Sorry guys, we’re Celebrating MGM this Monday!

“You can’t wear a tank top two days in a row, and you can only wear your hair in a ponytail once a week. Oh, and we only wear jeans or track pants on Fridays. Now, if you break any of these rules, you can’t sit with us at lunch.” -Gretchen Wieners

Happy Mean Girls Monday! In celebration of this auspicious occasion, I want you to think back to the first time you watched this amazing teen chic flick. I remember watching this movie and how much I couldn’t wait to get to school the next day and tell my friends about it.

Recently, I decided to watch this movie again and here’s what I got from watching it (as an adult who can quote this entire movie).

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  1. Learn to roll with the punches: Life is full of unfortunate events, it’s up to you to go with it and continue to live or you can cry your eyes out and quit. In this case channel your inner Regina George. She was the goddess of not caring about other thought of her. Did your twist out not turn out right and you only have about 15 minutes left until you have to leave for work. Who cares, transform those wet curls into a cute up do or puff and beat your face. Life zip, blackgirlmagic 1 point.

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2. Exactly what he said!

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3. Remember, no matter how old your mom gets, she’s going to want to barrow a sweater or want to know what’s “hip.” Just keep her in the loop and it’s a little less embarrassing. Mom’s are great, everyone want’s a “cool” mom.

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4. Chase the things you want in life. Your dreams won’t become realities if all you do is dream about them.

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5. Accept that you’re perfectly flawed. We were created with a sense of uniqueness. Love what makes you different. You can complain everyday but nothing is going to change. Embrace yourself and others will embrace you too.

As a tween, mean girls was the best for all the wrong reasons. Every girl wanted to rule their school but with the wrong attitude. Watching this movie as an adult is just as funny, but mainly because you realize that either you were these girls, you hated these girls or you wanted to be these girls. What ever category you fall under, just remember on Wednesday we were pink!

 

 

#FilmMajorFriday: I Survived My First (Production) Runner Job

From Wednesday, July 6 to Monday, July 11, 2016, I received the opportunity to be a runner for Rogan Productions for a documentary they are producing about the daily life in a gun shop in Battle Creek, Michigan called Freedom Firearms.

You only see the extremes on TV, i.e. people who are super pro-gun, people who are super anti-gun, and the mass shootings. You never see normal, everyday people that practice gun safety and use guns for things such as hunting and protection, so this documentary aims to show that middle ground. Rogan Productions is based in London, and guns aren’t allowed in the UK, so this is all quite fascinating for them.

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When I received the job offer, my first initial thought was of the movie The Devil Wears Prada when Anne Hathaway’s character Andy was basically a slave to Miranda (Meryl Streep) and had to cater to her every need. That’s basically what a runner is. You assist the director and producer by doing miscellaneous tasks, as well as do things like getting coffee and lunch. This was my first runner job for a major production, so I was REALLY nervous!

However, my experience was nothing like Andy’s from the movie at all! I feel like I got lucky with it being a smaller, more independent company, on top of the fact that the crew was very small and that this was for a UK documentary, not a major feature Hollywood film. Had I been a runner for Marvel’s upcoming Black Panther movie or something like that, I’m sure the experience would have been much more intense.

However, it still wasn’t easy! I worked 10-12 hour days every single day during that week. I had to write down and consent every single person that walked into the gun shop, along with detailed descriptions. I was responsible for picking up lunches and Starbucks. The most technical thing I probably got to do was change the batteries in the microphones and mic the employees of the gun shop.

The first two days were rough because I’ve become complacent with my little 5-hour shifts, 3 days a week at my part-time job where I pretty much sit at a desk all day unless we’re out shooting a video. So going from that to literally being on my feet from 9am-8pm (and sometimes longer) every day for 6 days straight was exhausting! However, as the days went on, I got used to the long hours.

The crew was amazing, and it was a fun experience working with the British! They’re such lovely, nice people. Plus, I could listen to their accents ALL day. The gun shop staff were also really cool and very knowledgeable about firearms. You could tell that they are passionate about what they do. The free food and Starbucks everyday was nice as well!

image2 2I even got to shoot for the first time ever! It was quite the experience. I might even go back and get my CPL (concealed pistol license).

This experience definitely reminded me why I love documentary films, and reassured me that I’m in the right field. I learned so much about documentary film production, and what it takes to make it to the top.

Additionally, before this experience, I was kind of anti-guns and didn’t want anything to do with them. All you see in the media is the harm that guns do, but you never see anything about the normal, day-to-day people who use guns wisely and practice gun safety, which is what this documentary is about. This experience gave me a different perspective on guns, and how the media really distorts and puts a negative stigma on guns even though 90% of gun owners use guns wisely.

