps you going?

ASHLEY: A few things come to mind, but first is probably that I get to work my own schedule. Its nice having the freedom to be able to travel and take work on the go. As well as fit in time for a surf in between, lol. But more on a serious note, I think as a freelance artist, you can be in your own head a lot of times. When you don't have a team to bounce ideas off of with sometimes you can be more negative than you think. In these times, I'm thankful for my community and friends who remind me that you just have to do it. I've learned over the last few years that you just have to put your work out there. Take risks and see what happens. If your work is getting a good response, it will be clear that you should keep going and not give up!

KAT: What is 1 thing people didn’t warn you about?

ASHLEY: No school or program can teach you how to work with clients. You just have to learn through experience, which can sometimes be rough in the beginning. I didn't think I would start my own business one day, so personally I lacked knowledge in the area of how freelance works as well as basic entrepreneurship skills. But in a way, I kind of feel like thats just a natural process of it all. It all works out in the end, with each project you learn something new.

KAT: Who or what inspires you?

ASHLEY: Lately I have been trying to do a lot of traveling to help me get inspired. Visiting different cultures and art communities are always a good way to get my mind and creative juices excited! Also, I surprisingly have many creative friends based here in Hawaii who are always doing rad things. Seeing close friends of mine take the role of entrepreneurship and be successful pushes me harder to keep working on my own projects and endeavors. 

KAT: What has been one hard knock moment?

ASHLEY: I think some of the hardest moments I’ve had was when I first started as a freelance designer. I didn't know much about the freelance world and how it all worked, so I basically learned as I went from project to project. I learned a lot of hard lessons working with clients, like how you need to make boundaries of your time and work; which eventually led me to working out contracts. Contracts saved my life. It gets you pretty organized and lays out everything for your clients so you don't get taken advantage of. 

KAT: How do you stay organized as a freelance and/or self-employed artists?

ASHLEY: Best thing I have done recently is get the programs and software that help you stay organized and do "less" work. I use to do everything old school in terms of managing things, and was actually way more work. It’s always worth spending that extra money for the things that are going to help you stay on top of things.

KAT: How would you define success?

ASHLEY: I’d say success if being happy with what you're doing and being proud of your work!

www.luckywelivehawaii.com

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MEET BRANDON BROWN

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MEET BRANDON BROWN

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NAME: Brandon Jordan Brown

INDUSTRY: Writing and Poetry

LOCATION: LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA


KAT: When you feel like giving up on your art what keeps you going?

BRANDON: I think the answer to this question changes, based on a lot of different factors––creative blocks, depression, busyness, etc.––but I do know a few things that I try to balance that offer me a lot of help:

+ Being around other writers // few things are more encouraging and challenging than spending time with other people who also have a love for your preferred medium/genre. For me, talking with other poets, learning who they're reading, hearing them complain about how hard things are, finding out where they're getting published––it all helps me get more excited to write. And, it can also add a healthy dose of "competition," in the sense that watching any other person succeed at something you also hope to excel at gives you a gentle reminder that, at the end of the day, art takes a lot of dedication and discipline.

+ Living life // I've found out, and continue to find out (the hard way), how important it is to learn some sort of balance between writing poetry and experiencing life––the mundane, the profound, all of it. I have the tendency to lean toward extremity, so in moments of imbalance, I find myself attacking art in intense bursts, then crashing and burning for a bit. It's been incredibly beneficial for me to set up a loose schedule for writing and editing my poetry so I can approach it as a much more sustainable endeavor. 

I think a good balance of these two elements––diving down and coming up for air––create a more consistent artist.

KAT: Who inspires you?

BRANDON: There are a ton of incredible poets who I really look to for inspiration––Maurice Manning, Carrie Fountain, Philip Levine, to name a few off the top of my head. I am drawn to a number of things about the writers I love: their style, their subject matter, their speech. Finding "your people" is such a gift as an artist, and I highly recommend it. Other than that, I can point straight back to the people and places that raised me. Growing up in the South, I find myself in a unique literary tradition with a really powerful set of shared vocabulary, ruminations, and even critiques. The longer I write, and the more I'm away, the more I have leaned into those people and places to explore what feels most authentic to me for my work. 

