I’ve been making movies for about ten years. (Want to see what I’ve made? Check out the films page here.)

In those ten years, I’ve made plenty of mistakes. It’s been messy, challenging, exhausting, and exhilarating. Failure and I have an intimate relationship. It gives me the courage to experiment freely as a filmmaker – and that’s part of what sets me on fire. I love figuring things out as we go.

Speaking with Dr. Bob Patterson’s class at N.C. State University about “Abandoned Allies” in 2012.

It’s a dance; the steps are known but what happens on the dance floor may be different every time. When we’re first starting out, we may learn the steps of the dance and try them on as best we can. We memorize, copy, and echo what we’re taught.

Answering questions about “Abandoned Allies” at the August premiere at IMAX at Marbles in 2012.

After a while we start to embrace the tiniest detail of the steps, perfect them, seek a deeper understanding of the dance, and (sometimes) begin to challenge the norm.

In filmmaking, this is often called honing your craft.

Developing Your Artistic Voice

What I’ve discovered in recent years is the development of my artistic voice. It’s simultaneously freeing and scary. But it’s the next stage of the evolution of my career as a filmmaker, and I’m all on board.

As a storyteller, I am finding what most interests me. What stories do I most want to tell? How? Why? What do I want to add to the conversation that hasn’t been said? Am I qualified to say it?*

On location while making Abandoned Allies in 2011. (Photo taken by my sister.)

For example, I’ve wanted to explore race relations in America for many years. I want to do this in a way that feels authentic. I want to explore my own community, bias, and understanding of the world. Finally, I think I’m closing in on an idea for a new film and that really excites me. Once I finish Good Thing, I can continue developing this idea.

Another side effect of honing your voice as an artist is the joy of telling others to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine – even if you’re not saying it aloud. The haters, doubters, critics, gatekeepers, and copy cats have made the past ten years pretty challenging.

On the set of “AK” in February 2016.

But I’m entering a new phase where I don’t have the time to pay attention to that noise anymore. It’s water on a duck’s back, as they say. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing – to the very best of my ability – and stay focused on that.

Brewconomy screening at NoDa Brewing Company organized by the Levine Museum of the New South on Tuesday, May 24, 2016.

The Next 10 Years

The next stage of filmmaking feels like delightfully uncharted territory, which is different than when I first started making movies.

I once was moving forward rather painfully – armed with nothing but passion and blind ambition. Now I can see the path ahead, know the obstacles and how to overcome them, and I’m really comfortable with the steps it’ll take to get achieve the goal. It makes the next stages the good kind of scary.

Panel discussion following the premiere of “Brewconomy” at IMAX Raleigh, with Shane Johnston, Margo Knight Metzger, Bruce McKim, and Dan Gridley. Photo courtesy of ArtsNow NC.

The next ten years will be filled with positivity, hope, optimism, and potential. It will be filled with more sincere, deep, long-lasting, trusted, and respectful relationships that make life more enjoyable – on set and at home.

IMHO, it’s also filled with more intimate relationships between creators and audiences. Live events where I can keep the conversations going after the credits roll, practice what we preach in the film, and help empower communities is what I’m keen on. (Allies and Brewconomy helped me see that this was possible, and I’m totally hooked.) Making the films more available to broader audiences is important, too.

The next ten years will be pretty great.

I’m excited about it!

On the set of Brewconomy in early 2014.

*To clarify, being “qualified” doesn’t equal seeking permission to tell a story. We live in a time where we should simply START working on the project if we’re always dreaming about it. Obviously, there are certain legalities with filmmaking in regards to actual, written permission (especially in documentaries) but that’s a separate matter.