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On Issa Rae's Recent Success And Why You Should Be Inspired...

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by Tambay A. Obenson
October 2, 2012 11:48 AM
25 Comments
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Issa Rae

Yesterday's news that Issa Rae (the Awkward Black Girl herself) had paired up with Shonda Rhimes and sold I Hate L.A. Dudes to ABC, is exactly the kind of news I've been wanting to read, and always love to read!

And if you're a content creator with similar goals, hopes and dreams of your own, this should excite and inspire you.

What a lot of you may not know is that Issa Rae was one of the earliest contributors to Shadow & Act. There - the cat's out of the bag. There were 6 of us initially, each running our own separate black cinema blogs, back in 2008/2009; and eventually, we all thought it would be a good idea to combine our efforts into a single web space, since we were all reaching the same audience - although, with different voices.

And Shadow & Act was born in April 2009.

There was even a podcast, which included all of us from time to time, in round-table fashion.

Obviously, Issa Rae moved on, likely because she was more interested in creating content, than writing about content, or writing about creators of content.

That was in 2009; skip ahead to early 2011, February, some 2 years later, when I logged into my Facebook account as I did daily, scrolled down my feed (before all the horrible changes Facebook made), and I saw this post from Issa Rae - a YouTube file she shared for something with a title that read: Ep 1 | ABG | The Misadventures of AWKWARD Black Girl.

Curious, I clicked the play button, and within seconds, there she was, in a car, spitting out some obscenely hilarious rap lyrics, while driving down some unknown LA street. This wasn't the Issa Rae that I knew - although I didn't know her that well. But from what I did know of her, I wouldn't have expected this. So it was a surprise, although a pleasant, extremely amusing one. I remember thinking just how courageous she was for doing this.

At the time, I had no idea what she had in store; if this was just some one-time fun thing that she'd done, and that would be it; or if there it was part of some grand plan.

There was really no pre-release marketing, no hype to get audiences excited for the series that was to come. She just posted this *thing* that she'd created, on Facebook, and then several sites (including S&A, Clutch and others) picked it up instantaneously, you folks immediately loved it (based on the comments), it soon went viral, accompanied by lots of conversation around it - all of which (and then some) encouraged Issa Rae to produce and release a second episode.

I recall posting a comment on her Facebook page before the second episode was released, saying that the pressure was then on, given how well episode 1 had performed; expectations would be really high for episode 2.

But she was already fully aware that fact!

A month later came episode 2; and then episode 3 after another month; episode 4 after another month, and so on, and so forth, winning countless new fans with every new installment.

And then came July 2011, 5 months after the first episode debuted, when Issa Rae launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $30,000 to shoot the remaining episodes of season one of the web series. The month-long campaign ended up raising almost double that figure - over $56,000; and if it wasn't already clear before then that there was an excitement for ABG, the immense success of this Kickstarter campaign should've quelled any doubts.

Then came more episodes, more press, more awareness, more fans, signing with UTA, meeting Donald Glover, a college tour, expansion of the brand (like guest-starring in episodes of Black & Sexy TV's The Number, and teaming with them to produce RoomieLoverFriends), the Lena Dunham Girls debate and why ABG deserved a similar shot on the small screen (although that was maybe mostly an S&A conversation), the Pharrell connection and his I Am Other YouTube channel which likely led to even further exposure, RATCHETPIECE Theatre, and finally, some 10 million (minimum) total views later, yesterday's news that she'd be taking I Hate L.A. Dudes to ABC, courtesy of one Shonda Rhimes - only one of the most powerful showrunners on network TV right now, with a few critically and commercially-acclaimed series already to her name.

Naturally, we hope I Hate L.A. Dudes will be a notable addition to her growing library of work.

But as I started this entry saying, if you're a content creator, diligently working towards your own similar objectives, this news really should excite you!

Considering the relatively short length of time all of this happened for Issa Rae, we could say that it all transpired practically almost overnight! Many toil away for decades before they get an opportunity like this; some never even make it this far. Yet, here she is; she had an idea, and utilizing affordable and accessible production, distribution and exhibition technologies, she's made the kinds of career leaps that may not have been possible as recently as 15 to 20 years ago.

And this is just the beginning of what could be a really long, interesting, roller-coaster ride for her.

