Tommie Ingram is quickly making a name for herself in the film industry and doing it on her own terms. Since making the transition from full time photographer to filmmaker, the native Chicagoan has immersed herself in a number of well received projects that have made some of the top players in the industry take notice.
Throughout her career, Ingram has had the pleasure to shoot for and work with a number of celebrities including Jane Fonda, Usher, Brandy, Cee Lo Green, T.I., Wendy Raquel Robinson, Trey Songz, and Michael Baisden among others.
We recently caught up with Ingram to talk about her transition from photography into filmmaking, the obstacles women of color face in the movie business, and her latest film, Trespassers.
How did you get your start in the film industry?
I got my first taste of the industry a few years ago while working for Michael Baisden. I worked on a couple documentaries that left me wanting more. As a professional photographer, you’re always directing shots and frames, and essentially painting still images in time. Everything from lighting, facial expression, set design and scenery play a huge factor of making that moment in time authentic and impactful. It turned out to be a natural transition from photography to film.
Was there an “aha” moment when you knew for sure that this is what you wanted to do?
My aha moment came as I was writing my book. I could vividly picture the characters on the big screen. I let a good friend who’s in the film business read the first 40 pages and he confirmed it for me. He raved about the storyline and characters were completely believable and how the things I wrote happen everyday. We were talking about the situation and characters as though they were people we knew in real life. To get lost in your own story and have company join you is absolutely amazing!
Tell me about your new short film Trespassers?
Trespassers is a short film about a pastor who takes advantage of young unsuspecting boys. Unfortunately it happens all the time and ends with the same result; they [the accused] always end up right back in the pulpit within a few months. They’re recycled with no treatment it seems. We originally wanted the closing scene of the film to be that the pastor actually get’s run out of town, but months later he’s back in a small church doing the same thing. But that doesn’t send the message of it needing to stop, so we settled on something a bit more drastic and finite.
After reading the script, how did you decide what your approach would be in regards to directing this piece and properly conveying the story from paper to film?
My approach was to draw out as much raw emotion from the actors as possible. I wanted them to be the person and feel the pain in those very short moments of dialogue. The story is told mostly through visual composition, leaving the audience to think and put the pieces together. The music selection also played a huge role as it helped create the mood. Time wasn’t a luxury for us; this was a film competition for the 48 Hour Film Project. All ideas, writing, filming, and editing was done in less than 48 hours from concept to completion. Our team worked together harmoniously to make all this possible.
In light of the past and even recent issues surrounding Bishop Eddie Long, was there perhaps any inspiration in his story for this film?
Our writing room created the storyline collectively; led by our scriptwriter, Avery O. Williams. It was no secret that we wanted to push the envelope and take on a topic that affects us all in some way. I wanted the audience to leave with a message. Upon receiving our genre, which was drama, it was no holds barred. We watched news reports, read articles, looked at discriminating text messages and pictures of religious leaders. We went down the list of ministers (sinisters as I call them) and Bishop Eddie Long was among others on that list. This vicious cycle didn’t start, nor will it end with him, as it happens all the time. I’m not surprised that he’s back in the news doing the same thing while preaching to the congregation. Church folk are a forgiving people. If this is the life he so chooses to live, so be it. But one can’t live that life behind closed doors and then turn around and preach against it to the world. It’s hypocritical. I challenge people to know the Bible and God for themselves, to not judge, nor condemn nor ‘trespass.’ At the end of the day, that man is still a man. Whether he be with sin or sickness, we must hold people accountable for their actions.
What if anything do you want people to take away from this film?
I want people to think! Remember at the end of Spike Lee’s film, School Daze, when he shouted “Wake Up?” That’s what I want people to do. The gunshot represents that voice and not necessarily death. It has to stop. We’re sacrificing our kids. Everyday our kids are taken advantage of by leaders of the church whom we look up to and hold at a high regard. We’re taught to forgive, as we should. However, putting this person on the same platform a few months later allowing them to do it again freely is unacceptable. There’s no accountability!
As a black woman in the film industry, talk a little about some of the triumphs you’ve witnessed and some of the things you feel must still be overcome?
There are many challenges that black women and women in general face in this industry. I’ve seen extremely talented women get passed up for a director’s role or a producer role on several occasions. I guess that good ole boy’s clubs exist in all sectors of business. On the flip side of that coin, I do see light at the end of the tunnel with such instances as Angela Bassett directing Whitney Houston’s life story. Like everything else, this is a male dominant industry. Black female directors are like needles in the haystack. Studies show that half of all film school graduates are women, so how is it that only 5 percent of them are working as Hollywood directors? Independent films and online media such as Web series shouldn’t be our only outlet to showcase our talents. I can only remain hopeful that things will change progressively in blockbuster cinema.
How do you use social media to your advantage?
Social media is my BFF!! It’s how I stay connected with family and friends as well as establish connections with people I don’t know. There’s always a plan to build an audience, market a brand and get real time raw feedback from the world. The best part about it is that it’s free.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I have many accomplishments that I’m proud of but none are more fulfilling than mentoring kids and young adults. To know that you helped someone know their self-worth; establish skills and inspire dreams by tapping into passions that are buried deep along with any hope of living outside their everyday norm; providing the guidance and tools that will send them on a promising and fulfilling journey, there are no words. It’s an amazing feeling.
Who inspires you?
Other artists doing what they love inspire me. People who think outside the box inspire me. Those that aren’t afraid to take chances, even if it means losing it all inspire me. My uncle Mark inspires me. He’s an artist turned businessman and his business is all about the arts. He gives back and of himself daily. I aspire to be like him in many ways.
Any favorite affirmations?
I have several affirmations that I love. You have to speak life into “yourself” daily cause nobody else will. Folks will eat you up and spit you out alive and keep about their day like it never happened. These are just a few.
- I love myself and I am in charge of my own happiness
- I am worthy of great love
- I possess an abundance of creativity and energy
- I can do this
- I am grateful for each experience in my life
- I have the energy and passion to make my thoughts a reality
- I can accomplish anything I set my mind to
What do you do to unwind?
There are several things I do to unwind. But if I could listen to some old school music or jazz and take a hot bath with a glass of wine in hand then I’m in heaven.
What’s the last great book you read?
The last great book I read was Instinct by T.D. Jakes. I’m going to leave it at that cause I could go on forever about the revelations in that book; pretty awesome stuff. Every time I read my soon to be released book, The Friend Zone, I get excited. Can’t wait for everyone else to have that same experience. It’s a feel good story that everybody can relate to.
Any advice or words of wisdom for aspiring filmmakers?
My advice to other filmmakers is to keep at it. There are many ways to make a film and even more ways to get it seen by the public. You don’t need the best equipment. You can shoot it with a camera phone and it can be just as impactful if you’re truly passionate about making films. Utilize social media as a marketing tool. Build your audience now. People love seeing original works. People’s talent’s are discovered through social media everyday and you could be next.
What’s next for Tommie Ingram?
My book, The Friend Zone is next on the radar. If it does as well as I anticipate, you’ll see it on the big screen. Look for it during the holidays. It’ll make a great Christmas stuffer.
Check out Tommie’s powerful short film Trespassers starring Carl Anthony Payne by clicking here.