Jasmine Guy’s Take On The World

It’s a Thursday night during the late 1980’s to early 1990’s-something. There were only three major networks – CBS, NBC, and CBS with FOX slowing making it’s way on the scene. However, NBC had the 8 o’clock hour on lock with an hour of comedy designed to entertain and educate.

The “Cosby Hour” was time for family time with the Huxtables via The Cosby Show and class time on the campus of Hillman College via A Different World. Actress/director, Jasmine Guy, portrayed Whitley Gilbert on A Different World. The show came during a “wave” of work that included School Daze, Harlem Knights and Queen. These roles, more importantly her presence on the weekly show A Different World would establish her as a talented force on the acting scene. She reflects on the power of the “Cosby Hour”. “I feel like we impacted the country in way that it’s harder to do now because of the kind of power you can have with just three networks.” She adds, “The whole country was watching the show at the same time because we weren’t DVRing our shows.”

So the time to watch a show was the time it actually came on television. A platform of that magnitude produced a legion of young people who now saw higher education in a different way. So, while Hillman was a fictitious institution of higher learning, Guy feels one of the great things about show is it showcased some real experiences and opportunities for America to see that Black was more than one thing. “I loved that the show we had a diversity of black people. We weren’t all from the same neighborhoods, we didn’t look the same, we had different cultural principles and ways of living,” Guy shares. “I was able to go as far as I was with Whitney because of the diversity. It wasn’t like Whitley was representing the whole race. I knew that I could say politically incorrect things because Freddy was going to say the right thing or Dwayne was going to get Whitley.”

The diversity allowed for a variety in voice. There was going to be someone on the show to have the right voice, which deepened the message and connectivity of the characters. Things that Guy attributes to the genius of Bill Cosby in creating a show like A Different World. “He said I’m going to do a spin-off and put it on an HBCU campus. In doing that he made a huge statement, about education about access, about the value of black colleges, and the value of going to college.”

As the theme song states, “Here’s a chance to make it, If we focus on our goals.” The goal was to create a show that would positively impact a nation and that’s exactly what happened. Even almost three decades later, A Different World’s influences can be seen and heard.

Stay tuned for more with Jasmine Guy and what’s happening in her world post-A Different World.


Read more Reel Focus blog articles


Become a member of WIFTA


Become a WIFTA Sponsor


Donate to WIFTA


Attend an upcoming WIFTA event or workshop

TAKE 23 – Trumpet Awards 2015



Xerona Clayton Photo

The African American community inherited a legacy twenty-three years ago and it goes by the name of the Trumpet Awards Foundation, Inc. The organization and award ceremony was created to herald the accomplishments of Black Americans who have succeeded against immense odds. The African American community also inherited a legend – its founder and CEO, Xernona Clayton. Xernona’s watershed moment in the history of race relations began with helping to influence the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan to change his bigotry and hatred in 1968. Since then, she has continued to help infuse Martin Luther King, Jr.’s message of non-violent social change through her influence in media.

Ms. Clayton served as a corporate executive for Turner Broadcasting for nearly thirty years with many of those years spent acting as liaison between Turner Broadcasting and civic groups in Atlanta and across the country as Turner’s Corporate Vice President for Urban Affairs. Ms. Clayton’s dedication to the community is reflected in the many hours she spends promoting human relations and this is most visible through her work with the Trumpet Awards Foundation, Inc whose purpose is to “acknowledge the accomplishments of men and women who have significantly contributed to enhancing the quality of life for all…individuals and/or groups who augment the richness of this great global society by partnering with the cause of justice and equality of all.”


Laila AliDolvett Quince

The twenty-third annual Trumpet Awards will be hosted by Laila Ali – four-time Boxing World Champion, award-winning TV host, fitness & wellness expert, beauty brand ambassador, and author; and Dolvett Quince – celebrity trainer, best-selling author, and cast member of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.” The Trumpet Awards show will be held at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in Atlanta on Saturday, January 24, 2015 with the Red Carpet at 2:00 p.m. “Cameras will roll” at 4:00 p.m. and it will air on Saturday, February 21st on TV One.


