Behind the Scenes
I never thought I would find myself at the bodega getting a cigarette but there I was. Since January layoffs, unemployment and foreclosure had been looming overhead as I tried to shoot the last episodes of Media Alert.
Foreclosure was a frontier that I had not encountered in the past. But it was here. I likened the experience of losing my home to dying because it felt like I was losing everything. It made me think about what kind of life I was living and what I wanted to accomplish before I die. Death has a way of bringing to mind what matters most in life. It really changed my perspective on things. I came to the conclusion that all I wanted to do was God’s will. The only thing that came to mind was Media Alert.
One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, He fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.
The disciples went and woke Him, saying “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”
He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.
I was determined to finish Media Alert before I lost my home and make it to the other side. No matter what the surrounding circumstances looked like, no matter how the wind was blowing, no matter how much the waters raged God had already said Media is going to make it – And so myself and my team pressed on despite the circumstances and completed the season.
Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything.
It’s been an emotional roller coaster ever since this journey began. From freelancing with the Amsterdam News, to running the Online News and Entertainment series to the Hollywood Pitch Festival and finally to the production of Media Alert. It took years to get to this point. I found myself discussing with my fellow producers how things would be when we finally finished the web series. We were all tired and we eagerly anticipated the destination. Because I constantly dwelled on the finished product, the stress of it all crept up my back and expanded throughout my shoulders. It had been a long six years and it was beginning to physically wear on me. But then I realized something. I became so wrapped up in the destination that I neglected to revere the beauty of the journey. I can remember each one of those emotionally draining waiting periods. It was then that God did the most profound things and I grew the most spiritually. While working with the Amsterdam News I met public relations representative James Grant of James Grant PR and formed Ayana Productions an online News and Entertainment series with my mother. We covered red carpet events and interviewed various guests. I recall when we had actress Chantal Maurice on the show. Little did we know that we would meet an actor Kamel Goffin who would soon become the main character of our web series Media Alert by attending one of her film screenings. Then my god father Edison Sainsbury came on board as one of the producers. With his background in sound engineering as well as film and video production he filled a major void that we had. A few months later we picked up our other two phenomenal cast members Imani Nia Robinson and Fritz Jean. I recall wondering what the delay was during each one of those long drawn out periods and God opened up doors each and every time. Even when I didn’t understand what was happening, God was directing me to my destiny all along. So embrace life’s delays. God is not in the business of wasting time. Everything He is taking you through is for a purpose.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
When God says all things, He means all things. All of the setbacks, all of the vulnerability, all of the embarrassment, all of the anger, all of the sadness, all of the times you needed money but couldn’t make it, all of the time you think you lost, all the time you think you wasted and yes even LIFE’S DELAYS. God is working it together for your ultimate good. All of it is necessary for God’s plan for your life. He takes into consideration things that we would have overlooked had we been in control and He weighs out options that we wouldn’t even consider. He is a master planner and designer. All of it, every bit of it is a part of the plan.
Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry to on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
As per my prayer request in the very beginning, God had been directing me the entire time and will finish the good work He started with me just as He will with all of us.
We had three shoots scheduled for the end of September and it was a rough summer. All except for one attempt I made to make money was successful. My mother took an unexpected pay cut. Every reason to give up and wash my hands of the show flooded my mind. I wanted to open up and talk to someone besides my fellow Producers about it. But I felt that those that I even considered speaking to would never understand. So I kept my mouth shut. I kept things between my fellow Producers and God. I began to question why I was even putting myself through this kind of stress. Overwhelmed, one day I opened my bible to Matthew 27.
Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”
In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God,’” In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
Here Jesus was on the cross suffering physically. Then people began to insult Him and ridicule Him which caused him to suffer emotionally. On top of that they made it clear that they didn’t believe in Him which only added to the emotional hurt. On the outside looking in one might believe that it just would have been easier for Him to come down off the cross to put an end to His humiliation, His hurt and their doubt. He was fully capable of doing so. Yet He remained on the cross because He knew it was absolutely necessary. He was the ultimate sacrifice.
2 Corinthians 5:21
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
If He didn’t sacrifice Himself we would be lost forever. He was motivated by love. His strength motivated me to surge forward. This was God’s plan for my life and I knew it would be successful. I’m happy to say that we taped the three shows and we are now halfway through the season. There will be times where it seems like it would be easier to just give up. When that happens ask yourself what motivates you. Remember if God made this kind of sacrifice and endured such suffering for you, there should be no reason why you shouldn’t do what He asks of you.
If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm.
