Ezra Productions is committed to fostering diverse talent in the video production industry. As part of that mission, our Female Filmmaker Friday series highlights best-in-class diverse directors, editors, and DPs from across the globe. This week, we’re excited to present female commercial video director, Amandla Baraka.
Amandla is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker and photographer. The team at Ezra Productions found her when conducting research for a commercial PSA produced for University of California, Riverside. We stumbled upon her incredible work for Blue Shield featuring Venus Williams in a piece called “Can You Hear Me.” In this commercial, Venus helps bring attention to and end bias in health care, especially as it relates to black women.
Amandla’s video production journey began in New York where she went from crafting campaigns for luxury and streetwear brands, notably Pyer Moss, to directing and photographing high-level commercial campaigns. Amandla’s work now includes projects for renowned brands like Target and McDonald’s, as well as personal projects like her film “Lost Keys,” which was featured in LifeWtr’s global art campaign and inspired its own bottle design. Trademarks of her work include rich color, vibrant feeling, a sense of community, and roots in the authenticity of individuals. Weaving these together, she is consistently guided by the ethos, “To the people, for the people, by the people.”
We had the pleasure of sitting down with Amandla to get a peek into her world and how she got to where she is today.
How and when did you decide to get into the world of video production?
I started in 2013 when I wrote, produced, and directed my first short film just after discovering I was interested in the medium. I was still on Howard University’s campus then, so when I graduated, I had to buy my own camera. I bought the Canon 5D that I still shoot with today.
Post-college was kind of a blur. I did manage to get a cozy front desk job at a coworking space where I met the two guys who would change my life forever. They had a fashion start up called OXOSI that was innovating the way young African designers were getting access to the US market. They hired me as a content creator so technically that was my first official job in production. I had a camera so I hustled around the New York City creating content in the image of the diaspora.
Eventually, I found myself traveling to Lagos, Nigeria to photograph fashion week and create content with the artists there. I found myself producing, and even sometimes directing campaigns for the brand. As they grew, I grew. It was synergistic and demanding enough for me to really have viable legs to stand on once the company closed in 2017. I had been there for about three years honing my craft, developing taste, traveling, practicing, learning. It was special.
What makes your work and your directing/filming style unique?
Thinking about what makes me unique has always been hard for me because in some abstract way, everything I do is an homage to something or another. But I will say that I have a keen sense for how people feel and I allow that to guide me in my process. I think that brings something special out in my work, the je ne sais quoi ~ if you will.
Take us behind the scenes of the amazing video you directed for Blue Shield.
The concept for the Blue Shield commercial was developed by the creative team at BSSP. They were a young team and we really enjoyed working together. I took their script and broke it down into a story I could manage and then made storyboards and then discussed with the team and off we went. It was quite seamless. I was nervous as hell to work with Venus Williams, I won’t lie. My grandma used to play her matches on our little kitchen TV while she cut up my waffles into tiny bite-sized pieces. Standing before her as an adult was a bit surreal. But I shook it off and got to business.
We had several hours of casting looking for the right stories and people to represent our message. We were looking for women who had actual experiences in the healthcare industry that changed them forever. Several different women of different backgrounds shared their traumas with us… and sadly they all sounded similar. We truly need to examine our healthcare system… all our systems actually.
We started our days with the PSA scripted segment. That was a lot of fun. I worked with Allison Anderson as my DP and for a first-time working relationship, we really bonded on that set. She’s a wonderful human and incredibly talented. We ended our days with the interviews. Those were the hardest because we didn’t have a lot of time. For example, with Venus, I only had 30 minutes, so we had to get straight to the point. My questions were direct, or at least I intended for them to be, but the questions would then flow into a conversation. I’d check off questions as I heard them answered. In hindsight, I probably should have let the scripty do that. But it worked out.
I love doing work that fills me with passion. Yes, to a fight for women’s reproductive rights! Yes, to calling attention to the disparities women face in the healthcare system! My mom is one of those women, my aunt, my grandma, my sister, me! I’m a sensitive soul for a reason: bringing attention to what unsettles me and what should unsettle us all is my purpose.
What video production project are you most proud of?
I think my film, “Lost Keys,” is the most accurate representation of my storytelling sensibilities which are largely influenced by the oral tradition. My grandmother, my mother’s mother, used to love to play the game, “And Then.” Every sleepover, every holiday, every gathering of celebration, she would sit all of the little ones around and we’d jump from story to story. My cousin might shout, “An elephant steals my Nintendo… And thennnn…”… “and then a pregnant bear shouts ‘Give it back!’ And thennnn…” Ha! I just made that up, but why was there an elephant in the room and what compelled the pregnant bear to fight? There is something there I’m sure.
