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Shantelle Rochester: “She was powerful not because she wasn’t scared, but because she went on so strongly despite the fear”

Not everybody that has a title can actually do the job. People can give themselves a grand title if they want, but whether they know how to deliver the job is the important part. As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Shantelle Rochester. Shantelle […]

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Not everybody that has a title can actually do the job. People can give themselves a grand title if they want, but whether they know how to deliver the job is the important part.


As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Shantelle Rochester.

Shantelle Rochester is a London-based director, producer, musician, educator, and founder of production company Ida Rose. Working in the industry since the age of 18, she has extensive experience bringing European independent films to new audiences. Her directorial debut, Phoenix, is a time-travelling love story for the ages, premiering this year.


Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?

I started off in this career twenty years ago at age eighteen to make a social difference. My mom was a social worker for twenty years and she wanted to do something different because she felt she was always on the end of supporting people, rather than stopping them before they got to a point where they needed support.

I was studying Media and Moving Image at the time, and we came up with the idea, “what about teaching young people to create, to find an outlet?” Many young people in these situations are very creative but in schools, you don’t get to use that creativity. So we started training young people on cameras, so they could make short films talking about their experiences or what they wanted to make. That turned into a company called Media For All, which me and my mom ran. A housing estate gave us a base to work from, and we offered training there as well as went into schools. And that was the starting point of film and video for me!

Eventually, I thought I’d like to get some of our work broadcast. My mother thought that was far-fetched — it was twenty years ago, I’d just come out of college and we were very removed from the industry. But it worked. We got a music program about up-and-coming stars like Damon Dash, Jay-Z, and Beyonce on one of the Sky channels in the UK, and we were off and running from there. It was also turned into an MTV special eventually, and we were given the title “Volunteer Organization of the Year” by Prince Harry.

Now, years later, I’ve founded my production company Ida Rose to be able to make the creative work I think is important, focusing on diversity in storytelling and craft, while continuing the social mission my mother inspired.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?

I was line-producing a project that was quite relentless and my team’s spirits were waning; we were all just so tired after a few weeks. I’m a musical person, so I have music on all the time but I don’t really share it. Everyone had gone out for lunch, and I was in my office by myself feeling very frustrated and stressed. So I put on Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and started just dancing with my back to the door, jumping up and down like a crazy person. I was in full heavy metal mode. I got to the end and turned around and at least 80 people from the crew were standing there looking at me! I thought the producer was going to kill me, but he asked me to rewind it and we all started jumping up and down and dancing! So I thank Taylor for giving us that song because it lifted morale, and now every production we have a song dedicated to our team.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

Sometimes it’s hard and sometimes it’s quite funny actually — especially when you’re dealing with different cultures internationally. Even between America and the UK, we have so many words that we use differently. I was in Canada early in my career for the Toronto Film Festival, and I was with an American colleague of mine. We went to a stand and I was starving. He kept asking me all of these questions about what I wanted and I was like, “can I just have a normal burger with chips?” And I got my food and I was like, “What is this? This is crisps, not chips!” And we had to work out, “What am I saying wrong here? We don’t call these crisps, we call them chips!” That was the first time I realized that you have to be very conscious of cultural differences.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’ve been working with Neil Peplow and Iyare Igiehon at the British Film Institute (BFI) for about a year, as they’ve been trying to inspire more diversity in the UK film industry. I’d also been producing a film festival with the African Embassy here, and following that we took seventeen Black producers and exhibitors to Berlinale for the first time. So I introduced both of these initiatives and that has now grown into an official segment at the London Film Festival next month called “Taking Black Writers Seriously” that my company will be producing (led by Alby James). It will bring together IP from UK writers and put them into the room with Black film and TV producers, as well as production companies and studios, in the hopes that we can start bringing more Black content to the mainstream audience. We’ll be filming it, as well.

We’re also working on two international co-productions — one in Canada titled Oddly Flowers, led by director Jordan Canning and Canadian production company Shut Up Pictures, and one in South Africa titled Stolen, an action picture with a female lead. We’re also working on The Underground, a UK-based music drama. We were planning to shoot them in 2020 but they have been rescheduled for 2021 filming.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

It’s funny that there are very few people in the UK for me to base this on, but the schematics for what I’m trying to do are between Oprah and Tyler Perry. For me, both of them have embodied what it means to push the boundaries of what people say you can and can’t do. They both do that, and they’re creating a legacy that’s gone way beyond their lifetime, and they’re creating opportunities that weren’t previously there. That’s what I’m trying to do from Ida Rose and myself in the UK and internationally.

I think now is a time for the world to stop hiding behind what they say they do for diversity, and what they actually do. Realistically, in the UK we do have a big creative industry but it’s mainly driven by IP from the US and Europe. We do less to empower those who are making projects here, so pushing our local creatives to the heights of an Oprah Winfrey or a Tyler Perry is my goal.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

Since 2017, I have been running Ida Rose, a production company whose mission is to create international content with an edge as well as shape the future of diverse production. We have several programs in place to ensure that all of the productions that we do have 65–80% diversity, as well as ensuring that 10–15% of our crews and actors are new to the industry. We try to strike a really good balance in terms of knowing that we need a really good, experienced crew, but knowing that under these experienced workers we can start giving people their first jobs in the industry on both sides of the camera. We don’t work with filmmakers who aren’t interested in having this as part of their film.