Trumpet Awards are given to men and women who, through consistency and longevity, have achieved success in a chosen profession or career. Potential honorees are those persons who are viewed not only for what they have individually achieved but also for the achievement they inspire in others. This year’s awards ceremony will be filled with many who meet these criteria. Honorees this year will include:

  • Lou Brock – Baseball Legend
  • Arnold W. Donald – President and CEO of Carnival Corporation & PLC
  • Jamie Foxx – Academy Award-winning Actor, Musical Artist and Comedian
  • Tommy Hilfiger—Principal Designer, Tommy Hilfiger
  • Guy Vickers – President, PVH Foundation & Senior Vice President, Global Community Relations
  • The Isley Brothers – Recording Artists and Songwriters
  • Janelle Monáe – Singer, Songwriter, Producer and Model
  • Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice – President and Dean, Morehouse School of Medicine
  • Franklyn R. Wilson – Chairman, Sunshine Holdings, Ltd., Bahamas


Some of the major corporate sponsors include: The Coca-Cola Company, General Motors, Nordstrom, The Home Depot, FedEx, Southwest Airlines, and American Family Insurance.


Jonelle Monae

Janelle Monae




Jamie Foxx

Jamie Fox




The Isley Brothers





Tommy Hilfiger

Tommy Hilfiger





Photos courtesy of Trumpet Awards Foundation, Inc.



Read more Reel Focus blog articles


Become a member of WIFTA


Become a WIFTA Sponsor


Donate to WIFTA


Attend an upcoming WIFTA event or workshop

An Enchanting Conversation at Asante



On a beautiful Saturday afternoon in the relaxed atmosphere of Atlanta’s Asante Restaurant, a small group of attendees had the opportunity to have a conversation with the production team of the new hit show “The Originals.” Asante’s senior chef, celebrity chef Marvin Woods, studied the African Diaspora and envisioned a restaurant that incorporates foods from places like New Orleans, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, the Caribbean islands, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana all linked together under a common food group which he calls “coastal soul.” This was the perfect setting for “The Originals” event because it brought many of us together – all from different cultures and experiences – with a common thread: our passion for film and television.

The event began with an intimate luncheon in which we all got to mix and mingle with one another as members of Women in Film and Television Atlanta. To my surprise, I got to sit at the table with not only a few fellow colleagues from WIFTA but one of the cinematographers for the show. My colleagues at my table were screenwriters like myself and we had the opportunity to speak with cinematographer, Roger Chingirian, about many things involving putting films and television shows together. Later, we also had the opportunity to speak with Michelle Paradise, one of the writers for “The Originals.”

After mingling and eating upstairs, we all gathered downstairs for “The Conversation.” This was a question and answer segment where the production team members of “The Originals” sat before us and answered various questions about the show and production in general.

group photo

I won’t recall everything about the conversation; instead, I will give you a tidbit of some of the things that I heard about creating a show for television.  (for full footage, see video below)

. . .Schedule is everything. . .there is an 8 day turnaround. . .

. . .schedules can be tense sometimes 6am to 6pm is a normal workday. . .

. . .this is not a glamorous business as most think (it’s a lot of work). . .

. . . production sets can be built but icons can also be imported to create a set. . .

. . .budgets vary based on scripts. . .

. . .character development for the new season usually involves reviewing the previous season’s characters and circumstances. . .

. . .22 episodes in a season. . .

. . .casting agents submit from all over and the best of 10 are chosen for an acting role. . .

. . .some actors self-tape and get gigs – it’s rare to make it without and agent but it can be done. . .

. . .to make it in this business: be a great actor (simply put). . .

. . .train, train, train. . . be more than a line reader. . .

. . .know the business of show business. . .

