By Telishia Berry
Have you ever felt like you were tired of the way things are going in your life and wanted a change? Well, that’s how aspiring actress and writer, Renee McClellan, felt when she decided to gather her savings, pack up her four children and relocate from Chicago to California. Renee Shared her journey with Courageous Woman Magazine.
“I was tired of just existing. I wanted something different.”
Renee knew relocating to sunny California could be anything, but easy – especially since she had no friends or family there to assist if anything went wrong. And wrong things went. First, the brakes on her rental truck caught on fire, then, a gas leak was discovered in her new home and she and her children were not allowed to move in. As a result, they were homeless. This devastating course of events didn’t sway Renee’s determination. Not one for folding under pressure, she didn’t consider giving up. She simply had to redesign her adventure.
Renee began her career in the entertainment industry as a model and actress. She eventually landed feature roles on stage and screen, The Women of Brewster Place, Deep Impact, and A Raisin in the Sun, to name a few. After a life-altering discovery of a lump in her breast, Renee decided it was time to reach beyond perceived limitations. She decided to return to college. Six years later, she had received her AA from Long Beach City College, her Bachelors degree in Film Production from Chapman University, and her Masters degree in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute.
“I remember how intrigued I was when I watched my grandmother watch her soap operas. She would yell at the television, then call her friends to rant about the dramatic lives of those home-wrecking-two-timing-back-from-the-dead-constantly-scheming-discontented-ever-young-never-pregnant-contradicting-mustache-twirling-original-desperate-housewives. If she missed an episode, I was required to give a blow-by-blow re-enactment. This is how I became an actress…and a storyteller. I decided to go back to school to learn the formal intricacies of telling a story.”
With an education under her belt, determination, hard work and faith, Renee went on to write, direct, and produce films. Her first film, Beyond The Pretty Door won in numerous film festivals including Pan African Film Festival, Philadelphia First Glance Film Festival, Hollywood Film Festival, and The BET Best shorts Film Festival, which won her team a $25,000 cash prize.
Under her company, Riteworks Productions, Renee has several projects slated for production. Her most recent project, The RESCUE, a film she wrote, directed, and produced was shot in English and in Spanish. Projects slated for 2015 are Duffle Bag Baby and Julian’s Journey.
This business is already quite challenging, however, there are certain expectations when a woman walks into a room.”
I spoke with Renee and she shared her journey in becoming a college graduate, a filmmaker, and an award winner.
CW: What prompted your decision to become a filmmaker?
RM:I started in the business as a stage actor in Chicago and Detroit. I eventually transitioned into writing and directing. It was an organic experience for me. And a formal education made the transition easier.
CW: In what category did you win the Emmy?
RM: Well, just imagine when a film is nominated for an Oscar, a project produced for and by a television production house can win the equivalent of an Oscar for television…an Emmy. A project that I wrote through Women In Film (WIF), won the Emmy for Best PSA. The program is called Toy Loan and it’s an amazing charity that provides toys that children in under-served communities can borrow similar to the way one borrows a book from the library.
CW: Tell us about your film, The RESCUE, and why you chose that subject?
RM: I wrote and produced The RESCUE to make my film directorial debut. The RESCUE tells the story of Juan Mendez, (played by Jeison Tomi) and his 8 year-old daughter, Rosie Mendez (played by Amanda Rodriguez) struggle to reclaim their lives after a terrible car accident claims the life of Mari, (played by Marlene Marquez) wife and mother. A despondent Rosie ends up in a wheelchair, while Juan slips further into his alcoholic addiction. They meet an unlikely hero in a small rescue dog who reminds them that love is just a rescue away. I shot the film in Spanish and English and we’re currently in post-production on the Spanish version. I wanted to address particular life issues; love, abuse, addiction, alcoholism, over-work, and stress. I also wanted to address the importance of accountability.
CW: What’s the hardest thing about being a filmmaker?
RM: For me as a writer; one of the most difficult aspects is writing a great story, next it’s acquiring funding to produce said, “great story”, and then there’s being a woman. This business is already quite challenging, however, there are certain expectations when a woman walks into a room.
CW: What advice would you give other women considering writing, producing, and/or directing films?
RM: If you are operating in the capacity of a writer, then your primary goal should be content. Focus on fully functioning, well-developed characters and the development of an intriguing story. Make sure the story has continuity. As a producer, acquiring funding can the most challenging aspect of independent film-making. Nothing is promised or guaranteed, so each project begins and ends with hopes of making the next deal. Film-making is like perpetually starting over. Each project, no matter how successful, requires a different approach and a new beginning. Although winning awards might work wonders toward your notoriety, potential investors want to see that a producer can get a project in the can and hopefully, show a profit.
CW: What does being Courageous mean to you?
RM:Being courageous means that I have to step outside the lines of conformity. Being an African American single parent, returning to college in my late thirties, receiving my Masters and making independent films into my forties, and beyond, leaves little room for apprehension. I must always be ready to revise the story of me and never give up.
CW: Do you have a goal or mission you wish to accomplish as a filmmaker or with the type of films you do?
RM:I hope to make films that impact and influence the viewer – films that make people feel that we are a part of one universal experience of life. We are all divinely conceived and perfectly flawed and we all have a story. I hope to explore the intricacies of our relative connections.
Renee’s story is proof that all dreams are possible when you have faith, put in the required work, and never give up. I predict you will be seeing more great work from Renee McClellan, so keep your eyes open for this lady! SHE IS ONE TO WATCH!
Telishia Berry is the publisher of Courageous Woman Magazine, a speaker, and author of the novel The Baptist Junkie.
Visit her website www.telishiaberry.com
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