When I was in college studying AP format, I was frustrated by the limits of an upside-down triangle. That is sort of what pushed me into filmmaking, because I had the feeling that I could stand on any side, not just the upside. I’m active in my quest for alternative storytelling structures. And I am particularly fond of the way oral invites and commands all your senses. It doesn’t have to be logical or make sense or really do anything but make you feel inspired to add to it like in the game “And thennnnn…”
What are your interests outside of filmmaking?
Outside of being a filmmaker, I am also a writer and a photographer. I only separate my writing from my filmmaking because it is its own beast. I have been writing and studying my grandfather since I was 7. I write poetry, songs depending on how I feel, short stories, and opinion pieces to quell my anxiety.
My photography tends to come as a package deal when I’m hired for commercial work. Which is wonderful! I’m exercising more than one of my skills. I started my career in fashion photography, shooting e-commerce and social editorials. Then I transitioned to shooting and directing actual campaigns. My life is a wild, intention-driven blur.
What is it like being a black female in the commerical video production world?
Being Black in this industry is like walking around with a face tattoo. Everyone is afraid of you if they can see it. Adding womanhood on top of that just makes you invisible, avoidable at best. So strange. I’ve had people walk right up to me thinking I was in service to them. It is a constant struggle and there are so many layers to it. I can’t really justify faulting people for their ignorance, but as a collective body we need to be more honest with ourselves so we can actually create real systems of equity.
This reminds us of one of our favorite parody videos produced by Women in Film. This video, entitled “Diva Director,” is part of a series called “Flip the Script,” which depict real life situations that women in the entertainment industry have faced. However, in the series, the roles between men and women are reversed to show how ridiculous the situations would be if men were treated as women.
What causes are you passionate about?
I would say that I’m passionate about equity and humanity full stop. I don’t get to choose. As a thinking and feeling being, as a Black woman, and as a human in constant battle with my own self serving tendencies, I have no choice but to stand up for my vision of the future. This is a future where Indigenous people get to keep their land. Where Black and POC are liberated from identity politics. Where children aren’t senselessly murdered. Where women have autonomy and real equitable power. A future where I can actually have kids and don’t have to worry that they will burn. Isn’t it time society at large stop worshiping brute force? We keep putting people with muscle brains in charge and look where that’s taken us… to the edges of our existence.
How do you help other women and minorities succeed in the video production world?
I used to have an organization called Film Girls, where we would screen and share the work of other woman filmmakers of all biologies. I shut it down so I could focus on my film work and healing so that I can be the leader I complain that other people aren’t. I won’t say that I’m all sewn up and ready to go again, but I will say that I have a lot of new insight on what I did right and wrong in the past and I’m ready to move into the future. I also value mentoring. Any young woman I get the chance to guide and help pave their way in this industry, I take because there is equity in numbers.
What kinds of video production agencies do you like working with?
My favorite kinds of agencies are those who understand the energy of the future. Teams who are working towards something and not within the confines of an already outdated system. The only way forward is to adapt.
I love doing meaningful work, and when I say meaningful, I mean work that is about something ~ people, love, revolution, breaking barriers, new ideas, new traditions! We are building the tapestry of our tomorrow, today! So let it be a tapestry full of life, recipes, joy, lessons learned, keepsakes, and abundance!
Who are some of your dream clients?
I like to work with commercial brands that are known for advocating for humanity and engaging in socially responsible initiatives. I excel in that world because those ideals are a driving force for my work. I also like to work with brands that are looking to tell global stories of humanity. Again, building on that tapestry of the future.
Where do you see the commercial video production industry moving?
We’ve already moved and the pressure is on to keep up. So far commercial has involved a pandering salesmen and an uninformed customer. But the customer has changed. The customer is far smarter than any of us and can sniff out bull like a dog. This means the salesman (or woman, I guess) will need to evolve.
The micro-influencer has already taken center stage. The future of commercial will be about experience. True, authentic experience. This new sort of word-of-mouth system that influencer culture has created will evolve into an individualized system of experiences, maybe virtual, maybe in person. But the content around that will be made to enhance this individualized experience. So people can “see for themselves”.. I guess. I dont know though, honestly. That is just my post-dystopian prediction. Maybe in a better case, commercial goes back to some little person selling newspapers on a street where people grow their own food and communities raise their children together… offline.
Do you have any advice for other black women filmmakers?
My advice to Black woman filmmakers is simple. Please do not let the ignorance of some random person with no real depth discourage you from charging forward. Keep your head high and make your crazy movie!
We’re so grateful to female commercial director Amandla for taking the time to share her story with us. As a woman-owned video production company and creative agency, Ezra Productions is committed to working with women, minorities, and young people, and helping them thrive in the video production industry. Whether you’re looking for a production company in Los Angeles or New York, we’re experts at creating engaging video that promotes your brand and social change. Contact us to learn more about our services as a commercial video production company.