. . .more women are needed behind the scenes. . .

. . . network, network, network . . .

After the question and answer segment, the members of the board of WIFTA and the production team of “The Originals” gathered to take a group photo.
board and originals
Finally, once the group photo was taken, the event ended with the grand finale and guest appearance by the star of the afternoon.

bread pudding
Trust me when I tell you that this bread pudding made by Asante restaurant was the most amazing bread pudding that I ever tasted in my life. I say it deserves an Academy Award for Best Desert.


Did you miss out on all of the action?  No problem.  View the video of “Conversations with the Originals”  here by clicking the video below.

For more information on becoming a member of WIFTA, visit www.wifta.org.

For more details about the “The Originals” show, visit http://bit.ly/1CSV7Kz

Photos courtesy of Mel.

Video courtesy of Angela Wingers of Wingers Media Group


Read more Reel Focus blog articles


Become a member of WIFTA


Become a WIFTA Sponsor


Donate to WIFTA


Attend an upcoming WIFTA event or workshop

The Oscars – Live In Atlanta

Yes you did read the title right. But – let me explain. Women in Film and Television Atlanta (WIFTA) will be hosting an Oscar Party here in Atlanta, complete with its own red carpet segment, and a host of members dressed to impress; but we will be watching it live on the big television screen. Hey, don’t look at your computer screen in a chagrin. I didn’t say that the Oscars held in Los Angeles,California was going to be hosted here live from the ATL. I simply said it is going to be liveFlyer 2 in Atlanta just like it will be live on your own television screen. But why sit at home watching it all alone when you can be in the company of others attending the liveliest party of the year for film?

About the Event

Women in Film and Television Atlanta (WIFTA) is a local 501c-3 organization that “is dedicated to improving the status and portrayal of women in film, television, video and other screen-based media by offering opportunities for media makers to connect, create, champion and inspire.” It has been a cornerstone in the entertainment industry in Atlanta since 1974, celebrating 40 years of supporting women in moving images. Our organization is excited to host another Oscar Party event here in Atlanta and we hope that you can come out and not only enjoy the networking and food; but, also come out and learn more about what we do and how our organization can help you with your television and film career goals. Appetizers are free and WIFTA Logoyour first drink is on us and there will be games and raffles during the Award show to keep you entertained. The event will be held on Sunday, February 22, 2015 with red carpet starting at 6pm and the party starting at 7pm. It will be held at the following venue:

Studio No. 7

393 Marietta Street

Atlanta, GA 30313

Register at: https://wiftaoscarparty.eventbrite.com (See and click flyer below for more details)


About the Studio

Studio No. 7 (2)
Photo courtesy of www.studiono7.com
Photo courtesy of www.studiono7.com

Studio No. 7 is a recent addition to the Atlanta art/food scene. Located where Downtown meets West Midtown, Studio No. 7 is an art gallery, kitchen, bar and lounge. Each element has been carefully curated to provide a balance of art, food, music, style and culture. The industrial loft space is a great place to gather with friends and enjoy Asian and Latin influenced food while sipping on handcrafted cocktails. Due to its unique layout and comfortable couches, Studio No. 7 has also become a favorite destination for private events. Studio No. 7 was named as part of the Atlanta Tribune’s Best of Atlanta 2014.


So, come on out and make this a night to remember in Atlanta. Invite your friends, family, co-workers and other social butterfly buddies out to Studio No. 7 for food, fun, entertainment, and the opportunity to walk on the red carpet like the stars in Hollywood.

. . .and don’t forget to share your photos and comments on this memorable night using the hashtag #wiftaoscar15.


Read more Reel Focus blog articles


Become a member of WIFTA


Become a WIFTA Sponsor


Donate to WIFTA


Attend an upcoming WIFTA event or workshop



Photo courtesy of http://yhoo.it/1DcLbhi.

