Take action when it feels right. I believe in the law of attraction, which states that things come to you, rather than you making things happen. There is no law of assertion. You can’t force things to happen. So before you take an action for your career, make sure your heart feels it is right. That is is the right moment. If you move out of desperation, lack, or frustration, you won’t get what you truly want.
As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Colleen Davie Janes.
Colleen is a multi-award winning Director/Writer & Producer/Editor. Her style leans towards fast paced, serio-comic dramas focused on relationships and family, often with complicated women at their centers. Her work has received distribution via First Focus International. Born and raised in Nashville, TN, she prefers hip-hop and rap over country music, and makes a mean apple crisp.
A recent recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts artist’s grant “Anonymous Was a Woman”, Colleen is a member of the Alliance of Women Directors, and was honored by SHOOT Magazine at the DGA as a “New Director to Watch”.
Colleen is in development for her feature directorial debut HEART MATH, as well as the creator of CODE SWITCH, a pilot also in development.
A graduate of Boston University’s film school, followed by a Sanford Meisner acting conservatory in NYC, Colleen cut her teeth on feature films as a PA, Coordinator, BTL agent, and UPM. Her work has taken her from LA to Iraq.
Up for a game of Badminton? She’s your gal.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Colleen! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I am the fifth of seven kids, born and raised in Nashville, TN. For a while, my dad and my grandfather were professional wrestlers on the carnival circuit, so I had a fabulously chaotic childhood. This is probably why I love ensemble directing so much. If there aren’t several people interacting in a scene with a little chair thorwing, it feels too quiet. But seriously, I do love the slow intimate moments as well. I am also a classical saxophone player, so music and sound are crucial elements in my work. I have the usual story of making backyard videos on Kodak Super 8mm with my brothers, and falling in love with film when I saw “Star Wars”. Though, I fell in love with Han Solo’s wink at Princess Leia, to be honest, so my desire to work in film/tv was a desire to act with Harrison Ford. It was the moment I realized that filmmaking was a job. You can do that? And make money? SOLD!
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I went to Boston University and moved into the film track after I realized it was too late to study in their drama school. I didn’t have much mentoring in High School so the first two years of college were like a pinball machine of “what am I supposed to study?!” I ended up in film school. I had always wanted to be an actress, so I thought production was just a step away. I don’t recommend this circuitous route! I interned on JFK, the Oliver Stone film, my junior year and was invited by the AD department after graduation to work on A Bronx Tale in New York. So I came to NY and never left, hopping from film to film as a PA for many years. The journey from there has been windy and worth it. I acted, I worked production, I was an agent, I had survival jobs, but always I was drawn back to writing and directing. Whether it was theater, commercials or films, and more recently television, my calling is to tell fun stories.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I’d say when I got to work on Sabrina with Harrison Ford, and finally spoke to him to thank him for inspiring me to the business. I had been on set a full month, and was a nervous wreck because I wanted to say something to him but didn’t know what or how. Every extra on that set knew I was a fan and checked in on my every day, “Did you do it?” I finally took him aside. Hands shaking, out of breath, I said “Harrison, do you have a minute?” He was very kind and surely saw my nerves. I thanked him for being an inspiration for the past 17 years, and that I wanted to work with him one day. He wished me luck, which still makes me laugh. I left the house we were filming in and cried for about thirty minutes in joy.
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?
Oh wow. Yes. I was a PA on “JFK” and the 1st AD asked someone to go turn off the air conditioning unit behind this home we were filming in in New Orleans. They were filming a scene with Sissy Spacek and needed utter quiet. I was right near the unit, but it was this HUGE box on the grass, the size of two dog houses, and not something you could just switch on or off. I was, what 19 years old? and on my first set, and the 2nd AD was a friend and relation of mine, so I had this casual attitude when I responded over the walkie. The 1st AD kept yelling to get the air conditioner turned off and I felt like he was yelling at me. So I told the 1st AD “I’m trying! Give me a minute!”. Yes, I got testy with him. I still cringe at the memory of silence on the walkie in that moment. Finally, the 1st AD came on the walkie and asked the 2nd, “Joe, was that Colleen?” Silence. 2nd AD: “Yes. I believe it was.” Let’s just say I never lost my cool again on a set and learned the etiquette that day. I almost lost my job. That’s a lesson that sticks. Ask me later about dancing with Al Pacino.
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?
That would be the 2nd AD I mentioned above. Joe Burns was a patient teacher and gave me my break into film. I am forever grateful. He’s also a fantastically gifted actor and I’ve cast him since in my short film “First Chair”. He’s a city councilman in Binghamton, doing great things. Mentorship is crucial in this world. I’m looking for a mentor now, and it is not easy to find someone who will open up and share their knowledge while urging you make your own way. Giving back is what allows for the future generations to show up.
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?