One of the other initiatives we support is about the increase of knife crime in the UK, and we’re working with Black stunt workers on this. My nephew passed away due to knife crime, and we opened up a self-defense and first aid program to teach at-risk youth how to protect themselves and be their own first responders. I just qualified as a close protection officer (bodyguard) so I can teach some of the classes myself. We noticed that we’re seeing this culture of phones and people recording incidents, but no one knows how to save a life. So we want to combat that by helping young people understand how to assess situations better and give them empowerment — and save some lives.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

When I was younger, I just enjoyed helping people. But a few years ago, I worked on a predominantly-male production where there was no diversity at all, and the staff were being treated very badly. And it resulted in me having to help a young female on that production who had a case of sexual assault. That for me was a turning point — even the company I was working with at the time was mostly male, and I knew diversity was few and far between, but I had never thought about, how could I change this? I realized that the only way to change things going forward was for the people who run the company to have a different outlook on how they’re going to deliver and who they’re going to work with. And the only way for me to have that say was to run my own company — and that’s how I initially had the idea for my production company, Ida Rose. I tried to bring my ideas to the company I had at the time, and they weren’t having it — so I walked away, left with nothing except my ideas of how I could make a difference and who I wanted to work with, and Ida Rose was born that year.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

When I first met my assistant Sharna, she was a law graduate who had been in the Care System over the years and didn’t know anything about film, and she hadn’t quite grasped the social aspect of the work world. Her aunt got in touch with me and asked me to work with her, but I had really been looking for someone who had experience and knew what they were doing. But we offered to have her come in a few days a week and see if she got on, and she’s now a teacher, my second, and she’s been with us four years. She’s grown in an astounding way and is now helping to bring on other people who are in tune with our culture and goals. We have a very family-oriented way of doing business — people will say, you have to do things a certain way to be successful, but what we’ve learned is that you don’t — you can work really hard but also have a great culture if people believe in it.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

For individuals, we’d love to hear from people who want to do projects with their own social mission and need help getting them off the ground or want to reach out and collaborate. Or individuals who can point us in the direction to finance companies that have a similar ethos to us — I’m finding that, while we have normal investors, it’s also about aligning with the right people for us. If they’re going to be working with us for 3–5 years, we’d like to find people with a similar mission and company culture.

In terms of government, more support! BFI is trying to do this now, but we could always use more access and for people to put more time and experience in the types of support industries that cost a lot, like legal. So if there could be a program to identify companies amongst other industries with social missions that are open to working with companies like mine, that would be fantastic. I think the government could also put some time and energy into creating producers — while there’s a lot of support for writers and directors, no one ever supports the producers and the small production companies. I find that there’s nothing to help people along the journey of the script and finding the financing, and if we could see training programs or support there we’d find a lot more content coming to light.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Always follow your instincts — I do it now, but I really wish someone had told me that when I first started, because I spent 20 years second-guessing myself.

Not everybody that has a title can actually do the job. People can give themselves a grand title if they want, but whether they know how to deliver the job is the important part.

Overall, I wish someone had sat me down and taught me the whole business of film, instead of the creative bubble that you’re in during university. They always say “be creative,” “show your flair,” but no one tells you that before you can take money, you need to know how that money will be repaid, how important festivals are. I think that’s why so many people come into this industry and fall away quickly, especially if you come from a poorer background — it’s not a sustainable career until you understand all of this. You need to understand the whole puzzle, not just the creative side.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I think we all have a duty to make some sort of social impact in our life, full stop. It doesn’t matter how big or small, there is always something we can do to empower someone or help someone. It’s something we do as a personal choice — not as a career choice, it’s something we should do as people.

We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Again I’ll say Oprah and Tyler Perry, because there is simply no one else out there doing the work as they are doing it. And it’s not just them but their whole teams, the people they work with. What we’re trying to do hasn’t been done in the UK, but Tyler and Oprah are doing it so well in America so they are my dream! I would love to see from them what we’re doing right and what we could be doing better. I would also say Shonda Rhimes — she’s basically the showrunner of the world right now!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“She was powerful not because she wasn’t scared, but because she went on so strongly despite the fear.” I chose that because it spurred from a friend of mine — everyone who works here or knows me well says I am never scared of anything, I just keep going forward. But I’m like, I’m actually scared of everything! Every financial decision and production we take on, every minute of my life I’m always in that scared spot. But the fear doesn’t hold me back from doing it, and I’ve learned that if we push ourselves past that fear, great things can come.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me at https://twitter.com/sirr_rochester, and see more about our company at https://twitter.com/_IdaRose.

This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!

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