Editors’ Collaboration Blog – Carletta Hurt & Melisha “Mel” Childs

The Academy Awards is a few weeks away and Women in Film and Television Atlanta would like to build momentum for our Oscar Party by providing our readers with fun blog posts leading up to the event. This blog post is called “Editors’ Face Off,” in which Melisha “Mel” Childs and Carletta Hurt, editors and bloggers for Women in Film and Television Atlanta, present our individual choices of who we think will win this year’s Academy Award. We hope that you too will play along and add your own commentary.
***Remember to mark your calendars for February 22 and join us at 6:00 pm dressed and ready to impress at Studio No. 7 for the Oscar watch party.


Best Motion Picture of the Year
CH: Selma
MC: American Sniper

Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
CH: Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
MC: Bradley Cooper, American Sniper

Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
CH: Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
MC: JK Simmons, Whiplash

Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
CH: Julianne Moore, Still Alice
MC: Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
CH: Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
MC: Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
CH: How to Train Your Dragon 2
MC: Song of the Sea

Achievement in Cinematography
CH: The Grand Budapest Hotel
MC: Birdman

Achievement in Costume Design
CH: Maleficent
MC: Maleficent

Achievement in Directing
CH: Birdman
MC: Imitation Game

Best Documentary Feature
CH: CitizenFour
MC: Finding Vivian Maier

Documentary Short Subject
CH: White Earth
MC: Joanna

Achievement Film Editing
CH: American Sniper
MC: American Sniper

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
CH: Ida
MC: Ida

Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
CH: The Grand Budapest Hotel
MC: Guardians of the Galaxy

Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score)
CH: The Theory of Everything
MC: Mr. Turner

Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song)
CH: Glory
MC: Glory

Achievement in Production Design
CH: Interstellar
MC: Interstellar

Best Animated Short Film
CH: The Bigger Picture
MC: The Damn Keeper

Best Live Action Short Film
CH: The Phone Call
MC: The Phone Call

Achievement in Sound Editing
CH: Unbroken
MC: The Hobbit: The battle of the Five Armies

Achievement in Sound Mixing
CH: Unbroken
MC: Birdman

Achievement in Visual Effects
CH: X-Men: Days of Future Past
MC: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Adapted Screenplay
CH: American Sniper
MC: American Sniper

Original Screenplay
CH: Birdman
MC: Birdman



Read more Reel Focus blog articles


Become a member of WIFTA


Become a WIFTA Sponsor


Donate to WIFTA


Attend an upcoming WIFTA event or workshop


A Night to Remember – Mariela Romero

Mariela Romero 2

Oscar fever is spreading  all across America and this is definitely true here in Atlanta, Georgia – poised to be the top location for filming east of the Mississippi.  Women in Film and Television Atlanta (WIFTA) is celebrating Oscar night by putting on one of the hottest Oscar parties in the Southeast at Studio No. 7 in Midtown Atlanta. To help get this party started, several celebrity hosts will be present to make this a night to remember.


Mariela Romero will be one of the hosts present at the Oscar party.  She is most notable for her work with Univision. She is the Community Affairs Director at Univision (Channel 34 in Atlanta) and host of Univision’s Conexion. Mariela is also an Emmy Award winning journalist and has worked with other television networks such as GPB, CNN, and CWK.

Mariela Univision

Photos courtesy of Mariela Romero.

 Still haven’t purchased your tickets?  Don’t miss the opportunity to be in great company on the biggest night in film and to show off your fashion sense on our red carpet.  Hurry and get your tickets at https://wiftaoscarpart.eventbrite.com and help us make this a night to remember!