Granted, nothing's guaranteed; Just because she's scored this sell with ABC via Shonda Rhimes, doesn't necessarily mean she's assured career prosperity and longevity, especially in this cutthroat business. Scripts still have to be written, pilots still have to be shot, audiences still have to be attracted, etc (for example, you'll recall the report we posted about a week ago, which stated that only 32% of new network TV series actually get renewed for second seasons).

It's a rough, tough, competitive business (emphasis on business), as many of you already know very well.

BUT, at least she has her foot in the door, which is more than most of us can claim; and even if this doesn't work out for her (not to jinx Issa Rae), she's already built a significant enough audience via the web that gives her some leverage, which she could find a way to monetize independently. After all, content delivery via the web is supposed to be the new frontier.

Think of the way Tyler Perry got started; and this was years before the web became what it is today. He cultivated and accumulated an audience with his stage road shows - an audience that just couldn't be ignored as he negotiated his transition to the big screen; an audience that has remained fervently loyal to him.

I can see a similar kind of healthy rabid relationship between Issa Rae and her fans. The widespread, deafening cheers you've heard since yesterday's announcement, all excited about the news (just read our post announcing the deal, check Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Issa Rae's voicemail, IM, email and texts), should tell you something.

And, again, it should also inspire you! Will everyone attract Shonda Rhimes' attention and sell an idea to a major TV network? Of course not! But you won't know unless you make the effort.

Besides, her path certainly isn't the ONLY one; there are countless other roads to whatever you consider glory.

Some recent examples - the kind of action I love seeing (blacks established in the business, in positions to assist in the forward progress of up-and-comers, doing just that) include Chris Rock's bringing W. Kamau Bell's act to the FX network, as well as YouTube star Deshawn Raw (whose journey is somewhat similar to Issa Rae's) to Comedy Central - both with their own individual series (the former is already on the air, and was renewed; the latter is on its way).

As the saying goes, luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. So be prepared; and look out for opportunities.

All this to say, YOU my friends can do it too, as clichéd as that might sound!

The production, distribution, and exhibition processes have all been democratized. The tools are available to almost anyone who wants them.

It starts with an idea, and then taking that first step towards realizing it, ignoring all the detractors and naysayers; so get to work!

Everywhere right now, seeds are being planted; don't get left out of the harvest that will come.

Carpe diem!

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25 Comments

  • anon | October 13, 2012 10:49 AMReply

    knowing both shonda and issa its not gonna be an all black affair but there will be some decent black characters in it and hopefully most of the crew will be blk -but not holding my breath. I'm happy they are linking up with shonda's experience in tv it will help issa not become a mainstream network casualty. This is good news but lets not become complacent and expect white america to alwyas service our stories we need our OWN networks with hundreds of black stories told.

  • Masha Dowell | October 8, 2012 5:03 PMReply

    I admire Issa. I am happy for her success, and I wish her and Tracy Oliver ( and the entire cast and crew) the best of everything with their careers. Its a new day in Hollywood!!!

  • Candace | October 8, 2012 4:35 PMReply

    Issa Rae is a great example, in my opinion of someone who has "it". This is what managers, agents, producers, and other industry folks spot. Which leads to success. Now, of course they aren't always right. But, in Issa's case, they are. Why? You can't take your eyes off her while on screen. She stands out, is witty, and naturally calm in her delivery. Most importantly she has "her own voice". Which happens to connect most human beings who share the same discomfort as she does, but don't express it the exact same or at all. And she found a demographic, the college students to target on her tour is an example. This Stanford University educated young lady is pretty smart and driven. Those combinations keep you on the wave no
    matter how strong the current. It doesn't matter how great a writer is, if they don't utilize there resources, know who they are, have a voice, target and plan of action. With those in hand many happy accidents and connections come along which can lead to network. Success comes when preparation meets opportunity. Business 101. Have a blueprint and work every angle possible!

  • Boutros-Boutros | October 4, 2012 8:50 PMReply

    I am SO happy for Issa, way to go. She is an inspiration for me. Smart, funny, awkward, and fine as hell too! Congrats and god speed...

  • RB | October 3, 2012 7:30 PMReply

    I am definitely inspired and so proud of her! Certainly, if Issa can make it, anyone can make it. "A rising tide lifts all boats" Cheers!

