August 15, 2020

Screenwriter Nakia Stephens Teams with AspireTV to Provide Platform for Black Content Creators

Nakia Stephen

*Award-winning screenwriter Nakia Stephens, CEO and Founder of Damn Write Originals, has teamed with Aspire TV to produce short films and provide a new platform, Urban Indie Film Block, for content creators of color.

As noted on its Twitter page, “Aspire is the only TV network that celebrates, reflects and shares black culture and urban lifestyle.”

The network’s Urban Indie Film Block, previously known as ABFF Independent, features short films by the next generation of great Black filmmakers. The programing block debuted on Aspire TV on April 7th, and will feature original content every Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET until July 28th.

Since the launch of Damn Write Originals, Nakia has had over 20 of her screenplays produced to screen including her most notable projects: “Suga Water,” Cream x Coffee,” and “Novella.”

We caught up with the Atlanta native to dish about her partnership with Aspire TV and what excites her most about the future of the urban indie film space.

Check out our Q&A below.  

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Talk about your Damn Write Originals Screenwriting Label and your inspiration behind launching it.

The inspiration was basically just to have a place for my work. When I was fresh starting off. I felt like I needed a space to house all of my work. And eventually I realized my purpose was to also help others. So this is bigger than me. I expanded and I added more writers and it became like a collective to support independent screenwriters in Atlanta. We have to depend on each other and community and resources within the community to make your film and make your project so that was kind of the inspiration. It kinda developed into being more of a collective. We’re jointly based now. It’s been a while since we first started. We’re now jointly based in Atlanta and Los Angeles.

Tell us about your partnership with Aspire TV and why its Urban Indie Film block is the perfect match with your brand.

So in 2018, Damn Write Originals decided to do a short film every month and at the end of the year we had a showcase of all the films we had done that year. And lots of people came out and there happened to be a rep from Aspire that came to the showcase and then they contacted me afterward because they were interested in what we were able to do as independent creatives. And they wanted to speak more about it. So initially the conversation was like, ‘we love all the short films that you created and we want to have them on our network.’ So that was the conversation and then realizing our goals are very aligned, as far as celebrating black creatives, reclaiming the black narrative and showcasing that.

We talked about what that would look like, what we would need — usually, independent filmmakers, we lack resources, funding and a platform. That’s usually what we’re trying to scrape for as independent creatives. So they were able to make sure that we had all of those things in order to create with them in alignment with both of our goals and things we were passionate about. And like I said, it’s the perfect fit.

We wanted to create with black creatives. We wanted to have black creatives and creatives of color on both sides of the camera. We wanted stories that had been marginalized and we wanted to shed light on them. So that was something that Aspire championed and it just made sense.

Over 20 over your scripts have been produced, which is a dream for many script writers. Have you had your “Mama, I Made It!” moment? 

No, and my friends and even my mom will say this, ‘are you ok’ because I’ll be like, very nonchalante, ‘oh my film is on x, y, z.’ and people will be like, ‘oh my God, that’s amazing.’ And I’m like… ‘yeah.’ And then I go about my business. In my mind, I’m always, and I don’t know if this is a good thing or not, I’m always chasing the next thing. I’m never necessarily satisfied. And it’s not that I’m not satisfied. It’s just that I’m always aiming to be better than I was before. I’ll celebrate briefly and then I’ll say, what is next. What can I do that can make this bigger, more impactful, and then I try to do that thing.

So I haven’t had that moment yet. I think because my focus right now is TV writing. So my next big thing that will make me feel like I’m at a point where I can really celebrate this moment is being in that writer’s room. Because I want to be a TV writer. TV writing is what I’m most passionate about. So I think that will be a big moment for me. I don’t know when my ‘momma I made it’ moment will come because of my personality. I’m always chasing greatness.

I’m sure when I feel it, I’ll feel it. It’ll be different than anything I’ve felt before. But I am so very proud of what I’ve been able to do and what I do with my team so I definitely recognize those accomplishments and I don’t think it’s a small feat at all.