Read more Reel Focus blog articles


Become a member of WIFTA


Become a WIFTA Sponsor


Donate to WIFTA


Attend an upcoming WIFTA event or workshop


A Glimpse into the Production World – EUE/Screen Gems Atlanta

Photo courtesy of EUE/Screen Gems Atlanta


Just the other day, I read a statistic that Georgia’s film industry has “grown from a $250 million-a-year industry in 2007 to more than $5 billion in 2014.”  This is something that is not to be taken lightly.  Investment potential is high and there are many who are coming here to take advantage of the newfound Georgia “gold.”  One such company that has seen Georgia’s film opportunity is EUE/Screen Gems Atlanta.  For this blog, I have had the opportunity to collaborate with Sharon Cooney Shuttleworth, Co-Owner and Director of Marketing for EUE/Screen Gems Studios in Wilmington NC and Atlanta.  This, for me, represents a colossal opportunity because due the confidential nature of film in general, it is very rare to get a glimpse into this world.  Therefore, I am glad to share this information with our readers.

MC:  Sharon, thank you so much for taking time to share with Reel Focus readers more about EUE/Screen Gems Atlanta. Tell us more about what a production company does, particularly when productions are NOT taking place on your grounds.

SS:  First, EUE/Screen Gems Studios is so pleased to be part of the film industry in Atlanta. We renovated the Lakewood Fairgrounds property and opened the first studio complex in Atlanta in 2010. It’s hard to believe that was almost five years ago!


EUE/Screen Gems Studios provides infrastructure and support for production companies producing feature films, television series and commercials. When you “host” a production, you provide the power, the electricity, the security, the buildings, trailers, wardrobe space, wood shop, paint and mill space, offices, the digital network and the systems that allow a creative team to come in and make movie or television magic.


In Atlanta, we also provide the lighting and grip for the productions that shoot with us. We offer our clients access to an extensive network of contacts, and in Atlanta, we also house the offices for a payroll company.


The to-do list at the studios can range from making sure the garbage cans emptied to ramping up security for talent that is constantly in the international press.


Having a strong studio infrastructure allows large productions to shoot as if they were on the lot in Hollywood. With the strong Georgia Film Incentives, the production studios can work here at a competitive price and stimulate the economy with the jobs and spending they bring to the area.


Photo courtesy of EUE/Screen Gems Atlanta

We’re constantly marketing the studios to executives in Los Angeles, looking to book the next feature film, television series or pilot so the next production will be ready to come in as the present production wraps. Our marketing efforts include visits to Los Angeles to meet face-to-face with executives, hosting decision makers on the lot, email campaigns, media outreach to the West Coast trade press, and collaboration with the Georgia Film and Television Production Office.


We also spend significant time educating lawmakers so they understand the economic impact of the industry and the role of studios in attracting productions to Georgia. We’re very grateful for our colleagues in the legislature who support our Georgia Film Incentives and see the jobs and small business opportunities that the productions bring to us.


MC:  What is EUE/Screen Gems Atlanta most notable for in the entertainment world? What are some of the most popular productions your company has hosted?


SS:  We’re proud to say that the top-grossing domestic film of 2014, “Hunger Games: Mockingjay” was shot here in Atlanta with us. During its tenure here, we weren’t allowed to discuss it with anyone to ensure the security of the cast. Other film productions have included “Insurgent,” “Flight” and “The Watch.” Television is a significant part of our business.  In 2010, BET Networks was one of our first clients, and we hosted productions such as “Read Between the Lines,” “Sunday Best,” and “The Game.” Other series have included “Resurrection,” “Red Band Society,” “Satisfaction,” “Necessary Roughness,” and the first season of “Devious Maids.”

MC:  In general, what does a production company gain from hosting film crews at their sites besides a mention in the credits?


SS:  Just like a hotel is paid for allowing you to spend the night, our company is paid for providing the column-free shooting space, electricity, and extensive support needed to shoot a feature film or television series. We’ve been in the business for 50 years, now, so continuing to build on our reputation for outstanding client service, security and confidentiality is also important to us.  


MC:  What is EUE/Screen Gems Atlanta working on now?


SS:  We’re usually talking to four or five productions at any one given time. Confidentiality is a big deal in this business, as I said before; so, I can’t tell you who we’re talking with, now [specifically], but I can say that Georgia is continuing to attract outstanding productions and talent!


