I wish someone had told me to focus on all aspects of what I wanted in life and not just my career. It’s important to have balance. I am still very interested in creating a family. I’ve mostly focused my energy on my career, and that’s fine, however the balance is key. Career & Life. Both can exist in the same space. And I think it makes for a healthier ‘you’ when they do.
As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Tamika Lamison.
Tamika is a Virginia native who attended The American University, Howard University and AFI for Film & Theatre. She is currently the Exec. Director of the CDDP- Commercial Directors Diversity Program, under the DGA and AICP umbrella and a Producer and VP of Development at PHILMCO which has a double bottom line of art advocacy and commerce. In an effort to give back, Tamika created and founded, MAKE A FILM FOUNDATION (MAFF), a non-profit that grants ‘film wishes’ to children who have serious or life-threatening medical conditions by teaming them with noted actors, writers and directors who help them create short film legacies. Tamika is currently in the process of producing a feature film with Catherine Hardwicke at the helm and developing projects with Billy Porter and Effie T. Brown of Gamechanger films. In addition she is writing for 2 shows and pitching her Original pilot “B.E.E.S.” which is a Producers Guild Power of Diversity Finalist. Tamika was recently awarded the Baron Jay Foundation’s Trailblazer Award.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in Richmond, Virginia. My brother was one year older than me. So we refer to ourselves as ‘Irish Twins’. My dad was a teacher and a politician, and my mother was a medical records technician, but essentially she was a nurse at the VA hospital. They both had interesting childhoods themselves; my mom picked cotton and she had 13 brothers and sisters. My dad grew up in Southampton County Virginia, which is where the Nat Turner insurrection happened. My childhood was part awesome and dysfunction- mostly awesome though. My brother and I were often left to our own devices for amusement so that meant writing, reading or creating our own little show and activities to entertain ourselves and the neighborhood kids.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started out as an actor. I remember when I was maybe 7 or 8 years old I auditioned for the role of Dorothy in a community theatre production of “The Whiz”. And that’s when I actually fell in love with acting. I didn’t get the part- my singing wasn’t quite there yet… (smile). But my brother and I, left to our own devices, used to create our own stories that we would vocalize and star in with neighborhood kids. My dad gave us one of those old school recorders for Christmas once. So we would take old nursery rhymes and stories like Jack and the Beanstalk and Goldilocks, all of those old stories. And we would cast them amongst ourselves and we would all be the voices. Essentially producing our own versions of these. That started my desire to want to tell stories, and be an active participant in storytelling. I also have been writing since I was a kid; writing poems and journals and things like that. That is kind of how it all started.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I created a non profit organization called Make a Film Foundation, which is similar to Make-A-Wish Foundation. But how that came about is sort of an interesting Hollywood story. The first screenplay I wrote actually sold for six figures, but the check was bad. It took maybe two or three weeks for us to discover the check was bad and then that sort of sent me on a different journey where I didn’t want to focus all of my energy on selling my script or making my movie. I wanted to contribute in a more substantial way or make a difference with my skills and talents. So I started to volunteer and teach filmmaking, screenwriting, and acting at various non profits around Los Angeles. Then a friend asked me if I could do anything, what would it be? And I said aside from filmmaking, I would probably grant wishes to the kids in the Make-A-Wish foundation. So I figured I would combine those two things to create one organization that satisfies both of those passions. And all of that was sort of inspired by the huge disappointment of getting a six figure rubber check for my first screenplay that I wrote. I did a TED Talk about it which is currently on YouTube.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I think from an Acting perspective and arriving in Los Angeles- the ‘funniest’ mistake I made was to take the character/job description a little too seriously when I was auditioning for a specific role for a sitcom. What I mean is, I auditioned for a part on “Girlfriends” and one of the characters was a Doctor if I remember correctly. So, rather than show up as a sexy ‘Girlfriend’ who (happened to have a job as a doctor), I showed up in character as a ‘Doctor’. No one else in the audition was dressed, quite as seriously as I was. They were all looking rather sexy and very much like they would be hanging with their ‘girlfriends’ even though in the scene the character of the girlfriend was as a Doctor in a scene with the patient. (smile) It just made me realize that some auditions in LA were different from auditions in New York. And that I really needed to know my audience and medium beyond just the character description. The Overall thing they were looking for was the ‘Girlfriend’- character. Her job was inconsequential even though it was the germ of the scene.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