THIS is why I love documentary filmmaking. It allows you to gain unique learning experiences, opens your mind to different viewpoints, and you learn perspectives that are different than your own.

I expect to be directing/producing my own documentaries by the age of 30, if not sooner. I know that’s a stretch, but I can do it. I can only go up from here! I’m thankful for having this opportunity, and I know that there’s much more to come. This is only the beginning.

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#FilmMajorFriday: That One Time I (Almost) Landed an Internship in LA

You want to know what the worst feeling in the world is? Giving something your all, but still falling short.

Back in March, I applied for an extremely competitive internship with the Television Academy Foundation in Los Angeles, California. The requirements were extensive: application, resume, statement letter, transcripts, and two letters of recommendation. I spent hours and hours perfecting my materials before I mailed them off, and prayed for the best.

To my surprise, I made it as a finalist! I, Tirrea Billings, was a finalist for a PAID internship in LA! I was elated.

The last step I had to complete was a video interview answering multiple questions about myself and why I wanted to intern with the TV Academy. Honestly, I felt like I completely nailed it.

By this time, it was the end of May. I had been working on this for two months! I gave it everything that I had, and I was fully confident that I would be chosen.

But…I wasn’t.

For the past month, it’s really been bothering me. Yeah, I was a finalist. But I didn’t win. I felt like I was worth more than 2nd place. And it’s not that I feel like I didn’t try hard enough because I know I did. It’s the fact that I did try my absolute hardest and I still wasn’t good enough. I fell short, and I really let myself down.

Being the competitive person that I am, I’ve been asking myself what did I do wrong? What could I have done better? What do I need to improve on? Who got chosen and what did they do better?

Yet, after beating myself up about it for a while, I grew tired and knew that it was time to change my perspective and look at the situation differently.

For a long time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t discover my love for filmmaking until my sophomore year of college, and didn’t produce my first documentary until late last year during my senior year. I literally just started taking film seriously only 1 year ago.

And to make it as a finalist for a very competitive internship in LA after only doing this for a year says a lot. Then I reminisced on this past year, and really had to pat myself on the back.

My first documentary I ever made received an honorable mention in the 2016 Broadcast Education Association’s (BEA) Media Festival of the Arts – a highly competitive, national competition for student filmmakers. I’ve interned at several different locations, continue to receive a tremendous amount of opportunities for paid, freelance work, and I’m all over Western Michigan University’s websites and news for my work.

People are noticing me, and that’s an amazing feeling.

So, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I had to realize that my work is definitely not going unnoticed, and I have accomplished more during this past year than what some people have accomplished who have been doing this much longer than I have.

I had to realize that in this field, and in life in general, there are going to be times when you are told no, when you get denied, and when you give something your all but still fall short. And you know what, that’s okay. Though finally being able to catch a big break in LA would have been amazing and that $4,000 would have looked pretty nice in my bank account, I know that God has even bigger, better opportunities planned for me in my future. I just have to keep working hard and continue improving as a filmmaker.

Most importantly, I can never give up.

I also have to remember that this career is not easy at all, that there will probably be more times when I’m told no versus being told yes, and that I’m still young and new to this field! So I just need to relax. As long as I keep striving for greatness, I will make it to where I want to be: a director/producer for documentary films and advocating for more diversity and inclusion in the film/media/TV industry.

Lastly, to anyone reading this and to everyone that I know, thank you so, so, so much for your undying love and support. I am a very confident woman, but affirmation always feel good! Thank you for seeing my potential even when I don’t see it in myself. Thank you for your continuous encouragement and motivation, and thank you for believing in me and my dreams.

Celebrate your victories, and celebrate your losses. Actually, don’t even look at them as losses. Instead, look at them as opportunities to learn, grow, and become better. Don’t get discouraged because when one door closes, another door opens. You just have to keep striving for greatness, and want it for yourself.

I want it, and I will get it. It may not be right at this moment, but I will make it to LA, I will prosper, and I will reach heights greater than I’ve ever imagined.

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#MotivationMonday: Your Work Is Worth It

When I tell people that I’m a film major, there are two different types of responses: one where they are supportive and think that’s really cool, and one where they kind of look at me thinking, really? You’re $20,000+ in debt to study film? Film is a hobby, not a career. Have fun being a starving artist!

In today’s society, it seems like people think that you’re wasting your life and devalue your work if you’re not pursuing a career in business or something in the STEM field.

Well, I’m here to tell you that without us, without artists, the world would be bland, colorless, and lack depth. From the books you read to the movies you watch, they all require at least one thing: someone with the mind and the original, imaginative, artistic ability to create them.

Art matters. To all the photographers, filmmakers, writers, musicians, painters, sculptors, dancers, fashion designers, graphic designers, drawers, poets…Your work matters. Your craft matters.

Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do and what you can’t be successful at. And don’t let anyone tell you to have a “plan B.” Will Smith says that there’s no reason to have a plan B because it distracts from plan A. He is absolutely right. It’s like you’re already expecting plan A to fail by having a plan B. So, stick to plan A. Stick to your art.

I think the best thing about being an artist is that you get to create something from nothing. As artists, we get to be new, unusual and inventive every single day. We all have something unique and special that we want to share with the world.

Your work is worth it. It’s not about the money. It’s about being able to integrate the mind, body, and spirit. It’s about cutting across racial, cultural, social, educational, and economic barriers. It’s about enhancing cultural appreciation and awareness. It’s about giving people the opportunities to express themselves. It’s about bringing the inner world into the outer world and developing new, concrete realities.

I’m glad that I am finally able to ignore all the noise and be true to myself. I love film. I am a filmmaker, and I will spend the rest of my days doing what I love. My work is all that matters.

 

#FilmMajorFriday: Why Ava DuVernay is My Greatest Inspiration

Ava DuVernay is everything that Black Girl Magic encompasses. Being a film major, she is my greatest inspiration and really motivates me to pursue a career in film and be on the frontier for bringing more diversity into Hollywood.

DuVernay is a director, screenwriter, film marketer, and film distributor of independent film. She’s most famous for directing Selma (2014), a chronicle of Martin Luther King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2015.

Based in Los Angeles, she is the founder of ARRAY, a community-based distribution collective dedicated to the amplification of films by people of color and women filmmakers. She is also a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and is on the board of Film Independent and the Sundance Institute.

What I appreciate most about DuVernay is that she strives to make change for women and people of color in an industry that is dominated by white men. She advocates for the distribution of more films by women and minorities, which is both comforting and inspiring since I’m both a woman and a minority. Not only does ARRAY focus on women and Black filmmakers, but also Latino, Asian, Native American, and Middle Eastern filmmakers and directors.

To me, one of her most notable acts of duty is when she and Ryan Coogler (Director of Fruitvale Station, Creed, and the upcoming Black Panther movie that comes out in 2018!!!), and several others supported a free Oscar-night event in Flint, Michigan to raise money for the Flint Water Crisis while boycotting the Oscars for its lack of diversity in the Academy. The #JUSTICEFORFLINT benefit gave a voice to members of the community who were victims of the choices that people in power made, choices that failed to protect the citizens of Flint. The event raised a total of $100,000.

She has taught me that if my dreams are only for myself, then they’re not big enough, and to include others in my dreams. She has taught me to pay attention to my intention not just in filmmaking, but in all areas of my life. Be grateful, appreciate others, and put others first. Take action in my craft, and that the only thing that matters is my work.

Most importantly, it is imperative that we continue to create spaces like ARRAY that advocate for the distribution of more films by women and minorities. Why? Because all of us should be able to see ourselves. Visual identity and representation matters. It’s important that we allow others to see themselves in all walks of life, beyond the stereotypes that we are subjected to.

Thank you, DuVernay, for all that you do. You are changing lives and inspiring young filmmakers like me more than you are credited for. Keep on climbing, and keep on shining!

 

Women of Color Wednesday: Viola Davis

This week’s #WomenofColorWednesday shout out goes to one of my favorite actresses, Viola Davis!

I’ve always been a fan of Davis, but I completely fell in love with this incredibly talented, intelligent, brilliant actress during her acceptance speech during the 2015 Emmy Awards.

Watch Davis give her speech here.

What stood out to me the most is when she said, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.” I’ve never heard a truer statement than that. So many women of color miss out on chances to reach the peak of their potential not because they’re not good enough, talented enough, or educated enough, but simply because they lack the opportunities to do so.

Davis is one of the reasons why my life mission is to be a part of the change that the film/media/TV industry needs today: more women and more people of color. I want to be able to tell diverse stories by diverse story tellers, and create opportunities for those who would otherwise not receive them.

The fact that Davis is the first African American to win an Emmy for best actress in a drama (for How To Get Away With Murder) says a lot about the racial inequality in Hollywood and the lack of opportunities for people of color in the industry. There’s definitely a diversity problem, and that needs to change.

At this year’s SAG Awards, she said that “diversity should not be a trending topic…No matter what is going on in the business, I will find a way to practice my art, and all of the actors of color who I know don’t place any limitations on themselves either. So regardless of what is going on with the Academy, regardless of what is going on in Hollywood, they will find a way to be excellent. We always have and we always will.”

People like Viola Davis are the driving force to the changes that need to happen in the industry, and it’s important that people of color lead by this example and advocate for more opportunities for people of color — and women — in the industry. Our stories are just as valid as anyone else’s.

Viola Davis, thank you for being one of my greatest inspirations. It’s people like you that give me hope for diversifying an industry that is dominated by white men.