Sharon Cooney Shuttleworth
Photo courtesy of Sharon Cooney Shuttleworth








Photos courtesy of EUE/Screen Gems Atlanta.


Read more Reel Focus blog articles


Become a member of WIFTA


Become a WIFTA Sponsor


Donate to WIFTA


Attend an upcoming WIFTA event or workshop


Women’s History Month – Women Breaking Through Barriers in Hollywood

Michelle Paradise
Photo courtesy of Michelle Paradise


Susan B. Anthony…Elizabeth Cady Stanton…Olympe de Gouges…Michelle Paradise?

Yes you read the list of names correctly. Michelle Paradise is a part of this legacy of strong women too listed above and reasonably so. Just as these other women broke down barriers and created opportunity for women that followed them, Michelle is doing something very similar for women entering Hollywood. Everyone in this industry knows that this is a difficult industry to break into whether you are a man or a woman but it’s always great to know that there are women who are paving a way for other women to follow. In celebration of Women’s History month, I invited actor and writer Michelle Paradise to Reel Focus blog to tell us more about a topic that will never get stale on Women in Film and Television Atlanta’s site: women successfully making it in Hollywood.

M.C:  Thank you Michelle for accepting my invitation. I first would like to begin by allowing you to tell everyone about your more popular roles that you have played either as an actor or writer in Hollywood. Ie. What would people know you for?

MP:  I’m probably best known for the series Exes & Ohs, which ran for two seasons on Logo in the U.S. and on Showcase/SuperChannel in Canada (it’s now available via iTunes, Amazon, and Netflix). It was based on a short film that I wrote and acted in, and I also wrote and acted in all the episodes of the series itself. It was an amazing project to be part of, and the fact that I got to wear so many hats – writing, acting, and producing – was a great experience all the way around. I’m currently writing on The Originals, which airs on the CW and it is one of the network’s biggest hits, so some folks might know me from that. Of course, if you look at my face and feel a sudden compulsion to brush with Crest toothpaste then it could also be that you recognize me from my commercial work (I’ve done dozens of commercials as an actor).

MC:  Tell us more about Michelle Paradise – the “outside of Hollywood limelight” woman? What do you do to “normalize” your life off set?

MP:  I’m not sure how to answer that, actually. My life is incredibly normal. I go to an office every day – but in my case, the office just happens to be a large room where the writers for our show gather to talk about the stories for the season or the particular episode we’re working on. It’s a normal workday with fairly typical hours and then I go home to my family, spend time with my daughter before she goes to bed, that sort of thing. The only time that we, as writers, go to set is when the episode we’ve written is being filmed. The Originals shoots near Atlanta, so we fly out there for our episode and help oversee the process of prep and shooting. On our show, we’ll typically write or co-write 3-4 episodes per season; other than those times, we’re in the Los Angeles office working with the other writers.

MC:  What was it like for you to break the glass ceiling in Hollywood and make your mark?

MP:  I’ve certainly had an unusual career path (not many people get their short film turned into a television series!) but I don’t feel I’ve broken any glass ceilings along the way. The fact that I’m a woman working in this business at all is thanks to the many talented and determined women that came before me. Writers like Frances Marion and Anita Loos, directors like Dorothy Arzner, comedians like Lucille Ball. They all paved the way many years ago but there are still plenty of women who are paving the way today… Kathryn Bigelow, Laverne Cox, Shonda Rhimes, and my own boss Julie Plec, just to name a few. The fact that these women have proven so successful makes it that much easier for those of us coming after them.

MC:  What advice do you have for aspiring actors/writers? What advice do you have for career changers who are thinking about quitting their current jobs and getting into Hollywood?

