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Writer/Producer Melissa Clay Tells Her Story. What's Yours?

Features
by Tambay A. Obenson
August 7, 2013 1:26 PM
1 Comment
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Recapping... I did this in February of last year (2012), and got a few response, so I figured, a year-and-a-half later, with the site's audience now larger than it was back then, that I'd try it again.

I know that a significant chunk of S&A's audience comprises of actors, actresses, directors, DPs, editors, etc, etc, etc. Some are able to earn a paycheck utilizing their artistic and/or technical skills; others - and I'd say the majority - are what we've labeled the proverbial *starving artists*, working diligently, relentlessly, struggling to climb this incredibly steep hill, trying to reach some pinnacle of success - whether personal or professional. And still others exist somewhere between the former and the latter.

Where do you fall? And, as the title of this post states, what's YOUR story, and would you like to share it with the rest of the world?

Think of it as an extension of the successful S&A Filmmaker Diary series we launched almost 2 years ago. I'm looking for your individual stories of struggle and/or success, regardless of what rung on the ladder you are currently on, after all, not only is S&A just a source for news, its goal is also to become a community of cinema lovers where we can all share/debate/discuss/learn/teach/commiserate/etc.

Here's your chance. You might learn something; you might teach someone something.

What's YOUR story? You can email me (obensont@gmail.com). You can submit your story in any format - written, or even documented on video. I'll post as many of them as I can. Substance and presentation are key for consideration. 

And be sure to attach a photo (large size) for me to include, and if you have samples of your work, include them as well.

It could be a story about a current situation you find yourself in; or it could cover several days, weeks, months, or years of your career. It could be that you just want to vent your frustrations; aspects of, or people in this business that piss you off; aspects of, or people in the industry that encourage you. It doesn't have to be all negative, nor all positive. We're complex people, and so I assume our stories are as well.

In today's post, writer/producer Melissa Clay shares her story:
I wanted to be an actress in middle school, a writer in high school and a playwright in college. All my life I yearned to express myself in a verbal way, using words to communicate whatever was going on in my mind. I am the youngest of four girls and didn't really talk much when I was growing up. I attribute that to being the baby of the family and just sitting back, following and listening to those who were older. I remember not having too much to add to the conversation; my family was pretty entertaining. They were covering it all. But as it turns out, I did have something to say. 

In high school, I had an English teacher who pushed me to write and I rather liked it and I was good at it. It came easily to me. I didn't struggle to get the words out. I was expressing myself. I didn't want to stop. I chose Creative Writing as a major in college and I was exposed to everything from poetry to short stories to plays. There were so many ways to construct a story, I just had to figure out how I wanted to tell my story. I took several play writing classes toward the end of my college career and I fell in love. The structure allowed me to get to right to the point, without the fluff. I've always focused on characters and their interaction with each other. I've always been interested in how we deal with each other, how we enjoy each other, how we support, love and fight each other. 

When I graduated from college, I didn't really know where to go from there. I didn't want to stay in school and earn my masters. I didn't want to teach, which is what a lot of Creative Writing majors did. I just wanted to write, but I wasn't sure how to go about monetizing that. I finally came up with the idea to move to Chicago. They have an robust theater community, right? I'd just find myplace there. However, when I got to Chicago, I worked at a bank and a gym and my writing fell off. It took a year and a half for me to finally give myself a kick in the pants and figure out what I was doing here. I saw an ad for a digital arts media school in Chicago, and my senses perked up. What was this, a two-year school that would give me practical, vocational knowledge of the film industry? I loved play writing, I'm sure I could love screenwriting. So I went back to school. I felt good about it. I never thought I'd go back, but after a couple years out of undergrad, I was ready.

I had an amazing time at film school. I met people I would have never met otherwise, I gained hands-on experience in an industry to which I was an outsider and I realized I wanted to do more than just write. I was introduced to film producing, and this, I believe, is my true vocational calling. I enjoy the abstract aspect of creatively producing an idea that will manifest into movie, and actually executing the production of a short film, music video or feature film. Upon my graduation from film school, I got a gig as Assistant Director, under the Production department, on an independent feature film here in Chicago. From that gig came another gig as an Assistant Director, and I was having a lot of fun gaining real world experience managing sets and working closely with the director and cast and crew. 

A friend I knew from church had written a comedy screenplay with his best friend, and he was in the process of getting it funded. He asked me to help him produce it, and I leaped at the chance. I've never produced a feature film before, and I was excited to jump in and get down and dirty. We had the money for our production budget and we were ready to move forward. Our cast and crew were in place, our budget was in place, and I was revving to go. In addition to being the Producer of the movie, I was also the Assistant Director, Script Supervisor, Caterer and Craft Services. It was a very low budget endeavor, but everyone was determined to get it done. I was working a full-time day job on top of this, and we shot every weekend and 3 nights of the week for 4 weeks. I don't know how I made it through that month, all I know is God got me through. The energy on set was contagious, we laughed, we learned and most of all, we worked as a team. The crew was small, but everyone really dug deep and made it move along. 

Now, I wish I could say the movie is completely finished and we have been able to see the fruits of our very hard labor. However, that is not the case. I listened to some bad advice, hired an editor with no comedic timing or experience, and now we're in the process of crowd funding to raise money to finish the post production of our film with a new editor. I've learned a lot from producing this movie, and I wouldn't trade the experience for one with no hiccups. I can't wait until people see what we've done and I hope this will lead me to producing other people's stories as well as my own. 

Currently, along with crowd funding for my feature film, I'm writing a web series with a couple friends. We're hoping to go into production next summer. I am dedicated to creating movies in which you see yourself, but you're on a journey to where you never thought you could go. I will work hard to stay in Chicago, where I believe we can really build this city up to be a force in the film industry. Where thousands who want to work in the film industry don't have to fight to work on the two or three features a year that come to Chicago. There are plenty of stories to be told, so why not here in Chicago.
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1 Comment

  • Monique a williams | August 7, 2013 4:08 PMReply

    Great story! Thanks for sharing!

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