This is an interesting question because I’ve always wanted a real ‘Mentor’ and I’ve never quite landed one. I actually think this makes a huge difference in the success of your career. Because I didn’t have a traditional ‘mentor’, I would say my family in various ways have helped, supported and pushed me to get where I am. They have always believed in me and I’ve always been able to count on them when the chips were down. I will say that my brother in particular I’m grateful for because I came up with an idea for my very first Screenplay, “The Jar By the Door.” I told him the idea and asked him to write it because he was writing screenplays at the time. He basically told me I had to write my own idea and that it was a great idea but that it was me who should write it. So he pushed me into writing my first script which was the script that has inspired my entire career on so many levels, not just as a writer but as a director, an Executive, my foundation, as a producer, every aspect really. It literally is the seed that has bloomed my entire career. So big thank you to my brother, Cleve Lamison for saying — “No”.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
The prospect of failure never really goes away actually, but I always remember why I’m doing this. Finding ways to remember your passion and what fulfills you is key. The truth is if you’re not passionate about it you shouldn’t do it. So if you’re doing it because you’re passionate about it, it becomes more about creating and that sort of becomes its own success. I do so many things, and create so many things that don’t necessarily see the light of day in a way that one might consider ‘traditional success, but creating and sharing my voice is important to me. I get something out of it. So I don’t just do it because I think it will be a ‘commercial’ success- or even because I will be a ‘commercial success’. I do it because I have something to say, I want to express something, and I won’t be satisfied until that story is told. Please don’t get me wrong, I do want to make money and have commercial success, but I can’t say that it’s the ‘end’. The other important thing is to find ways to serve or help others. Do something/offer something for someone outside of yourself. There’s always avenues to continue to inspire yourself by supporting other peoples art and work, and staying immersed in activities and connected to people that support and lift you up. I think that a lot of people, because we’re in quarantine, started watching a lot of other content and immersing themselves in content. And that became a catalyst for people wanting to create and do their own thing which I think is very important.
What drives you to get up everyday and work in TV and Film? What change do you want to see in the industry going forward?
Honestly what drives me is making a difference in what I do. I feel like that is my purpose and when I’m writing, directing, producing my material, or other material that I believe in- I am fulfilling my purpose and making some sort of impact. I try to choose projects that somehow serve the greater good. And that doesn’t mean that I don’t do things that I think are purely entertaining. Even if they are entertaining there’s still something in there that I feel is offering something, from my perspective, that needs to be put in the world and heard. I think what gets me out of bed is my passion for telling stories, my passion for making a difference, and my passion for supporting other storytellers and their desires. Images are super important, they always have been. But right now we have an opening where people are listening finally in a way that I feel they haven’t listened before. They’re listening to the desire, and the need for images to reflect underrepresented people in a more positive and expansive way. I think that’s really important and I’m excited about the future of seeing such incredibly inclusive and diverse talent in front of and behind the scenes. But mostly inclusive and diverse storytelling, which is super exciting on every level, from African Americans, Black people, Native Americans, Asians, Latinos, Latinx, LGBTQ+, Women. It’s just incredible and the storytelling is so much richer for it. And I mean that critically and financially. It’s a win-win.
You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?
I am working on a lot of incredible projects right now. One of the things that I am super excited about is an original pilot that I created, inspired by being a reluctant debutante in high school. And it’s a world that hasn’t been shown in this way on the screen before. I’m really excited for that project to unfold. I am also producing a lot, because I’m working with a new company where I’m a producer and VP of development. We have some incredible projects coming. I’m partnering with some really major companies on some material that is unique and interesting; some of it deals with the Native American community, some of it deals with the LGBTQ+ community, some of it is super political and dealing with what’s happening right now- police violence, systemic racism and so much more. There’s projects where we are really focusing on some of the racial conversations that are happening now. So it’s a lot of exciting work, with a lot of incredible talent; A list actors, directors, writers and producers as well as some fantastic emerging talent. I am also super thrilled about the writing I’m doing right now. I’m in a couple of writers rooms- as a writer and supervising producer.