I was speaking with a filmmaker recently who said now is a great time for Black filmmakers, and we hope it’s not a phase. But do you think there’s missing from the urban indie film scene, and if so, is that a void you hope to fill with your label and work with Aspire TV?

I don’t know if I feel like it’s a phase, but I can’t understand that sentiment. Because the way things go right now, it’s like, whatever is trendy. And so I can agree.I hope that it’s not black filmmakers are not given this space because it’s trendy right now, because you know, inclusion and diversity and these other words that people love to throw around but they really don’t know what it means. I’m hoping that it becomes normalized. I’m hoping that our representation is not a thing of like, ‘wow another black show.’ It needs to be so normal. I hope we are getting to a space that’s normalized and we can start to dive into different types of stories.

I saw something on the internet the other day that said I hope black creatives realize that all of our stories don’t have to be deeply rooted in trauma. Because there are so many shows about people who are just with their friends and having a good time. You know and it doesn’t always have to be so dramatic, even though that is our lives sometimes. I would like for black joy to be something that is normalized as well. I feel like, right now, the Urban indie film space is missing more voices. We just need more voices. Because right now we are depending on the few black creatives that we have that have a seat at the table – you know like our Issas’, or our Kenyas’, Ava, Shonda. We’re depending on those few to collectively be able to tell the black experience in its entirety. And that’s just not fair and it’s not possible because blackness is so much.

It’s so many ways to be black and so many parts to being black. And so instead of putting that weight on the shoulders of maybe a few creatives, it’s just better to open the door for more creatives because you’ll have more perspective and  more stories to be told.

What excites you about the future of the urban indie film space?

I want more voices in this space so we can have more authentic stories. And more black narratives. I want to hear more black trans stories. I want more black queer stories. I welcome and I’m excited about new voices to come forward to expand our narrative palate. So, yeah, that’s absolutely something I’m excited about.

Talk about the type of content you’re putting out through ASPIRE TV? 

What Urban Indie Black and Damn Write Originals is doing, we’re actually in post-production for one of our films “In Danger,” that I wrote and was inspired by Ta-Nehisi Coates. He has this quote where he says, Black people have this obsession with their children because when they come to us they come to us in danger. So that just sparked something in me and I wrote a film about it and it’s coming very, very soon. But obviously with COVID, we’ve kinda had to push around some things. But we’re still going with our original plan. We’re doing two more comedies and one other drama for the indie film black space and it’s still in pre-production. But I’m super excited about the films that we already have out on ASPIRE via their Urban Indie film block. We’ve been pushing out different stories. I’m super excited for what this year has to bring, even though, you know, we had to readjust to our new normal. I still think that we’ve gotten to develop a little more during this time of like, stillness. Once we’re ready to go back in the field we’ll be pushing out more stories and more narratives that people can see themselves in.

How is the virtual space and its impact on how we tap into entertainment influencing you as a content creator?

For me as a screenwriter, luckily, I don’t necessarily have to consider that. Storytelling is storytelling regardless. However, those things are definitely considered and I consult with the director, the EP, the lighting specialist because they know and they’re very aware of like, ‘Ok is this going to be in theater’. I know my EP who I worked with several times in Atlanta, he would ask questions like, ‘is this going to be screened in a theater?’ Or ‘ is this going to be for the internet? Is this going to be for Instagram?’Or ‘is this going to be on an additional streaming platform because that matters with lighting.’ It matters with how you export. So I don’t have to consider that, luckily. I can still just write whatever my heart desires. That’s what they have to consider visually,how it would look on a smaller device, versus a movie theater.

What I do consider on platforms or where it is on the web, is the attention span. Because nowadays people’s attention spans are short. I’m like, ok let me write a short film. Let me make this 15 minutes versus making it 45 minutes. Because people will most likely watch the entire thing. So that is something I consider based on the new normal. There’s so much content out, so people don’t have the capacity  to stick with something longer than a few minutes.

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