MP:  The best advice I can give is to hone your craft before leaving your current job. Acting and writing are both skills that must be learned (and the best actors and writers never stop learning, even after they’re doing it professionally). Take classes, attend workshops, study great performances and/or great scripts. If you want to be an actor, audition for local theater productions, student films, or indie films; take a scene study class or an improv class. Don’t rush to get an agent. Get the training you need so that when you do get an agent or an audition for a big project, you’re ready. If you want to be a writer, write. There are great books on screenwriting that can help you along the way (just do a google search and you’ll find them). Start watching films or television shows with a critical eye. Find a writing class, get involved in a writers’ group. Ask friends to read your work who will give you honest – if hard to hear – feedback. And again, don’t rush to get an agent. You might only get one shot at having them read your material so make sure your material is ready to be seen. Lastly, you’ll need to decide if you want to stay in the Atlanta area or move to Los Angeles or New York. As an actor, there are so many productions shooting in and around Atlanta that a trained actor can probably work fairly steadily – but keep in mind that the larger roles are almost always cast out of L.A. or N.Y. Whether or not to move is a question of balancing career goals with lifestyle choices, and only you will know what’s right for you. As a writer, it depends on whether you’re interested in film, theater, or television. For film or theater, it doesn’t matter as much where you live; for television, there are a handful of writers’ rooms in New York but the vast majority of them are in Los Angeles. It’s also worth noting that acting and writing are both highly competitive industries. The harsh reality is that most actors and writers in Hollywood are out of work at any given time, so if you want to change careers – and possibly make a move – I’d strongly suggest having a solid job opportunity before doing so.



Read more Reel Focus blog articles


Become a member of WIFTA


Become a WIFTA Sponsor


Donate to WIFTA


Attend an upcoming WIFTA event or workshop



An “Empire” of Her Own

Attica's Photo
Photo courtesy of Jenny Walters

I’m sure most of you have heard of the new hit series on Fox called Empire and you may be familiar with some of its characters – Lucious, Cookie, Jamal, Andre, and Hakeem. But one person you may not be familiar with is Attica Locke. Lucious and Cookie may be the face of the hit series but Attica is one of writers for the series. This week, Reel Focus will explore one of the geniuses behind this phenomenal new series and will focus on how she built an “Empire” of her own.

Attica thank you so much for talking to our Reel Focus readers. We all of course are excited about your recent success with the new show but I want us all to go back down memory lane and get to know Attica Locke. How did your writing career begin?

AL:  I have always been writing, even as a child. But somewhere around high school, when I saw Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, something clicked inside me and I wanted to be involved in film. I started writing scripts. I went to film school at Northwestern University in Chicago and then moved to LA as soon as I graduated. I wrote scripts exclusively at that time, but I was only thinking of them in terms of being a path to directing. I wasPleasantville a fellow at the Sundance Institute’s Feature Filmmaker’s Lab and came out of that with a movie deal, which collapsed shortly after. It broke my heart. I was 25 years old. I knew I could write but was not certain at that time that I would ever get my own movie made, or that Hollywood was interested in my kind of black stories. So I became a studio screenwriter. I made a lot of money writing scripts for every major studio. I did it for years, but nothing ever got made. I grew bored and disenchanted and decided to write a book. That was three books ago.

What is life like for you outside of Hollywood?

I am someone’s mother. So that’s mostly my life outside of Hollywood. Soccer games and play dates. And I read A LOT.TheCuttingSeason

I myself am a book writer and screenwriter and so I’m going to ask this question on behalf of me and other fellow novelist and screenwriters. How did you make the successful transition from a book writer to a screenwriter and what advice can you give to the ladies of Women in Film and Television Atlanta?

 As you see above, I was a screenwriter before I was a novelist. I came back to Hollywood because TV has gotten really interesting over the last decade or so. All the stuff I was doing as a feature writer – character dramas, political thrillers, etc. – has all moved to television. It’s hard to live off book money in Los Angeles, so I went to my agents and said I wanted to exploreBlackWaterRising TV. I went in with an idea for my own show, but I also told them I’d like to look at the pilots that were going to series, and I wanted to take meetings. I had never done TV, so I was stepping waaayyyy outside my comfort zone. But I kept saying to myself, almost like a mantra, “I’m willing to be uncomfortable.” When I read the script for Empire, I knew I wanted to be part of it from the first page. It took a lot of meetings, but then I got the job!