We were approximately three weeks away from production. As the big day approached two things concerned my mother and I. The lack of money for the location and the lack of cast members. We decided to reach out to an actress who had been on Ayana Productions previously to fill the empty position. A week later to our dismay, she informed us that she would be unable to play the part. Now we were down to two weeks until production. It was crunch time, so we decided to write a script from scratch using the cast members that we had.
Finally when the scripts were written, I emailed each cast member a non-disclosure agreement. Once they signed it and sent it back, I emailed them the script. We were now down to a week until production. I was concerned about the booking of the location but my mother agreed to take care of that. Things were pretty calm for the first part of the week and then two days before production one of the cast members informed us that he had to work during production hours. We had to think fast. I remembered a few weeks before that someone I went to high school with posted a video of him acting on Facebook and he was pretty good. I let my mother watch the video and she thought we should reach out to him for the part. To our surprise he agreed with such short notice. I sent him a non-disclosure agreement, he sent it back right away and then I sent him the script.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those that love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
It turned out my old high school buddy worked out perfectly and is now a permanent cast member of the series. Although we didn’t see it at first, this is where God was leading us from the beginning. Yes, God is the ultimate casting director.
I love views like this. It reminds me of how vast God is. There’s nothing He can’t handle. #NothingsTooHardForGod #SkyAsFarAsTheEyeCouldSee
When I was younger my mother used to say to me “God hung the stars on nothing. You think He can’t handle your problems?”
Each day that passed the weight of the production costs, the lack there of and the fact that we were losing time began to wear on me. I began to pray, but a little differently this time. Instead of focusing on the issues my mother and I faced, I focused on the heavens and the earth that God created. I opened up the first chapter of the book of Genesis, a very familiar text to most, but one certainly worth reading again when problems seem too much to handle.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
I began to meditate on the works of God’s hands. It then occurred to me the absurdity of our worries. The bible doesn’t give an explanation as to how God created the heavens and the earth. It just says that He did and that He began to speak things into existence. He created something out of nothing. Our issues are all so miniscule when compared to God. He could turn things around in an instant. I stopped worrying about how God was going to work everything out for us and focused on the fact that God was going to work everything out for us.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?
Don’t look at the end result. Look at God.
My mother and I knew that the vision that God gave to us would come to pass. It was just a matter of time. But with each passing day I was beginning to get impatient. God had given my mother and I this sitcom years ago. Since then, it’s been one emotional roller coaster with all the ups and downs. It was causing both of us to grow weary. The amount of time it took to get this far and the uncertainty of how much longer it would take to get things off the ground frustrated me personally. I was driving myself crazy trying to speculate when our big break was going to come. Sometimes I would get myself into trouble trying to rush the pre-production phase with sights of the end of this journey in view. But I couldn’t rush God’s plan. No one can. That’s when I decided to take things one day at a time. Each day I lay my concerns at God’s feet and ask God what He would have me to do today. Accomplishing what God wants me to accomplish on a daily basis makes my journey more joyful. Instead of trying to estimate when the completion of the project will be, I focus on God. At the end of each day I thank God for bringing my mother and I one day closer to the goal He has set for us.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
God’s timing is important. His timing is perfect.
We were home from the pitch festival and now it was time to follow up. I went out and purchased stamps and thank you cards. I figured handwritten cards would leave more of a personal touch. I researched the contact information for each of the production companies we pitched to and we sent them out. We let two weeks pass before attempting to make follow up calls. Getting through the gatekeepers was brutal but with persistence we eventually made it through to voicemail. We left a lot of messages but heard nothing back. One day we did actually speak to the head person in charge of two companies. We had to pitch our ideas all over again. One conversation ended with “I’m sorry I’m not interested” and the other with “Send me an email,” and we sent it but never received a reply. We were worried and we couldn’t understand why God was allowing this to happen.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I certainly didn’t want us to seem like pests to the production companies but I also didn’t want to miss out on our big break by being passive. It was back to business as usual. I continued to pray and asked God to open up doors for us. We went on to cover the 5th Annual Beat Boxer Championship, interview Actress Chantal Maurice, Rap Artist AR Houston and Model Chantal Myrick also known as “Blac Wynter.”
The time was upon us. We had three days to pitch our projects to 25 companies. When we touched down in Los Angeles, California we had a huge commute to get to our room. The pitch festival location was in Universal City and we had made arrangements to stay in Long Beach. Every day of the pitch festival we had to take a bus, two trains and a trolley to and from the location. The commute and the heat were a bit much to deal with but we managed. We did a really lousy job during our first pitch. The individual we were pitching to couldn’t have looked less interested. I wanted to walk out so many times during our presentation. But I told myself, “No you paid to be here so you’d better see this through.” When we finished my mother and I went outside to regroup. I called my Uncle who is also a Pastor and has great experience with public speaking. I told him what had happened. After I spoke with him I decided that it would be best to put the index cards down and try to have more of a casual conversation with the person that I’m pitching to. My Uncle asked to speak with my mother so I gave her the phone. She started tearing up as she spoke with my Uncle. I motioned to her to find out what was wrong. With her eyes filled with tears she muttered “Uncle Grandpa died this morning,” I gasped. We shed our tears. Pitching after that couldn’t have been more difficult. Soon the commute, the heat, the pitching and the death in our family overwhelmed us.
