Golden Globe and Primetime Emmy Award nominee Issa Rae first made a name for herself by creating and starring in the popular web series AWKWARD BLACK GIRL. The multi-hyphenate went on to produce, write, and star in the critically-acclaimed HBO series INSECURE, publish a memoir titled The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, star in multiple films, and serve as an activist and philanthropist.
So, yeah, kind of a bad ass.
Throughout the past decade, she has shared her creative experiences and lessons learned. Here are some of her best tips for others who would follow in her footsteps.
- Write What You Know
“My first web series, Dorm Diaries, was a realistic mockumentary about what it was like to be Black at Stanford University. I’m Black and I went to Stanford. Boom. Easy. I took advantage of the fact that I was in school, had tons of material from my network of friends alone, and wrote archetypes based on what I observed and experienced on campus. Because I had been engulfed in that environment for several years, the ideas came naturally to me and made for some great/juicy storylines that several of my classmates could relate to,” Rae shared.
- It’s Okay to Learn as You Go
“With Awkward Black Girl specifically, we would release the episodes every month,” Rae explained to Backstage. “I would write it one week, shoot the second week, edit it the third week, release it the fourth week, and so on. So I had time to see audience feedback, and sometimes there would be critiques about character development, there would be critiques about physical production like lighting and sound and things like that. In that way, I was able to use that as feedback to incorporate into the next episode. You’re getting a sense of what your audience responds to and not necessarily tailoring it but keeping that in mind, which I found valuable at the time.”
- Be True to Your Voice
“I had a realization driving one day where I was like, ‘Oh, shit, I’m me. And there’s nobody else like me.’ Yes, we have things in common, but no one thinks or has the same experiences or has been through what I’ve been through, and that’s what I need to mine, that’s my currency at the end of the day. If you don’t identify heavily with your material, you’re in trouble.”
- Find a Need and Service It
“I wanted to see black women depicted on screen, but there was no diversity, no balance, no way to break in. So I decided to do it myself. Thanks to the internet, episodic TV seemed possible. There were more open doors,” she stated at a Sundance panel for TV writers.
- Perfect Your Pitch
“I don’t mind pitching, but it’s hard to get people to listen. Awkward Black Girl was my third web series. It was about navigating life as an uncomfortable black female who didn’t fit mainstream definitions of blackness. I was determined to make it happen at all costs, so I took my best friends and one of the actors to coffee and pitched it. The meeting cost me $25, and that led to everything else: I raised money on Kickstarter, I got an agent and manager, Pharrell Williams funded us through his YouTube platform, we completed our first season… and then the New York Times and Rolling Stone reviewed the first episode of our second season. Finally. It took two and a half years, but it was worth it.”
- Stop Making Excuses
“You are the only one stopping you,” Rae asserted in the video below. She goes on to encourage creators to be fully committed, to build a community, and to find their confidence. The full video is worth watching:
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Shannon Corbeil is a writer, actor, and filmmaker in Los Angeles with recent appearances on SEAL Team and The Rookie. An Air Force veteran, her articles have been published in Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, and Military.com, and she has written and produced hundreds of digital videos with millions of views. You can read more about her on her website or come play on Instagram and Twitter!