I’ll start with a little backhand. If you can find happiness doing something else, don’t do this. For me, there is no other place I want to be. If you know this is for you, especially to women of any age, and you know you are meant to write and direct, ignore the naysayers. Listen, ask for advice, trust your heart and your gut. Not others’. Other people have one agenda. Themselves. Even if they are trying to help you, they are coming from their own perspective, which simply is not yours. There’s nothing wrong with that. But we cannot let the opinions of other’s form our lives. Oh, and meditate.
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?
What drives me is my joy for creating stories and entertaining people. I’m working on a feature right now and a pilot. The characters wake me up wanting to be written. Once it’s written, it wants to come to life on a screen. I can feel it in my heart, in my gut, it’s just a fluttery fun thing that keeps me moving forward. As for change I’d like to see, I’d like for sex, age and color to be a non-factor in hiring. The bias is both conscious and unconscious and I seriously think everyone needs to take a hard look at their ingrained prejudice. I don’t believe that anyone should have more of a chance than anyone else, though we have decades of inequality to make up for. I think we should have an equal chance, and that just doesn’t exist right now. Regardless of hashtags.
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 mentioned earlier, I have a pilot I’m working on in the vein of “Dead to Me” meets “Billions”. I want to finish that and create the series arc and pitch to some services. I want to be directing episodic television and to helm my first feature. Those are my upcoming goals, and whether it’s one I wrote, or a fabulous story that is brought to me, I’m open. Films have an amazing way of happening (or not as many readers know). I’m open to the possibilities. That said, I simply want to open up a path to directing and writing for a living, with a little acting on the side.
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?
I watch stories directed by people who have no business telling that story. For example, I was discussing with a well known Costa Rican actor a project. Once he told me about it — and let me say I LOVED it and would have adored directing it — I had to pass because I could not do justice to the story of a young boy in the jungles of Costa Rica having a coming of age. I just knew there was someone closer to that idea who would do a spectacular job. Another point is, much of what we are watching in the theaters, for example (whenever we can get back in them after COVID) is directed by white males. Hey, I love me some white males, but I don’t want their perspective on every story I watch. What if “Tenent” was directed by a black woman? I mean, that would be FUN! Though, Christopher Nolan is brilliant. Let’s just say that when short films get into Sundance, up until recent times, the directors who got agents from that opportunity were usually white men. Now there’s a rush on diversity, so good. It’s about time.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1) Do what you love — I wish I had focused on directing rather than splitting my focus. I love acting and directing, but I was being urged to direct quite often in the late 90s/early 2000s. I only focused in about 2010 and it’s a long road. So…
2) Focus. Find your love and focus.
3) Ignore the naysayers. Really. Everyone gives advice from their own history, and your life will never be theirs. You will hear NO constantly. Who cares. There’s a YES out there.
4) Surround yourself with people who are already successful. Watch them. Learn from them. If you surround yourself with people who are “struggling” you will be surrounded by that mindset. Surround yourself with the “winner” mindset.
5) Take action when it feels right. I believe in the law of attraction, which states that things come to you, rather than you making things happen. There is no law of assertion. You can’t force things to happen. So before you take an action for your career, make sure your heart feels it is right. That is is the right moment. If you move out of desperation, lack, or frustration, you won’t get what you truly want.
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.
I take time to sit and stare at nature. I listen to the birds in the morning. Take in nature. Listen to the world around you. It’s hard in New York City, so get into a park and soak it up. Get your toes done, get a massage! Walk in the rain. Read a novel. Everything doesn’t have to be news or work.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My grandmother always said “Keep your chin up”. It took me a long time to truly understand what that means, because she would say it after I’d had a bad experience or been knocked down in life. It reflects back to “ignore the naysayers”. Just keep your chin up and keep going. Good things are coming. More recently, Abraham Hicks is my current feel good go to for inspiration. She has said, “The only reason we want anything is because we believe we will feel better in the having of it.” So, feel better now. You have a choice to feel better now and feel the emotion of your success, your car, your job, your win, your lover, now. So do it. Why not? Feel better now.
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 was recently inspired by a young woman named Naomi Isaacs in Virginia. She’s a Community Organizer, who is maybe in her 20s? And she is a well-spoken revolutionary for systemic change in this country around race and the major reforms that need to happen, whether it be voting rights suppression or the incarceration issues and Black Lives Matter… I’d jump on her bandwagon any day. Check her out she’s a fire cracker.
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!
I’d love to meet SO MANY PEOPLE! Well one person I’d love to meet seems hard to find, and that’s Sally Wainwright, the creator of Gentleman Jack on HBO. Kathryn Bigelow is top of my list. And another would be Steven Spielberg. Feel free to tag them! Hey, I’ll buy! Name the place.
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
Yes I’m @lights_camera_colleen on IG, and Colleen Davie Janes on FB. Twitter I don’t use that much, but I do follow people there.
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!