I also have a master's degree in theology, so I find my poetry tends to abide in a space that often focuses on the same sort of "business" of theology and other related disciplines––Who are we? What is our condition as humans? Where are we headed? How has that been influenced by where we've been?

KAT: What is one learning moment that you hope others don't have to experience?

BRANDON: I really don't think I have an answer to that. For each "negative" idea that I can come up with, my mind immediately tells me that it was somehow important. Rejection is important. Burnout is important. I think these things can be our teachers. The most crucial part, perhaps, is listening and reevaluating when we are met with something difficult so we can move forward. I've felt like I've been on the brink of giving up poetry many times in my low moments, but, like I mentioned earlier, the encouragement of friends and fellow writers and allowing myself to recalibrate my perspective were absolute lifesavers. Poetry, like other artistic pursuits, is a long game. I am constantly reminding myself that I don't have to achieve everything I hope to all at once. We need to remember that we won't say everything that needs said in one instance.

KAT: How do you stay organized as a freelance artist?

BRANDON: Well, I've stepped out of full-time freelance work for the time being to take a writing gig I couldn't refuse, but I still hold on to some freelance work on the side, and having a full-time job and carving out a lane as a poet takes intentionality to make it work. Use a calendar. There are always deadlines, and whether they are related to a client or a contest, you don't want to miss them. I try to calendar any and all deadlines and set alerts for the ones that are especially important. Additionally, I use an invoicing software to keep track of payments, because if you don't do it, no one will. 

When it comes to poetry, I have a Dropbox folder with all my work in it, finished or in progress. Each piece has its own folder because each time I edit a poem, I save it as a brand new draft. Doing so helps me see how a piece has developed, and if I ever wanted to retrace my steps, I could easily do it. I also use Duotrope to track submissions, which is very helpful.

KAT: What has been the biggest win for you so far?

BRANDON: Back in 2014, I was selected as a PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow in poetry. This absolutely was a milestone in my artistic development. Besides all the benefits it offered––workshops, courses, readings, connections, etc.––it offered me validation, which is something we all need. It feels good to know that what you are doing is landing somewhere with some degree of success. That isn't to say that the only true marker of success is positive reception (we have enough examples of people who weren't appreciated in their lifetime), but if it is a goal of yours to put your work into the world, it certainly is food for the journey. 

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MEET MELISSA GORDON

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MEET MELISSA GORDON

Name: Melissa Jo Gordon

Industry: Art

Location: San Diego, California

KAT: How many years have you been working in this industry?

MEL: 32 years.

KAT: How many people are currently on your team?

MEL: I currently work independently and with a collective called Nettleworks, which consists of my sister in law Hannah Ryan who is a director, and my cousin Marylin Haidri, who is a writer.

KAT: When you feeling like giving up what keeps you going?

MEL: 

  1. Trying to stay in a routine. I try and hit the studio every night after I put my kids to sleep (sometimes I am too tired!).
  2. Having goals.  I grew up a competitive swimmer, and I learned how to set goals and stick to them.  Art isn’t always about harnessing your “Id,” it’s about just showing up.
KAT: What is 1 thing people didn’t warn you about?

MEL: I was taught a lot about my craft and how to hone my skill, however, I wish I had taken some business or grant-writing classes. 

KAT: Who or what inspires you?

MEL: Other women who work tirelessly, inside and outside the art world. 

KAT: What has been one hard knock moment?

MEL: Anytime I put extreme effort and time into something and have it rejected.  (Luckily I have a thick-skin and am extremely stubborn about what I want to do.)

KAT: How do you stay organized as a freelance and/or self-employed artists?

MEL: I am not the best at being organized, but keeping a routine helps. 

KAT: How would you define success?