  • Alexander Etseyatse | October 2, 2012 7:59 PMReply

    Great way to put it Tambay, I find Issa success to be inspiring man. To see her magically go from nothing to something in T.V. with a web series? She living the dream that all us independent content makers all inspire to be at soon.

  • Hmmm | October 4, 2012 7:58 PM

    I'm with NO BRAINER on this...that statement doesn't apply for her journey. She's been working with "something" from the beginning and now she is getting an opportunity to show it on a bigger platform. And your use of the adverb magically is a no bueno aussi. No magic. Just hard work.

  • Alexander Etseyatse | October 4, 2012 6:11 PM

    @NO BRAINER it's a term I was using "From nothing to Something", no body is calling her nothing. A little touchy, the term is used all the time.

  • NO BRAINER | October 3, 2012 1:12 AM

    She was never nothing...

  • Keith Purvis | October 2, 2012 4:09 PMReply

    Congrats to Issa and thanks to you for all you and your contributors have done for the content creators.

    Here's an article about black television viewership vs. youtube viewership that speaks even more to your point:

    http://targetmarketnews.com/storyid10011201.htm

  • Dankwa Brooks | October 2, 2012 3:35 PMReply

    Oh and Tambay I get your excitement. When people I know has an achievement (premieres their film and or makes a film festival) I am happy for them like it was my film.

  • Dankwa Brooks | October 2, 2012 3:26 PMReply

    Yes we should all be inspired. DAVE CHAPPELLE and his family ate for years off of various development deals (that and stand up of course) which is why his production company is called PILOT BOY if I'm not mistaken. In any case, development deals pay well and can be stepping stones to other things. Frankly given the "complexion" of the business any deal made by a person of color is an inspiration to us all.

  • Priss | October 3, 2012 1:38 PM

    True words.

  • Ojie King | October 2, 2012 2:54 PMReply

    Wishing her all the best. With what she has managed to do with ABG ( which i should add, it got into because of S&A), i am confident that her future is bright! I definitely will be watching!

  • lauren | October 2, 2012 2:35 PMReply

    It remains to be seen if she can write consistently after ABG ran out of interest at the halfway point the first season and honestly this season is no better. Still it's inspiring for aspiring writers and yet I imagine a bit frustrating for those scribes with more skill and finesse than Ms. Rae. Bottom line is you have to make your own opportunities and youtube has made that a possibility.

  • Lydia | October 10, 2012 6:54 PM

    ABG did not run out of interest. Even if this is your opinion, look at the evidence. You Tube viewing stats and comments do not lie. It is as popular as ever.
    The second season is much better than the first. Everyone has found their groove, the production values are much higher and they are taking more risks. IAMOTHER and Pharrell's involvement give ABG a certain swag. Issa has a multitude of skills and finesse. I KNOW that she can "write consistently." She took her idea and ran with it. The quality that I admire the most is her humble self assurance. She didn't ask for anyone's approval, she just did it. Kudos, Ms Issa Rae. This separates Issa from thousands of content creators who just don't have the stuff and are too fragile to "bring it" or go there. Dare I suggest that you might be in this category.

  • NO BRAINER | October 3, 2012 1:07 AM

    Well said, Lauren...

  • CareyCarey | October 3, 2012 12:41 AM

    Stop it HMMMM... *lol*

  • Hmmm | October 2, 2012 11:33 PM

    I agree CareyCarey ;)

  • WOW | October 2, 2012 8:12 PM

    Lauren, be very careful. Many have been mark with a scarlet letter for a lot less. "You can spew bullshit towards Tyler Perry without hesitation but if you even throw softballs towards Scandal, ABG, or TLAM you have no taste. Ain't that a bitch (excuse my language)?" ~ AGENT K

  • ALM | October 2, 2012 2:18 PMReply

    Our little girl has grown up! :)

  • Sonia | October 2, 2012 12:30 PMReply

    Mad Props to Ms Rae. You are right Tambay this is just pure inspiration..

  • Adam Scott Thompson | October 2, 2012 12:10 PMReply

    It's a good time to be alive right now.

  • Leon Breckenridge | October 2, 2012 12:02 PMReply

    But one must understand that she is now in the big leagues and this must be successful. TV can also destroy your career. Affion Crockett went to FOX and he was history. The pressure will be bigger.

  • NinaG | October 2, 2012 1:39 PM

    There are ups and downs in every career. Failing at TV can alter some plans but it's not gonna take anyone's life.

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