My best advice is always to write, write, write, and be willing to stretch yourself. Reach high and stay ambitious. And believe in the power of your own voice.


Finally, the moment we have all been waiting for. Let’s talk – brag about your involvement with Empire. According to IMDB, you have co-produced 11 of the episodes of the first season and have written one: “Our Dancing Days.” I will let you share what you like to about this episode or about the show in general.

I love the show because it’s so fresh, so unprecedented. I’ve never seen these characters on TV before. I’ve never seen a Cookie on TV, though I’ve known them in my real life. I’ve never seen a Jamal on TV before, though I know young men like him in my real life. It’s all a breath of fresh air. And I love the fact that the show lives in a kind of high, low place. We do big soap opera turns and crazy plot twists, but we also deal with social issues like homophobia, mental health, race, and class. My favorite part of the episode I wrote was when Cookie took over the stage and gave the speech to investors in Lucious’s place. It was pure Cookie.



For more information on Attica Locke visit http://www.atticalocke.com

Follow us on Twitter @wiftAtlanta


Read more Reel Focus blog articles


Become a member of WIFTA


Become a WIFTA Sponsor


Donate to WIFTA


Attend an upcoming WIFTA event or workshop


Director & Actors: Getting the Right Performance


The technical aspects of being a director are challenging enough but it’s the human element that can make or break a project.  

Talented director Carrie Schrader hosts a vibrant and helpful discussion on how directors can work with actors to get the end result they need.  She will focus on how to create a shared language between the director and the actor – utilizing active verbs and clearly articulated through lines in order to create engaged, active characters who aredoing.  Every actor can emote (hopefully) but a great director can use impelling language that leads the actor beyond simple expression and into a deeper, more dynamic vulnerability that captivates the audience.  Two of Atlanta’s top working actors, Mike Pniewski and Karen Ceesay will join Carrie for this informative program.

Actors are encouraged to attend to better understand the director’s process.

February 22nd, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm at GPB Studios – register HERE

Carrie Schrader3

Carrie Schrader is a Writer/Director whose short films and screenplays have won film festival audience awards internationally. She directed an award-winning short written by Ethan Coen (Coen bros.) and her feature-length documentary The Founders recently won the audience award for “Best Feature Film” at the Atlanta Film Festival.  Her short films and screenplays, such as “Boys and Dogs and Kids Are Weird”, “Mine”, and “First Date”, have won film festival audience awards internationally and she was labeled one of the “Top Ten Directors To Watch Out For” by IndieWire.com. Her most recent work has included spots for Netflix, WE TV, TLC Networks and Dominos.  She has an MFA in directing from Columbia University and is co-founder of Mighty Fine pictures.  



Mike Pniewski

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Mike Pniewski has been one of the busiest actors in movies and TV for more than 30 years. Most recently you’ve seen him in the Emmy Award winning CBS drama “The Good Wif”e, “Madam Secretary”, “Blue Bloods”, “Halt and Catch Fire” and “The Red Road”. Mike’s other recent credits include “Army Wives”, “Devious Maids”, “Nashville”, “Drop Dead Diva”, “Red Band Society”, the Cinemax Original Series “Banshee” and the film adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ “Safe Haven”.  Mike was also in the new film “The Founder” with Michael Keaton and in 2017 Mike will appear with Tom Cruise in the film “Mena”.



karen ceesay


Karen Ceesay was born as Karen Renee Mauldin. She is an actress, known for  her film work in “The Internship” (2013), “Last Vegas” (2013) and “Rings” (2017) as well as television appearances in “The Walking Dead”, “Satisfaction”, “Resurrection” and “Army Wives”.