MEL: I try and think about success in terms of completing my own personal artistic goals, while also not losing sight of the things that are most important to me, such as my family, my mental health, and my spiritual practice.

www.melissajogordon.com

www.nettleworks.com

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MEET MIKE NELDER

Name: Michael Nelder Henderson III

Stage Name: Michael Nelder

Industry: Poetry, Spoken Word, Public Speaking, Facilitation, Personal Development, Motivation 

Location: Los Angeles, California

KAT: How long have you been in this industry?

MIKE: I've been writing since 2010. For the last 3 years I've really been working in this industry.

KAT: How many people are on your team?

MIKE: I have a videographer, a manager, and a lawyer...so 3 people.

KAT: When you feel like giving up what keeps you going?

MIKE: The power of expression vs. impression. As a poet, I'm always trying to produce art that is authentic to my voice. When you've tasted validation from a piece of art, it's easy to write for the applause of people rather than the affirmation from knowing you told the truth. As a writer I'm always asking myself, what am I really trying to say. On the days where someone didn't call back or that opportunity didn't pan out, I think about why I began writing in the first place; as a form of survival, as a way to push back against a society that knowingly and unknowingly pushes you to be like everyone else. I think about how poetry was a gift given to me first and I should always treat it as such irregardless of people's recognition of that gift. 

KAT: What is one thing you weren't prepare you for?

MIKE: People pay you based on your perceived value, not your actual value. Perception plays a role in how people view your art. I've been on both ends of the spectrum, where I was being paid for something and I thought, how they heck did I get here? I've also been in situations where I felt like my value was not recognized. My solution: to set boundaries by accurately communicating to people who I am, what I offer and what I will do and not do. I had to stop taking opportunities just for a check and take them because there was conviction behind why I was moving forward. Typically I find my value as an artist is perceived accurately in the spaces that resonate most with who I am and why I do what I do.

KAT: Who or what inspires you?

MIKE: Extracting the beauty out of mundane things, watching people fully express their passions, hip hop instrumentals, classical music, people's stories, vulnerability, good movies, good books, good food, meaningful conversations, spirituality, scriptures, being able to guide people to their own unique voice and then helping them to channel it effectively, my journal, just about everything inspires me. Even people who are lazy inspire me because I can look at them and see latent potential. Wonder what people are missing when other people sit on their hands. 

Lately, Lin Manuel Miranda (creator/ writer of the play Hamilton), has been really inspiring to me. I love that he took hip hop and spoken word poetry and wasn't afraid to infuse this art form into theatre and history. I love the novelty in just being yourself and I see so much of that in Miranda.

KAT: What has been one hard knock moment for you?

MIKE: One hard knock moment. Actually a lot of my hard knock moments have come from faith based institutions. My assumption is that they should be on the vanguard of valuing people's uniqueness and gifting but often times, it's a harder fight there than somewhere else to be valued. 

I remember one organization reached out to me to do a poem for a themed event. Up until the event correspondence and direction were regular, the poem had to be about a certain topic, certain length, rehearsed with the band, performed for a number of services. After I finished performing I was so surprised that the musicians and other who served were handed something for their time while I had to talk with the director about payment. This left a very bad taste in my mouth because I assumed that I would be valued. This experience taught me how to set boundaries, never to assume and to educate people's exceptions about the time it takes to create something out of nothing, rehearse and then present that body of work. 

KAT: How do you stay organized?

MIKE: Organization is my downfall, lol. I have always had a problem in this area because I'm such a big picture person, have a hard time planning anything. I do have this website called "Trello" that I use. It's a project management tool that business use to collaborate and I've sort of made that into my Self Management System. It's creative enough for me to stick with so it's helped! 

KAT: How would you define success?

MIKE: I would say success for me has to do with the inward expression of who I am matching the outward expression of who I am. I am successful to the extent that what I say and what I do is in alignment. I think my success is also caught up in what I leave behind for other people, what lives on after me. I am successful when people can see themselves in my art. 



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