We are very interested in looking at diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture and our youth growing up today?
Images are very impactful and important and I think one reason is because a lot of the time, especially when it comes to African Americans for example, what people see on television is all they know. And they take that for what it is. For many years there were a lot of stereotypes about Black people. We were criminalized on television and we were not seen as human beings with full ranges of emotions. And that really affected- and affects- how people see Black people; not even just in America, internationally because American television and film went all over the world. So what people saw was what they believed about black people but what they saw was not an accurate depiction of Black people as a whole. It was a very limited view of Black culture and Black people, and that has a direct impact on how people see you as an individual. It has an impact on how society, police, and the justice system view a certain group of people. It also has an impact on how you see yourself. As for young people, for me not seeing myself depicted in tv and film (with the exception of negative stereotypes) affected my confidence level, body image, and my entire self image. I just didn’t see myself celebrated in any way. Or any version of myself that I truly recognized or could relate to. It is why I started writing Black Male & Female characters with layers. I think today, things are changing. I feel like we do have more role models and more positive images, a variety of images not just to empower but to inspire confidence and even pride. I also think it’s just better business to diversify storytelling, and it helps our entire society to understand and connect with each other as human beings. When we all see stories from everybody that we can relate to on a universal level, we have empathy for everyone. We can really understand that we’re all human beings and that our cultures and our differences make us richer; it’s just more interesting to have diverse stories and it makes more financial sense as well.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each. *
Five things I wish someone had told me when I first started and why:
- I wish someone had really impressed upon me how important it is to follow up, cultivate and maintain relationships. I could have done a much better job at it. But a positive example of this is that I kept in touch with one of the executives who ran the Disney Fellowship when I was there. He ended up at the DGA eventually and we stayed in touch and he followed my doings but eventually recommended me for my current position as the Exec. Director of the CDDP-Commercial Directors Diversity Program. There are so many times when I didn’t stay in touch and follow up with people and it would have made a difference.
- I wish someone would have told me to push the limitations of my comfort zone. There is a quote about there Magic happening where your comfort zone ends. This has proven itself to be true, time and again.In my life, personally and professionally, whenever I have remained in my comfort zone- things have grown stagnant and I’ve always regretted it. Expansion happens outside of your comfort zone. I was afraid to direct, but I pushed myself. It wasn’t easy and there were many uncomfortable moments that I had to move past. But they helped me grow and become better, and be more confident in all aspects. Step outside of your comfort zone, often.
- I wish someone had told me to “Trust Myself” and “Be Myself”. Completely. Always. At all times. It may seem like a cliche but trusting yourself and your instincts- personally and professionally and listening to that inner voice- is so very important. And being your authentic self. It really is what attracts success and people to you. I can think of one example when I was a finalist for something I really wanted. And I wanted it so bad that I just didn’t trust myself in the interview. I asked a friend who had done the program and they gave me what they thought were the responses to the questions that the committee wanted to hear. So rather than answering organically, being in the moment and being myself- I was stuck in trying to answer correctly and saying what they wanted to hear. The interview was stiff and inauthentic and they couldn’t get a sense of the real me. And I know I didn’t show up as myself and I knew I didn’t get it before they told me. It was a good lesson. Had I been my natural effusive, relaxed self- the interview would have gone better. And even if I didn’t get chosen, I would have known that I showed up- as my best me- as my best self.
- I wish someone had told me to focus on all aspects of what I wanted in life and not just my career. It’s important to have balance. I am still very interested in creating a family. I’ve mostly focused my energy on my career, and that’s fine, however the balance is key. Career & Life. Both can exist in the same space. And I think it makes for a healthier ‘you’ when they do.
- And I wish someone had told me to never ever let money stand in the way of creating experiences- especially once in a lifetime experiences. For instance, I wanted to go to Sundance this one year. I had been invited to all of these amazing things. Including an exclusive dinner that Ava Duvernany was throwing. Invite only. I was having money challenges and opted not to spend the money. That was the year she won the Directing Award. And to this day I regret not being there for it. Never let money stand in the way of you being somewhere or going somewhere you know you want to go or should be. Money comes and goes. You can never get the experience that you missed.
Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.
So recently, due to COVID-19, one of the things I have taken on is biking for one hour a day. I bike for an hour a day and I listen to my favorite playlist and it’s very meditative. Even if I’m in a bad mood I’ll feel so much better after. Meditation in general is great. I watch my diet, of course I’m not a fanatic about not eating sugar or all of that. But I do pay attention to what I put into my body. I personally am a pescatarian and I could see myself being a vegetarian; I’ve been a vegetarian in the past. I feel like paying attention to your diet is important. But remembering to treat yourself because let’s face it- sometimes you just need comfort food. I also have a dog and I think having something else to take care of besides yourself is important if you’re a single person. Whether that is a pet or plants, it doesn’t really matter, but having something else to focus your energy on and kind of nurture is really great. I also go on short trips when I can and it doesn’t always have to be something that costs a lot of money. I go to Ojai because I like the drive and I feel like the air quality is better there; so you can hike and breathe and relax. I think it’s important to take yourself completely out of your traditional ‘working’ environment to allow other energies and thoughts to enter your space. It’s important to get away and breathe for a little bit. Sometimes that’s even just going to the beach. Find whatever it is for you to just turn your mind off. Sometimes it’s binging on a TV show, taking a bath or listening to music. Could be you need to phone a friend. Find what works for your own self-care and build on it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Character consists of what you do on the third, or fourth tries… that’s also where success lives.”
The first part of this quote is James A. Michener … the second part is mine.
I chose this quote because I am a huge believer in never giving up and trying and trying and trying again. One of the reasons I am where I am is because I kept applying to certain programs that I thought would move my career forward even though I didn’t get into some of them the first, 2nd, or 3rd time. I run a Diversity Program and I send a letter to applicants each year telling them stories of how important it is to keep applying and trying and not taking the ‘no’s or ‘rejections’ personally. I applied to the AFI Directing Workshop for Women Fellowship 3 times and the 3rd time was the charm. I was a finalist every single time. I did the interview every single time and then finally I got chosen. Same with the ABC/Walt Disney Screenwriting Fellowship. It was free to apply so my brother and I made it a ‘thing’ to just keep applying every year. I think we must have applied 5 or 6 times (or more) and then finally I got in. I had to divorce myself from the expectation of getting in and just put it on my list of things to do and hope for the best. Not taking any of it personally. Easier said than done. And believe me, I still get very disappointed when there are things I give my all to but it doesn’t go my way. But every bit of giving my all- gets me closer to where I’m meant to be. Regardless of the momentary results.
You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I think it’s happening right now, civil rights and human rights which are essentially the same thing as human rights; this movement right now. I feel like human rights covers so much. If we all have equal rights and are all on the same page with that, that covers a multitude of things: women, LGBTQ+, children. I also would expand that to include Animals. It might be cheesy to say a LOVE movement or a COMPASSION movement or a PEACE movement but honestly that’s where my head and heart goes. Because compassion is the thing that’s missing and compassion also covers human rights it covers nature, animals, and our earth. I feel like a movement to inspire compassion in everybody again would transform this world.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
There are so many people I would love to have lunch with- are you kidding. I’ll try to narrow it down. I’ve always wanted to meet and have lunch with the Dalai Lama because I think of him as a walking representative of peace and compassion at the highest level. I’ve always wanted to meet President Obama- because- Obama and since I’m meeting him I obviously should be meeting Michelle Obama as well- duh lol. I’ve always wanted to meet Oprah because I have so many questions! And I think she’d be an incredible mentor and Malala because I want to hear her incredible story directly from her but also hear about what inspires her now. I know Ava Duvernay and have met her multiple times- she is in many of my social circles but I’ve never actually sat down and had an extended conversation with her. I feel like she’s such a game changer with everything she’s doing on so many different levels. Her social impact and her imprint is really huge, she’s someone else I’d like to have lunch with. Okay- I know I cheated but I can’t narrow it down at this moment.
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
Instagram: baobat (Tamika Lamison)
Facebook: Tamika Lamison
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!