“For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.”
We decided to step outside for a word of prayer. I immediately felt the presence of God. I knew He was there with us and somehow even with all that was going on around us, I knew that everything would be okay. He gave me a peace that surpassed my understanding. We pitched very well after that and with confidence we successfully made it through the 18th Hollywood Pitch Festival. Now it was time to travel back home. We had a connecting flight in Denver, Colorado. When we got on the plane there was an intoxicated gentleman sitting directly behind me. All throughout the flight he was pulling and kicking my seat. I told the flight attendant what was going on and asked if he could move my seat. But he said there weren’t anymore seats available. So I continued to put up with it. But then I started to smell cigarette smoke. Even though I smelled it I just couldn’t fathom that someone would be smoking on the plane, so I brushed it off. It wasn’t until my mother who was sitting across from me happened to turn around and saw the tip of the intoxicated passenger’s cigarette light up as he inhaled, that I received my confirmation. He was smoking on the plane! Onlookers frantically hit the call button for the flight attendant and several of them came trooping down the aisle to see what was wrong. All at once passengers started yelling out “He’s smoking on the plane! He has a cigarette!” Thankfully the flight attendant confiscated the cigarette and the lighter. We made it back to New York safe and sound. As for the intoxicated smoker, he ended up going to jail.
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face. Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless man would ever come before him!
After the script was written, I was eager for God to tell me what company my mother and I should pitch the script to and how. What I found in my research was that agents were expensive and that they only want to work with you if you have a name for yourself. I decided that the best course of action would be attending a pitch festival. The way I figured it, it would be the perfect opportunity for my mother to pitch the feature she had written and the perfect chance for me to pitch the sitcom. I made plans to attend the Hollywood Pitch Festival and purchased two books to help us prepare for the event. But whenever you do something for God, opposition from the devil is never that far behind. Sure enough, the first week of the month of May, our next door neighbor had a fire. It affected my mother and I because where we live, our homes are connected. It was about one ‘o’clock in the morning. I felt like I was getting the best sleep ever. It was one of the deepest sleeps I ever had. I vaguely heard my mother call my name. When I finally woke up my mother’s calling became more and more frantic. I jumped up and followed her voice to the kitchen. A huge cloud of black smoke flew through the window. Shocked, I continued to follow my mother’s voice down into the basement. “The house is on fire next door! Call 911!” But all I could think about was getting my mother and myself out of there. I grabbed my phone and grabbed my mother, ran out of the house and called 911. After I called 911 I found out that several other neighbors had already called. As I stood outside and watched the firefighters fight the flames, I looked up at the sky and asked God what He wanted me to get out of this situation. There was a lot of smoke damage and the firefighters knocked out a few windows and broke up a few of our things. The environment where I worked was pretty much completely destroyed. At that moment I felt that failure at the Hollywood Pitch Festival was not an option. In my eyes this event was our only way out. So despite the circumstances, my mother and I continued to prepare for that event. The following Sunday on our way to church we were in a car accident. The cab we were in ran into directly into the car in front of us. Thankfully we weren’t critically injured, but I was convinced that we were under the attack of the enemy.
“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of Law Depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Writing a sitcom seemed so far off from what I was doing. But I had no doubt that God said it and I was determined to do just what He said. But then I got a direct message from a rap artist named Tally P and he was interested in an interview. Excited, I quickly sent him a message back and arranged an over the phone interview. So there I was writing an article and I assured God I would get to what he told me to do eventually. And I was genuinely confident that I would. But after I got through with that article, I got a phone call from my cousin. She told me that Wanda Armour, the mother of Mindless Behavior’s artist “Prodigy” was interested in an interview about her new book. Again, I assured God that I would get to writing that sitcom just as soon as I interviewed Armour and posted it to my website. And I had every intention to do just that. I shot her publicist an email, arranged an over the phone interview and wrote the article.
Never put off what God has instructed you to do.
God allowed me to post the article to my website but then after that boom! He shut my whole operation down. I got a virus on my laptop. Until I got the money to get it fixed, I was left with nothing but a pen and a notebook to write the sitcom that God wanted me to write in the first place.